WASHINGTON, DC — President George W. Bush declared victory today in his Administration’s push to ouster former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein from the world’s stage.
“I’m pleased to be able to stand before you today and declare a decisive blow against tyranny in the Middle East,” Mr. Bush said at this morning’s regular press briefing. “Last week, as you all know, free and democratic elections were held in Iraq for the first time in more than two decades. And the Iraqi people have spoken as one. Saddam Hussein is no longer the leader of the Iraqi people.”
The results came as no surprise to the Bush Administration, which has long declared a confident faith in the election’s outcome.
“We were there with the UN from the beginning,” Secretary of Defense Eric Shinseki said. “When the Iraqi ambassador suggested peacekeeping forces could help ensure the fairness of the elections, help prevent poll fraud, we were pleased to help out.”
Shinseki, whose position was gained immediately after the post-9/11 events in Afghanistan forced Donald Rumsfeld to resign in disgrace, spoke from the Rose Garden after the President’s address. “I couldn’t be more pleased with the results. But the credit belongs with the Iraqi people, not with anything I or this Administration have done.”
Asked whether the continuing presence of UN and American soldiers in Afghanistan might have had undue influence on the election’s results, Shinseki replied in the negative. “The world has had nearly half a decade now to see that our role in Afghanistan was, first, to eliminate the Taliban and terrorism from the midst of the people; and second, to help the country recover from thirty years of almost constant international and internecine warfare.
“Our assistance in establishing a stable democratic régime there, our assistance in maintaining order, is actually nearly finished — we’ll scale a complete withdrawal of all troops by the end of the year, and Afghanistan will be a completely autonomous, self-governing and peaceful nation, something it hasn’t had an opportunity to be since before the Cold War ended.”
Shinseki’s rise to Secretary of Defense came about when former Secretary Rumsfeld badly miscalculated the number of troops that would be necessary in order to establish peace in post-strike Afghanistan.
That nation was bombed and invaded in response to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Multiple al-Qaeda training camps were known to have existed there.
Rumsfeld’s disgrace was furthered when he was implicated in suggesting that Iraq, rather than Afghanistan, was a true host for anti-American terrorist forces. President Bush asked for his resignation soon after Rumsfeld, culminating several months of increasingly inflammatory speeches regarding Iraq, made the claim that Iraq was preparing to manufacture nuclear weapons.
No evidence to support the claim has ever been found.
In addition to Rumsfeld, several other White House officials lost their positions, notably former National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice. The Bush White House has never formally given any reasons for the high staff turnover that took place just a few months after the 9/11 attacks, but insiders have suggested a primary reason was that several key individuals had actively downplayed former Clinton staffers’ warnings regarding ongoing and serious terrorist threats to the nation’s security.
“If [Rice] and [Rumsfeld] had listened,” one source said at the time, “the attacks would never have happened — but they didn’t tell the President, and we were caught with our pants down.”
Prior to the 9/11 attacks the Bush administration had been taking criticism for apparently being too focused on partisan politics, seeking to discredit the Clinton administration in particular and Democrats in general, as well as for the President’s frequent absences to his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
All of that changed on the morning of September 11, 2001. The day of the attack, Mr. Bush immediately left the primary school he had been visiting, insisting on being present in the White House as soon as possible. “America needs me now,” he said. “And I will not turn from her.” He arrived only an hour after United flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, the plane whose apparent target had been the White House. Against the advice of the Secret Service, the President refused to evacuate, but he did take care to see his family to safety.
Even the harshest critics of the administration have had to confess that 9/11 was a “wake-up call” for the President. “He was sloppy and lazy before [the attacks],” Ted Kennedy (D-MA) remarked recently. “But he’s turned out to be a man any of us would follow into hell, if we had to.”
“Fortunately,” he added, “we haven’t had to,” referring to the way that the Afghanistan conflict resolved with remarkably little loss of life for either side, followed by a US-led stabilization of the country which has led to what some are calling a “golden age of freedom, peace and prosperity” for the Middle East, an era that began shortly after Shinseki’s attainment to the post vacated by Rumsfeld.
On being appointed Secretary of Defense, Shinseki became instrumental in formulating what became known as the Bush Doctrine for the Middle East. By stabilizing Afghanistan, he reasoned, the United States and allies could do for the Arab countries essentially what had been done for Germany and Japan after World War II.
The plan was approved by a reserved, yet optimistic, White House, and soon thereafter Operation Afghani Freedom was fully underway. Within six months there was a civilian government in place, but “Only comparatively recently has the situation in Afghanistan settled to the point that UN and US troops are sensibly prepared to withdraw,” Shinseki said.
It was the successful reconstruction of Afghanistan that led to détente with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who was as eager to eliminate al-Qaeda from the world’s stage as were the United States and its allies.
What followed was the World Alliance Against Insurgents and Terrorism. While initially belittled by hard-right conservatives, the tactics employed by WAAIT seem to be successful. Plots to bomb both Spanish and British public transportation systems have been detected and foiled, and effective infiltration of al-Qaeda operations by Iraqi spies rendered the organization almost totally powerless within three years of the coalition’s formation.
The crowning achievement for WAAIT came when the body of Osama Bin Laden was found outside a cluster of caves along Pakistan’s northern border in 2005, apparently a victim of foul play perpetrated by one of his former followers. A handwritten note attached to the decapitated corpse declared in part, “You have been measured and found wanting by Allah. Your failed jihad betrays you as an infidel.”
Further negotiations with President Hussein led to his decision to agree to full democratic elections in his country, overseen by UN, US and WAAIT representatives.
Ibrahim al-Jaafari was elected President by an 85% majority last week. “The massive support given to President al-Jaafari shows he has the mandate necessary to unite all the peoples of Iraq under one fair and representative government,” President Bush said. “Be they Shi’ite, Sunni, Kurdish or even Ba’athists, the consensus is clear. The people of Iraq have chosen their leader.” Al-Jaafari has already begun assembling a diverse cabinet, and negotiations with Afghani and Saudi officials seem to be progressing smoothly.
Asked if Iran’s continuing nuclear program posed a threat to the stability of the Middle East, President Bush gave his trademark chuckle. “Well, we’ve shown that freedom can take hold in even the stoniest of soil, both in Afghanistan and now in Iraq,” he said. “We’ve seen the ongoing negotiations leading to a settled and friendly state between Israel and Palestine. We’ve seen Saudia Arabia begin to back off on its religious messages to its citizens, cooling down on the indoctrination of its youth in fundamentalist messages.
“Do I think Iran is a threat? Possibly,” Mr. Bush said. “Do I think it’s a threat to the stability of the Middle East? At one time I might have said yes. Today, no, I don’t think so. I think it’s more like how it was with Mr. Kim, desperate, but able to be negotiated with.”
The reference was to North Korean president Kim Jong Il. When his nation first began accelerating its missile and nuclear programs, WAAIT and United Nations forces were mobilized to show solidarity with China, Japan and South Korea. In addition economic and political support was extended to the nation in exchange for reduction of its armament programs.
Kim Jong Il refused to speak with any but Chinese President Hu Jintao, who was able, after several weeks, to broker an acceptable compromise. While the situation in North Korea is still far from stable, it is nowhere near as uncertain as it once was.
“In a very real way,” Mr. Bush said, “Iran is a lot like North Korea, standing alone, at odds with all its neighbors. We’ve done this kind of thing before. I’m sure we’ll be able to handle anything that may come up in the next few months.”
Asked if he would be taking time off to visit relatives and friends in Crawford — something the President has been unable to do for the last three years due to pressing matters of state including being personally present, along with Secretary of State Colin Powell, at every diplomatic meeting between Israeli and Palestinian authorities, as well as playing an active role in the successful and nearly total reconstruction of New Orleans just six months after it had been completely evacuated in the face of hurricane Katrina, the first time in US history a storm of that magnitude left no deaths in its wake — Mr. Bush only chuckled again.
“There’ll be plenty of time for me to relax in two more years,” he quipped, referring to the end of his second term in early 2009. “Of course,” he went on over the laughter, “then I’ll have to write my memoirs.
“If you thought Bill Clinton’s book was thick, wait’ll you see mine.”
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