Bernie's been our Cassandra, warning us about things to come, and people weren't listening to him.
At West Point’s graduation ceremony, President Bush gave a none too subtle hint that the United States will be waging war in the Middle East for years and years to come. And not just in Iraq.
“So long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place where terrorists foment resentment and threaten American security,” he said. He added, a few sentences later, “The message has spread from Damascus to Tehran that the future belongs to freedom, and we will not rest until the promise of liberty reaches every people and every nation.”
Since Bush delivers the promise of freedom by gunpoint and in a bomb crater, people in Syria and Iran ought to take note.
And we, as citizens of the United States, ought to take note, too, that Bush’s appetite for war is not yet sated.
Neither has he curbed his penchant for distortion.
About his Iraq invasion to topple Saddam, Bush continued to dissemble.
“When the United Nations Security Council gave him one final chance to disclose and disarm, or face serious consequences, he refused to take that final opportunity. So coalition forces went into Iraq and removed his cruel regime.”
Actually, Saddam had been cooperating, to a large extent, with the U.N. weapons inspectors. And he had no weapons of mass destruction to disarm. Weapons inspectors were begging the Security Council for more time, but Bush refused to give it to them. And Bush acted like was doing the Security Council’s bidding by invading when, in actual fact, the Security Council refused to give its blessing to the invasion.
That’s why Kofi Annan called it illegal.
At West Point, Bush also spread the fallacy of the Cold War analogy to terrorism. He spent eleven paragraphs waxing nostalgic about the fight against Communism and exalting Harry Truman and his “ideological struggle between tyranny and freedom.”
Bush did so for a reason: He wants the American public to be at least as afraid of Al Qaeda as it was of Stalin's Soviet Union.
And so Bush did a crude compare-and-contrast.
He acknowledged that “the enemies we face today are different in many ways from the enemy we faced in the Cold War.” But he did so only to make Al Qaeda out to be even more dangerous than Moscow.
“In the Cold War, we deterred Soviet aggression through a policy of mutually assured destruction. Unlike the Soviet Union, the terrorist enemies today hide in caves and shadows. . . . The terrorists have no borders to protect, or capital to defend. They cannot be deterred.” Bush neglected to point out a much bigger difference: The terrorists cannot destroy the United States, however. Stalin could have.
As Bruce Ackerman reminds us in “Before the Next Attack,” we should not let Bush exaggerate the threat from Al Qaeda and, by sleight of hand, have us believe that we are more imperiled now than ever before. “Osama and his successors won’t ever occupy the country in the manner threatened by Hitler or Stalin,” Ackerman notes. “Territorial conquest is beyond their power. If anybody destroys our freedom, it will be us.”
But Bush wants us to think we face a challenge akin to the ones posed by Hitler and Stalin. Bush said that terrorists are trying to acquire “weapons of mass murder”—evidently, “weapons of mass destruction” is no longer the term of choice.
“If our enemies succeed in acquiring such weapons, they will not hesitate to use them, which means they would pose a threat to America as great as the Soviet Union.”
The Soviet Union had thousands of atomic weapons and the means to deliver them on intercontinental ballistic missiles. It could have incinerated the entire United States several times over.
Islamic terrorists have not been able to obtain one nuclear weapon, much less thousands.
This is fear mongering of the most grotesque sort.
In part, Bush wants to be Winston Churchill, whose name he invoked and whose rhetoric he mimics: “We will never back down, we will never give in, and we will never accept anything less than complete victory,” Bush said.
But Bush is no Churchill. And, anyway, he can’t achieve “complete victory” against Islamic terrorism. Even Al Qaeda—much less “Islamic terrorism”—is not a single hierarchical entity under Osama bin Laden’s direct control anymore. Now, in part because of Bush’s botched Afghanistan War and reckless Iraq War, Al Qaeda has disbursed itself.
Groups that are ideologically sympathetic operate independently; there are a lot of freelancers out there. And as Bush’s own CIA has acknowledged, the Iraq War has created new recruits for Al Qaeda and its cohorts.
In typical propagandist fashion, Bush said of the terrorists, “Our enemies believe that the innocent can be murdered to serve a political vision.” And he’s right about that; Al Qaeda demonstrated that on 9/11, and Zarqawi demonstrates it with every bomb explosion in Baghdad markets. The problem is, Bush also believes that “the innocent can be murdered.” To serve his own messianic vision, he has brought about the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis.
There was almost a casual cruelty to Bush’s West Point blessing: “Now the Class of 2006 will leave for the battlefield.”
He, as commander in chief, is sending them off to battle in Iraq, which is a war that had nothing to do, except pretextually, with the so-called war on terror.
And Bush’s terminology at West Point, his constant use of the phrase “war on terror,” serves not only to inflate his own historical importance but also to further his aggressive and repressive purposes.
When he says we’re just in the “early stages” of “the long war with Islamic radicalism,” he is preparing the public for the next stage to come. And if it’s all part of the same war against Al Qaeda, and Congress already gave him a blank check for that one, Bush might easily say he doesn’t have to go back to Congress to wage war against another country—say, Iran. (After all, we’ve already seen how far he stretched that original Authorization of the Use of Military Force; he says it gives him the right to monitor our phone calls.)
And if Bush can convince the American public that we face an enemy as lethal as Hitler or Joe Stalin (a name Bush also conjured up), he can then coerce Americans into giving up more of their freedoms. Forced to choose between survival and civil liberties, Americans will readily give up their liberties. Bush knows that. That’s why he frames the issue this way.
The better to protect you with, my dear.