It Depends on What Your Definition of 'with us' Is
At the very start of his Meet the Press interview, Bush said, "I'm a war President." Winning the "war" that he declared has been this President's stated mission, and it is how he will be judged. From the days immediately following Sept. 11, the rhetoric has been stark and bellicose. "You're either with us or against us," he warned early on. Any country that "harbors or supports terrorism will be regarded as a hostile regime." But Bush's actions, except for Iraq, haven't matched the dire nature of the threat described—and his rhetoric has betrayed a moral simplicity that misrepresents the true difficulties of the struggle. Take the "with us or against us" point: Saudi Arabia is the primary funder of Islamic radicalism in the world. Pakistan is the primary residence of the most dangerous terrorists. Both are nominally "with" us.
The Saudis represent a particularly serious problem. Bush hasn't had very much to say about them. Indeed, the Bush and the al-Saud families have a long history of personal friendship and business dealings—and this relationship may soon become an issue in the presidential election. "Bush has not only been passive regarding the Saudis," says Bob Graham, former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "He has covered up for them." Graham is infuriated by Bush's refusal to release 21 pages of the Senate's investigation into the 9/11 attacks—allegedly the section dealing with Saudi involvement—and by the Administration's reluctance to cooperate with the independent 9/11 commission. "I think we'll eventually find that people who had positions of responsibility in the Saudi government were facilitating the funding of some, if not all, of the hijackers," he says.
For the past quarter-century, the Saudis have financed jihadist movements and radical schools throughout the Islamic world. They have changed the very nature of Islamic practice—making it less tolerant—in formerly moderate countries like Pakistan. The recent discovery that a Pakistani ring supplied some of the world's worst governments with nuclear technology only served to emphasize the contradictory nature of our "friendship" with that fragile country. "It's true the Pakistanis have helped us to capture some of the leading al-Qaeda figures," says Jessica Stern of Harvard, a terrorism expert. "But you also have to wonder: Why do we find them all in Pakistan?"
President Bush once famously told Senator Joe Biden, "I don't do nuance." But the struggle against Islamic radicalism is a festival of nuance. It is not quite a war, and it doesn't yield easily to simple notions of good and evil, friend and foe. We need the limited cooperation we get from the Pakistanis, and we certainly need Saudi oil. Even those, like Graham, who see the Saudis as the root of the problem, are calling for little more than a public statement of the facts—in the hope that the Saudis will be shamed into modifying their dreadful behavior. Bush has called for even less. His war of choice has featured lots of bombs and boots, lots of highfalutin moral rhetoric and patriotic visuals, but absolutely no public sacrifice—no steps to make America less dependent on Saudi oil; not even the taxes needed to pay for the occupation of Iraq. He is having trouble defending his dangerously simple policies, for good reason.[Nitpicker emphasis]