President Bush, Al-Qaeda, and Alcohol

It is clear that President Bush regards his campaign against Al-Qaeda’s terrorism as defining his Presidency. There are many other terrorist groups, such as the Irish Republican Army and Islamic terrorists operating out of Pakistan in Kashmir, but Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda are the focus of his concern. (“Al-Qaeda” means “the base.”)

His speech before Congress set forth an all-or-nothing strategy. He said that he will not relent in his pursuit of the accomplices of those men who he said had attacked the nation on September 11. He defined his new foreign policy clearly: those who harbor terrorists — Al-Qaeda terrorists — are against the United States.

He has adopted the “unconditional surrender” military policy that was first articulated and applied in American history by the North during the American Civil War, and was continued by Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman in World War II. America abandoned unconditional surrender in Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War. Now Mr. Bush has returned the nation to the older policy.

Unconditional Force

The strategy of unconditional surrender has to be fought with unconditional force. When a President allows an enemy no conditions for surrendering, his goal is total victory. Total victory leads to total aggression. In the Civil War, this meant that the Union’s military terrorized civilians in the South who were perceived as giving aid and comfort to enemy military forces. During World War II, the tactics of total war became familiar on all sides. (I recommend the 1989 book Total War, co-authored by my former teaching assistant colleague, R. John Pritchard.)

We are now seeing the familiar tactics associated with the strategy of unconditional surrender: war on civilians. Wherever Osama bin Laden is, he is not likely in Kabul, where our planes are bombing daily. He is not in any city. He is one of those caves where the President said in his speech to Congress that we will chase him out of. Bin Laden is not going to be hit by cluster bombs — “land mines from the sky” — which our planes are dropping on civilian urban areas.

A cluster bomb contains 200 “bomblets” that scatter over a large area. Unexploded cluster bombs on the ground act as land mines when touched. These cluster bombs are yellow. So are the food packages that we are dropping into Afghanistan. This has created a major public relations problem for the United States in Afghanistan. The military is now broadcasting radio messages in the local languages, telling people to be careful when they pick up anything yellow. I wonder: How many Afghans have radios? I hope they all listen to the right station.

As for Mullah Omar, who leads the Taliban, one of our unmanned reconnaissance Predator aircraft had him and his convoy in its sites, but the micro-managing Air Force general back at Florida’s Mac Dill Air Force Base refused to allow an immediate attack because his Judge Advocate General — a lawyer — refused to approve it. After all, no one was sure that Omar was in the convoy. Omar got away. (This story was reported by Seymour Hersh in the September 22 issue of The New Yorker.)

So, it’s total war on civilian-occupied areas in Afghanistan, but it’s limited war inside Air Force law offices in Florida. CMA is still the supreme tactic among senior military officers, no matter what the President’s official strategy is.


In a September 23 e-mail report by James Joseph Sanchez, a Ph.D. in Middle East studies, the author describes the Al-Qaeda network, which is interlinked with many legal Islamic organizations worldwide.

Despite uninformed gloating, Al-Qaeda [“The Base”] and the Taliban are not isolated, either geographically (even if Afghanistan is landlocked) or politically. Leaving aside the question of the Taliban’s well-known, direct ties with the vast smuggling trade between Europe and South Asia, the Taliban and especially Al-Qaeda have a vast support infrastructure throughout the “North” (that is the “West” plus Russia and Eastern Europe). And despite the incessant chatter about Osama Bin Laden’s putative $350 million fortune, it is clear that in addition to, but isolated from, the military infrastructure of Al-Qaeda, in Europe there is a parallel infrastructure that is a source of money, recruits and technology for Al-Qaeda. . . .

(Since I assume that addressing the underlying problems that create the environment out of which groups like Al-Qaeda is politically impossible, it seems likely that successors to Al-Qaeda will arise one after another, forever.) It is worth remembering than neither the UK nor the United States have ever succeeded in destroying an ethno-religious support network underpinning military-terrorist networks: dozens of such networks exist in both nations and even more in Canada. . . .

Al-Qaeda, a loosely linked, worldwide military movement, is characteristically seen as having at its core the Afghan Arab veterans from the war against the Soviets. Numbering some 50,000, drawn from a dozen countries, the Afghan Arabs are far less numerous than the larger recruiting base from which the open support networks of Al-Qaeda and Taliban can potentially recruit from in the vast and rapidly growing Muslim community of the West, even leaving aside the intense and rather surprising drive to win religico-ideological converts.

There is no way that the United States is going to stamp out the Al-Qaeda network in the narrow sense, let alone the broader Muslim network that Sanchez describes in detail. The more military pressure that we bring on Afghanistan, the more the Islamic world will provide volunteers to fight.

This is now happening in England. In an October 30 article in the London Times, we read of the rage of young male Muslims in the town of Luton.

THERE is a terrible, visceral rage among Luton’s young Muslim brotherhood, a fury so powerful that already dozens of men, all British born and highly educated, have disappeared to fight for the Taleban. It has left parents terrified, the town’s mosques full of loathing and yesterday, as The Times discovered first-hand, seen journalists and photographers physically attacked. . .

Within a minute of arriving outside the mosque, this Times reporter and cameraman were set upon by a Muslim man, who had rushed, enraged, from a halal butcher shop.

“You insult Islam, you corrupt Islam!” he screamed, smashing the camera to the ground and grabbing another photographer by the throat. “You don’t understand how angry we Muslims are!” Five other Muslim men joined him, surrounding us, as he demanded the other camera. Their sense of fury was frightening. . . .

“They want to die there,” Mr Abdullah said. “These are well-educated people. They have families. I knew Afzal. He loved his wife. But you must understand: all Muslims in Britain view supporting the jihad (holy war) as a religious duty. All of us are ready to sacrifice our lives for our beliefs. I am jealous of Afzal. He has reached paradise.”

He continued: “There are people leaving all the time. Not just in Luton, but all over Britain. We, as Muslims, don’t perceive ourselves as British Muslims. We are Muslims who live in Britain. All we want to do is go to Afghanistan to defend the honour and sanctity of Islam.

Behind such talk, which dismays the elderly leaders of Luton’s 22,000 Muslims, lurk the seductive, articulate disciples of Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, leader of al-Muhajiroun, the British Islamist organisation that encouraged Mr Munir and Aftab Manzoor, the other dead man, to join the jihad. Sheikh Omar, who is under investigation for allegedly issuing a fatwa against the Pakistan President, General Musharraf, described the two men as “martyrs beyond a doubt”.

The organization identified in this article as being behind the Luton exodus, Al-Muhajiroun, is the one described in Sanchez’s report. It is connected to the Al-Qaeda network. It has a Website: Sanchez writes:

Al-Muhajiroun means the “Emigrants” and is explicitly an institution dedicated to the mobilization of Muslims in the North for (as it defines them) Islamic goals. Al-Mujahiroun was established in 1995, being a splinter group that broke off from Hizb-ut-Tahrir. The leader of Al-Muhajiroun is Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad. Al-Muhajiroun is quite open, completely legal and quite dedicated to the destruction of all governments and societies in the North and their replacement with Taliban-like regimes.

Al-Muhajiroun operates within a vast network of organizations and in numerous ephemeral coalitions of organizations: while many of these groups are simply being used as camouflage by Al-Muhajiroun, the unbreakable lockstep between Al-Muhajiroun and the little known (but quite busy) Taliban Council of Europe reflects a genuine alliance.

We know now that President Bush was putting together an anti-Taliban, anti-Osama bin Laden military coalition as early as March, 2001. Bin Laden (or someone) launched a pre-emptive strike on September 11. This persuaded the President to launch a direct military strike against an Islamic country.

The jihad against the United States has now begun. The entire Islamic world has become a recruiting ground for this jihad. The President is about to receive a history lesson in Islamic studies. These radicals are part of a long tradition of Islamic war against the West. They do not forget. They do not forgive. This war will still be in operation long after Mr. Bush has joined his father in retirement. I don’t expect it to end in my lifetime, or my son’s lifetime.

Guilt and Alcohol

At some point, Mr. Bush may realize that he has bitten off far more than he or his successors can easily chew. At some point, he may realize that his military strategists’ policy of bombing civilian areas has backfired. He may even conclude what is obvious to me: his military campaign in Afghanistan matches his own definition of terrorism. This is taken from Executive Order on Terrorist Financing: Blocking Property and Prohibiting Transactions With Persons Who Commit, Threaten to Commit, or Support Terrorism ….

(d) the term “terrorism” means an activity that: (i) involves a violent act or an act dangerous to human life, property, or infrastructure; and (ii) appears to be intended: (A) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (B) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (C) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, kidnapping, or hostage-taking.

The word “or” indicates that not all three features must be present to define terrorism. One is sufficient.

The President has admitted publicly that he had a major problem with drinking. He said that he quit drinking in 1986. He went cold turkey. This is not an easy thing to do. He did not attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, he says, unlike his predecessor as Governor of Texas, Ann Richards, and unlike the late Bob Bullock, the Lieutenant Governor of Texas under Bush, who was a good friend of Bush, despite being a Democrat.

The President says that his conversion to personal faith in Christ got him sober and has kept him sober. Billy Graham was an instrument in his achieving sobriety. I have no reason not to believe Bush’s testimony.

I am quite serious about the following. He is now in a fearful position. What does an incumbent President do for help with this problem? What does a wartime President do? He perceives himself as a wartime President. If the pressure to start drinking again begins to get to him, does he start attending AA meetings? With how many Secret Service agents? “Hi, I’m George B., and I’m an alcoholic.” “Hi, George!” This is not a joke. I am very serious about the implications of this affliction.

Wartime leaders can carry on a war as alcoholics. Stalin was an alcoholic. So was Churchill. The best book I have ever read on alcoholism dealt with both leaders: James Graham’s Engines of Rage, Vessels of Power: The Secret History of Alcoholism (1994). But every alcoholic is different. No alcoholic knows today what he will do tomorrow. This is why AA members adopt “one day at a time” as their recommended personal chronology.

There is a reason for the biblical warning, “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted (Prov. 31:4-5).

I want President Bush to stop the bombing the afflicted. I want him to abandon his military strategy of unconditional surrender and his foreign policy strategy of “with us or against us.” But if he re-thinks these strategies, he will face the problem of guilt. Christianity teaches that a man’s guilt was taken care of judicially by Christ at Calvary, but this intellectual knowledge does not always produce spiritual peace.

So, when I pray — as I do daily — that Mr. Bush would stop listening to the military strategists who designed this policy of bombing cities, I also pray that he will stay sober.

The twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are not well known to the general public. The first three are the most famous.

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

It is the ones lower on the list that could, at some point, become a problem for the President.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.


President Bush needs our prayers, both to abandon his present military strategy and to deal successfully with his publicly confessed condition. We critics should not complain about his unwillingness to do the first if we are unwilling to give him support on the second.

November 1 , 2001

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© 2001