When Stopping for Cup of Coffee Was Difference Between Life and Death; George W. Bush and the Decision to Invade Afghanistan

Bruce Johnson wrote from Grand Rapids, Michigan on September 12, 2001: “Walking on the street, people avert their eyes, as at a funeral.  For the first time in my adult life, no sound of planes, no jet trails, no chance of any – no train whistles, even, I’ve noticed.  Watching Canadian Broadcasting last night and hearing the BBC this morning, I realize the shock felt is not just here in the USA, but worldwide.  Our nation feels like a giant family, grievously afflicted.  The world for once feels like a big extended family.

“Maybe that is the one good thing that can come from this.  Yesterday, in my few personal contacts, in
watching a prayer service on TV, I was struck by how we’ve come together in common feeling across all
barriers.  I sought some news yesterday from some street dudes.  Ordinarily, there would have
been barriers such that if we’d talked at all, it would have felt awkward.  Yesterday, we were just
Americans together, sharing the same feelings.

“…I of course have been thinking about you guys, being in the DC area; at first, of course, no one had any idea how many more targets might be hit….Incredibly, my loved ones all seem to be safe.  My brother Mark, who works in Lower Manhattan near what was the Trade Center – I used that subway stop when I’d see him – was in Philadelphia for a conference. His wife Nancy had not yet gone into town from theirhome in Queens.  My good friend Bill King’s sister-in-law, who works on the 25th floor of one of the Towers, decided to stop for a cup of coffee before going inside, and so was not in the building when the plane hit.”

Jim Buie replied from Takoma Park, MD: “I’m so glad to know your family and friends in NY are
ok. Incredible that stopping for a simple cup of coffee can mean the difference between life and death.”

Jim Buie wrote on 9/21/2001: “President Bush probably earned the title of President last night, however dubious his  “election” was in 2000. His speech was balanced and presidential. I liked
what Tom Daschle said afterwards: Normally, there’s a response from the opposition party to a presidential
address. “But tonight, there is no opposition party. We are all Americans.”

“I thought he was eloquent, articulate and restrained. I loved seeing Tony Blair there to show his support.
And Todd Beamer’s wife. I think this crisis probably ends, at least temporarily, 1) Democrats’ lingering
anger and grousing about his legitimacy; and 2) suspicions that Bush isn’t smart enough, isn’t up to
the job. He may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he’s smart enough.

“He has good speechwriters. Lucia, who watched only the first five minutes of the speech before a telephone call took her away, said she still couldn’t get over the impression he has a dumb, “deer in the headlights” look. But I think that anyone with an open mind who watched and listened to his entire address, he was smart enough and articulate enough. Maybe he isn’t articulate when he’s speaking off the cuff, but hey, neither is Ted Kennedy, often.

I do continue to have doubts about whether his goals — our goals — are achievable. To eliminate all
terrorism “of a global reach”? How will we measure that? We will never be able to declare victory on that
goal, for the moment we do, and let down our guard, there will be some small cell of terrorists
who will succeed with car bombings.

“I also have grave concerns about significantly increased US involvement in the region of Afghanistan and
Pakistan. If we bomb Afghanistan, won’t that send scores of refugees into Pakistan and the former
Soviet republics? If we send troops into the rugged terrain of Afghanistan, aren’t we in danger of getting
stuck in a quagmire like the Soviets did, or like Vietnam? Presumably, we’d go in just to capture Bin
Laden, “dead or alive,” but he knows the terrain far better than American soldiers — I hear it’s
unmappable — and if he’s hidden deep in some cave, how long might it take to capture him? How many lives of how many American soldiers? Will this precipitate an Afghani civil war?

“It seems to me the far better course is to hire and train Pakistanis and Afghanis for counter-intelligence, to quietly infiltrate Bin Laden’s network and destroy it from within. Admittedly, that’s a far less dramatic, far slower process, and if Bush did only that, politically he would look like a wimp to angry Americans. But in the long run it may be the only thing that will work. Otherwise, we could be risking WWIII.

“My concern is that Bush, from the perspective of history, could look like the naive American cowboy
coming in to save the day, when in fact he’s starting WWIII. I say that fully recognizing he is representing our nation, and I’m not sure Clinton or Gore would be doing things differently — it is an AMERICAN tendency in foreign policy to play the shoot-em-up cowboy with a short attention-span. I hope I am wrong.”

Bruce Johnson wrote on 9/22/2001: “I agree with you about the President… I have never heard a speech that moved me quite like that one.  I clapped aloud again and again from my seat.  I was reminded of Adlai Stevenson’s quote from the classics: “When Cicero spoke, everyone said, ‘How well he spoke.’  But when Caesar spoke, everyone said, ‘Let us march.’ ”

He is a masterful politician, in the finest sense of the word, too.  Did you notice that while he greeted
Republican legislators, he saved his warmest greetings, his hugs, his embraces, for Democrats?
And Tony Blair in the gallery with the First Lady – a masterful stroke re the alliance, and of course, with my love for Britain, I felt very proud.

“I thought he did a fine job of making it clear that Islam is not our foe.  I only wish we had a
prominent Muslim in the government.  Abrams is as close as we get – he’s Arab, but Christian, I am
almost positive.  When so many of the victims of the bombing were Muslim, it is doubly ironic and tragic that some vent their hate at them…

“Stamping out GLOBAL networks is a well-defined, and achievable, goal.  It will require a full-court
press; getting rid of secret bank accounts is probably the most important single component, and I
think we can pull that off with the threat of sanctions.  As the President says, there will be a
combination of moves, some of which will not seem dramatic, and some of which may not be announced,
even after the fact.

“I don’t think we HAVE ANY CHOICE BUT to go for the jugular.  I mean, what’s the alternative? Wait for them to take out Boston and Chicago and LA – or London and Paris and Rome – or Jerusalem and Mecca – as well as New York?  What will these guys not do?  We have to destroy their training grounds. We have to destroy their equipment.  And I don’t see how we do it JUST by infiltrating from within, though we have to do that.  Infiltrators are probably useful chiefly for intelligence.  It’s not realistic to expect we could plant somebody who in effect could do to them what they did to us.

“These people are evil, organized, and powerful. Just as we had to stop Hitler, we had to stop them.
The alternatives are surrendering to their anti-freedom, anti-Christian and Jewish,
anti-mainstream Muslim, anti-stability agenda, or simply sitting back and accepting terror.  Anthrax in water.  Car bombs into buildings.  No.

“Beating Hitler wasn’t easy, either,  It took 5 years of fighting, and millions of casualties, but it had to be done.  How long is Bush saying to beat these guys.  Ten years?  I don’t think that’s an
underestimate.  But it has got to be done, because there is no alternative.  For once, the most extreme
statements are not hyperbole.  They really HAVE declared war on civilization.

“And the Taliban by the way may declare war, through some incredibly benighted procedure they have – a “fatwa,” I think they call it – on Christianity, or “the West.”

“Jim, it’s 20 years late to worry about a civil war breaking out in Afghanistan.  They’ve been embroiled
in one for that long.  And the Northern Alliance, which represents the decent people in the country,
wants us to take on the Taliban.  We shouldn’t do it, I agree, just because the Taliban is evil, though it is.  We should do it because if they reject our eminently reasonable ultimatum, we have
no choice.  And I’m not sure we really fight them per se, anyway, though if we do, I think in the long
run Afghanistan will be better for it.  Ironically, my CARE calendar pictures Afghanistan this month.
Those poor people are, as the President says, in desperate plight.”

Jim Buie wrote on October 23, 2001: A neighbor is sending around a petition that “war is not the answer.” I haven’t signed. My response is,

“Well, what is the answer?”

So far, casualties have been very low. The bombing of training camps in Afghanistan seemed quite reasonable — to prevent AlQaeda from being able to easily train more terrorists.

I’m not sure I understand the strategic objectives of the next phase — ground
troops —

1) to chase Bin Ladin throughout
Afghanistan’s cave system until we catch him dead, or
alive?

2) to destroy the Taliban?

3) to reinforce and
train and back up the Northern Alliance?

4) to find
and pay dissidents to infiltrate AlQaeda and the
Taliban for intelligence purposes, and ultimately to
de-stabilize and double-cross them?

If so,

1) seems very difficult, if not impossible. I
understand we’re trying to surround him, then move in
on him. But is our intelligence that good? Instead of
chasing him, why not stop chasing him and wait ’til he
comes up for air, then get him?

I have to admit, reading the bluster of the
Afghani/Taliban military leader who scoffs at the
Americans as adversaries rankles. He said the Soviets
were a powerful enemy, they were used to hardship, but
“we creamed them.” In contrast, “these Americans are
soft…they’re rich….they aren’t used to
hardship…they won’t last here.”

I wouldn’t put it past the macho Bush Republicans to
take that as a challenge, a gauntlet thrown down, but
to design military strategy on responding to the
enemy’s bluster does not make good sense either.

2), 3) and 4) mean we’re getting heavily into
nation-building — which Bush claimed during the
campaign he opposes — or nation-destroying, and it
could just as easily go against us as for us in that
god-forsaken land.

Bruce Johnson replies: “We can’t wait for Bin Ladin
to “come up for air” because he won’t, in the sense
that you mean the phrase; he can hide in those
mountains indefinitely, so if we want to get him, we
just have to flush him out.

“I agree that it’s hard to see an alternative to what
we’re doing.  It would be nice to see an absolute
commitment to human rights across the board which
might put us on the high ground for some time to
come.  Eloquent and by no means fanatical Egyptians
on TV last night about how “you talk a good game
about human rights and democracy, but you have a
blind eye when it’s convenient,” and how anger over
the dictators we support will lead to more September
11’s if we don’t change.”

Jim Buie responds: “Didn’t Jimmy Carter try this, but couldn’t help being
inconsistent?? I mean, Egypt represses dissent, but
Egypt is our ally, and if they didn’t repress dissent
they’d probably be controlled by fundamentalist Muslims if not Osama Bin Laden himself, eh?”

 

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