Friday, September 7, 2007

The Bumper Sticker War

Before 9/11 – or, rather, before Cheney and Bush expropriated it for their own ends – terrorism was a police problem and a political problem. It was not a military problem. Cheney and Bush saw things differently. Although they’ve failed utterly in just about everything else, they have succeeded in making their “vision” real. The murder and mayhem in Afghanistan and Iraq attest to it. So does the harm done to tens of thousands of American soldiers and marines, economic conscripts mostly, and to their families. Cheney and Bush have not yet killed at Johnsonian or Nixonian levels; though if they get the war in Iran they yearn for, they might yet have a chance. But they beat Johnson and Nixon hands down in another respect. Since they’ve declared perpetual war, and since “a nation at war” must err on the side of “security,” even at the expense of liberty and the rule of law, what began as a willfully malign conceptual error has become the gravest self-inflicted threat to our republic in its history. As even John Dean has said it’s worse than Watergate; worse by far.

Being cowardly by nature and desperately not wanting to seem “soft” on terror, the Democrats in Congress have been, for the most part, inclined to let Cheney and Bush have their way with the so-called War on Terror. They were at their worst just before their August break. By necessity, the candidates for President have been a little better on the Iraq War than their Congressional co-thinkers. But on “homeland security,” they have not been conspicuously more brave. At one point, John Edwards dared call the War on Terror a “bumper sticker.” He was taken to task for that, and temporarily backed down. But now, according to press reports and announcements by his own campaign, he’s about to propose measures that would effectively demilitarize the struggle against terror, turning it back into the (international and multi-lateral) police operation it ought always to have been. The devil is in the details, of course, and those are not yet clear. But this is a hopeful sign, and yet another reason why, of all the “electable” candidates, Edwards is emerging as the best by far. [Contrast his proposals with Barack Obama’s contention that he’d send troops to Pakistan, an ally and sovereign state, to fight Al Quaeda, even against the will of Pakistan’s government. Contrast them with the (classical) Clintonite disposition to bomb first and “feel the pain” later.]

However the best by far isn’t nearly good enough because Edwards leaves the political dimensions of the real terror threat untouched. [Only Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich, the unelectables, dare broach them; and then only superficially.] The point should be obvious. Police exist “to protect and serve”; the reality is often very different, but the aspiration is sound. It is indeed urgent that “the homeland” and the world be protected against terror and that the victims of terror be well served. To these ends, the first order of business is to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to prevent the next one in Iran. Beyond that, Edwards’ proposals may be as helpful as any yet proposed. But they are not enough.

Theocracy is a scourge, and Al Quaeda is nothing if not a criminal organization comprised of theocratic zealots. But, ironically, its grievances are legitimate: the oil-besotted U.S. has no business occupying Middle Eastern (and Central Asian) lands, no business propping up corrupt regimes in the region, and (not that Al Quaeda cares particularly, except for opportunistic reasons) no business supporting ethnic cleansing and Apartheid in Israel/Palestine. No Democrat will touch these issues; they’re much too afraid. If even the Israel lobby holds sway over them, how much more so do the oil interests they, along with Republicans, exist to protect and serve at no matter what cost to the rest of us. It is looking increasingly like it will be necessary, faute de mieux, to try to elect Edwards in the primaries, if only to banish Clintonism, the kinder and gentler – and vastly more competent -- cousin of the expropriators of 9/11. Then it will certainly be necessary to elect Edwards or any other Democratic candidate – even, alas, Hillary Clinton -- to prevent any of that sorry crew running in the Republican primaries from getting anywhere near the White House. But if we really want homeland security, we can’t stop there. Edwards and the rest may be afraid of the Israel lobby and Big Oil. But we mustn’t be. We must let him and the other Democratic candidates, and the Bush collaborators in the House and Senate, know that we are not!

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