A BuzzFlash Editorial
Can Bush Play Chess?
September 24, 2001
A BUZZFLASH EDITORIAL
On Sunday, September 16, Bush characterized America's coming struggle to crush terrorism as a "Crusade."
It was an ill-chosen word that fed right into the fears of the Islamic world that the Christian West was once again coming to vanquish and slay the "infidels." The Crusades occurred from the 11th through 13th Centuries as thousands upon thousands of Muslims were slain in an effort to recapture Jerusalem. The tragic irony, of course, is that the Pan-Islamic vision of Osama bin Laden and his extremist clerics present the mirror image of the Crusades: an Islamic jihad aimed at bringing about the downfall of the Judeo-Christian West -- and to rescue the "Holy Land" from the Christian infidels (for example, American bases in Saudi Arabia). Bin Laden, as we know, maniacally considers all Americans and "Crusaders" as fair targets for murder.
Although the White House apologized for Bush's evocation of the "Crusade," the propaganda damage had already been done. If we are simultaneously trying to crush extremist Islamic terrorists while minimizing the possibility of the Middle East and parts of Islamic Asia from exploding in an armed uprising, then Bush's use of the word "Crusade" was like tossing a match onto a tinder box when the use of a fire extinguisher should have been the rhetorical tool of the day.
In a September 22nd article in the Chicago Tribune, the impact of the President's personal view on America's counterattack was clearly evident: (See: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0109220185sep22.story):
"Tensions in the region were only exacerbated this week when President Bush used the word "crusade" in describing the U.S. campaign against terrorism.
The Crusades were the military expeditions undertaken by Christians between the 11th and 13th Centuries to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims. The Christian crusaders were defeated at the end of the 13th Century.
Bush quickly backed away from the "Crusade" remark, and aides admitted it was a poor choice of words. But in the teeming streets of Middle East capitals, Arabs see the U.S. preparing for a war that pits Western secular and Christian nations against Muslim countries.
recent Reuters also detailed the far-reaching damage done by the Bush
reference to a Crusade, despite his subsequent overtures to the Moslem
world. ( See: http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/ap/20010921/wl/attacks_muslim_prayers_2.html
The Pentagon further inflamed the volatile situation when it code-named the American anti-terrorist initiative "Operation Infinite Justice," which apparently is a concept that only Allah can embody, according to believers in Islam. Subsequently, Rumsfeld indicated that the name might be changed.(See: http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20010920/pl/attack_name_dc_1.html )
Once again, ill-advised language, evidence of the Bush administration's isolationist leanings and parochial perspective, fed right into fanning the flames of fears that the likes of Osama and the Taliban are trying to capitalize on, that the West is out to mock, taint and subdue the true followers of Islam. Forget for the moment that the Taliban are the equivalent of the Inquisition to the people of Afghanistan and the world for that matter; but we are talking about a propaganda victory that was handed to him on a platter. George W. Bush and the Pentagon gave the cunning bin Laden a lot of material to work with.
According to the political pundits and "conventional wisdom," Bush redeemed himself in a well-delivered, relatively thoughtful speech last Thursday. But remarks to a joint session of Congress are meant for domestic consumption. The long-term damage of the "Crusade" threat and "Operation Infinite Justice" missteps will be to provide a propaganda windfall to the very people we are supposed to be battling.
No one knows better than the PR spin managers at the White House that it is the charge that makes the headlines, while the retractions are buried in the back of the news.
A column by Frank Bruni in the September 22nd New York Times indicates that even some Republicans have been harboring (off the record of course) concerns that Bush has become too driven by his sense that God has chosen him for this task -- and that his bellicose rhetoric may be boxing the U.S. into a corner. (See http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/22/national/22MEMO.html?searchpv=nytToday):
According to Bruni, "They agreed that he was interpreting this juncture in grand, emphatic and even Manichaean terms, a perspective evident in his recent use of the word "crusade" and in his speech to Congress, in which he said that "this is civilization's fight," that freedom and fear were at war and that "God is not neutral between them .One of the president's close acquaintances outside the White House said Mr. Bush clearly feels he has encountered his reason for being, a conviction informed and shaped by the president's own strain of Christianity.
"I think, in his frame [of mind], this is what God has asked him to do," the acquaintance said. "It offers him enormous clarity."
Bruni adds: "Not everyone who has observed Mr. Bush's ardor and commitment views them as indisputably positive developments. Although the current moratorium on presidential criticism in the nation's capital prohibits most on-the-record carping, there is off-the-record concern, expressed not only by Democrats but also by some Republicans.
They fear that there is something headlong and immature in some of Mr. Bush's exhortations over the last few days. They wonder if he is making promises he cannot keep and threats he cannot back up.
They note it is impossible to know how and how much Mr. Bush has really changed, because efforts by the White House to control what gets said about him, and who says it, have been unusually aggressive.
Most of the people in a position to talk knowledgeably about Mr. Bush's emotions are not talking at all. Those who do talk have often sought the administration's permission, and they reel off the same adjectives, like focused and resolute, that White House spokesmen do.
Moreover, there are indications that Mr. Bush's nonchalant, jocular demeanor remains the same. In public, his off-the-cuff language still veers toward the colloquial. In private, say several Republicans close to the administration, he still slaps backs and uses baseball terminology, at one point promising that the terrorists were not "going to steal home on me."
who are close to the president said there was a discernible spiritual
dimension to his thinking. A senior administration official recalled Mr.
Bush's response on Thursday when one of the religious leaders said that
Mr. Bush's leadership was part of God's plan.
(End of excerpt from the New York Times.)
It is fitting and necessary to stand united as a nation in mourning, and in a resolve to protect ourselves from future attacks.
But the isolationist juggernaut and arrogance toward foreign powers that characterized the Bush administration prior to September 11th, combined with subsequent rhetorical miscues that have played into the hands of our adversaries, should give us all pause for thought.
A September 18th Associated Press article noted (see http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/ap/20010917/us/attacks_crusade_1.html):
"America's leaders should be especially leery of anything that hints at a holy war, many said, because it plays into the hands of Osama bin Laden (news - web sites), who has said he wants the world to plunge into a war, or jihad, between Islam and Christianity.
"It's what the terrorists use to recruit people - saying that Christians are on a crusade against Islam," said Yvonne Haddad, a professor of the history of Islam at Georgetown University in Washington. "It's as bad to their ears as it is when we hear 'jihad."'
For the moment, Colin Powell and the diplomacy faction appear to be holding the upper hand in the administration's handling of efforts to ensure the safety of Americans against future terrorist attacks. After several months of a lone ranger, unilateralist foreign policy, the administration is now, ironically, in desperate need of International support to achieve its goals of battling terrorism
We need to be loyal Americans, yes -- and we are.
But it is as clear now, as it was before September 11th, that as much as we need a valiant, strategic leader -- we have a leader, short of these qualifications, who needs us even more. Our vigilance is vital to the future of our nation.
This is not a test, as the mainstream media appears to be portraying it, of whether or not Bush has become "transformed" by the horror of September 11.
It happened on his watch. Our intelligence services and military failed to protect us as a nation. They cannot even assure us that more terrorist attacks are not in the offing.
We have a personal and patriotic right to weigh in on the overall strategy of how we can best protect our nation and our people. That decision should not, in the understandable rush to rally around "our leader," be entirely left to an administration that has shown, prior to September 11th, that it was tone deaf to the needs of nations and communities beyond our shores. Bush has been virtually disengaged, for example, from the latest perilous stage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Like almost all people of the earth (with the exception of suicide bombers), self-preservation for ourselves and our families is our first instinct. As a result, we must look to the future, while learning from the failed lessons of the past.
How many believe that George W. Bush alone can guide us through the murky, turbulent waters ahead and lead us to a safer shore?
The 90% plus poll ratings he is receiving are due to the support of Americans for the institution of the Presidency and we all want him to succeed at protecting us. Because if he fails to halt future terrorist attacks, whatever the strategy, our democracy and our lives are at grave risk.
As one commentator noted, the Islamic terrorists are playing a chess game aimed at demoralizing and then defeating the West. Bush, in the first week of reaction to the horror of September 11th, seemed to want to put up a "Wanted Dead or Alive Sign" and have a shoot out at the OK-Corral.
Does anyone want to vouch for Bush's skills at playing chess?
With the use of the word "Crusade" and the phrase "Operation Infinite Justice," we have already lost two pawns and perhaps a knight.
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