Dear Future Presidents Clinton and Obama (which one will be Vice President?)
I request that as your first act in office you end the "War on Terror." Such action, I submit, would make most Americans feel more secure. Millions of us are sick of the word "terror," of feeling terrified. Terror means fear; fear precludes hope and confidence. You advocate hope. "Yes, we can." To do things, we need to be freed from White House panic harangue.
Last December's CNN poll reported 40% of the public still worried about themselves or family members becoming terrorist victims. Almost half the people in the poll believed the US was not winning the war; 21% think the terrorists are winning. How can anyone engage fight in Bush's "war" against that abstraction -- except as victims of government agencies and departments that the Bush/Cheney White House has hijacked?
The CIA, Pentagon, and Department of Justice squashed habeas corpus, denied defendants' right to counsel and disregarded laws against torture. In the name of "war on terror," using the Patriot Act, the government wiretapped, practiced kidnapping and outsourced torture (extraordinary rendition), while simultaneously championing human rights. All for "security and democracy!"
In 1984, George Orwell's Ministry of Truth changed facts before people's eyes and dictated a new version to them until they repeated lies as truth -- the secret of thought control.
Commands echo from airport loudspeakers. Robot voices warn everyone: "Supervise your suitcase!" I tell my suitcase not to pee on the airport floor.
"Security" also means facing TSA - "thousands standing around," says my grandson. Off with shoes, empty pockets, laptop on tray, creams and pastes in clear plastic bags! Beep! Oops, forgot the belt, try to keep pants from falling down, damn, the floor is cold without shoes! Last year, I missed a plane because one uniformed zealot - having successfully completed his parole? -- claimed my toothpaste tube contained more than the allotted amount and, before confiscating it and throwing it in the trash, he chastised me for rule violation.
Air travelers experience an imposed-by-the-White-House "culture of fear," a negative ethos derived from Bush's fantasized war. Technically, as you know, Congress has not declared war against Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet, US forces invaded and now occupy both countries. Bush claims with pride that he's a war time president, enabled, with congressional approval. Congress did increase his powers and he's used them to infringe on rights, felt most painfully by Muslims
Mr. O and Ms. C, eliminate Homeland Security. It's Bush's only policy - except for cutting taxes for the least needy. Yes, we have enemies, fanatics, who blow themselves and others to smithereens. But Bush hasn't pursued the terror organizers, some of whom live in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan; not guys in caves, but those bankers and intellectuals who control them. Instead of going after the brains and money, Bush created chaos, more enemies more bureaucracy (Homeland Security) and, his "War on Terror" helped Al-Qaeda expand their numbers.
Future Presidents, you know wars against abstract evils -- poverty, drugs, crime -- have become inane. After a century, the drug war expands. Yet, addiction has cursed humanity for thousands of years. Poverty and crime thrive in today's world. Gore Vidal predicted a war on dandruff. Terrible!
"Terror," repeated endlessly, induces fright. Who remembers life before the Patriot Act and Homeland Security? "The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth," wrote Orwell.
President Carter's National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, analyzed how "fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue. The war of choice in Iraq could never have gained the congressional support it got without the psychological linkage between the shock of 9/11 and the postulated existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction." In 2004, the Bushies campaign stressed: "a nation at war shouldn't change commander in chief in midstream." They emitted message implying pervasive albeit imprecise danger and then channeled it in politically expedient directions "by the mobilizing appeal of being 'at war.'" (Washington Post, March 25, 2007)
Like Zbig, you both must view skeptically how the "War on Terror" became mass marketed. The sell job meant liars Bush and Cheney - excuse my frankness - played the lead missionaries in the cause of their own prevarications. (A twofer, the ad guys would say.) Bush says he equates his anti-terrorist crusade - imagine him astride his horse lance in hand in Syria defending a 12th Century Castle -- with World War II and Hitler. From his cribbed history notes at Yale, he knew Hitler headed a state with a potent military force.
Will you teach the public that the shadowy Al Qaeda doesn't operate from a state? Supposedly Afghanistan served as Al Qaeda's base when it had less power, but the exploders now work in many countries through networks which, by their nature, remain immune from the high tech weaponry of the US armed forces. How do you nuke guys in caves or plotting in some apartment?
Will you help revive citizenship as a way to challenge the culture of fear and intimidation imposed by Homeland Security? Remember, after 9/11 Bush urged citizens to shop and take their families to Disney World, to show flying was safe (help the crippled airline industry). Bush called for unity in this struggle, but didn't ask citizens to discuss what to do in the face of attacks. Bush's enterprise has cost trillions of dollars.
Bush claims the Iraq occupation is integral to his war on terror, yet refuses to ask taxpayers to finance it. Unless we stay at war, he warns, Al Qaeda will bring the fight here. But Iraq has served Al Qaeda as a recruiting instrument. Senators, the April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate said the invasion of Iraq "has become the cause célèbre for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement."
So, how do you coincide "hope," "change" and "yes we can," with a divided and insecure nation? Did the 9/11 fiends have such an outcome in mind? War and occupation in Iraq have also generated wounds back home. How would you both introduce healing?
Remember war's beneficiaries. While troops and civilians die, a mushrooming terrorism industry produces both products (for war and "security" at home) as well as people like Jessica Stern, a self-proclaimed "leading expert on terror." She once directed Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council under Clinton. She didn't make bombs or chat with bombers. But, she warned in a 2003 Council on Foreign Relations paper, "the United States cannot let its guard down against terrorism because the chances for a second 9/11 attack remain 'very high.'" Did bookies use her to set odds? Pontificating experts on talk shows assure audiences that dirty nuclear bombs lie ahead.
In 2005, Congress identified 77,769 possible targets. Think of the expense, the jobs required to "secure" that ever-growing target list!
"Security" means "anxiety" to me, not Linus' blanket. On Highway 10 in East Los Angeles, a digital billboard warns drivers: "Report Suspicious Activity" (blow jobs in cars?). "Suspicious" means Muslims, Arabs, darker skinned foreigners: Islamophobia. You understand that, Barack Hussein Obama? Rush Limbaugh and his ilk claimed you attended the same madrasa as aspiring terrorists. You probably breathed the same air as well!
Fear begets bigotry, and a removal of protections for some "enemy non combatants" and some citizens: habeas corpus, right to an attorney and speedy trial, freedom from torture. Stuff you both know. Government mouthpieces say these "unusual methods" have inhibited terrorism. Sure! In 2006, seven semi-literate guys in Miami got set up by a government informer who promised them money and instead got busted for conspiring to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago. None of them had heard of the building, been to Chicago or knew about explosives.
When you become Presidents please undo the damage Bush has caused. Engage other nations on catching terrorists through police cooperation, infiltration of their cells and by networking with judicial systems. They shouldn't go to Guantanamo or other dark holes, but tried by courts anywhere in the world. Terrorism is a crime under international law. All courts have jurisdiction. Would you try to involve the UN in this effort and help restore its status? The US and other military forces have proven counterproductive. Count the massive number of declared anti-American terrorists today compared to before Bush hit Afghanistan and Iraq!
Please use this letter against the Republican - John Sidney McCain III (does Sidney reflect Hebrew heritage?). After getting the nomination, he repeated his priorities: make the US secure from Islamic extremism, victorious in Iraq, confident in trade, sound in its economy. Imagine how much he'll have to spend on the first two items and you'll see how they negate the last two. With him at the helm, Bush's madness might endure for another 1,000 years. Wow! I hope as president either of you really gets the country out of the mess; not deeper into it.
Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies Fellow. His film, WE DON'T PLAY GOLF HERE, is available on DVD through firstname.lastname@example.org