Successes and failures, post-Sept. 11
WASHINGTON — With the war on terror nearing its first anniversary, this is a good time to take stock: What have we accomplished? What mistakes have we made? What lessons have we learned? What do we do next?
On the positive side, we have disrupted, if not destroyed, the Al Qaeda leadership. We have brought about a badly needed regime change in Afghanistan, but at a heavy price. Much of the country lies in ruins from 20 years of war. The cost of rebuilding will run into billions and take years.
The Bush administration has often expressed its skepticism about nation-building, but in this case American responsibility is more direct. All of South Central Asia desperately needs a model of democratic stability. Even if we fail, we should at least try to turn Afghanistan into such a model.
In a recent interview with the BBC, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said that morality requires us to invade Iraq. There is a greater moral obligation to help Afghanistan.
A costly mistake in Afghanistan was to allow much of Al Qaeda, perhaps Osama bin Laden himself, to escape to Pakistan. There is no guarantee this could have been prevented, but it would have been less likely if the United States had committed more of its own ground troops to sealing the Afghan-Pakistan border around Tora Bora.
Instead, the US relied on bribe-prone Afghans of uncertain loyalty.
This mistake arose from an aversion to risking American casualties. The Bush administration has to accept that if it is going to fight a war, American soldiers are going to get killed, regardless of the fancy high-tech weapons in our arsenal.
There seems to have been a dispersion of Al Qaeda and its sympathizers not only to Pakistan but also to other surrounding countries, so that there may be more terrorists today than before the war. There are terrorists in Palestinian areas who no doubt sympathize with Al Qaeda without being part of it.
The Arab-Israeli and Kashmir disputes have gotten more, not less, violent. It is in Al Qaeda's interest to encourage this. Aggravating either conflict would make things worse for the United States.
While we must continue our efforts to identify and contain or eliminate Al Qaeda, we need to think ahead about our long-term policy toward Islam and the world.
Our policies should be aimed at bringing Islam into Western society, following the model of Japan after World War II. In order to do this, and especially to improve our position in the world generally, we need friends and allies. It avails us naught to be the only superpower with a military establishment and an economy towering above all others if we are viewed as the neighborhood bully.
The Bush administration has been slow to recognize this. "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists," the president proclaimed in September 2001, sounding like John Foster Dulles during the cold war. This is a black-and-white view of the world, and the world is not like that.
The last year has made starkly clear what was never far below the surface, and this is a rift in the administration reminiscent of the rift in the Carter administration between Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.
The president's policy seems to be to let the vice president and the secretary of defense appeal to his core conservative supporters and the secretary of state appeal to moderates and liberals. He has no more urgent task than to assert his mastery of his foreign-policy team so that it speaks with one voice.
President Bush has also developed an exaggerated vision of presidential powers. This is typical of presidents. It will eventually lead him into trouble with Congress and the American people. See the example of President Johnson in Vietnam. The issue is not whether the president has authority or power to invade Iraq on his own; the issue is whether it is good politics. The answer is an emphatic no, and the consultation with Congress had better not be pro forma.
Leading the parade in enlarging executive power is Attorney General John Ashcroft, who is well on his way to becoming the worst attorney general since A. Mitchell Palmer in the Wilson administration. If it were not for a stubborn federal judiciary, the Constitution would be in tatters in the Justice Department shredding machine.
Pat M. Holt is former chief of staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.