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Bush's Grimmer Vision

By Nat Parry
July 21, 2005

Three years ago, I wrote an article entitled “Bush’s Grim Vision.” It began with the observation that since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, “George W. Bush has put the United States on a course that is so bleak that few analysts have – as the saying goes – connected the dots. If they had, they would see an outline of a future that mixes constant war overseas with abridgement of constitutional freedoms at home.”

Since then, the dots have not only been connected, but many of the shapes have been colored in. The immediate fear and anger following the Sept. 11 attacks have given way to the grinding permanence of a never-ending state of emergency. In many ways, the reality has turned out worse than the article's expectations.

For the last two-plus years, the bloody war in Iraq has raged with no end in sight, as more evidence emerges daily that the Bush administration misled the nation into the invasion through a mix of false intelligence on weapons of mass destruction and clever juxtapositions that blurred Iraq’s Saddam Hussein with al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden.

The war – and the animosities it engendered – have, in turn, added to the likelihood of terrorist attacks, like the July 7 bombings in London, which provide further justification for more security and greater encroachments on individual liberties.

Deformed Democracy

Already, the Iraq War has deformed the democratic process in the United States, even as Bush claims that his goal is to spread democracy in the Middle East. At home, his operatives have demonstrated that when fear-mongering isn’t enough to scare the American people into line, bare-knuckled bullying is in store for those who speak out.

That is the real back story of the investigation into whether Karl Rove and other senior Bush aides unmasked CIA officer Valerie Plame in retaliation against her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, for being one of the first mainstream figures to accuse Bush of twisting the intelligence about Iraq and nuclear weapons.

Bush’s “grim vision” always recognized that the “war on terror” abroad would require restricted freedoms at home – as well as expanded powers for the police and military. So, just as in 2002, when the “Bush Doctrine” on preemptive wars laid the intellectual groundwork for invading Iraq, new doctrines are now being promulgated to justify the creation of a full-scale “security state” inside the United States.

One Defense Department document, called the “Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support,” sets out a military strategy against terrorism that envisions an “active, layered defense” both inside and outside U.S. territory.

As a kind of domestic corollary to the Bush Doctrine, the Pentagon strategy paper also has a preemptive element, calling for increased military reconnaissance and surveillance to “defeat potential challengers before they threaten the United States.” The plan “maximizes threat awareness and seizes the initiative from those who would harm us.”

Global War

Besides lifting the traditional limits on military operations on U.S. soil, the document makes clear that global warfare will be the reality for at least the next decade.

“The likelihood of U.S. military operations overseas will be high throughout the next 10 years,” the document said, adding that the Pentagon fully expects terrorists to carry out “multiple, simultaneous mass casualty (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive) attacks against the U.S. homeland.”

The primary response will be “projecting power across the globe … in ways that an enemy cannot predict,” the paper said, promising “an unpredictable web of land, maritime, and air assets that are arrayed to detect, deter, and defeat hostile action.”

For any American suspected of collaborating with terrorists, Bush has already revealed what's in store. In May 2002, the FBI arrested U.S. citizen Jose Padilla in Chicago on suspicion that he might be an al-Qaeda operative planning an attack.

Rather than bring criminal charges, Bush designated Padilla an “enemy combatant” and had him imprisoned indefinitely without benefit of due process. Now, Bush is asking the federal courts to recognize the president's sole right to strip American citizens of their constitutional protections.

“In the war against terrorists of global reach, as the Nation learned all too well on Sept. 11, 2001, the territory of the United States is part of the battlefield, ” Bush's lawyers have argued in briefs to the federal courts. [Washington Post, July 19, 2005]

A Harsh 'Cure'

In effect, the Bush administration is prescribing a large dose of military action and political repression as the cure for Islamic terrorism.

Besides the question of civil liberties, the strategy represents a rejection of advice from counterinsurgency experts who warn that an over-reliance on warfare and inadequate attention to the root causes of Middle East anger could perpetuate terrorism indefinitely, rather than reduce it to a manageable problem that can be handled by law enforcement.

But Bush's “you're with us or with the terrorists” rhetoric has left little space in the U.S. political world for a frank, realistic discussion about the best counter-terrorism strategy. The bellicose conservative news media and pro-Bush operatives continue to shout down or ridicule anyone who suggests any subtlety in U.S. policy.

On June 22, for instance, Bush unleashed deputy chief of staff Rove to mock “liberals” for supposedly demonstrating a cowardly naivety in the face of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. “Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers,” Rove said in a speech to the Conservative Party of New York State. [See Consortiumnews.com's “Baiting, Not Debating.”]

This truncated public debate jumped the Atlantic after the July 7 terror bombings in London. British Prime Minister Tony Blair went ballistic whenever someone noted that Great Britain's participation in the war in Iraq was a factor in radicalizing the four suicide bombers who attacked three subway cars and a double-decker bus.

Instead of facing that reality, Blair adopted Bush’s black-and-white rhetoric about “evil” terrorists. Blair’s government lashed out at one private research group when it pointed out the obvious: that Great Britain had made itself a more likely target for terror attacks by becoming a “pillion passenger” to Bush’s Middle East policies, using a phrase for the person who sits behind the driver of a motorcycle.

“The time for excuses over terrorism is over,” snapped Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in chastising the Chatham House for its report.

But the report actually was in line with the thinking of British security services, which had noted before the July 7 attacks that the war in Iraq was worsening the terrorist threat in Great Britain. “Events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist-related activity in the U.K.,” a confidential British terror threat assessment had said. [NYT, July 19, 2005]

Despite Blair's bluster, the British public appears to have made this obvious connection, too. According to a poll conducted after the attacks, two-thirds of Britons believe that the U.K.’s participation in the Iraq War was a factor in the bombings.

Timid Debate

In the United States, a few public commentators have gingerly approached this link between the Iraq War and the worsening terrorist threat. Time magazine observed that it was “bad manners” to criticize anyone besides the London bombers, but added, “we need to ask why the attacks keep coming.”

Time said the link to the Iraq War couldn’t be ignored. “Invading Iraq, however noble the U.S. believed its intentions, provided the best possible confirmation of the jihadist claims,” Time wrote. [Time, July 18, 2005, issue]

United for Peace and Justice, a U.S.-based anti-war coalition, said it was “horrified by the senseless death and destruction caused by the bombings in London” but added that the attacks can be seen as a consequence of the Iraq invasion.

“We were told by the Bush administration that our nation had to go to war in Iraq in order to fight terrorism, to make us and the world safer,” a UFPJ statement said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, none of us is more secure since the Bush administration launched its so-called war on terror.”

Of course, dire predictions that the Iraq invasion would backfire – and become a boon to al-Qaeda – were a big part of the argument from anti-war protesters in late 2002 and early 2003. But that analysis was largely excluded from the mainstream pre-war debate, as U.S. politicians and pundits competed to out-macho each other on TV talk shows.

Even now, almost four years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration and its allies continue to seek a national “group think” that permits Americans only to explain terrorism by asserting that the perpetrators hate America's freedoms and want to impose their “evil” ideology on the United States.

Real Grievances

But that formulation does little to help the public understand the bombers’ real motivations and thus hampers development of a sophisticated strategy that could stop other young Muslims from being won over to extremism.

Since I first wrote about “Bush's Grim Vision” in 2002, little has been done to address legitimate grievances in the Middle East or to give the United States more political leverage for achieving peaceful change.

The Bush administration has dragged its heals on reducing U.S. oil dependence on corrupt Arab sheikhdoms; continued to use American troops to prop up dictators in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states; and failed to press aggressively for an equitable settlement of the Palestine-Israeli conflict.

Rather than seek realistic ways to remove these irritants, Bush added more by invading and occupying a major Arab nation, Iraq, which ironically had been an ardent enemy of al-Qaeda and its brand of Islamic fundamentalism.

The war has led to the deaths of almost 1,800 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis, but only the most ardent Bush acolytes would still argue that the Iraq War has reduced the worldwide threat of terrorism.

Cementing 'Security'

Yet, instead of a serious policy reevaluation, the Republican-controlled Congress is moving toward rubber-stamping Bush’s “security state” plans both at home and abroad.

Beyond the expanded domestic role for the Pentagon, the powers of the FBI are increasing. The Senate Intelligence Committee approved legislation to reauthorize and expand the Patriot Act, which was passed in the hectic days after the Sept. 11 attacks with emergency provisions that were designed to expire.

Now, Congress is not only reauthorizing many of those stop-gap powers but adding new ones. “Administrative subpoena” authority, for instance, would allow the FBI to execute its own search orders for intelligence investigations, without judicial review.

The legislation also would give agents the authority to seize personal records from medical facilities, libraries, hotels, gun dealers, banks and any other businesses without any specific facts connecting those records to any criminal activity or a foreign agent.

Bush also recently ordered the creation of a domestic spy service within the FBI, called the National Security Service. Intended to centralize authority and remove barriers between the FBI and the CIA, the NSS will combine the Justice Department’s intelligence, counter-terrorism and espionage units.

The NSS will have the authority to bypass traditional due-process when seizing assets of people or companies thought to be aiding the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

The new police powers come on top of guidelines for intelligence-gathering that Attorney General John Ashcroft established in 2002 when he loosened restrictions that were put the FBI after the COINTELPRO political-spying scandal of the 1970s.

Under the Ashcroft guidelines, the FBI must only have a reasonable indication that “two or more persons are engaged in an enterprise for the purpose of … furthering political or social goals wholly or in part through activities that involve force or violence and a violation of federal criminal law.”

The investigation does not need to be approved by FBI headquarters, but rather, may be authorized by a special agent in charge of an FBI field office.

Defining Terrorism

Critics argue that the authority to investigate domestic terrorism invites political abuses because the Patriot Act adopted a broad definition of terrorism. Section 802 of the law defines terrorism as acts that “appear to be intended ... to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion,” which could include confrontational protests and civil disobedience.

Civil libertarians have warned that rather than improving security or combating terrorism, the new laws and guidelines may be more useful in silencing critics of the Bush administration and chilling political dissent.

One early indication of how the government might use its expanded powers came in 2003, when the FBI sent a memorandum to local law enforcement agencies before planned demonstrations against the war in Iraq. The memo detailed protesters’ tactics and analyzed activities such as the recruitment of protesters over the Internet.

The FBI instructed local law enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for “possible indicators of protest activity and report any potentially illegal acts to the nearest FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.”

Since then, there have been many stories about the FBI’s Joint-Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) harassing and intimidating political activists engaged in lawful protests. Before last summer’s demonstrations at the Democratic and Republican national conventions, for instance, the JTTF visited the homes of activists, while FBI agents in Missouri, Kansas and Colorado spied on and interrogated activists.

One target of these visits, Sarah Bardwell of Denver, Colorado, said, “The message I took from it was that they were trying to intimidate us into not going to any protests and to let us know that, ‘hey, we’re watching you.’” [NYT, Aug. 16, 2004]

Over the past few years, the FBI also has collected thousands of pages of internal documents on civil rights and antiwar protest groups. “The FBI has in its files 1,173 pages of internal documents on the American Civil Liberties Union, the leading critic of the Bush administration's antiterrorism policies, and 2,383 pages on Greenpeace,” the New York Times reported. [NYT, July 18, 2005]

Another group singled out by the FBI was United for Peace and Justice, which facilitated last summer’s protest at the Republican convention. Leslie Cagan, the national coordinator for the coalition said she was particularly concerned that the FBI’s counterterrorism division was discussing the coalition’s operations.

“We always assumed the FBI was monitoring us, but to see the counterterrorism people looking at us like this is pretty jarring,” Cagan said.

But even as people around the world call for rethinking the U.S. strategy on terrorism, the Bush administration is calling for more of the same – increased police powers at home and intensified war abroad.

Immediately after the London bombings, National Guardsmen were deployed on subway systems in the U.S., carrying automatic rifles. The Washington Metro is considering using random bag searches as a way to prevent a subway bombing that many people now view as inevitable.

While many Americans may see these steps as appropriate precautions to ensure public safety, it also cannot be denied that each day the United States more and more resembles an authoritarian police state.

These bit-by-bit concessions to the endless “war on terror” also may be a chilling reminder that “safety” and “security” have always served as excuses for authoritarian governments as they peel away the rights of their citizens.


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