YouTube video

Story Transcript

Bush’s ‘War on Terror’ legacy

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: George Bush addressed the United Nations on Tuesday. In what will likely be his final speech to the UN as president of the United States, Bush highlighted the great successes of his presidency in fighting terror and spreading democracy. His central thesis was the war on terror, a discussion that he began with the following statement.


GEORGE W. BUSH, US PRESIDENT: The ideals of the charter are now facing a challenge as serious as any since the UN’s founding. A global movement of violent extremists, by deliberately murdering the innocent to advance their aims, these extremists defy the fundamental principles of international order.


To discuss the implications of what Bush said to the UN, we’re joined by investigative journalist and historian Gareth Porter from Washington, DC.


JAY: So, Gareth, Bush defended the bush doctrine and the war on terror. We’ve had eight years of policy based on it. Where is the United States today compared to where it was more or less eight years ago?

PORTER: Well, you know, the problem with the way in which George Bush is formulating and presenting the war on terror as a broad historical phenomenon and a problem for the United States and the world community is that he has presented a kind of right-wing fantasy of the way the war on terror ought to look, which is that there are a handful of terrorists, small groups of terrorists, basically exposed out in the open. The US military or CIA can go in and snatch and grab them or kill them, and that sort of takes care of the problem, whereas in fact the reality is that you have plenty of terrorists, certainly, but they’re embedded in communities and in larger societies which provide support for historical, cultural, political reasons, some of which are very much tied in with the course of US national security policy and military policy in the Middle East. And therefore the way in which Bush has presented this is a kind of immaculate conception of US policy toward the war on terror, in which the other aspects of US policy, as well as the war on terror itself, have nothing to do with the problem, have no negative impact on the problem. And what has actually transpired in the Middle East is that US policy has been responsible for worsening the situation, basically providing the impetus for much greater recruitment of terrorists in the countries in which the United States is fighting, as well as elsewhere in the Middle East.

JAY: And the whole rhetoric for the last eight years, it’s been pointed out before, but it’s just a variation on the good and evil thing. If you can put all your enemies in this rubric of evil, you can also put all your enemies in the rubric of terrorism. Tony Blair was on the Jon Stewart show a couple of nights ago and, as often as he could, linked Hezbollah and al-Qaeda all in the same sentence to try to give an implication that somehow al-Qaeda and Hezbollah and Hamas are connected, which if anybody knows anything about the situation knows al-Qaeda would practically rather have a war with Hezbollah than they would with Americans. So you create this just feeling of the enemy.

PORTER: You’re absolutely right, of course, that one of the aspects of the US policy toward the so-called war on terror is that it provided an excuse to really go after state enemies that the United States wanted to target anyway, particularly Iraq and Iran. And, of course, we know that the consequences of that aspect of the policy have been a terrible failure as well as a serious setback for world peace and for US interests. But I also just want to pinpoint, you know, even a more serious aspect of the negative consequences of the war on terror as defined by the Bush administration, and that has been to essentially create, basically, safe havens and better recruiting grounds for the al-Qaeda problem, and that was the case in Iraq, where there were no al-Qaeda when the United States went into Iraq in 2003, but by 2005 there was a very strong al-Qaeda movement.

JAY: Let’s play another clip of the Bush speech, because according to President Bush, there’s been great successes in Iraq and Afghanistan with the birth of new democracies. Here’s what he had to say about it.


BUSH: Over the past seven years, Afghanistan and Iraq have been transformed from regimes that actively sponsor terror to democracies that fight terror. Libya has renounced its support for terror and its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Nations like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are actively pursuing the terrorists. A few nations, regimes like Syria and Iran, continue to sponsor terror, yet their numbers are growing fewer and they’re growing more isolated from the world.


So, Gareth, the Bush doctrine seems to be working. What do you think?

PORTER: Well, first of all, you have two aspects of this, again, one being the way in which the Bush doctrine or the policy of the Bush administration has worked in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and secondly, then, the policy as it has worked with regard to Iran in particular, and with the rest of the Middle East in general. With regard to Iraq and Afghanistan, we of course have the political myth of the success of the so-called surge as central to the Bush administration’s effort to rehabilitate itself with regard to the war in Iraq. And more and more as we see the reality being exposed, we find out that it wasn’t the surge at all that caused the setback to al-Qaeda in Iraq, but rather al-Qaeda’s own extreme measures, which basically alienated its own Sunni base in the Sunni part of Iraq. And had it not been for that, I can guarantee you that the surge would not have been the success we’re talking about. We would still be fighting and still reading headlines that talked about the difficulty of trying to get somewhere in the fight against al-Qaeda. But, fortunately for the Bush administration, the Sunni insurgents, the nationalists, if you will, fighting against the US occupation, turned against al-Qaeda for their own reasons. And, fortunately, after two years of resisting any sort of accommodation with the Sunnis, Bush finally accepted it and allowed that to take place.

JAY: The issue of Iran has always been the issue of Iranian opposition to Israel. There’s not very much said about the fact that Iraq has a law which describes Israel as an enemy state, and there’s an Iraqi member of the National Assembly who might have charges against him for visiting Israel. This is not something that President Bush talks about, unless this is part of his emerging Iraqi democracy.

PORTER: Well, this particular obfuscation with regard to the Iraqi policy toward Israel is, of course, part of a much larger effort to obscure the reality of Iraqi politics, which is that the al-Maliki regime, a Shiite-dominated regime, is much closer to Iran than it is to the United States. It shares both a Shiite perspective on the domestic politics of Iraq with the Iranian regime, and also shares the Iranian view of the larger picture of the Middle East, where they see the United States aligned with the Sunni regimes, which have not recognized the al-Maliki regime and are regarded quite rightly as, really, enemies, state enemies of the Iraqi regime that’s now in power.

JAY: If you step back a bit, the bigger picture of what he’s talking about, these supposed successes in Iraq and Afghanistan, and then he talks about Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as fighting terror, these are all states that are on the verge of either being broken up, fractured in civil war, or if you go to the Sauds, and to some extent the Pakistanis, that are playing a double-game with the Americans on where they fight terror and where they don’t, I guess this is really more election posturing from Bush than anything else, ’cause anyone that knows anything about the situation, I guess, can see through this fig leaf.

PORTER: Well, the Bush administration of course has many serious problems in terms of the way history is going to view its policy in the Middle East, but one of those problems is that it did indeed help to obscure the reality that the Musharraf regime in Pakistan was indeed playing a double game. It was, of course, taking plenty of American money, billions of dollars of American assistance, and it was allowing the United States to supply its troops and NATO troops in Afghanistan across the Khyber Pass, across the border with Pakistan. But at the same time, it was clearly reaching accommodations and even supporting the Taliban forces on the Pakistani side of the border. So, I mean, that has become even clearer than it was last year and the year before. But the Bush administration, of course, is not going to ever admit that until it’s out of office, and then it will try to obscure it in the memoirs of the Bush administration officials.

JAY: Well, in the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about the state of the American empire. Maybe someone should ask the empire: Empire, are you better off than you were eight years ago or not? And that’s the question we’ll ask in the next segment of our interview with Gareth Porter. Please join us.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Gareth Porter is a historian and investigative journalist on US foreign and military policy analyst. He writes regularly for Inter Press Service on US policy towards Iraq and Iran. Author of four books, the latest of which is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam.