My Turn: A plan for fighting terrorism

Posted: Sunday, January 09, 2005

Although President Bush won the 2004 election handily and likes to speak of his "mandate," he is undoubtedly aware that during these last days of his first term, he has exceptionally weak approval ratings for a recently re-elected president. Millions of thoughtful Americans find virtually nothing about his performance to admire, and he is held in even lower esteem throughout the rest of the world. Unless things change significantly George W. Bush will not have a legacy to be proud of and will certainly not be treated kindly by future historians.

All of this could change. President Bush has before him now an historic opportunity to make the world a better place and to be remembered as a great president. In order to measure up, however, he needs to recognize that the unprecedented tragedy resulting from the horrific Indian Ocean tsunami changes everything. The time has come for this nation to move its enormous resources for involvement in global events out of Iraq and into Southeast Asia, with a vastly different kind of mission.

American non-governmental institutions and the American people have been well ahead of the administration in responding with boldness and generosity to the terrible challenges that lie ahead for all of humanity. The president has indeed made positive moves by redeploying naval forces and ordering them to render aid. But he needs to go further toward demonstrating that he understands the enormity of the tragedy on the other side of the globe. It is his responsibility now to show the world that the United States of America is a great nation - not just in military power but in humanitarian concern as well. It is essential that he shut down military operations in Iraq and bring our forces home in preparation for the profoundly more important task of bringing aid and sustenance to the millions of suffering and seriously at-risk people of Southeast Asia, especially in the Muslim nation of Indonesia. Mr. Bush has the opportunity to lead the world in this colossal undertaking

Even before the appalling Indian Ocean event occurred, reasonable scenarios for withdrawing from Iraq were being presented in various forums. To be sure, getting out of Iraq without leaving a huge mess will take wisdom, imagination and urgent planning. In any event, whatever escalation of civil strife might occur in Iraq after departure of American occupation forces would be of little significance by comparison with the unprecedented human suffering now to be seen in Southeast Asia.

The president needs a new set of advisers. The grand scheme of his neo-conservative strategists, Mr. Pearle and Mr. Wolfowitz, has been a manifest failure, and Mr. Rumsfeld has shown that he is clearly not up to the task. These men must go, and Mr. Cheney should be told by the president to focus on presiding over the Senate and to lay aside his concerns about his friends in the petroleum industry.

There are a number of able, experienced Republicans, with better conservative credentials, who could be called on to replace these people. And in view of the monumental task at hand, competence should be placed ahead of political affiliation in choosing a team.

I am confident that the new direction I am urging here, in concert with a national commitment to humanitarian concerns and a de-emphasis on military and economic dominance, would be far more effective in combating terrorism than the futile policies now in place. America would become a safer place in a better world.

• Charles Campbell is a resident of Juneau and a combat veteran of World War II.

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