10/01/2004: Thought for the Day:
When George W. Bush was elected president, and particularly after September 11, I saw that the values and principles of open society needed to be defended at home. September 11 led to a suspension of the critical process so essential to a democracy - a full and fair discussion of the issues. President Bush silenced all criticism by calling it unpatriotic. When he said that "either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists," I heard alarm bells ringing. I am afraid that he is leading us in a very dangerous direction. We are losing the values that have made America great.
The destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center was such a horrendous event that it required a strong response. But the President committed a fundamental error in thinking: the fact that the terrorists are manifestly evil does not make whatever counter-actions we take automatically good. What we do to combat terrorism may also be wrong. Recognizing that we may be wrong is the foundation of an open society. President Bush admits no doubt and does not base his decisions on a careful weighing of reality. For 18 months after 9/11 he managed to suppress all dissent. That is how he could lead the nation so far in the wrong direction.
President Bush inadvertently played right into the hands of bin Laden. The invasion of Afghanistan was justified: that was where bin Laden lived and al Qaeda had its training camps. The invasion of Iraq was not similarly justified. It was President Bush's unintended gift to bin Laden.
War and occupation create innocent victims. We count the body bags of American soldiers; there have been more than 1000 in Iraq. The rest of the world also looks at the Iraqis who get killed daily. There have been 20 times more. Some were trying to kill our soldiers; far too many were totally innocent, including many women and children. Every innocent death helps the terrorists' cause by stirring anger against America and bringing them potential recruits.
Immediately after 9/11 there was a spontaneous outpouring of sympathy for us worldwide. It has given way to an equally widespread resentment. There are many more people willing to risk their lives to kill Americans than there were on September 11 and our security, far from improving as President Bush claims, is deteriorating. I am afraid that we have entered a vicious circle of escalating violence where our fears and their rage feed on each other. It is not a process that is likely to end any time soon. If we re-elect President Bush we are telling the world that we approve his policies - and we shall be at war for a long time to come.
I realize that what I am saying is bound to be unpopular. We are in the grip of a collective misconception induced by the trauma of 9/11, and fostered by the Bush administration. No politician could say it and hope to get elected. That is why I feel obliged to speak out. There is a widespread belief that President Bush is making us safe. The opposite is true. President Bush failed to finish off bin Laden when he was cornered in Afghanistan because he was gearing up to attack Iraq. And the invasion of Iraq bred more people willing to risk their lives against Americans than we are able to kill - generating the vicious circle I am talking about.
President Bush likes to insist that the terrorists hate us for what we are - a freedom loving people - not what we do. Well, he is wrong on that. He also claims that the torture scenes at Abu Graib prison were the work of a few bad apples. He is wrong on that too. They were part of a system of dealing with detainees put in place by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and our troops in Iraq are paying the price.
How could President Bush convince people that he is good for our security, better than John Kerry? By building on the fears generated by the collapse of the twin towers and fostering a sense of danger. At a time of peril, people rally around the flag and President Bush has exploited this. His campaign is based on the assumption that people do not really care about the truth and they will believe practically anything if it is repeated often enough, particularly by a President at a time of war. There must be something wrong with us if we fall for it. For instance, some 40% of the people still believe that Saddam Hussein was connected with 9/11 - although it is now definitely established by the 9/11 Commission, set up by the President and chaired by a Republican, that there was no connection. I want to shout from the roof tops: "Wake up America. Don't you realize that we are being misled?"
President Bush has used 9/11 to further his own agenda which has very little to do with fighting terrorism. There was an influential group within the Bush administration led by Vice President Dick Cheney that was itching to invade Iraq long before 9/11. The terrorist attack gave them their chance. If you need a tangible proof why President Bush does not deserve to be re-elected, consider Iraq.
The war in Iraq was misconceived from start to finish -- if it has a finish. It is a war of choice, not necessity, in spite of what President Bush says. The arms inspections and sanctions were working. In response to American pressure, the United Nations had finally agreed on a strong stand. As long as the inspectors were on the ground, Saddam Hussein could not possibly pose a threat to our security. We could have declared victory but President Bush insisted on going to war.
We went to war on false pretences. The real reasons for going into Iraq have not been revealed to this day. The weapons of mass destruction could not be found, and the connection with al Qaeda could not be established. President Bush then claimed that we went to war to liberate the people of Iraq. All my experience in fostering democracy and open society has taught me that democracy cannot be imposed by military means. And, Iraq would be the last place I would chose for an experiment in introducing democracy - as the current chaos demonstrates.
Of course, Saddam was a tyrant, and of course Iraqis - and the rest of the world - can rejoice to be rid of him. But Iraqis now hate the American occupation. We stood idly by while Baghdad was ransacked. As the occupying power, we had an obligation to maintain law and order, but we failed to live up to it. If we had cared about the people of Iraq we should have had more troops available for the occupation than we needed for the invasion. We should have provided protection not only for the oil ministry but also the other ministries, museums and hospitals. Baghdad and the country's other cities were destroyed after we occupied them. When we encountered resistance, we employed methods that alienated and humiliated the population. The way we invaded homes, and the way we treated prisoners generated resentment and rage. Public opinion condemns us worldwide.
Len on 10.01.04 @ 06:17 AM CST