Prevention and Responsibility

by on May 14th, 2004

Many, including President Bush himself, have been asking an important question over the last three months — “During these recent years of political uncertainty, what could we have prevented?” All elements of this questioning have been spun to one way or another, from “Bush is America’s flawless, steady champion” to “this disastrous neocon war will spark World War III.” Much of the proceedings were either partisan rot (from both sides, dear Republicans), or became such once they entered the realm of public media. There are a few things, however, which can now be distilled with near-certainty.

President Bush could not have prevented 9/11. Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz & Company did unjustly paint the Iraq invasion (and overthrow of Saddam Hussein) as a branch of “The War on Terror” 9/11 reaction. And thanks to the media, we even now know that both major-party presidential candidates fulfilled their Vietnam-era “military obligations” in one way or another. I’ve noticed something new, though. The details of Nick Berg’s murder, combined with recent reports pinning Abu Musab al-Zarqawi himself as Berg’s taped executioner, have led me to another near-certainty:

In June 2002, the White House turned down three opportunities to prevent Nick Berg’s murder. Three confirmed opportunites to kill Musab al-Zarqawi, all turned down because doing so would have weakened the already-thin “Iraq terrorist state” (quote Rumsfeld to Congress, 9/19/02) justification used to augment the Bush Administration’s stated causes for invasion.

Let us look at the now, though. “Al-Qaeda in Iraq murders American civilian” will certainly stir the supporters of Iraq’s invasion. It contains all the key phrases: “Al-Qaeda,” “in Iraq,” and “murders American.” Yesterday’s breaking FOXNews headline, “Al Zarqawi Murdered Berg,” (murderer’s name now included) does little to change our perception of what took place.

Even one month ago, the average American did not know who Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was. Perhaps they knew he was a “terrorist leader,” at the most. No need to remember details about individual terrorists, when we’re supposed to be pre-emptively killing them, after all.

Until we can pin an atrocity like Nick Berg’s grotesque murder, that is. Now Americans know who Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is, he’s “the al-Qaeda leader in Iraq who beheaded Nick Berg.” And it troubles me, in a way. I doubt anyone will look back to June 2002; most didn’t even notice two months ago when news of al-Zarqawi’s thrice-vetoed elimination finally reached the press. Not that I blame them, “al-Zarqawi” was just another faceless Arabic name amidst a sea of presupposedly-damned Muslim terrorists.

If the man who murdered Nick Berg really was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — if those crazed militants shouting praise to Allah as Berg screamed his last breath really were al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda-in-Iraq followers — the White House could have prevented the entire scene. Three chances, three times refused.

Does that make the Bush Administration responsible for Berg’s killing? Decidedly not. Regardless of public outrage, even from Berg’s father himself, responsibility for the events on that tape lie solely upon the depraved islamic militants carrying out the deed.

This was not a choice between “invade” or “do not invade,” as they could have destroyed this one camp and continued whatever plans for Iraq they liked. This was a choice between “eliminate terrorists” or “do not eliminate terrorists.” They could have prevented the scenes in that tape, but chose not to. The relationship between prevention and responsibility then comes into play, a relationship I have yet to settle my conscience on.