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9/16/01


 

A HUMBLE FOREIGN POLICY

By David Podvin

Decades after the drug war began, hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent, hundreds of thousands of Americans have been imprisoned, civil liberties have been curtailed, and America is no closer to winning the conflict than when we started.

Now, George W. Bush has declared war on a much more dangerous and elusive foe. He chose not to respond to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by limiting the mission to identifying, locating, and killing those who were responsible. Instead, the man who campaigned on the platform of a “humble” foreign policy has announced that he will settle for nothing less than “ridding the world of evil”.

Ten thousand years of human history guarantee that he will fail miserably.

Once the adrenalin-induced super patriotism of the moment fades into grim logistical reality, America will be confronted with an impossible task. The problem with a war on terrorism is that it can’t be won. At least, that’s what the people who are now leading the war on terrorism were saying in public prior to September 11. The United States has told Israel countless times to exercise restraint because retaliation against terrorism merely leads to an escalating and self-destructive cycle of violence.

Apparently, Bush and Colin Powell didn’t believe what they were telling the Israelis. The administration is now going to pursue a course that they have already said guarantees failure. They are going to spend many years and hundreds of billions of dollars to implement a strategy that they were recently insisting is counterproductive and masochistic. It would have been nice if the Congressional Democrats and the corporate media had at least pointed out this inconsistency, but opposition parties and a free press are seldom found in a political system that selects its leader by having his father’s judicial appointments ignore the law.

The greatest peril of this twenty first century crusade will be to the liberty of average Americans. Already, the Congress has authorized promiscuous wiretapping of phones and unlimited spying on the internet. There will be further confiscations of freedom and infringements of privacy, all in the name of patriotism.

The hundreds of thousands of Americans who have given their lives through the centuries in order to protect freedom were not fighting for supply side tax cuts or faith based initiatives; they died to protect the kind of individual liberty that the Republicans and their Democratic toadies are now so eager to destroy. During a time of overheated passions, it is possible that there would be a heavy political price to pay for a politician who rose to suggest that the American people should not be stripped of their rights because of a terrorist attack.

It would require a profile in courage.

No such luck. It is disgusting beyond description that, although so many brave young Americans have been willing to sacrifice their lives for freedom through the years, Democratic elected officials are not even willing to risk sacrificing their political careers to preserve the freedom for which so many heroes have perished.

The Republican leadership, of course, should be excused for not valuing individual liberty during a crisis since they have such disdain for it the rest of the time.

The path on which George W. Bush is leading this nation will provide him with much greater power. It will help his Republican Party escape responsibility for running the economy into the ground. It will allow Congressional Democrats to make a virtue of slavish capitulation, which they can now relabel “unity”. The Pentagon will get a huge influx of cash, as will the Bush benefactors in the aerospace industry. The media will have a story that they can exaggerate and sensationalize to their hearts’ content.

Everyone wins.

Almost everyone. The American landscape is littered with failed wars, including the wars on poverty, drugs, and illiteracy. Americans are now being given another unwinnable war to fight, unless “ridding the world of evil” is actually an attainable goal. The cost in money and freedom will be huge. No one who is reliable is in a position to oversee what Bush is doing.

The enemy is even more shadowy and difficult to track than the Viet Cong, which brings to mind another failed American war.

This is why it is highly questionable to refer to the tragic events of September 11 as another Pearl Harbor. In practical reality, when it comes to the task that lies ahead, it’s quite possible that it will turn out to be another Gulf Of Tonkin. We have commenced a huge war effort that cannot succeed by confronting countries, but will have to chase guerillas. America will now try to destroy an enemy that can strike and vanish, and that once destroyed can suddenly resurrect to strike and vanish again.

We have so much more to lose than they do. They do not have to play defense; they have no home base to protect. Our country is impossible to safeguard against bombings, chemical warfare and attacks on power plants, the water supply, etc. One terrorist with a vile of anthrax spores and access to an aqueduct could turn this war into a surrealistic nightmare. What’s twenty billion additional defense dollars compared to that? Who do we nuke then?

Many of the terrorist groups around the world aren’t even hostile towards the United States; are we going after them, too?

How much collateral damage will we be willing to inflict on other countries in our war against terrorism? The regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt are panic stricken by domestic insurgent Islamic fundamentalists. Will we demand that they publicly support America as we kill Moslem terrorists? If these nations fall to Islamic revolutionaries as a result, then will we have gained on balance, or will we have lost?

These are questions that can only be debated in a political environment that embraces dissent, so they will have to go unanswered.

Bush should have declared that what occurred on September 11 was a heinous crime, not an act of war. He should have stated that the objective was to kill Osama bin Laden and to bring his patrons to justice. That would not have permanently eliminated terrorism, but it would have set a good precedent and satisfied America’s justifiable desire for vengeance. It might have been a deterrent.

By contrast, promising to annihilate every terrorist alive could be interpreted as a threat. It is questionable wisdom to threaten suicide bombers whose grievances might otherwise not be with the United States.

By announcing that this is a grand war against every terrorist on planet Earth, Bush has greatly benefited himself in the short term. He has succeeded in wiping all of his many failures from the public consciousness. He has stampeded Congress into dramatically increasing his unsupervised power. He has maneuvered so that he can now operate by dictate and without even the pretense of an opposition party.

He has also spectacularly raised expectations of what will be accomplished.

George W. Bush currently has the support of ninety one percent of the American people. He garnered that support by transforming a tragic act of terrorism into the “first war of the twenty first century”. He has claimed all of the prerogatives that come with being a wartime president. He has defined himself and his administration by the outcome of his war. He has raised the stakes as high as he possibly can. He has rejected limited attainable goals in favor of pursuing total global triumph. Now, all he has to do in order to avoid failure is keep his pledge to rid the world of evil.

More David Podvin

Podvin, the Series

 


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