Dr. Walid Phares
Bush Will Be Vindicated in the War on Terror
January 19, 2009
With the end of the Bush presidency in sight, it’s time to take stock of
the War on Terror, something that didn’t begin with George W. Bush but
which entered the American collective consciousness on his watch. So,
where are we now, as we get ready to usher in a new era with a new
The measurement of the successes and failures under the Bush
Administration isn’t a simple matter of calculus. Many questions make
the final assessment complex and inextricable. Here are few examples:
1) Did the jihadi war against America begin on September 11, 2001? Of
course not! It began in the years and decades before the attacks of
The ideology of jihadism rose in the 1920s. The Islamist movement,
through both Wahabism and the Muslim Brotherhood, indoctrinated large
pools of recruits around the world during the Cold War.
In the 1980s the United States was targeted in Tehran and in Beirut. In
the 1990s, Americans were attacked in New York in 1993, massacred in
1993 in Somalia, killed at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996,
attacked in 1998 in East Africa and again in 2000 in Yemen.
By the time Bin Laden’s men crumbled the towers in Manhattan and the
Pentagon on 9/11, four presidents had been advised by their experts to
avoid a "global confrontation” with terrorism.
In contrast, George Bush broke that taboo and on October 7, 2001 he
declared a "War on Terror.” He should have identified the enemy with its
real name, the jihadists, but at least he informed the nation, that
indeed, we were at war with "an enemy.” And for that mere fact he was
vilified for seven years.
The first root of Bushophobia in the region and within the West
comes from those who wanted the US public to remain numb until the
balance of power would give the advantage to America’s enemies. Two
players shattered this game: Usama Bin laden (by attacking too early)
and George Bush (by responding too quickly).
2) Why was there an unusual demonization of George Bush by the widest
array of regimes, radicals and international opinion makers? Although it
will fall to historians to uncover the forces behind this campaign, the
unprecedented attacks against the president of the United States are
proportional to the powerful changes he wished to accomplish, even if
the results didn’t match his initial ideals. In short, Bush dared to
"touch” the untouchable: the totalitarian regimes and the ideology of
jihadism. The US was tolerated when it bombed and changed regimes in the
Balkans, Grenada, Panama and even when it supported Afghanistan’s
Mujahidin. But when its president spoke of "spreading democracy” in the
region, America was walking into a hornets’ nest.
The financial power of oil from Iran, the Wahabi quarters and even Qatar
slaughtered Bush’s image. In a moment of history, his name and changing
the status quo merged for seven years, rightly or wrongly, unleashing
the wrath of those who wanted to march backward in history: denying
women, minorities and opposition rights and unwilling to reach peace.
3) But was George Bush representing his nation as he challenged regimes
and ideologies overseas? The public answer is yes, the bureaucratic
answer is: no. Indeed, his re-election confirmed that on basic instincts
and general directions, Americans mandated Bush to implement the content
of his speeches on national security. Joe and Jane knew the enemy out
there wanted to do harm unto them. But the intellectual elite of the US,
including Bush’s own foreign affairs bureaucracy, failed him and dodged
his ideals. The president and many congressional leaders aimed to
advance the agenda of democracy and de-radicalization in the greater
Middle East. But undoubtedly the bureaucrats and media elite in the US
fought fiercely against these higher goals and crushed most of them.
Hence, Bush’s words were aimed well but the high ideals expressed in his
public speeches were rarely carried out by the executioners.
Here is a quick list of battlefields and the end results, so far:
Afghanistan: Removing the Taliban and throwing Al Qaeda out of
that country was a victory but managing the rise of democratic culture
Pakistan: Pressuring Musharraf to contain Al Qaeda and the
Taliban was slow but convincing him to allow elections brought about a
more counter jihadi government.
Iraq: Removing genocidal Saddam under any plan was a duty for the
UN to accomplish but America accomplished it. However, moving faster to
achieve the successful surge earlier and to pressure Iran and Syria
would have been a game changer.
Lebanon-Syria: Pushing the Syrian Army out of Lebanon was an
achievement but allowing Hezbollah to cannibalize the country is a
Africa: Fighting Al Qaeda on the continent and countering the
Jihadi Mahakem in Somalia, along with local allies was a good first
Arab-Israeli Conflict: Backing the Palestinian Authority in its
dialogue with Israel and staying firm on Hamas’ terror was right.
Homeland Security: Establishing a homeland security policy was a
first step but Congress should have delivered the legal structure needed
to isolate extremism and protect civil liberties. The debate will
continue but the fact is that America has not been hit since 2001.
Ideological War: President Bush’s speeches until 2006 were
cutting edge on trying to name the doctrines of the enemy. However his
bureaucracy stopped him from his role as educator in chief. Americans
were made to wonder again if Jihad is Yoga!
the historical bottom line? George W. Bush told the American people that
it is a terrorist target and the US needs to take action. The challenge
now is for his successor(s) to stay the course or change it. Bush’s
national security decisions will certainly be scrutinized by politicians
and historians in order to assess their value; but guess what? Americans
are growing mature in this increasingly threatening environment. Deep
down, a large segment of our society knows that the jihadists aren’t
going to practice yoga. The future will clarify further the difference
between America’s instincts as embodied by George W. Bush and many of
his critics and bureaucrats who got stuck in the 1990s.
About Dr. Walid Phares
Dr. Walid Phares is the Director of Future Terrorism
Project at the Foundation for the
Democracies in Washington, a visiting scholar at the European Foundation
for Democracy and the author of the War of Ideas. Dr. Phares was one of the
architects of UNSCR 1559. He is also a Professor of Middle East
Studies at Florida Atlantic University and a contributing expert to FOX News.
Dr. Phares teaches Global Strategies at the National Defense
University. Professor Phares’
is the author of two critical books on the Islamofascist threat to Western
Civilization, "Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies against the West”
and "The War of Ideas: Jihadism