The Bush administration's great failure, it turns out, was actually not its misleading use of intelligence assessments about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify going to war. Much more serious was its decision to ignore the global terrorist threats, while sticking to a defense posture based on a world view disconnected from strategic reality.
When Osama bin Laden was busy planning the attacks of September 11 and sending instructions to his activists worldwide, the American government was busy dealing with deployments against virtual threats and totally ignoring the growing tangible threat of Islamic terror.
More than anything else, the Bush administration was busy with the threat of ballistic missiles from North Korea, Iraq and Iran. There was only one problem. None of those three "axis of evil" countries had missiles of enough range to reach the U.S., and it was very doubtful they ever would in the future.
None of that stopped the administration from investing tens of billions of dollars in defense systems against non-existent missiles and to devote a large portion of the intelligence community's resources in the attempt to identify threats that never came to be.
The result was that on American soil, under the noses of the administration, the CIA and the FBI, Mohammad Atta and his friends comprehensively and almost publicly planned the destruction of the Twin Towers and attack on the Pentagon.
It is now clear that according to the administration's plan, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was supposed to deliver a speech on September 11 outlining the national security policies of the Bush administration. The speech was never delivered because that morning the Twin Towers came down.
In the wake of Rice's subpoena to testify to the congressional hearing examining intelligence community failures in the period leading up to 9/11 - testimony that the administration tried to prevent from ever taking place - the language of the speech that was never delivered became public knowledge.
The main purpose of Rice's speech, it turns out, was to advance the idea of ballistic missile defense as the cornerstone of the Bush national strategic program. Islamic extremist groups were not even mentioned. Terror was mentioned only in the context of the dangers posed by rogue states like Iraq.
Rice's speech also included a vehement attack on the Clinton administration policies, which she said did not deal with the real and principle threat to America - ballistic missiles. Her speech was a true reflection of the foreign policy of the Bush administration in the eight months since he took office, up to September 10, 2001.
In June 2002, after his first meeting with the heads of NATO states, Bush listed the five most important defense issues for him. The first, of course, was defense against missiles, followed by other issues relating to the U.S.-European relationship. Not a word about global terror or Islamic terror groups. Two days before 9/11, Rice appeared on Meet the Press. Al-Qaida was not mentioned at all. Instead, Rice spoke at length about the threat of ballistic missiles.
During its first eight months, the Bush administration suffered a profound failure rooted in frozen, conservative thinking. The president reached the White House after he was laden by his defense advisors with a plethora of information and assessments that emphasized the missile threat and the need to put up an expensive, sophisticated defense system against those missiles.
Among the most prominent of those advisors were Donald Rumsfeld, who became defense minister and who headed a professional team that recommended in 1998 to speed up development of the anti-ballistic missile systems and pointed to the axis of evil countries as the real threat to America. No wonder, therefore, that immediately on taking office, the president began pushing with all his might to develop those defense systems. Many of them were developed by companies whose owners and executives were among the largest donors to his election campaign. Bush also allocated - and continues to allocate - huge amounts of money to develop defense systems. this is added to $80 billion the U.S. has already spent on these systems - though despite all the money, none have actually been fully developed.
For 2005, Bush has already designated $10.7 billion for missile defense systems, more than double than is allocated for any other single system. And all that is to defend the U.S. from a threat that does not exist.
The Bush administration's priorities for national defense were wrong. It drew a map of unrealistic threats, invested enormous resources against threats that had zero probability of ever coming true and he refused to critically examine the assumptions behind his national defense policies. The price of that failure was paid by thousands of Americans on 9/11.
The problem is that the failures were not the exclusive province of the American administration. The Israeli defense establishment has invested much money in anti-ballistic missile systems. Looking at the map of threats it used to justify those investments and the policies the IDF formulated to deal with the "threats" illustrated how we marched down the same path as the Bush administration.
Israel is investing billions of dollars in missile defense systems against threats, some of which were canceled with the conquest of Iraq, others have zero chance of becoming real threats, and some - nuclear threats - for which the defense measures are irrelevant.
Huge amounts have been invested in systems that it's very doubtful will be effective in the moment of truth, and which already available counter measures will largely neutralize. We should pay very close attention to Condoleezza Rice's testimony and draw lessons from the American mistakes, not least because we could save billions that are so sorely lacking elsewhere.
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