In an article reflecting on the anniversary of September 11, President Bush wrote, in an instant, America was transformed from a nation at peace to a country at war. We were called to defend liberty against tyranny and terror. And we have answered that call with the might of our military and the spirit of a nation inspired by acts of heroism.
I am in complete accord on two issues. Yes, there was a horrendous attack on two major structures that symbolize our country s economic and military power, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, costing thousands of innocent lives. And yes, there was genuine heroism shown by those who resisted the terrorist attacks and by the emergency workers who sacrificed selflessly for the victims of September 11.
But was America, as Bush claims, instantly transformed from a nation at peace to a country at war? If it was transformed in this way, it is because this is the direction in which Bush and his advisors transformed it. Becoming a country at war meant to the Bush administration an opportunity to expand US military forces while constricting civil liberties for ordinary Americans. Starting with his candidacy, Bush has pressed for increasing funding for the military. The September 11 attacks, along with a frightened and compliant Congress and American public, provided the opportunity to do so.
We responded to September 11 with the might of our military, which pummeled Afghanistan and attacked al Qaeda training camps, leading to a regime change in Afghanistan. But all of this military might has failed to apprehend Osama bin Laden, the individual purported to be responsible for the attacks. Has the use of this military might against Afghanistan truly made us any more secure?
There are few signs that Americans are more secure now than they were before the terrorist attacks. Our airports and other potential targets remain penetratable by terrorists, and virtually nothing has been done to address the root causes of terrorism. Our policies on the Middle East have become less even-handed, and we no longer seem to have sufficient respect in the region to play the role of honest broker in a peace process. Our dependence on foreign oil has not diminished. We have been an obstacle to upholding and strengthening international law in virtually all areas.
Bush and his military team have not spent much time addressing the reasons that the terrorists chose to attack symbols of American economic and military power. They have simply used the blunt instrument of military force to strike out at a regime viewed as dangerous. The United States under the Bush administration appears more like a helpless flailing giant than a country basing its responses on reason, law and morality. The Bush administration seems oblivious to the decent respect for the opinions of Mankind referred to by the founders of our nation in the Declaration of Independence.
Our attacks against Afghanistan have resulted in the deaths and injuries of thousands of innocent Afghanis due to our high-altitude bombing. Our response to September 11 has probably killed more innocent Afghanis than the number of innocent persons who died in the terrorist attacks. But our President tells us we are a country at war, and dismisses the deaths of the innocent people we kill as collateral damage.
This will be a long war, Mr. Bush tells the American people, and unprecedented challenges await us. It will be a long war because we are failing to take necessary steps to achieve peace. It will be a long war because we are led by an administration that has no vision of peace or of a better world for others. It has no vision and few resources for alleviating poverty, or for building schools instead of tanks. It has no vision of preserving the environment and natural resources for future generations because it is intently focused on goals that merely serve corporate interests. It has no vision of halting arms sales, an area where the US remains indisputably number one in the world. Nor does it have a vision of bringing nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction under control. We are an empire and empires require double standards. Thus, this will be a long war.
The concepts of war and defense have often been confused in the minds of Americans, and appear particularly confused in the minds of Bush and his advisors. Through most of our nation s history, we had a War Department, but in 1947 the name of this department was changed to the Department of Defense, one suspects largely for purposes of public relations. Commenting on this change, novelist Joseph Heller astutely observed that since switching the name to Department of Defense, we have never again been in danger of war, only of defense.
Now we are in danger of perpetual war. The United States under the Bush administration is leading the world in exactly the wrong direction, away from international law and toward increasing reliance on military force. Although no connection has been found between Iraq and the terrorist acts of September 11, Bush and Cheney are eager to wage war against Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein because Hussein may have weapons of mass destruction. But other countries, including dictatorships, actually have weapons of mass destruction. Possession of weapons of mass destruction has never been the litmus test for launching a pre-emptive and aggressive war. If we considered the elimination of nuclear weapons truly important, perhaps we would model the behavior we seek for others.
It is highly unlikely that Saddam Hussein would attempt to inflict injury on citizens of the United States even if he had weapons of mass destruction unless, of course, he was attacked by the United States. Such an attack would put American soldiers in harm s way of Hussein s arsenal, and give Hussein the right under international law to act in self-defense. This right would still not include using weapons of mass destruction, although he might still choose to use them illegally when confronted by overwhelming US force.
Bush has called for our government to wage an effective and relentless war against terrorists. Perhaps we should think instead of waging peace against the terrorists, acting with such justice and decency in the world that we would again be viewed as a positive model.
How does a country wage peace? There are some seeds of an answer in Bush’s advice to the American people: Overcome evil with acts of goodness. Love a neighbor. Reach out to somebody in need. Feed someone who is hungry, teach a child to read&. These were Bush s suggestions for what Americans can do to help in the war on terror. But imagine if these suggestions were followed by our country in our policies toward the rest of the world. What if America sought to overcome evil with acts of goodness, rather than military might? What if America reached out to people everywhere who were in need of food, shelter, health care and education?
Americans must choose the direction they wish to take. If left to make the choice itself, the Bush administration will lead the United States into a potentially devastating war against Iraq, which will undoubtedly increase the already simmering hatred toward the United States in most of the poorer areas of the world. The only way that Mr. Bush can be derailed from the perpetual war he seeks to wage is if the American people make their voices heard so clearly and persistently that Congress will have no alternative but to stand up to the President and say No! If the American people choose to docilely follow Mr. Bush into war against Iraq, we should not be surprised when the next front of the war returns to America in the form of increased terrorism.
*David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.