In the past six years of his presidency, George Bush has squandered something far more important and significant than a budgetary surplus. It is the sense of moral superiority that has been the hallmark of United States policy and had been recognized throughout most of the world.
We invaded Iraq because we were told that the government of Iraq presented a grave and immediate threat to the United States. We now know that this rationale was not supported by the facts and, worse, our government was fully aware that it was baseless. The rest of the western world was almost united in its pleas to avoid invasion and continue diplomatic talks; our own military and civilian experts warned that, while we would get a quick military victory, the chaos that resulted would be impossible to contain. (It is telling that President Bush’s father limited the aim of “his” war with Saddam Hussein to the limited purpose of removing Iraqi troops from Kuwait. He wanted no part in “nation building” and the creation of an Iraq in our image.)
What was the result of this preemptive strike, an invasion of a sovereign country with which we had had close and friendly relations in past years? We immediately put all other nations on notice that we reserved the absolute unilateral right to invade them if we felt that someday, somehow, they could constitute a threat to the United States or even if they just annoyed us. Will we next invade Iran or North Korea? Will we invade Pakistan on the theory that not enough is being done to assist in the capture of Osama? Apparently we have threatened to do just that. Will we invade the source of funding for terrorists throughout the region and the establishment of schools where hatred of the west is a core of the curriculum, Saudi Arabia?
The next step in our ceding moral superiority is the disclosure that the United States has operated secret prisons in other countries where, it is argued, torture may be involved in extracting intelligence, although it is generally accepted that torture does not gain truthful information; the subject will say anything that his captors want in order to stop the treatment. The Administration asserts that to limit outrageous behavior would be dangerous to the country.
The Administration seeks to have the authority, without judicial or other oversight, to suspend habeas corpus, tap telephones, search computers, even library reading lists. The fourth amendment to the Constitution permits searches of persons and property, if reasonable grounds exist, but only after a court has issued a specific authorization. The wholesale warrant-less invasion of privacy is unprecedented. No one seriously objects to searches and seizures involving terrorists or their threats. (No one seriously objects to removing his or her shoes and discarding shampoo before boarding an airplane, even if the procedure seems silly and pointless.)
It is the unilateral usurpation by the administration that is objectionable. There exist special courts which can authorize wire taps, clandestine searches and other invasions of privacy. The administration is not satisfied with this approach because it requires justification to be demonstrated.
The Administration asserts that “unconventional” means of extracting intelligence is necessary. History has demonstrated, however, that torture and other inhumane actions by the United States is totally counter-productive.
But what of the argument that we are in a war with terrorists? While the term “war” is very overused, we are in a world-wide conflict with those who would destroy us and our allies.
The Islamic terrorists are not a conventional army or opponent. They wear no uniforms, have no honorable code of conduct and do not operate from a recognized nation-state. Our adherence to moral behavior and standards will neither encourage nor discourage their behavior or their very real threat to the United States.
We must be ever vigilant that we take the “high road”, that we continue to be the beacon of proper behavior. If we lose that position and example to the world, then we are no better than the terrorists. Indeed we are doing their work, the destruction of western civilization and of the United States.
We see the illiteracy, poverty and injustices rampant in the third world, especially in Muslim countries, notably Iraq, Iran, Syria, the Palestinian territories and Saudi Arabia. We have, in my opinion, a naive view that, if only we can eradicate poverty and illiteracy and give the common people employment and hope, they will rush to western-style democracy. It’s not going to happen.
Our enemies are not going to embrace democracy. It is not a question of their being unfamiliar with the concept; they have studied democracy and repudiated it. believing it violates their culture and faith. The Islamic fanatic terrorists reject all for which we stand and, until the moderate governments in the region want to bring peace to the region, there will be young men and women willing to strap explosives to their bodies and blow up Westerners and those perceived to be our friends. There will be no peace in the middle east until countries that support terrorists and bankroll them fall themselves, as Saudi Arabia. The best guesses as to when that will happen is in about five or ten years.
Until then, we must do whatever is possible, within the framework of our essential principles and liberties, to protect our citizens and friends abroad. The initiative to perform a terrorist attack, unfortunately, is that of the terrorist. To act peremptorily is counter-productive; not only does it violate the principles that make us great, it won’t work. We should try and anticipate, surely, but not at the cost of destroying everything this country has always stood for. If we do ignore our history, traditions and ideals, we are no better than those who attack us.