So, Bob Woodward has become the latest journalist to try to influence the upcoming mid-term congressional elections with a new book, State of Denial – a harsh critique of the President and senior members of his administration whom he contends are in such a state with respect to Iraq. Woodward alleges as evidence a refusal by Mr. Bush to: recognize the magnitude of the problem there; adjust course; level with the American people; or fire Donald Rumsfeld for his supposed singlehanded responsibility for most of the difficulties we now face.
A more careful and rigorous examination of who is in denial and about what would establish that there is actually a pandemic of the phenomenon psychologists call “cognitive dissonance,” whereby people don’t see what they don’t want to see. In fact, there are at least four States of Denial afflicting the national security debate and decision-making process at the moment:
1) President Bush’s critics are by-and-large in denial about the true nature of the war we are in. They hector him about Iraq, but fail to address what Mr. Bush has been saying for some time: We are in a global conflict with a totalitarian ideology bent on our destruction.
As the President has correctly noted, the adherents to this ideology – “Islamic fascists” – did not start attacking us when we liberated Iraq. While our efforts to help deliver a powerful Arab nation like Iraq from their grasp has reportedly become a “cause celebre” for the Islamofascists, they are not interested only in defeating us there. Such totalitarians are convinced, as their Iranian front-man Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has put it, that “a world without America is not only desirable, it is achievable.” Most of those who focus, as Woodward has done, on fault-finding about Iraq seem to deny that there are any connections between this War for the Free World’s Iraqi front and the larger strategy of which our efforts to prevail there are a critical part.
2) The President’s critics are usually stunningly silent on the implications of the “strategic redeployment” from Iraq that they recommend on varying timetables – apart, that is, from getting U.S. forces out of harm’s way (at least for the moment). Indeed, they seem to be in a state of denial about the ineluctable reality that, as the recent National Intelligence Estimate they are so fond of selectively quoting observed: “Threats to the U.S. are intrinsically linked to U.S. success or failure in Iraq.” In other words, those who advocate an admission of failure in Iraq may object to calling it “cutting and running,” but they cannot escape the global consequences of doing just that.
3) Those who insisted that the George H.W. Bush administration cash-in the so-called “peace dividend,” and then urged Bill Clinton to cut America’s force structure and modernization programs even further, are in a particularly acute state of denial. They take no responsibility whatever for the contribution their past agitation has made to the U.S. military being sorely stretched by counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Their short-term answer seems to be that, by getting U.S. forces out of the former, there will be more to deploy to the latter for the purpose of “finding Osama bin Laden.” Such a solution fails, however, to appreciate that bin Laden’s al Qaeda is just one manifestation of the Islamofascist movement that has been cultivated worldwide for decades by Saudi Arabia and, to a lesser extent, by Iran (see State of Denial #1 above.) It also ignores the predictable compounding of the danger posed by such totalitarians far-and-wide once we concede defeat in Iraq (see #2).
4) Most Democrats and Republicans appear to be cohabiting in another, particularly worrisome state of denial: the failure to recognize and respond appropriately to a danger not present in previous Wars for the Free World – namely, the substantial presence in America of a Fifth Column of Islamofascist organizations and cells, front groups and fellow travelers.
Apart from a hearing here or there (notably, Arizona Republican Senator Jon Kyl’s Terrorism Subcommittee has convened a few impressive ones) and the occasional comment from a legislator or two, neither party has been willing to date to come to grips with the strategic dangers of an enemy within.
As a result, American prisons, military units, college campuses and mosques continue to be used with impunity for Islamist recruitment and indoctrination. Organizations like the Council on American Islamic Relations that are – at the very least – sympathetic to our Islamofascist foes are charged with providing “sensitivity training” to FBI agents on how to “reach out” to Muslims. Senior State Department personnel are among the GOP and Democratic officials who regularly meet with and rely upon representatives of organizations that should be under surveillance, rather than treated as legitimate interlocutors with “moderate” Muslims. Unsurprisingly, neither party is even proposing, let alone waging, a competent program of anti-Islamist ideological warfare.
It turns out that there are plenty of States of Denial to choose from. On balance, the President and his party are less guilty of ignoring inconvenient facts and doing a better job of pursuing sensible and appropriate policies to deal with them than are their critics, whose denials of reality are transparently irresponsible and prone to costly failure. American voters will have to choose their poison. We better all hope they vote as if their lives depend on the outcome, because indeed they do.