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George Bush's Permanent War

30 January 2002

There was something almost pathetic about George W. Bush's attempt to make his fight against terrorism akin to the fight against the Nazis.

In his State of the Union address, he evoked the comparison when he said that North Korea, Iran, Iraq, "and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil."

That's a big stretch.

North Korea and Iran have both showed signs of opening up to the West over the last four years. Diplomatic efforts could bring them even closer to a rapprochement. Bluster and stigmatas will only alienate them.

(By the way, Bush could have used a fact-checker. He said that "an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom." Check your almanac, George. Iran's President Mohammad Khatami, a moderate reformist, was elected in 1997 and reelected last June.)

What's more, the idea that North Korea, Iran, and Iraq are somehow working together to take over the world as Germany, Italy, and Japan did is laughable. Iran and Iraq hate each other and waged a devastating war against each other in the 1980s--back when the United States was supporting Saddam Hussein.

There is no evidence today that they are allied together or with North Korea.

So Bush was falling on his axis when he tried to make that claim.

He also hyped the threat against the United States when he said, "Freedom is at risk." As horrific as the attacks of September 11 were, freedom was never at risk and the existence of the United States was never in peril. Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda did commit an unspeakably grotesque crime when they killed thousands of Americans, but they never posed a threat to the survival of this country. During World War II, the survival of the free world was at stake, as were the lives of millions of innocent people.

Today, the terrorists may be able to carry out a few individual acts of horror, but they do not hold the balance of freedom in their hands.

Bush is exaggerating the risk for several reasons.

First, it solves his existential dilemma. Before September 11, he was the most immature 55-year-old in the country, with little clear idea of why he became President. The attacks gave meaning to his life, and the graver he makes them out to be, the more important his role.

Second, by magnifying the threats, he is able to play to the traditional Republican strength in the polls, since the American public has more confidence in the Republicans to defend the nation.

Third, it allows him to expand the Pentagon budget to unseen heights. "My budget includes the largest increase in defense spending in two decades, because while the price of freedom and security is high, it is never too high," he said. "Whatever it costs to defend our country, we will pay it." The enormous Pentagon budget not only satisfies Pentagon contractors, it blackmails Democrats, who might want to spend on some urgently needed social programs. Said Bush: "Our budget will run a deficit that will be small and short term so long as Congress restrains spending and acts in a fiscally responsible way."

Note that Bush views himself as unfettered by Congress and the Constitution to wage his worldwide campaign against terrorists and regimes that sponsor terrorism. In the first sentence of his address, he declared, "Our nation is at war," but he never asked for or received a formal declaration of war from Congress.

And when Congress gave him authorization to use force in September, it said that such use of force had to be limited to individuals, groups, or nations connected to the attacks of September 11. Congress did not give him carte blanche to wage war against any and all terrorists everywhere, or against regimes that seek chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.

He has taken that power unto himself, as he enunciates the Bush doctrine of permanent war.

It's a war that won't risk global annihilation, like World War II or the Cold War did. That is some solace. "A common danger is erasing old rivalries. America is working with Russia, China, and India in ways we have before to achieve peace and prosperity," he said. The bouquet to China was well-thrown, since Bush's missile defense plans, reiterated in his speech, look ominous to Beijing.

But Bush's permanent war will likely will likely sow seeds of discord among our European allies and stir pots of resentment throughout the Islamic world.

It will likely drain our Treasury of much-needed funds for rebuilding schools, ending poverty and homelessness, and providing universal health care.

And it will likely result in the U.S. military killing tens of thousands of Third World civilians, if not more.

Matthew Rothschild Published in The Progressive © 2002 The Progressive, Madison, Wisconsin

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