HIGH NOON IN THE DESERT
by Walter M. Brasch
American Reporter Correspondent
BLOOMSBURG, Pa. -- The capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, believed to be the man who created the 9/11 plot, proves a couple of things.
First, it shows that the CIA and FBI, with local assistance and if given enough time, manpower, and budget--including a $25 million reward - can track down and locate anyone.
More important, it emphasizes that it's not Iraq that the U.S. should be trying to obliterate from the earth. Mohammad, director of operations for al-Qaeda, is a Kuwaiti-Pakistani citizen who was captured near Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.
Fifteen of the 19 terrorists who killed about 3,000 on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden is a Saudi; his physician and spiritual advisor is Egyptian; his other top aide, killed in an air strike, was Egyptian. Among al-Qaeda's "executives" at the time of 9/11, 11 were Egyptian, eight were Saudis, seven were Yemini, four were of unknown nationality, two were Kuwaiti, one was Kuwaiti-Pakistani, one was Pakistani, one was Libyan, one was Algerian, one was Jordanian, one was from Mauritius--and only one was an Iraqi. Nine of the 10 largest financial contributors to al-Qaeda are Saudi.
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush quickly vowed to track down and capture or kill bin Laden, and demanded that Afghanistan, under political control of the fundamental Taliban party, give him up. When the Taliban, sympathetic to al-Qaeda but not responsible for the attacks, hesitated and decided to protect their own sovereignty, President Bush ordered troops to invade Afghanistan. The U.S. never found bin Laden.
It was becoming an embarrassment. The mightiest nation in the world couldn't find a 6-foot-5 terrorist who was in poor health, rode horses, and lived in caves. The solution was to create the War on Terrorism, rally Americans' patriotic feelings, and bring home a mid-term election victory.
The President now said that to destroy terrorists, he would look to his father's enemy, Saddam Hussein who had vowed to kill George H. W. Bush. It was, President George W. Bush noted, "personal."
Iraq, the President declared, was one of three nations in an Axis of Evil. That Saddam Hussein is evil is not in question. That he is ruthless and despotic, and his overthrow would be welcomed by most Iraqis and much of the rest of the world is not in doubt. But, the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Council have all said there was no connection between Iraq and the 9/11 plot, or even any ties to al-Qaeda--and every indication that Saudi Arabia and many of our other "strategic oil allies" were providing safe havens for terrorists.
Several retired generals as well as diplomats appointed by the first George Bush have spoken against this war. Millions of Americans, and millions more in other countries, have spoken against the impending war. But, for more than six months, our President has been beating the drums of war.
And, like an ornery brat who fixates upon one thing and screeches a temper tantrum - "Mama, I wanna Super Shooter. I wanna SuperShooter! Gimme a SuperShooter" - President Bush is fixated upon making Americans believe that we need to destroy Iraq to preserve God, mother, apple pie, and the right to obscene oil profits.
Discounting the oil connection, there was justification for the first Gulf War in 1991. Iraq had invaded a sovereign nation; the U.N. had authorized the U.S. to build a financial and military coalition to force Iraq to retreat.
More than a decade later, Saddam is still Iraq's leader, but his nation has suffered from U.N. economic sanctions. Its infrastructure is crumbling; its educational system, once one of the best in the world, is deteriorating; inflation has made the dinar, worth about 3.30 U.S. dollars in 1990, about 33 cents today. The country poses no immediate threat; it poses less danger to world peace than North Korea, Iran, and several other countries; the U.N. isn't giving the U.S. its approval; and the "coalition" George W. Bush says he has consists of only three countries, none of them Arab.
Without question, Saddam Hussein has less power and poses less a military threat than any time in his nation's history. But our Sheriff was going to round up that culprit, hog-tie him, and impose an American-style government upon a nation whose history goes back to the Old Testament.
It's now "High Noon," and the cowboy-in-chief, with almost no world-wide allies, has placed 250,000 American troops and a large chunk of our Navy and Air Force within easy striking distance of Iraq, declared he doesn't care what the U.N. says or does, and will lead America to turn the Iraqi desert into glass, destroy its capital, kills thousands of Iraqi troops, thousands more "collateral damage" civilians, and (hopefully) also get rid of Saddam.
This President, who scuttled a $230 billion surplus when he took office into a $304 billion deficit just two years into his first term, has presided over a nation that has lost two million jobs in two years and is struggling against administration-imposed reduced funding for education, environmental, and social programs. He has announced plans that would raid the Social Security and Medicare funds. But, he will spend at least $600 billion, according to numerous military and economic analysts, to go to war then to occupy and restore Iraq. He will probably sacrifice several hundred, maybe several thousand, American lives for a mission that has nothing to do with eliminating terrorism or al-Qaeda, and everything to do with a personal agenda wrapped around revenge and barrels of oil.
In the past decade, the U.S. military, with an annual budget of about $400 billion, has become far more powerful; the Iraqi military, with a budget of about $1.3-$1.5 billion, has become much weaker. In what the President calls "shock and awe," the United States plans to throw almost every weapon of war against Iraq.
Unlike the month-long air attack in the first Gulf War, the U.S. will probably begin with air attacks but quickly send in ground troops. It'll probably first invade from Kuwait in the south, then advance into Baghdad. Miltary analysts have said it would take about three days to reach the capital. The financial cost for three days alone would be about $1.5 billion - Iraq's budget for a full year. The war could be over in less than a month.
There is no question that the U.S. will destroy Iraq. It would be a duck-shoot far more damaging than anything that occurred in the Battle of Medina Ridge which ended the first Gulf War. More than 200,000 troops, subject not to Iraqi thanks for being "liberated," but Iraqi hatred for having invaded their country, will have to be an army of occupation for at least two more years.
Damn the truth, pa'dners, full speed ahead.
Walter Brasch's latest book is "The Joy of Sax: America During the Bill Clinton Era." He is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org