Bush's Visionary Seers

A few years back the movie "Wag the Dog" captured the attention of Americans and followers of American politics. The premise was that an American president started a war to divert attention away from domestic problems. When in 1998 President Clinton ordered U.S. planes to bomb Iraq while Congress intensified its inquiry of his love life, the "wag the dog" concept seemed to become a reality.

This summer, in the midst of the Bush administration's "War on Terrorism," Hollywood released another movie mimicking reality. In "Minority Report," police forces arrest people for crimes they have not yet committed. A small group of visionary seers inform the police of an impending crime, and the police launch a preemptive strike against the alleged criminal. There's just one problem: sometimes the visionary seers are wrong.

The Bush administration recently announced a new military strategy remarkably similar to the theme of "Minority Report." The Bush Doctrine, outlined in the new "National Security Strategy for the United States," states that the administration "will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting pre-emptively" against national security threats. The driving force behind a decision to attack will be a prophesy of impending doom from a small group of visionary seers, ostensibly led by Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney. There's just one problem: Sometimes these visionary seers might be wrong.

Apparently, the visionary seers in the administration think they should be able to direct the awesome fury of the American military against states and organizations that might threaten American citizens or, perhaps more importantly, American "interests." These seers claim to know a terrorist or a ruthless dictator when they see one, perhaps because they collectively have so much experience providing funding, weapons, and even anthrax and other biological agents to their type.

From the Contras to the Indonesian military to the Iraqi Atomic Energy Agency, Rumsfeld, Cheney and recent Republican and Democratic administrations alike have openly supported plenty of bad guys and terrorists. But we are now asked to overlook that fact and focus on a good guy turned bad: Saddam Hussein.

The Bush administration is rushing forward with plans to invade Iraq and impose a "regime change" on the premise that Saddam Hussein has suddenly become a major threat to America, or perhaps more importantly, American "interests." Rumsfeld and Cheney keep claiming Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, but now that the door has been opened to United Nations inspections to verify these claims, they say we can't trust the inspections and might need to invade Iraq anyway.

Even if Iraq does have chemical or biological agents tucked away somewhere, the Bush Administration and its shadows in Israel and Britain have not presented compelling evidence that the mere existence of these weapons justifies a potentially costly and destabilizing conflict ending in a regime change. The seers in the Bush Administration ask the American public and the international community to trust their judgment, but they don't want to provide the facts to back up their assertions, and they unjustifiably ridicule those who express reservations or promote diplomatic solutions. Is this any way to run a democracy?

In order to justify a preemptive strike against a sovereign nation, our government should have solid and credible evidence that the threat is real and requires immediate action leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation. To date, the Bush administration has not satisfied this well-respected principle of international law.

Based on publicly available information, there does not appear to be any solid and credible evidence that Iraq poses a real and immediate threat to the United States or was involved in any way with the brutal attacks of 9/11. In the absence of an immediate threat, we do fortunately have the luxury of deliberation and should carefully consider the implications of the Bush Doctrine and of invading Iraq. In addition, there is a choice of military and non-military means to address the danger of Saddam Hussein and other real or perceived enemies. So why is the administration pushing so hard for war right now?

If the Bush administration has solid evidence that Saddam Hussein is about to invade or attack the U.S., then it should produce the evidence and use it to build international support for a preemptive strike. The administration's seers boldly claim the evidence exists, but what if they are mistaken? What if they only see through lenses smeared with blood and oil and fogged by power and arrogance? Which repressive dictatorship would they have our young men and women invade next? Saudi Arabia? What is their exit strategy for the War on Terrorism?

The movie "Minority Report" made me think about a future world in which people could be arrested based on the tip of a stranger or the vision of a government seer. The Bush Doctrine has thrust the United States into this future, and the implications for global peace and security are both troubling and profound. As we debate the wisdom and necessity of launching a preemptive war against Iraq, let us also ponder the perception of the Bush administration's seers and the possibility that they are wrong.

Dan Fahey served in the Persian Gulf in July 1991 on the USS Arkansas, and was later discharged as a conscientious objector. He has written extensively on the use of depleted uranium munitions in the wars in Iraq, the Balkans and Afghanistan.

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Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

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