This is Leadership?

by Mike Liroff | 10/21/04 5:00am

In their second debate, John Kerry called President Bush -- appropriately -- "Orwellian." He referred then to the cheery names the Bush administration has given its regressive environmental policies: The Clean Skies bill excludes the biggest greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, and has led to dirtier skies; the Healthy Forest Initiative actually injured forests by opening them up to logging. The truth is, unfortunately, that mirrors of "1984" don't end with environmental policy: Bush and company relied on Orwellian logic in making a case for the Iraq war. In short, the White House knowingly put the American homeland and its citizens in danger in order to build support for the war, relying on logic similar to that the government in "1984" used to justify bombing its own citizens. The White House displayed unequivocally that it placed the war in Iraq as a higher priority than American civilian lives--not just U.S. Army or military lives. Bush was willing to let people like you and I die en masse for the chance to oust Saddam, all in the name of protecting us.

That's a big charge to make, and I will support it fully. Instead of focusing on how the facts of Iraq contradict the rationale for war, a typical critique of the Bush Administration, I want to focus on the way the war on terrorism has been carried out, to exemplify the inherent contradictions in what supporters of Bush call his broad and visionary policy on terrorism.

The story of Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi is enlightening. The terrorist Zarqawi fled Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion there, and set up a weapons lab and training camp in the Kurdish-controlled region in the north of Iraq. At that lab, he produced, among other things, ricin and cyanide, a fact that the United States did not miss; the White House actually trumpeted his presence in Iraq as a reason for regime change there, even though the Kurds, not Saddam, were granting him asylum.

Last March, NBC News reported that during 2002 and 2003, the U.S. military drew up "airtight" plans to bomb Zarqawi's weapons lab three separate times. One of those proposals came on the heels of a British discovery of ricin in London that was linked to Zarqawi's weapons lab; all three times, the military suspected Zarqawi to be at the camp. Unfortunately, the White House rejected those plans every time. The rationale for not attacking: eliminating Zarqawi would undermine the case for war. Slate.com's Fred Kaplan put it best when he wrote, "This was a jaw-dropping bit of cynicism: Bush sold, and continues to sell, the war in Iraq as a major campaign in the global war on terrorism, yet he repeatedly passed up the chance to neutralize or kill one of the most dangerous terrorists for fear of weakening the case for war." If you don't know Zarqawi by name, you've definitely heard about him recently -- he's been rather prolific in chopping off the heads of American and British civilians in Iraq.

Former National Security Council member Roger Cressy was quoted by NBC News as saying, of the White House and National Security Council, "People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president's policy of pre-emption against terrorists.... Here's a case where they waited, they waited too long and now we're suffering as a result inside Iraq."

So much for staying on the offensive and getting the terrorists before they get us. Of course, that's not the story we hear from Bush. In a speech this past Monday, he mentioned Zarqawi by name as a chief reason we needed to invade: "Sen. Kerry believes that fighting Zarqawi and other terrorists in Iraq is a 'diversion' from the war on terror. I believe that fighting and defeating these killers in Iraq is a central commitment in the war on terror." Bush's campaign rhetoric rings hollow when you realize that he repeatedly bypassed bringing down that very terrorist and his biological weapons lab. He instead allowed a known terrorist to train others and develop biological weapons, some of which may have made it out of Iraq, while forcing our military to sit on its hands.

Our president has put us, his own citizens, in danger, in order to supposedly protect us. He has diverted resources away from fighting the terrorists, in the name of fighting terrorism. Is that the type of leadership you want in a president?

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