President Bush mocks Senator Kerry for his internationalist views. We know the cost of Bush’s approach to the international community is a war where we are fighting virtually alone and two events this week underscore the continuing cost to the United States.
The British announced that they will move 850 troops in Basra closer to Baghdad (a concession that only highlights how American troops currently serve alone at the heart of the conflict), as British Prime Minister Tony Blair throws a little support to his erstwhile ally before the election.
The redeployment will last only a couple weeks, suggesting it is a political rather than strategic move to shore up President Bush’s claim he has a working coalition in the region. Only one-fifth of the total British force sent to Iraq in 2003 is still in-country, which American force levels have remained near invasion numbers.
The British troops will be redeployed only if they stay under British command, which contradicts Bush’s refusal last week to allow Muslim troops to operate under United Nations commanders and not U.S. officers.
“The multinational force commanders also had some concerns about forces operating outside the chain of command structure,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters on Air Force One on October 18. However, if the British retain command of their troops, the challenge today is in negotiation among command structures and the categorical rejection of U.N. assistance is the real culprit—President Bush has so deeply damaged the U.S.-U.N. relationship that there is no expectation the two organizations can work together.
So, U.S. troops continue to carry far more of the burden than is necessary because of President Bush’s total disregard for diplomacy.
Another casualty of Bush’s intransigence is cooperation with the United Nations’ anti-terrorism efforts, which leverage the contributions of countries around the globe. Whether Mr. Bush acknowledges it or not, tapping into the police and security resources of all these countries is a more efficient way to achieve his goal of striking at terrorist organizations before they reach America.
The lack of coordination with intelligence organizations in many countries costs the United States every day, both in terms of the cost and speed of accessing information and responding effectively. As John Robb put it when describing successful missile attacks on a local basis: “This proves yet again that localized uses of specific weapon systems within the context of good intelligence coordination can get things done in this kind of conflict.”
But the Bush Administration refuses to coordinate with anyone on any but its own terms. That is dangerous for the United States, making an already difficult war more impractical to fight. To refer to Robb, again, without a resilient network based on deep relationships there is a lower likelihood of success in the battle against terror networks.
You cannot send armies abroad to fight terror cells, you have to deploy intelligence operatives and small strike teams; if you don’t show respect for local authorities, they don’t provide the support needed to take this approach to the war on terror (the same phenomenon is easily seen in the relationships between local and federal police agencies in the United States, where toes are constantly stepped on to the detriment of investigations—it was why the Amber Alert system had to be put in place, to give local authorities a fast track to national law enforcement networks). But the Bush Administration refuses to acknowledge that success is a matter of global teamwork.
Just today, the United Nations announced its global container control program, which aims to track and police container traffic to prevent drug and human smuggling, terrorism and other crimes facilitated by the 220 million containers on the move around the world. The number of containers is expected to double in the next eight years, making U.S. cooperation with other countries all the more important. It is an increasingly complex problem that no single government can address, and if the U.S. tries to do it alone the country will not interdict attacks before containers arrive in our ports.
Senator Kerry has repeatedly pointed to container traffic as a key point of vulnerability for the United States. Last evening, in a debate between the candidates for U.S. Senate from Washington, Senator Patty Murray, a realist, said that improving our port security is a critical initiative, but her opponent, Congressmen George Nethercutt chided her, saying that by the time the container arrived in a U.S. port the war was lost. He then went on to endorse President Bush’s idea of fighting terrorists in their home bases, presumably following the “shock and awe” approach introduced in Iraq.
Nethercutt makes two critical mistakes with his argument. First, there is no “home base” in a terror network, something anyone should know by this juncture in the War on Terror. Despite having “eliminated two-thirds of the leadership of al Queda,” the U.S. has not reduced the threat from the organization in any measurable way—in fact, by counting only the leaders of al Queda in 2001 when calculating that figure, the Bush Administration demonstrates it is profoundly blind to the nature of terror networks, which are based on constant recruitment and movement of members.
Second, unless the United States cooperates with foreign governments to police container traffic, a process that requires international cooperation, how will we prevent terrorists or bombs from arriving in U.S. ports? That approach begs for failure to be identified only when the first bomb goes off. Does Nethercutt believe that fighting terrorists in their home base includes placing U.S. troops in all the ports where U.S.-bound shipping originates? It’s absurd on the face of it and further evidence of the blindness that afflicts neocons.