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Bush's Terror Hysteria

By Robert Parry
March 22, 2004

Commemorating the first anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, George W. Bush gave the American people a glimpse of his vision of the future: a grim world where a near endless war is waged against forces of evil by forces loyal to Bush who represents what is good.

“There is no neutral ground – no neutral ground – in the fight between civilization and terror, because there is no neutral ground between good and evil, freedom and slavery, and life and death,” Bush said on March 19. “The terrorists are offended not merely by our policies; they’re offended by our existence as free nations. No concession will appease their hatred. No accommodation will satisfy their endless demands.”

So to Bush, the "war on terror" is a fight to the finish. Eliminate everyone who would or might engage in terrorism before they destroy civilization and impose slavery on the rest of us. To Bush’s supporters, this black-and-white analysis represents “moral clarity.” To others around the world, it is taking on the look of madness.

Religious Calling

Two and a half years since the Sept. 11  terror attacks, Bush still shows no sign that he understands what counter-insurgency experts have taught for decades, that confronting terrorism requires both targeting those who perpetrate the crimes and addressing the root causes – poverty, powerlessness, humiliation – that drive young people to strap on explosives and blow themselves up.

According to counter-insurgency experts, the goal must be to remove the causes of the broader political anger, isolate the hard-core enemy and gradually transform a war into a police action. A major part of defeating terrorism, therefore, is satisfying legitimate grievances that may be stoking its fires. To do so may require making practical concessions and reasonable accommodations, just the things that Bush has ruled out.

In contrast to these experts, Bush sees crushing terrorism – or "evil" as he frequently puts it – as a religious duty that must be carried out regardless of the costs.

In his March 19 speech, Bush employed quasi-religious language when he said the war on terror “is an inescapable calling of our generation.” The concept of a “calling” has a powerful meaning among Bush's fundamentalist Christian political base, meaning a divine duty, much like Bush's earlier characterization of his wars in the Middle East as a “crusade.”

In other words, Bush's strategy is not about a practical means to reduce tensions, resolve political differences and gradually ease the hardliners to the sidelines. It's about the opposite, elevating a low-intensity conflict into a full-scale war with a goal of not simply prevailing over a foe but of eradicating evil itself. It is an undertaking that reeks of hubris and totalitarianism.

If the United States were a healthy democracy, Bush’s speech would have been cause for alarm, possibly outrage, certainly a fierce debate.

But Bush’s grim vision has been greeted with remarkably little debate in the United States even though it could have calamitous real-life consequences: generations of young Americans dying in a worldwide version of a Hundred Years War; the U.S. national treasury drained; and the Founding Fathers’ grand experiment of a democratic Republic ended.

Lying Again

Given his fight-to-the-death framework, it is also no wonder that Bush feels no guilt about continuing to mislead the American people on questions of fact. Since he has heard his own “inescapable calling” to wage this decisive struggle between good and evil, the ends must justify the means. After all, if preserving “good” and ending “evil” don’t justify something like lying to the people, what would? 

This concept of grander truth may help explain why Bush has not apologized for his false assertions about weapons of mass destruction or his misleading comments linking Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Indeed, even in his March 19 address, Bush continued to lie with impunity about the facts leading up to war.

Bush’s latest version of the Iraq War history is that a year ago, Hussein refused to cooperate with UN demands for weapons inspections, leaving the U.S. and its “coalition of the willing” no choice but to invade Iraq in defense of the UN’s resolutions and to protect the United States from Iraq’s WMD.

“One year ago, military forces of a strong coalition entered Iraq to enforce United Nations demands, to defend our security, and to liberate that country from the rule of a tyrant,” Bush said in his anniversary speech.

This deceptive rendition also wasn't just a glossing over of some inconvenient facts in a celebratory speech. On two other occasions, Bush has made the same false assertion.

In July 2003, Bush said about Hussein, “we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power.” [For details, see the White House Web site.]

Bush reiterated that war-justifying claim on Jan. 27. Bush said, “We went to the United Nations, of course, and got an overwhelming resolution -- 1441 -- unanimous resolution, that said to Saddam, you must disclose and destroy your weapons programs, which obviously meant the world felt he had such programs. He chose defiance. It was his choice to make, and he did not let us in.”

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spun the same historical point in an op-ed article in the New York Times also on March 19.

“In September 2002, President Bush went to the United Nations, which gave Iraq still another ‘final opportunity’ to disarm and to prove it had done so,” Rumsfeld wrote, adding that  “Saddam Hussein passed up that final opportunity” and then rejected a U.S. ultimatum to flee. “Only then, after every peaceful option had been exhausted, did the president and our coalition partners order the liberation of Iraq,” Rumsfeld wrote.

But as anyone with the slightest memory from a year ago knows, Iraq did let the UN weapons inspectors in and allowed them free rein of any sites that they wished to inspect. It was the Bush administration that forced the inspectors out in order to press ahead with the invasion.

The historical point about Iraq’s cooperation was made anew by the UN’s chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, who writes in his new book, Disarming Iraq, that the final round of UN inspections, launched in November 2002, was progressing well in March 2003 with full Iraqi cooperation.

“Although the inspection organization was now operating at full strength and Iraq seemed determined to give it prompt access everywhere, the United States appeared as determined to replace our inspection force with an invasion army,” Blix wrote.

Double Standards

Despite this clear historical record, the New York Times, the self-described “newspaper of record,” published Rumsfeld’s falsehood without any effort to correct the record.

This is the same New York Times that took great pains in 2000 to flyspeck every comment by Vice President Al Gore looking for any hint of exaggeration and is now joining the rest of the press corps in similar diligence about Sen. John Kerry. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Protecting Bush-Cheney” about Campaign 2000 or "Protecting Bush-Cheney Redux" about the start of Campaign 2004]

But the press always seems to have another standard for Bush. Some suggest the press gives Bush a free pass on factual errors because journalists don't think he's very bright, but a more likely explanation is that Washington journalists are afraid of the career consequences that might result from taking him on over his lies, especially on issues related to national security.

Bush's March 19 speech also shows that he has learned little about the history of terrorism. It is an age-old problem, not a new phenomenon. Violent attacks against civilians have been committed by movements and governments in all regions in all time periods. Indeed, from an historical perspective, the "war on terror" is no more winnable than a "war on evil," in large part, because the terms are subjective, reflected in the old saying, that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."

Some Iraqis, for instance, might argue that the killing of civilians by the U.S. "shock and awe" bombing campaign a year ago is not that morally different from the Sept. 11 attacks, especially since the principal justifications of the U.S. bombing – Iraq's alleged possession of WMD and Saddam Hussein's supposed links to al-Qaeda – turned out to be bogus.

But history is full of moral ambiguity about terror. For instance, in the cause of American independence, Revolutionary War leader Sam Adams employed terror tactics against British sympathizers, including the brutal practice of tar and feathering. Over the next century, terror tactics, even acts of genocide, were used against the Native American population in settling the frontier.

More recent U.S. leaders were not innocent of association with terrorism either. In the 1980s, the Reagan-Bush administration backed Nicaraguan contra rebels who committed killings of civilians and other terrorist acts in their campaign to destabilize the Sandinista government. Meanwhile, U.S. allies in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras were engaged in death squad operations that claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people, all in the alleged cause of defeating communism.

Simultaneously, half a world away, the CIA was backing Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan, including a young Saudi militant named Osama bin Laden, as they fought Soviet and Afghan government forces. On the slippery slope of fighting secret wars in the Middle East, CIA Director William Casey himself was implicated in a terrorist bombing in Lebanon, aimed at another suspected terrorist. [For details, see Bob Woodward's Veil.]

Those moral ambiguities reached into the second Bush administration, when thousands of Iraqi men, women and children were killed when Bush ordered the invasion of their country under false pretenses and without UN sanction. To many people, especially in the Middle East, George W. Bush is a terrorist with the blood of more than 10,000 people on his hands..

Historically, it also deserves note that 20 years ago, Saddam Hussein was such a close U.S. ally in holding back Iranian Islamic fundamentalism that he got personal visits from U.S. Middle East envoy Donald Rumsfeld and received military advice from then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. Back then, Libya's Moammar Khadafy was terrorist evil-doer No. 1, blamed for blowing up a civilian airliner over Scotland. Today, the younger George Bush invites Khadafy back into the club of civilized world leaders because he took responsibility for the airline bombing, while Hussein is locked up in a jail cell.

Losing the War

The final, bitter irony of Bush's strategy for the “war on terror,” however, is that his approach is almost certain to fail. His swaggering style, along with his simplistic tactics, have alienated people across the globe and most deeply in the Middle East. Rather than working toward stability in that explosive region, Bush has chosen to do the opposite while invoking as his justification some quasi-religious Christian “calling” or “crusade.”

Taken in its totality, Bush’s vision carries logical consequences of the gravest order: Military strategy will overwhelm diplomacy; root causes of Middle Eastern terrorism, such as the plight of the Palestinians, will go unattended so as not to “appease” the terrorists; civil liberties at home and abroad will be set aside in the name of security; Bush’s allies, no matter how brutal and autocratic, will be hailed for their moral virtues; critics of Bush, including longtime Western allies such as France, Germany and now Spain, will be derided as “soft on terror”; lying, spin and intimidation will be the currency of the U.S. public debate.

And the adverse consequences are only just beginning. The world’s cultural divisions are deepening, world commerce is being disrupted, and economic conditions for billions of people are growing more desperate. The grinding poverty and the perceived injustices are creating the perfect conditions for breeding more senseless violence, not less.

If the American people follow Bush as an avenging angel descending into this worldly hell, terrorism eventually could become a universal voice of international despair, violence begetting only more violence and more despair. It is a future that does not need to happen, but it is one that is looming if the United States can’t figure out how to have a realistic and honest debate about terrorism.

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