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The War on Terror, One Year Later
The Bush Administration, One Year Later

World News
The War on Terror, One Year Later

A year after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, editors, columnists, politicians and others are taking stock of what the War on Terror has accomplished — and where it’s leading America.

Arthur Kent argues in Maclean’s that Washington’s mission has become muddled and confused. As evidence, Kent points to the chaotic situation in the country where the War on Terror began — Afghanistan. Administration claims that security in the country is “reasonably good” have been shattered, Kent writes, and the Bush team is being forced to answer tough questions about why the country should consider expanding the war to Iraq when the first step is so far from finished.

Nicholas Lemann suggests in The New Yorker that the failures of the War on Terror — and the administration’s apparent lack of consensus on how to run that war — were actually foretold when the president responded to the Sept. 11 attacks. Bush, Lemann notes, told the country and the world that the war began with Al Qaeda, but would not end until “every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.” While the attack on Al Qaeda and their Taliban sponsors was a response, Lemann says that Bush’s open-ended pledge represented a doctrine, and he writes that Bush “has steadily upped the doctrinal ante” ever since.

Now, an increasing number of voices at home and abroad are beginning to question both the administration’s rhetoric and the doctrine itself. Hugo Young, writing in The Guardian, suggests that a growing number of people outside the Bush administraiton are beginning to see the “elevation of terrorism to the top of the list as part of the problem, not the solution.” The Toronto Star‘s Richard Gwyn, meanwhile, suggests that the doctrine itself has become corrupted by American conservatives preaching a divisive “us versus them” worldview. As a result, Gwyn argues, the war against terrorism has slipped to become a war against Islamic culture.

The war has its cheerleaders, of course, such as The National Review‘s Ariel Cohen. “Regardless of what appeasers, isolationists, and anti-globalists may say, America is going to accomplish this together with others who are under attack,” he opines. Cohen doesn’t shy away from naming the enemy in this struggle — “radical Islam.” Brendan Miniter of The Wall Street Journal is more circumspect, but just as supportive of the Bush administration’s doctrine. “All that’s left is for someone to articulate why what we do as individuals matters in this struggle,” Miniter intones. Chris Hitchens, writing in The Independent, also offers unalloyed support for the struggle, which he argues is both simple and unavoidable. “To repeat: the whole point of this war is that it pits us against those who deal in death without discrimination,” Hitchens writes.

Finally, a few notable voices are emerging to suggest ways in which the War on Terror might be brought back on track, among them former President Bill Clinton. Writing on Salon.com, Clinton offers support for Bush’s military preparations but argues that terrorism will only be defeated “with an aggressive security and foreign policy designed to produce more partners and fewer terrorists.” Laying out five main points around which this policy should be built, the former president praises several of his successor’s terror-fighting initiatives. But Clinton argues the US must abandon unilateral action in favor of “more, and more effective, international institutions,” and argues that peace in the Middle East and on the Indian subcontinent are more pressing foreign policy issues than a ‘regime change’ in Iraq.

The Bush Administration, One Year Later

In the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, voices from all points of the political spectrum offered praise for President Bush and his handling of the tragedy. A year later, many mainstream voices are sticking to the familiar line, suggesting that the terror attacks provided Bush with an opportunity to show genuine leadership.

Sean Loughlin of CNN, for instance, remarks that, after the attacks, “ Bush found his voice, outlining a battle of good vs. evil and vowing in stark, impassioned terms to win the war on terrorism.” In a similar vein, Godfrey Sperling says in The Christian Science Monitor that Bush “became, overnight, the leader of the free world in the war against terrorism. Furthermore, he has shown the world that he’s quite a leader.”

But not everyone remains so convinced of Bush’s growth or leadership. A growing number of pundits on the Left are suggesting that, in fact, the president and the administration remain remarkably like they were before Sept. 11.

Peter Beinart argues in The New Republic that Bush, in fact, has remained wholly the same. “Americans project onto Bush the transformation they wish to see in themselves” — seriousness, purpose, and concern for the common good, Beinart writes. The president’s most visible trait since Sept. 11, Beinart asserts, has been his “highly personal, highly moralistic view of the world,” a simplistic sensibility which was in place long before the terror attacks.

Marc Sandalow suggests in the San Francisco Chronicle that the president’s inner circle also emerged unaltered. The terror attacks merely gave the administration a context in which it could place its preconceived foreign policy goals, Sandalow writes, citing the Bush team’s single-minded focus on Iraq as an example.

While Bush’s performance in the days after the New York and Washington attacks was largely praised, The American Prospect‘s Paul Starr suggests that it has since become clear that the president made three serious mistakes: a “dangerously unlimited bid” for expanded executive authority; the sacrifice of US alliances for a hugely unpopular preemptive campaign against Iraq; and, a failure to respond to skyrocketing government expenditures and an economic downturn.


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