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Remember Who The Enemy Is
by Harold Williamson
July 14, 2004

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Amnesty International charged that the Bush administration has openly eroded human rights” in waging its war on terrorism.  And Amnesty's secretary general, Irene Kahn, said, as a strategy, the war on terror is bankrupt of vision and bereft of principle.”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan quickly dismissed Kahn's charges by saying that “[T]he war on terrorism has resulted in the liberation of 50 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the protection of their rights.”  He went on to say, People in those countries did not have the kinds of protections that we're used to in the United States.  And now they do.”  Apparently McClellan's boss is not the only one at the White House who doesn't watch the news or read newspapers.

There seems to be a universal human trait of being unable to recognize one's own criminality, and perhaps that is why the American ideals of liberty and justice are evident in Afghanistan and Iraq only from an American perspective.  George Bush must proselytize about American democracy because its ideals are not evidenced by our actions.

In his 1979 book Disturbing the Universe, Freeman Dyson observed, A good cause can become bad if we fight for it with means that are indiscriminatingly murderous.  A bad cause can become good if enough people fight for it in a spirit of comradeship and self-sacrifice.”  Dyson concluded, In the end it is how you fight, as much as why you fight, that makes your cause good or bad.”

It is ironic that the invasion of Iraq began with an unsuccessful preemptive strike on a compound where Saddam Hussein was purportedly hiding, and 17 Iraqis were killed.  According to Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst with Human Rights Watch and a former intelligence officer at the Pentagon, the U.S. struck out -- went zero for fifty -- while attacking high value targets” such as Saddam Hussein and Chemical Ali.”  Human Rights Watch estimated that at least 3,000 civilians were killed during the invasion alone, not to mention the thousands who have been killed or badly injured during the subsequent occupation.

In a free society, the president must follow the people even as he leads them.  But it is apparent that George Bush responded to a consent that was obtained by masterfully playing upon the fears of Americans.  Fear is a convenient and powerful tool for mobilizing a nation, but it comes at a very high price.  The US Patriot Act has compromised some the very freedoms that are being “defended.”  However, the worst may be yet to come. 

Michael Isikoff, an investigative correspondent for Newsweek, recently reported that the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security are looking into the legal steps necessary to permit the postponing of November's presidential election in the event that there is a terrorist attack in the United States on or near Election Day.  In Iraq, elections scheduled for January 2005 could also be postponed and martial law declared due to lack of security.  And Afghan President Hamid Karzai has recently asked NATO to send extra troops to his country as soon as possible to boost security ahead of their September elections.

In a well publicized interview with Cigar Aficionado magazine, General Tommy Franks went as far as to say that if the United States is hit with a weapon of mass destruction that inflicts a large number of casualties, the Constitution would likely be discarded in favor of a military form of government.  Considering that the American people were persuaded by this administration to go to war based on phony intelligence and false pretenses, one doesn't have to be a loony with a pocketful of conspiracy theories to realize how likely this scenario is.

Last November in a Washington Post article entitled Terrorist Logic: Disrupt the 2004 Election” David Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, observed that terrorism is an effective tool to determine the opposition's strength, especially during an election year.  Rothkopf cited numerous examples where terrorist attacks influenced elections in favor of hard-liners, making the recent election of the socialist candidate in Spain an anomaly after the Madrid railway bombings.   

But if al-Qaeda and similar groups can see that hard-liners usually win after terrorist attacks, why would they want to help them win?  Rothkopf suggests that perhaps it is because terrorists see the attacks as a win-win.  They can lash out against their perceived enemies and empower the hard-liners, who in turn empower them as terrorists.”  And a predictably impulsive and emotionally satisfying military response to an attack makes it much easier for terrorists to justify their cause and their methods.

A viable alternative is a measured response that keeps collateral damage, political or otherwise, to an absolute minimum.  The response to the atrocities of September 11, 2001, should have been a police matter conducted under international law instead of an indiscriminately murderous military one.

According to Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, America's image as a 'rule-of-law-model' has been tarnished, especially in the Muslim world. . . .  When asked if they like 'American ideas about democracy,' large majorities from Morocco to Pakistan say no.  They no longer associate America with the principles it promotes.”

On April 6, the Associated Press reported that Sen. Edward Kennedy accused President Bush of having created the largest credibility gap since Richard Nixon” on policies both foreign and domestic.  The Washington Post reported that Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell defended Bush by suggesting that Americans would be much better served if the Senator from Massachusetts would remember who the enemy is.”

Even though foreign terrorists might be able to infiltrate our borders and commit heinous crimes, they are no threat to America’s democracy.  Democracy’s real enemy will come from within, from a government that refuses to be unduly influenced by the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights.

Harold Williamson is a Chicago-based independent scholar.  He can be reached at: Copyright ã 2004, Harold Williamson.

Other Articles by Harold Williamson

* Obscenity, A Sign of the Times and the Post
* Thinking Anew: A Do-It-Yourself Project
* America's Blind Faith in Government
* Think Tanks and the Brainwashing of America
* Bully for the Bush Doctrine: A Natural History Perspective