06 October 2009

Thyraphobia, or Purity of Heart is to Fear One Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Not Do Again (Pt. 12)


Thanks for indulging my little digression re: paranoia. Now, where was I?  Oh yes, I had alighted on something actually resembling a thesis: "terror, shame, hate, and anger together produce a complex, potentially toxic stew that must be handled with care and, perhaps, some degree of wisdom."

No one wants to feel these feelings. They make you feel bad, out of control. And it's only natural to fight the terror and try to conceal your shame in order to regain some semblance of control.

It's instructive in this regard that the previous American president decided to name the great adventure of his presidency the "Global War on Terror." He did not call it a war against terrorists (the specific evildoers and their ilk) or terrorism (which, at best, is a tactic of belligerents, often guerillas), or even a war against evil (as in "Axis of") or Islam or Arabs or oilfield competitors. It was, nominally, a war on an emotion—an extreme one, but an emotion nevertheless. Fight the fear.

Collectively, America, or I should say Americans, felt terror on Sept. 11, 2001: when the Twin Towers fell we did not know what had hit us; we were scared; we felt vulnerable. Terror struck. And our President decided to go to war against it.
"On September 20, 2001, during a televised address to a joint session of congress, President George W. Bush launched his war on terror when he said, 'Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.'"
Unspoken was the claim: 'Only then will we feel safe again. That will salve our emotional scar. We will never be scared again.'

One could, I suppose, make the argument that Bush misspoke in calling it a war on "terror"—after all he was famous for mangling the English language—and the name stuck among his toadies and courtiers in the press and the government. That does not diminish the fact that the invasion of Afghanistan and pre-emptive invasion of Iraq continued to be grouped under this name until March of 2009.  

One could, likewise, take issue with calling this adventure a 'war', as no such thing has been declared by Congress, which, under the U.S. Constitution, Art. 1, Sec. 8, is the only branch of government with the official capacity to do so, thus depriving Bush of his cherished "war president" moniker. But that would be splitting hairs.

The fact is, in response to an act of terrorism on U.S. soil, Bush lashed out at the entire world. He demanded every other nation take a side; they were either with us or against us. If they weren't helping us, we would treat them as hostile, in which case anything goes. His administration also used this GWOT meme as an excuse, i.e., cover, to consolidate executive power, to shred the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to reward cronies and private contractors, and to create a private armed force. Inter alia. (Maybe that little paranoia digression wasn't a wasted effort after all.)

Terror was also the nominal excuse for declaring that, contrary to international law and U.S. policy, the U.S. had the right to preemptively invade any country it deemed to even look like a threat. I now believe that was not the case.

It's clear to me now why my country declared a global war on terror, and went after Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in Afghanistan soon thereafter. Nobody here wants to feel the way we felt that day again—except maybe Glenn Beck whose so-called "9-12 Project is designed to bring us all back to the place we were on September 12, 2001." (URL supplied only upon request) Fight the fear. And how best to protect ourselves from such a bad feeling than to root it out at the source?

But this was not Bush's only response. On September 17, 2002, one year after the attacks on the Twin Towers, he announced what has now been known as the Bush Doctrine:
"The security environment confronting the United States today is radically different from what we have faced before. Yet the first duty of the United States Government remains what it always has been: to protect the American people and American interests. It is an enduring American principle that this duty obligates the government to anticipate and counter threats, using all elements of national power, before the threats can do grave damage. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction – and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. There are few greater threats than a terrorist attack with WMD.
To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively in exercising our inherent right of self-defense. The United States will not resort to force in all cases to preempt emerging threats. Our preference is that nonmilitary actions succeed. And no country should ever use preemption as a pretext for aggression."
The U.S. declared it had the right to preemptively invade and attack any country it perceived as somehow threatening—anytime, anywhere. Breath-taking.

I now believe it was more than merely the feeling of terror that motivated this unprecedented belligerence. In my own experience of failing to jump out of the airplane, the feeling of terror was profound. I hated it and fought it with all my might. But worse than that, as I said, was the inner-directed feeling of shame. I submit that this over-reaction by the Bush administration might have had something to do with that.

Indeed, having determined that al Qaeda was responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11, it made rational sense that we would go after that avowed terrorist organization wherever they were holed up and protected—international law be damned. But to extend that to a doctrine seemingly perpetrated for the sole purpose of justifying a preemptive invasion of Iraq seemed irrational at the time, an almost hysterical overreaching.

I submit that it was an attempt to compensate for the shame President Bush and Vice President Cheney felt at failing to prevent the  attacks of Sept. 11 on their watch.

  • the incoming Bush administration was briefed by outgoing members of the Clinton administration, including Richard Clarke and George Tenet, regarding the threats posed by al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, but they dismissed these concerns;
  • multiple intelligence sources warned the Bush administration of the possibility of such attacks, including the infamous August 6, 2001, CIA Presidential Daily Briefing which declared in the very title that Bin Laden and al Qaeda were determined to attack on U.S. soil using hijacked airplanes; and
  • "On May 8, 2001, President Bush announced that Vice President Cheney would "oversee the development of a coordinated national effort so that we may do the very best possible job of protecting our people from catastrophic harm." (Statement by the President) The task force was to focus specifically, in Vice President Cheney's words, on the threat of "domestic terrorism...a terrorist organization overseas or even another state using weapons of mass destruction against the U.S., a hand-carried nuclear weapon or biological or chemical agents." (CNN, 5/8/01) Moreover, President Bush announced that he would "periodically chair a meeting of the National Security Council to review these efforts." (Statement by the President, 5/8/01) The Washington Post reports that, in the four months between the President's announcement and the September 11 attacks, "neither Cheney's review nor Bush's took place." (1/20/02). According to the 9-11 Commission, the Cheney Task Force "was just getting underway when the 9/11 attack occurred." (9-11 Commission, Staff Statement Number 8, "National Policy Coordination," p. 9)."  
They dropped the ball. They got caught flat-footed. Cheney's task force on terrorist threats to the U.S. never met. America was attacked on their watch. They made the country even less safe than under the despised Clinton administration. As did we all, they experienced terror. And, if they are at all human, shame.

In other times and other countries and with other players, such a shameful lapse would require, at a minimum, Cheney's resignation or, conceivably, his seppuku. He had neither the integrity or honor to do either.

They—Bush, SecDef Donald Rumsfeld, and particularly Cheney—wanted to do everything they could to cover their shame, if not their culpability. If that meant carrying the GWOT to a country that was not involved in the 9/11 attacks to deflect blame, so be it. If that meant restricting domestic rights, so be it. What better way than to hide your shame and self-loathing than attacking someone you hate, however innocent he might be in the instant, and chiding others for being less than 100% patriotic.

Fight the terror, conceal the shame. These were precisely my own responses to my failure to jump, my admitted cowardice, my shame. I'm not unusual; I'm merely human. So is Bush. So is Cheney. Their failure to prevent those attacks—whether from mere negligence, arrogance, different priorities (high-ticket, big boy nuclear stuff), or whatever—was shameful. They, however, are constitutionally incapable of admitting shame. And their shamelessness led us into the foolish Iraqi quagmire from which we are only just now beginning to extricate ourselves. And this diversion of attention, resources, and focus from going after the real bad guys in their lair in Afghanistan has caused us to lose ground in that true front in the GWOT, a failure we are now beginning to reap the benefits of as that conflict escalates.

Certainly, there are Machiavellian reasons for a potentate to conceal his shame. But we are still paying the costs of Bush/Cheney's failure in American blood and treasure. Their ruinous, off-the-books adventure in Iraq is bankrupting this country. And their failure to finish the arguably justified assault on al Qaeda in Afghanistan has allowed the real terrorists to entrench and expand their capabilities.

They failed at combatting terror because of their preoccupation with their own shame. The threat of terror is as real today as it was when they took office in 2001. Cheney and Bush and Rumsfeld still bristle at any suggestion they were negligently naive to the threat of terror. To conceal their shame, they engineered a grandiose war on terror, arrogating, in the process, enormous extraordinary powers to themselves. Nothing they have done, however, has atoned for their shame.

As I said,"terror, shame, hate, and anger together produce a complex, potentially toxic stew that must be handled with care and, perhaps, some degree of wisdom." Something the previous administration failed utterly to do.

(to be cont'd)

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