Thursday, August 31, 2006

Liberty & Security in the Post-9/11 World

Sleepless in Laguna Beach

Not sleeping too well these days, Bush. I blame it in part on the fact that the summer is coming to an end, bringing with it the prospect of returning to our work-year cycle--commuting between the big city and the beach cottage we were fortunate (or smart) enough to buy before property in this area shot up through the clear blue skies of Southern California.

In part also, it's George (no, Bush, I don't want you getting excited: as I think I've mentioned somewhere in past entries, George the dog arrived about the same time that George Harrison was prematurely leaving us. No flattery intended, I assure you). Like most other dogs in the area, our George is suffering horribly from seasonal allergies. He just can't stop scratching, and since he sleeps on our bed with us, he has been waking us up, frequently, in the middle of the night--and then keeping us awake. We try kicking him and shouting at him groggily, but it doesn't seem to help.

But that's just the preamble, Bush. The real source of my sleeplessness, I think, is the anxiety I have about flying off for my speaking gig, a week from today, at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri. Not the flight itself, nor even the new security measures. I can deal with those. No, it's the business of getting up to speak in front of an as yet unknown number of people, none of whom I know. Actually, it doesn't matter much how many or how few. It doesn't even matter that I've done it a thousand times before--as a speaker, a reader, a lecturer, a teacher, a professor--and even though I usually manage it with apparent aplomb. It's inside that the turmoil roils...

So let's get to it, Bush. A dry run. What, I wonder, do I need to say about my topic: "Liberty and Security in the Post-9/11 World"? I may as well start out by confessing, not for the first time, that I'm a liberal. Since that word has been co-opted as an insult by those who call themselves conservatives, I should maybe call myself a progressive. Or, if I really want to make the conservatives mad, a socialist. Because that's really what I am. I was born before World War II in a coal-mining town in the north of England, and my father was the rector of the parish. His sympathies were always with the working man, the downtrodden, the exploited, the oppressed, and I inherited his political and social attitudes. A socialist as I see it--and let's agree for the moment to steal the word back from McCarthyite America--is simply one who believes that one of the important roles of government is to act as power for the powerless, and to defend the interests of those who lack the means to defend them for themselves.

So what I believe distinguishes you from me, Bush, is a belief in government. It seems to me, listening to you and your right wing allies, and watching your actions in the world, that you do not share that belief. Your purpose, in the words of one of your long-time associates, is to "strangle the beast" of government. Strange, then, that while you choose to toe that line when it comes to taxes and the civic and social programs they support, you stand so ready to wield the power of government when it comes to certain basic civil rights.

Let's take the case of Terri Schiavo, for a start. Remember that one? It seemed to me, in the case of this poor woman who had been brain dead for fifteen years and who--like myself and most other intelligent people that I know--had expressed her wish in advance that she not be kept alive by artificial means should anything like this ever happen to her, that you and your allies chose to charge in with the full weight of government in the attempt to dictate the personal morality of others. On an analogous "pro-life" front, you'll recall that the only veto you have ever used was to take a stand for the view of a small number of pro-life extremists and against the preponderance of scientific evidence on the promise of stem cell research for millions of those afflicted with debilitating injuries and disease.

If I mention these two incidents, Bush--which might otherwise seem irrelevant to our theme--it is because the dreadful events of September 11, 2001 empowered your office in a way that nothing else could--least of all the dubious election results of the previous year. After 9/11, backed by your team of powerful, mostly corporate-affiliated supporters, you took the opportunity and seized the power. 9/11, the word went out, was the day that changed the world. All bets were off, all historic precedents open to review and revision. You could hear the vast sucking sound as power rushed to the White House and the American people, understandably too shocked to do much else but stand around and gape, entrusted that power to you all too gladly. And with that rush of power, in my view, Bush, came hubris. The kind of arrogance that lay behind your actions in the Terri Schiavo case and on the stem cell research bill.

(As a European--well, a European by birth, at least: American now, though still definitely in recovery!--I confess to having a different view of 9/11. I don't see it as a day that changed the world: what happened in New York, though on a much more devastating scale, has been happening in Europe for centuries. The attack did not make everything different. We Americans had always been different. It made everything the same. You were offered the opportunity on that day, Bush, to join the rest of the world in fellowship. As I see it, you chose not to. At that moment, and in all your subsequent actions, you have asserted American difference, American supremacy, American entitlement.)

It was out of this mindset, as I see it, that emerged the dual strategy of fear-mongering and aggression that have dominated your administration's policies on both national and international issues. First, America and Americans are special, and must be protected at all costs. I believe that sense of entitlement to be safe from evey conceivable danger is a part of our national psyche anyway, but you, Bush, have made political capital out of that assumption of the right to invulnerability. The Buddhist teachings I have studied have led me personally to the understanding that insecurity is an inevitable part of the human condition. We are none of us safe, at any time of the day or night. Earthquakes (in California at least) wait to strike; what is it here in Springfield? Tornados? Blizzzards? The drunk driver on the Interstate? Cancer? Some other dread, incurable disease? We are all vulnerable, and we had better learn to live with insecurity if we we wish to live in freedom.

Do we need to live in deathly fear of terrorism? I say no. We need, of course, to take the obvious precautions. Only recently, in the light of the arrests in London, England, new security measures have been introduced. (We might ask why, given that the nature of this particular threat was known long ago, those measures were not introduced earlier. I suspect that's because our counter-terrorism precautions are measured not by their necessity, but by the state of public awareness of the threat. A shoe-bomber? We all take off our shoes. A gel or liquid threat? Watch out for the baby milk!) In other words, it seems to me that the whole Homeland Security operation is little more than another public relations game, a window-dressing effect to reassure Americans that the government is working to protect them from the threats that they, the government, uncover in perfect time to scare us just a little more.

In the name of security, Bush, your government has gone much further than these relatively small adjustments in the way we travel. While virtually ignoring such real problems as port security and the defense of chemical plants, you have developed a national defense priority determined more by the pecking order of lobbyists and politicians than by self-evident need. How else do you explain the absurd disparities in the apportionment of funds between, say, the State of Montana and the cities of New York, Los Angeles, Washington...?

At the same time, you have exploited fear in order to expand the power of the executive over the rights of idividual Americans. Your lawyers have twisted logic to allow you to stick your finger in the eye of Habeus Corpus, the cornerstone of individual rights since the time of the Magna Carta (that's 1215, if I remember right), allowing you to throw anyone you choose in jail without the benefit of knowing the evidence against them or the right to an attorney or a speedy trial. You have treated not only America but the world as your personal sheriff's fiefdom where you alone become the law. You have assumed the right to tap telephones at will, without warrant or restriction, all in the name of keeping America safe from those terrorists with whom we are at war... And you have attempted to do all this under the cover of secrecy, the most powerful tool at the disposal of the tyrant.

Worst of all, in my book, Bush, you keep trying to tell the American people that they are more secure as a result of your war in Iraq. You keep saying that we're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here at home. Does anyone seriously believe this dishonest piece of rhetoric, Bush? I understood--supported--your action in Afghanistan following 9/11. There was little doubt that the Taliban were providing a training ground and support for Osama Bin Laden and his merry band of terrorists. I did see that as an act of justified retribution and self-defense.

At this point, though, my own little voice is hardly needed to reiterate the obvious: that Bush II, who complained that his father, Bush I, should have finished the job in Iraq in 1991, notably failed himself to finish the job in Afghanistan. Instead, you sent your armies marching off to Iraq on the trumped-up charges of Saddam's possession of weapons of mass destruction and support for the terrorists and 9/11, and created the most ideal of all recruitment and training grounds for the very terrorists with whom you claim to be at war!

Security, Bush? I look around and see more insecurity in the world than I have seen since World War II. Of course, no question, the lion's share of the blame goes to those who would willingly create chaos in the world, kill Americans with the same callous abandon that they slaughter their own people, and destablize governments in the region in pursuit of their own narrow interests. Still, Bush, I cannot let you off the hook for your part in creating this international insecurity. At the time of the attack on the World Trade Center, you had the goodwill of every government, virtually every person in the world. "Today," even a Frenchman said, "we are all Americans!" You had the opportunity, with skill, diplomacy, compassion, a broad vision and the ability, above all, to listen to the voice of others--you had the opportunity to begin to orchestrate a new world music for the common good of all humanity. And the opportunity was squandered. It went up in the flames of "Shock and Awe", in that blunt demonstration of American power and vengeance.

Enough for one day. We'll speak tomorrow a little more about freedom, Bush. Until then, I trust you're sleeping better than I am--with far greater sources of anxiety on your mind than George the dog and a talk in Springfield, Missouri.


PK said...

Excellent blog!!! Nothing to offer, you've said it all...

Dave said...

Power for the powerless. Great idea. I read that the Family Television Council is doing just that for the "millions of children" who might have been hopelessly abused by that there dirty word that Helen Mirren (an actress of real class) used at the Emmys. Just imagine if that word reached the children of Sudan and Ethiopa, making their dying days a torment of metaphorical (as well as literal) filth.

While there are tens of millions of American kids without health insurance, it's dang reassuring to know that some upright concerned citizens are at least looking our for the decency of their language.

All I have to say to MS. Mirren is poo-poo, pee-pee, and sexual intercourse. So there, British smartypants!

GringoWithoutBorders said...

Just wondering how you win a war on terror when terrorists (aka freedom fighters) are the ones who make countries and have caused revolutions to happen throughout human history? Especially when the freedom fighters are legitmately fighting occupiers, be it Israeli, American, British, Russian ect...

Was not USA founded by traitors who fought their own government, who in turn called them terrorists and had rewards out for their capture?

Interesting fact. The largest arms dealers in the world are the 5 members of the UN Security Council, with USA accounting for 40% of all arms sales, China accounting for 3.90%. Now, who are the global terrorists?????

Bush said, "Terrorists kill innocents to accomplish their political goals." How many innocent people has USA killed to achieve our very own political goals. Oh yea, those bodies are simply collateral damage that USA knows will happen with any war it uses to further its political goals so they are not really innocent humans.