The 'War on Terror' Is Really the War on Our Republic
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From the beginning of the "war on terror," George W. Bush has lied to the American people about the goals, motivation and even the identity of the enemy -- a propaganda exercise that continued through his 2007 State of the Union Address and that is sounding the death knell for the Republic. Since 2001, rather than focusing on the al Qaeda Sunni fundamentalist terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks, Bush has expanded the conflict exponentially -- tossing in unrelated enemies such as Iraq's secular dictator Saddam Hussein, Shiite-led Iran, Syria and Islamic militants opposed to Israel, like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
In effect, Bush has transformed what began as a definable military objective -- the defeat of "terrorist groups with global reach" -- into an endless war against what he regards as evil, a conflict so vague that it is claiming as collateral damage America's "unalienable rights" and the Founders' checks and balances on the powers of the Executive. In Bush's State of the Union speech on Jan. 23, there could be heard a requiem for the Republic.
"The evil that inspired and rejoiced in 9/11 is still at work in the world. And so long as that's the case, America is still a nation at war," Bush told Congress. But that "evil" will always be "at work in the world," so America will always be "a nation at war" and thus, under Bush's theories of unlimited Commander-in-Chief powers, the American Republic will be banished permanently.
Bluntly put, Bush and his neoconservative legal advisers don't believe in the "unalienable rights" guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, including ones as fundamental as the habeas corpus right to a fair trial and protections against warrantless searches and seizures. The Bush administration may make grudging concessions in these areas when faced with determined opposition in the courts or from the public, but they hold these liberties to be subordinate to Bush's "plenary" -- or unlimited -- powers as Commander in Chief. Beyond this disdain for fundamental American liberties, Bush has contempt for any meaningful public debate. Though he talks about compromise and consultation, his view of national unity is to have everyone shut up and get in line behind him, "the Decider."
Since the 9/11 attacks, Bush has overseen a bare-knuckled political strategy of bullying anyone who disagrees with him and marginalizing their voices. From the Dixie Chicks to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, from France to United Nations weapons inspectors, those who have dared to cross the President have faced ridicule and reprisals.
These ugly attacks have become so much a part of the American political landscape that the news media treats them as unexceptional, as if it's normal for a President to coordinate with powerful media allies to silence dissent. For instance, there was no media outcry in April 2003 when Bush gave a wink and a nod to a retaliatory boycott against the three-woman Dixie Chicks band because the lead singer, Natalie Maines, had criticized the President. "They shouldn't have their feelings hurt just because some people don't want to buy their records when they speak out," Bush said. "Freedom is a two-way street."
So, instead of encouraging a full-and-free debate about an issue as important as war and peace, Bush made clear that he saw nothing wrong with his followers punishing Americans who disagree with him.
While Bush may have softened his belligerent style slightly since the Republican defeat in the November 2006 elections, he still couldn't muster enough politeness to refer to the "Democratic" Party in his State of the Union.
For years, tough-talking Republicans have made it a point of insult to drop the "-ic" and use "Democrat" as the adjective. This phrasing has become a mark of the swaggering Republicans who have dominated this era of U.S. politics. It's the partisan equivalent of willfully mispronouncing the foreign-sounding name of a disliked neighbor. So, even as Bush was supposedly trying to be gracious to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he couldn't stop himself from congratulating the "Democrat majority."
More significantly, however, Bush continues to demean the Constitution. Despite having sworn "to preserve, defend and uphold the Constitution" as his preeminent duty, Bush keeps insisting that the highest obligation of government is to keep the people safe.
He repeated that mantra in his State of the Union. "For all of us in this room, there is no higher responsibility than to protect the people of this country from danger," he said.
In other words, Bush believes security -- or at least his view of security -- trumps everything, including constitutional rights. But that concept turns upside down more than two centuries of U.S. history and tradition. Instead of Patrick Henry's exhortation of "give me liberty or give me death," the Bush dictum could be summed up as "just make sure I'm safe driving to the mall." Bush apparently sees the American people as a pudgy bunch of consumers as soft in the head as in their bellies. In the State of the Union, the President didn't hesitate to again lay out his distortion of the threat the nation faces. To heighten the fears of Americans, he again misrepresented the goals, capabilities and even the identities of the enemy. He blurred diverse and even antagonistic Muslim Sunni and Shiite groups, shoving them under the umbrella of "the Islamist radical movement."
"The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat," Bush said. "Whatever slogans they chant, when they slaughter the innocent they have the same wicked purposes. They want to kill Americans, kill democracy in the Middle East, and gain the weapons to kill on an even more horrific scale."
But this depiction is a continuation of Bush's tendency to misstate the key question of what's motivating Islamic militancy. In September 2001, Bush claimed that the motive behind the 9/11 attacks and other manifestations of anti-Americanism in the Middle East was that Islamic extremists "hate our freedoms." Now, he says they want to "kill" Americans, democracy and anything else that gets in their way. However, this distortion of what drives the swelling anti-Americanism in the Middle East is not only wrong, it's dangerous. It guarantees an expensive, bloody and endless war. It also could ensure eventual defeat for legitimate U.S. interests in the region.
The truth is that the motives of Islamic militants are much more complicated and diverse than Bush wants the American people to know. In Iraq, Sunni insurgents are killing Americans because the United States invaded their country and handed the reins of power over to rival Shiites, while Shiites are using "death squads" to consolidate their authority by killing Sunnis. Along the Mediterranean, other Islamic militants have fought against Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and Lebanese land. Some Middle Eastern militants are resentful of U.S.-backed autocrats like those governing Egypt and Saudi Arabia; many object to the corruption that has surrounded the region's oil wealth; others want a return to more traditional Islamic religious values; some actually favor democratic elections because they expect to win and want to unseat corrupt pro-American leaders. In the Palestinian territories, Hamas did win an election. In Lebanon, Hezbollah is a powerful political force. In Iran, radical president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gained office through a limited democratic process. Even al-Qaeda has far more limited objectives than Bush has claimed. Despite Bush's oft-stated assertion that -- if the United States retreats -- al Qaeda will form a caliphate stretching from Spain to Indonesia, no credible analyst believes that.
Intercepted alQaeda documents actually reveal leaders fretting about how fragile their position in Iraq would be if the United States withdrew. According to one captured letter, "Atiyah," a senior aide to Osama bin Laden, stressed the need to exploit the continued American presence so al-Qaeda can put down roots in Iraq.
"Indeed, prolonging the war is in our interest," Atiyah wrote.
Yet, even as Bush's Iraq War strategy plays into the hands of al Qaeda, the President told Congress and the American people that he intends to confront radical Shiite movements in the region with determination equal to that aimed at Sunni extremists. Bush said:
"In recent times, it has also become clear that we face an escalating danger from Shia extremists who are just as hostile to America, and are also determined to dominate the Middle East. Many are known to take direction from the regime in Iran, which is funding and arming terrorists like Hezbollah -- a group second only to al Qaeda in the American lives it has taken." But Bush left out the history about those American deaths. He was referring primarily to the 241 U.S. soldiers who died in 1983 when a suicide bomber destroyed the Marine barracks in Beirut, after the Reagan administration had intervened in Lebanon and taken sides in the civil war. By definition, terrorism is a violent attack on civilians to achieve a political end. Hezbollah's attack in 1983, therefore, was not an act of terrorism as lamentable as the military deaths were. Bush, however, blurs the point by associating the bombing with al Qaeda's 9/11 attacks on civilian targets inside the United States.
Although the U.S. and Israeli governments list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, the European Union does not. While some of its actions such as its missile attacks on Israel in summer 2006 could be categorized as terrorism because of the loss of civilian life, Hezbollah also is a broad--based political and social movement.
Lumping Hezbollah, Iran, Syria, Iraqi insurgents and others together with alQaeda underscores the risks -- and almost certain futility -- of Bush's expanding "war on terror." With anti-Americanism across the Middle East often registering in the 90 percentiles, Bush's strategy is more likely to accelerate Islamic extremism than put a brake on it. Bush also finds himself caught in a contradiction between his rhetorical embrace of Middle East "democracy" and his reliance on "moderate" -- i.e. autocratic -- regimes that engage in political repression and have defied popular sentiment to cooperate with Bush. At one point in his State of the Union speech, Bush denounced extremists who seek to "overthrow moderate governments" but returned to his lofty rhetoric about democracy and freedom as vital components in defeating the extremists. "To prevail, we must remove the conditions that inspire blind hatred," Bush said. "What every terrorist fears most is human freedom. ... The great question of our day is whether America will help men and women in the Middle East to build free societies and share in the rights of all humanity. And I say, for the sake of our own security, we must." Though a surefire applause line, Bush's praise of liberty represents possibly the most insidious lie from his "war on terror." As U.S. intelligence is well aware, free democratic elections in countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia would represent a disaster for U.S. foreign policy by likely putting into power Islamic militants like the Muslim Brotherhood. As was obvious during Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's trip to the Middle East, the U.S. diplomatic position is precariously dependent on kings, princes and despots who favor regional stability for reasons of their own self-interest. Bush's exhortations about human freedom therefore are galling to many in the world who see Bush himself as the world's most notorious autocrat, violating international law at his personal whim and overriding the constitutional liberties of Americans at home.
Bush is the personification of what recent polls of global opinion have registered as a leading complaint about America -- hypocrisy, espousing concepts of liberty while denying even basic human rights to suspects swept up in the "war on terror."
There is also no end in sight, Bush made clear. "The war on terror we fight today is a generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others," Bush told Congress. "And that's why it's important to work together so our nation can see this great effort through." But the bottom line for Bush's "war on terror" is that it won't just cost countless lives and hundreds of billions of dollars; it also is doomed to fail, at least as presently constituted. If it lasts much longer, it is certain, too, to deliver a death blow to the noble American Republic.