Thursday, September 07, 2006

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (9/07/06)


Between the time you read this and Election Day, November 7, there will be about 60 days during which politicians of every stripe will attempt to rewrite history. The most outlandish lies will be told with a straight face. Facts and statistics will be twisted until they bear no resemblance to reality. None of it will be true.

The onslaught against truth and the denial of reality have already begun, always before a receptive audience unlikely to challenge wild exaggerations. If platitudes could do what our brave, undermanned military forces have not been able to accomplish, the Iraq misadventure would have been over long ago. This time the thrust is to market the "war on terror" and its centerpiece, the interminably bloody occupation of Iraq, as the latter-day equivalents of World War Two. Any one who deigns to question the wisdom of America's belligerent adventurism can expect to be tarred as an appeaser of Nazism in the mold of Neville Chamberlain.

The big guns have been rolled out and have begun firing a concerted barrage on opponents of the war--which is to say, if polls are to be believed--on about two thirds of the population of the United States. After so many years of indecisive warfare, their theme is hard to swallow: "Whatever has gone wrong is the fault of everybody but us." On August 29, speaking before the American Legion convention in Salt Lake City, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told an understandably supportive audience that today's terrorists pose the same threat as yesterday's Nazis; critics of the war in Iraq are like the appeasers before the start of World War II; the real problem is "the media" which spreads "myths and distortions about our troops and about our country."

Also on August 29, 2006, speaking before the officers of the U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, Vice President Dick Cheney extolled the war in Iraq and denounced self-defeating pessimists who oppose it. Describing the war, he repeated this whopper: "We wage this fight with good allies at our side." About conditions in present-day Iraq and Afghanistan, he boasted, "Fifty million people are awakening to a future of hope and freedom."

Not to be outdone, President George W. Bush appeared before the American Legion convention on August 31 and with a straight face made a statement that few, if any, Americans believe: "The security of the civilized world depends on victory in the war on terror, and that depends on victory in Iraq." If that statement is true and the stakes are so high, why has troop strength in Iraq never been adequate for the task? Why hasn't the defense budget been doubled? Why has Congress not been asked to reinstate the draft? Where are the war bond rallies in support of such a crucial war?

The President also said that the war in Iraq is really the front line in "the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century." Our foes are the "successors to Fascists, to Nazis, to Communists." The term-du-jour--and you'll hear it often--is "Islamo-fascist," coined by the neocons, whose roots are surprisingly deep in the Trotskyite-Social Democratic left. In the President's typically childishly simplistic view, earlier presidents' desire for stability (and this includes his father) caused the festering stagnation and resentment of the terrorists responsible for Sept. 11. He concluded: "Years of pursuing stability to promote peace had left us with neither," and intoned these high-sounding words: "We will take the side of democrats and reformers throughout the Middle East." The latter sentiment may play well in Peoria, but to those in power in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan it can hardly be seen as supportive or friendly.

The focus of attention in the next two months, of course, will be Sept. 11, an off-the-cuff attack of such utter simplicity and exquisite coordination the wonder has to be why it was not anticipated. Instead, it has been described as the first encounter in the long-heralded "clash of civilizations," a phrase coined by Bernard Lewis and Samuel P. Huntington. But the reality of Sept. 11 is concealed by the patness of that term. Let's face it: The Sept. 11 attack on the United States was not perpetrated by Islam, Islamic fundamentalism, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah, or any other militants on the Islamic right.

Instead, it was perpetrated by al-Qaida, a small, tightly knit group bent on suicidal martyrdom with the unctuous promise of paradise. Conservative columnist George Will recently wrote: "The London plot against civil aviation confirmed ... that better law enforcement, which probably could have prevented Sept. 11, is central to combating terrorism." But, sensing the mood of the country immediately after Sept. 11, the Bush administration calculatedly magnified the danger posed by al-Qaida out of all proportion, inflating it into a global threat. Although al-Qaida-inspired groups have struck in Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey and England, not a single violent act by al-Qaida has occurred in America, despite Attorney General Ashcroft's wild claim after Sept. 11 that thousands of al-Quaida agents had infiltrated the United States. For its part, the United States has done little to seal off, identify and arrest or kill the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attack.

The claim that Islamist terrorism is the Bush administration's target is given the lie by the countries and organizations they have actually targeted. The prime example is Saddam Hussein. During the Cold War, the United States supported dictatorial presidents, kings and emirs in the Arab world so long as they remained pro-American and supported U.S. policies. One of these was Saddam Hussein. Ever since seizing power in 1968, Saddam was the implacable enemy of radical Islamists--ranging from Ayatollah Khomeini and terrorist Shiite groups to al-Qaida itself. The Baath Socialist Party is totally secular. By attacking Iraq, George W. Bush played into the hands of the Islamic right and al-Qaida.

Moreover, the so-called war on terrorism and the ongoing occupation of Iraq is absolutely the wrong way to counteract and diminish the appeal of the Islamic right to the so-called "Arab street." Aside from al-Qaida, Islamic Jihad and similar terrorist groups, the broad spectrum of Islamic organizations represents no threat to the United States but rather to existing governments in the broad crescent stretching from the Gates of Hercules in Morocco to the far reaches of Indonesia. The longer we insist on maintaining a sword-rattling presence in the Middle East, the more we fuel radical Islamism and make that part of the world unstable.

The real danger is that such unrest could grow and spread, disturbing the stability of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, whose conservative governments could be overwhelmed by radical groups associated with al-Qaida, the Taliban or a Wahhabist underground. Man-in-the-Arab-street unhappiness over the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan has created more terrorists than have been captured or killed.

And what of the rest of the world? The Pew Research Center conducted 91,000 interviews in 50 countries over a period of years to determine attitudes and opinions. Findings of its "global attitudes survey" published in the 2005 book America Against the World are indeed alarming. In Britain, Germany and France favorable opinions of the United States nosedived, with overwhelming majorities also saying that the Iraq war has made the world more dangerous.

Released in June, the Pew Research Center's most recent survey showed equally alarming statistics. In only four of fifteen nations surveyed (Britain, India, Japan and Nigeria) did a majority of citizens have a favorable view of the United States. In six countries (Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Pakistan, Spain and Turkey) Iran had a higher rating than the United States. In one nation (Russia), Iran and the U.S. were tied. In all but one country (Germany) America's presence was seen as a greater danger to world peace than either Iran or North Korea. The only conclusion to be drawn from these numbers is that a country's global image is formed not by what its leaders say but what they do.


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