by Richard Reeves | uExpress | December 24, 2003
DALLAS -- With all due respect to two great institutions, the U.S. military and Time magazine, the latter got it wrong when it picked the former as its "Person of the Year" for 2003. President George W. Bush was the person of the year, perhaps of the decade and more.
That man in the White House, the commander in chief of the 1.4 million American soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen, changed the world for better or worse when he sent American troops into action in Iraq. Time calls our military "the bright sharp instrument of a blunt policy." But the policy is the story. The president decided to roll the dice, and we are the dice -- the men and women in uniform more than the rest of us.
The president is a bold, decisive and overconfident crusader, a self-righteous leader, a dangerous man. He changed the rules, ignoring the post-World War II history of alliances, multilateral institutions and containment. His rationale for the invasion of Iraq is called "pre-emptive war" in the White House and "preventive war" in other capitals. But, in fact, it is more than that.
Saddam Hussein's Iraq was not a nice place, but we did not go there to pre-empt or prevent anything. We went there to change the regime and make a new country in our own image. If Iraq were truly a threat -- to us or its neighbors -- it would have become the pre-emptive target of its neighbors, tough guys like Turkey, Israel or Iran. Remember: In 1981, Israeli jets destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor because it may or may not have been capable of being used in the development of nuclear weapons.
The American "forward strategy," as the president sometimes calls it, was not about threat. It is a crusade strategy, not so much to stop terrorism as to change the culture of the place, to promote freedom, democracy, free-market capitalism and the American Way, with absolute confidence that the American Way is superior to all others.
For a long time, U.S. military strategy had been to position our great military power to deter upheaval and war in parts of the world we considered essential to our own national security. Bush, with practically no strategic background, was frustrated by that approach and considered the terror at home on Sept. 11, 2001, an indication that containment and alliances were no longer adequate to combat new threats to our tranquility and prosperity. The military, he concluded, was not there as a deterrent; it was there to use, bluntly. To paraphrase Marshall McLuhan on media, the military is the message. The military is the strategy.
Will it work? I think not. It is based on a cherished American assumption that everyone in the world wants to be us. They don't. They sure would like to have many of the things we have, but there are just as many American things they don't want, beginning with education for women. Watching events evolve (or unravel) in Iraq, I sometimes try to draw analogies. What would we do, for instance, if a fundamentalist Muslim force, say the Taliban, were able to conquer part of the United States and took American women out of schools and forced them into a kind of house arrest? And what would we do if they told us how lucky we were to live that way, because their values or their God was better than ours? Would we fight? Would we resist? I hope so.
That is not going to happen -- and a big reason we are safe is the sharpness of our military. But the Bush crusades have sent our troops into the deserts and the holy places of people we don't know or understand. And they are going to hate us, as we will more and more come to hate them. Our bright military will be tied down. What will they be doing? Protecting themselves against locals; "force protection," in military terms.
This is the crusade our leader wanted. George W. Bush is the man of this year of living dangerously. His assumptions and strategy should be the issues of the election in 2004. One reason Howard Dean has done so well so far as the election season began is that he recognized that single fact: Bush and his bold record are the issue. When and where does this crusade end?
It is sobering and then some to think about what George W. Bush would do in a second term.
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