It's been quite an interesting experience hearing United States Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tell us that more Americans are probably going to perish in future terror attacks. It's "inevitable," they say, and there's really not all that much that they or anyone else can do about it. "Let's get real," they're telling their citizens, there are some really dangerous "bad guys" out there who hate America because of all our freedom and democracy.
To make matters worse, they point out, the "evildoers" are willing to die, which makes them almost impossible to stop, and chances are good that some of these American freedom-hating "evildoers" have attained small-scale nuclear devices.
It's not a good combination: bad guys who hate America (the land of freedom and democracy), are willing to die, and ready to deploy the worst terrorist technology known to history.
I suppose Cheney and Rumsfeld think Americans ought to send them a river of thank you cards. After all, they're doing what the political class so rarely does - they're giving it to us straight, the way things really are. They're telling it like it is. They're treating us like adults and talking to us man to man and man to woman, and giving us a fair heads up. No false sense of security provided to the masses by the all-knowing elite here. You've got to admire that, right?
Wrong. We should refuse to applaud Rumsfeld and Cheney's supposed candor for at least two reasons. First, their statements "smell strongly of politics," to quote George W. Bush commenting on Democratic charges that the White House missed signs that might have led to actions preventing 9-11. They wish, of course, to counter the current scandal buzz over Washington's apparent failure to respond to pre-9-11 terror warnings with minimally competent care for the safety of American citizens. They are obviously trying to cover their and the Bush administration's rear ends in light of the recent revelations and of their likely inability to prevent future attacks.
Second and more importantly, they are lying through imperial teeth in a way that is supremely perilous for everyone, including Americans. They're not lying about the likelihood of future attacks. They're not lying when they note that suicide terrorists are almost impossible to stop once they commit to action. And they're not lying when they say that the "evildoers" probably have the capacity to wreak radioactive havoc. After these statements, however, things get shaky and Cheney and Rumsfeld engage in two deep, dangerous, and intimately related deceptions.
Their first deception holds that the US is a target because the terrorists oppose our internal freedoms and democracy. It is fairly obvious from anti-American terrorists' statements that what angers the people who want to attack America most is not the nature of America's internal society. They are most furious about what America does externally, including the troops it stations in Saudia Arabia, the massive military and economic assistance it provides to Israel, and the deadly sanctions it imposes on Iraq. The respected British journalist Robert Fisk has interviewed bin-Laden twice in the last decade. As always, bin-Laden uses religious symbolism and make numerous references to his own particular extremist version of Islam. It is clear from these interviews, however, that what bothers bin-Laden most is the United States' military presence near Islamic holy sites in Mecca and Medina and US policies in Iraq and Israel.
If bin-Laden and his followers are so angry at internal US freedoms and democracy, why were they firmly on the side of the US in the late 1980s, when America enjoyed if anything more domestic freedom and democracy than it does today? The answer, of course, is US foreign policy. Until 1991, the US was bin-Laden et al.'s primary supplier and supporter in the struggle against the pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan. Moreover, if bin-Laden and the rest are so angry at the internal freedom and democracy of "infidel" Western nations, then why aren't Canada, Denmark, Holland, Sweden, New Zealand, and Switzerland (to name a few non-Islamic democratic states) worried about major attacks from El Quaida? These countries have as much and probably (from a perspective considerably left of Rumsfeld and Cheney) more internal freedom and democracy than the US. What they don't have of course, is America's terrible and frankly terrorist record of destruction and intervention in the Middle East.
Cheney and Rumsfeld's second big lie, and it grows right out of their first one, is that there is little that they can do to significantly reduce the likelihood of future terror attacks. Wrong - policymakers can achieve precisely that outcome in a very simple way. They can take a more modest and peaceful stance relative to the Middle East, one that seeks cooperation with rather than domination over the Arab world. More specifically:
They can remove US troops from Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern bases. They can drop the sanctions that have killed more than half a million Iraqi children.
They can take a much firmer position on Israel, forcing that state, which relies heavily on US assistance, to dramatically change it s treatment of the Palestinians.
They can develop alternative energy sources and practices to lessen American society's environmentally disastrous dependence on Middle Eastern oil and thereby reduce America's "need" to be engaged in the Middle East in the first place. Does anyone seriously doubt that US involvement in that region is overwhelmingly about oil?
They can cut back the political influence and policy power of America's domestic military industry, which has long profited from and fed the carnage of the Middle East, arming nearly all sides in that region's orgy of murder and mayhem.
They can break from the US's long history of imperial militarism, freeing up hundreds of billions of dollars to improve social and economic conditions in the Middle East and indeed throughout the world. This would significantly shrink the growing and massive reservoir of support for anti-American terrorism in the Arab world and elsewhere. Spending on affordable housing, education, health care, job-training, safe drinking water and much more in the Middle East and elsewhere would do immeasurably more than investing in the military to make Americans more secure.
My fellow Americans, let's be truly candid about the situation in which we find ourselves. The truth is, there's quite a bit that our policy makers could do to make ordinary Americans significantly safer from future terror attacks. The problem, and it's a tough one, is that the things that most need to be done don't leave a lot of room for the likes of Cheney and Rumsfeld, whose long and distinguished careers and portfolios are all tied up with the oil-slicked path of imperial militarism. The recommendations made above simply fall beyond the parameters of acceptable discourse in the corridors of American power
Well, then the time has come to open up those corridors to popular input and common sense. Call me crazy, but I think that ordinary Americans (who don't get removed to government-built hideaways in the event of nuclear attack) ought to value their survival more than US global hegemony. They should also values their lives more than the careers of powerful men who couldn't tell the truth even if their lives depended on it as much as the rest of us.