It has long seemed clear to me and many others who are otherwise sympathetic to its policies that the Bush administration made two colossal errors in prosecuting the general war on terror.I have been a big supporter of the President in the war on terror. I have been forgiving of some of the rather dumb things that have happened in the prosecution of the war. To say that I am no fan of the Hamdan decision is a minor understatement. Yet at the same time, I wholeheartedly agree with Barnett, particularly on point two.
First: Not seeking quick explicit congressional authorization for such policies as incarceration, military tribunals, etc. The Hamdan case was just one result of this failure. Now, such involvement is much more difficult to accomplish; then it would have been relatively easy. Just not as easy as going it alone, which has proved to be the harder course in the long run.
Second: Not involving the American public directly in supporting the war. Tax increases or a military draft were not needed for this. But bond drives, resource collection, and other assistance-to-the-military programs — even better, some form of volunteer genuine militia service — in the wake of 9/11 would have given the public some ownership of the resulting policies. Many called for these sorts of initiatives at the time. They were waiting to be asked to pitch in and help. Instead the administration adopted a Vietnam-type strategy of "We'll handle things; you all go about your business." Which leads to bad reactions when "things" do not go as smoothly as expected.
The administration essentially opted for a one-branch war, and the country is now paying the price for that decision. While the failure to involve Congress is merely hard to rectify at this point, the failure adequately to involve the public may now be impossible to remedy.
Neither of these observations is original to me. Both points were made by others when the GWOT began, which is why it is not hindsight to point them out on a day that a very large chicken has come home to roost.
A number of commentators have tried to resurrect the nostalgia of World War II and attempt to draw some parallels to that war. One thing about WWII is that it was the last truly total war in our history. Everyone in the nation was involved, women, children, the elderly, immigrants (legal and otherwise), everyone worked to support the war effort.
Today, unless you know someone in the military, it is highly unlikely that your life is even marginally touched by the events in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else where the war is being fought. Not that such a mindset is unnatural, because the war is being fought somewhere else, not here on our shores. But the lack of commitment and involvement by the general public in the war on terror makes it someone else's problem for most people, a mindset that makes total victory difficult to achieve.
Bumper stickers that say "Support the Troops" is a perfect example of the way in which this war is viewed. I find the manner in which the dichotomy between supporting the war and supporting the troops is justified just short of hypocritical. While I find actions and activity that disparages the common soldier ranking somewhere beneath contempt, I still don't understand how someone can claim to oppose a war but support the troops in that war. The troops, as tools of foriegn policy (which every Army is, regardless of whose Army it is) and supporting them is supporting their mission assigned to carry out a foriegn policy goal.
But getting people to recognize the silliness of their position is just as impossible as getting more Americans on board supporting the war effort. So many people have become comfortable with the justification of supporting the troops, thinking that is enough, when it is not even close to what is necessary. I know that the troops appreciate the cards, letters, and goody boxes that are sent, but what I think what they really want is a committment, from everyone back home, to accept, support and embrace as necessity the mission of ending terrorism and Islamofascism. A total national effort is needed, just like was provided in World War II. World War II had its political dissenters (not many admittedly, but some) and this war can to, but it doesn't mean we should not be committed to the effort.
Barnett is right, it is probably impossible, absent another 9/11, for the Bush Administration to win over the support of many, perhaps even a majority of, Americans. Such a failure may be the biggest mistake of the Bush Presidency.