The best case is that President Bush’s speech in Utah was a cynical manipulation of the American public.
Perhaps this is why he portrays his unpopular war in Iraq as part of a heroic battle against the forces of evil. Sunni and Shia, Persian and Arab, Al Qaida and Hamas are all, he claims, “a single movement, a worldwide network of radicals.”
This mushy merger of rival groups and nations with vastly different histories and motives, some in actual combat with each other, may help the president convince some that they should back his war in Iraq as a way of defeating Hezbollah and Hamas. It helps him explain why he abandoned pursuit of Osama bin Laden to overthrow Saddam Hussein. They are, in his view, all the same.
Another possibility is that the president actually believes this simplistic notion picked up from the fringe writings of the radical right. He may believe that these petty groups and their posturing leaders “are successors to fascists, to Nazis, to communists and other totalitarians of the 20th century.” By inflating his enemies, he raises his own perceived role in history. He becomes the Churchillian leader of “the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century.”
It is difficult to believe that the senior leadership in the National Security Council, the State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff supports this grandiose analysis. It is harder to believe that the senior analysts in the intelligence agencies have concurred with this distorted world view.
The worst case, however, is that the president will act on his vision. He expressly abandons decades of bipartisan efforts to manage world events and contain disruptive forces. “For a half-century, America’s primary goal in the Middle East was stability,” he says contemptuously, embracing the neoconservative notion that we use the U.S. military for serial regime change to force a new world order.
If so, this could be not just the political posturing of an election campaign but the unveiling of a new phase in the president’s long war. A war, he says, in which the “fighting there can be as fierce as it was at Omaha Beach or Guadalcanal.”
A grim prediction, a bizarre campaign platform, and a future we must reject.