Is Bush Misdiagnosing the Malady?

If a doctor, even a God-fearing, Bible-believing evangelical Christian, misdiagnoses a mortal malady, there is a probability the medicine he prescribes will do no good and the surgery he proposes may worsen the patient’s condition.

Rereading the president’s Inaugural and State of the Union, this seems an apt metaphor for U.S. war policy.

In his Inaugural, President Bush described Sept. 11 as “a day of fire … when freedom came under attack.” But was it really freedom that was under attack on 9-11? Was bin Laden really saying, “Give up your freedom!”? Or was he saying, “Get out of our world!”?

If Al Qaeda was attacking our freedom, which of the freedoms in the Bill of Rights does Bush believe bin Laden wishes to abolish?

No. Al Qaeda was no more attacking our “freedom” when it drove those planes into the World Trade Center than were Iroquois, Sioux and Apache attacking our freedom when they massacred settlers on the frontier. Like Islamists, the Indians saw us as defiling their sacred soil, dispossessing them, imposing a hated hegemony. They cared not about our Constitution — they wanted us off their land.

If we were truly being attacked for our beliefs, and not our behavior, the war would have no end. Yet, all the other guerrilla and terror wars against Western powers there have ended. How?

When the British left Palestine, Irgun terror ended. When the French left Algeria, FLN terror ended. When Israel left Lebanon, Hezbollah terror largely ended. These countries chose to resolve their terror problem by giving up their occupations and letting go. Their perceived imperial presence had been the cause of the terror war, and when they departed and went home, the wars faded away.

The president says we must fight them over there, so we do not have to fight them over here. But, before we invaded Iraq, not one American had been killed by an Iraqi in a dozen years. Since we invaded, 1,500 Americans have died and the number of insurgents has multiplied from 5,000 to 20,000. By Don Rumsfeld’s own metric, our intervention is creating more terrorists than we are killing. We are fighting a guerrilla army that our own invasion called into being.

Do our Saudi friends whose necks are now on the line agree with us that terrorists attack America because of our democratic principles? Or do they believe Al Qaeda, when it says it is attacking us because of our Middle East policies and presence? It would appear to be the latter. For Riyadh has lately asked us to remove our planes from Prince Sultan Air Base and our troops from Saudi soil.

Even the Saudis believe they are safer without the provocative presence of U.S. troops?

Americans have often fought wars over lands we coveted or deemed to be ours: the French and Indian War, Jackson’s invasion of Florida, the war of Texas independence, the Mexican-American War. Yet, never has an enemy attacked us because we were free. Who told the president this was what 9-11 was all about?

Consider the Bush panacea for peace: democracy, rule by the people and by governments that reflect the popular will.

But what makes Bush believe this would advance peace or U.S. vital interests? Does the Arab street share our love for Israel or Bush’s admiration for Sharon as a “man of peace”? Do Arab masses revere Bush, or bin Laden?

When free elections were held in Algeria, the people voted for an Islamic republic. In Gaza, they just voted 70 percent for Hamas. Moderate Mahmoud Abbas was elected to succeed Arafat, but only because Marwan Barghouti, now serving a life sentence in Israel, declined to run. In Iraq, the Shia voted as an ayatollah told them to vote, so they could take over the country from the Sunni.

Democracy is America’s panacea. But if the abdication of the kings, sheiks, sultans and autocrats in Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the Gulf states would be good for America, why is the fall of these royal houses and of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt also sought by bin Laden and the Muslim Brotherhood? What assurances are there, in the history of the region, that when the kings depart, democrats will arise?

President Bush’s advisers were 100 percent wrong about what would happen in Iraq, but perhaps they are right now. If not, however, he and we may discover that the alternative to autocracy is not democracy, but Islamic fundamentalism or anarchy, and Bush may find himself with the epitaph penned a century ago by an old imperialist who knew the region well:

“A fool lies here/Who tried to hustle the East.”

Patrick J. Buchanan [send him mail], former presidential candidate and White House aide, is editor of The American Conservative and the author of eight books, including A Republic Not An Empire and the upcoming Where the Right Went Wrong.