Here’s an obscenity even greater than the bare breast of a statue for Attorney General Ashcroft to cover up: the U.S. war against Afghanistan.
That’s the implication of Vice President Dick Cheney’s damage control efforts on the Sunday talking heads news shows earlier this week. On NBC NEWS’ MEET THE PRESS, the Vice President purported that the U.S. has made some progress in the war on terrorism but warned, "the prospect of another attack against the United States is very, very real. It’s just as real, in my opinion, as it was September 12."
It is? Even after seven-and-a-half months of war against Afghanistan? At more than $1 billion per month? A war that has killed and maimed and shattered the lives of thousands of people?
Last Fall a group founded by Dick Cheney’s wife attacked college professors and students who cautioned restraint in response to September 11, or who sought to learn why terrorists might want to attack the most powerful nation on earth. Lynne Cheney’s right wing, not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, collected these "unpatriotic" utterances and issued its report, DEFENDING CIVILIZATION: HOW OUR UNIVERSITIES ARE FAILING AMERICA AND WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT. Here are a few statements ACTA found so scandalous, so uncivilized:
"We have to learn to use courage for peace instead of war."
– Jerry Irish, Professor of Religious Studies, Pomona College.
"The question we should explore is not who we should bomb or where we should bomb, but why we were targeted. When we have the answer to why, then we will have the ability to prevent terrorist attacks tomorrow."
– Rania Masri, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
"Stop the violence, stop the hate."
– Chant at University of California-Berkeley.
"If Osama Bin Laden is confirmed to be behind the attacks, the United States should bring him before an international tribunal on charges of crimes against humanity." –Joel Beinin, Stanford professor.
"[We should] build bridges and relationships, not simply bombs and walls." – Jesse Jackson, at Harvard Law School.
Despite our bombs and brave troops in Afghanistan, "the prospect of another attack against the United States is very, very real … just as real, in my opinion, as it was September 12."
– Dick Cheney, U.S. Vice President.
OK, save that one for the revised version.
Many pundits, politicians and regular citizens likewise challenged (to put it politely) the patriotism of Americans who questioned whether war would work against an elusive, transnational terrorist group. Whether it would decrease the threat. Whether improving our intelligence and police efforts might prove more effective.
Some Americans who spoke up were even libeled and slandered as "helping the terrorists." No one was immune: Even Dan Rather admitted in a BBC interview last week that he feared being labeled "unpatriotic" last Fall, and that this fear kept journalists from asking tough, necessary questions.
Such as whether the threat to Americans is actually GREATER than on September 12. We have not destroyed Al Qaeda by waging war against Afghanistan (And how could we? Al Qaeda is an elusive, transnational terrorist group!), but we may have increased the murderous motivation of its survivors — and of other transnational terrorist groups.
Questions such as whether threats worldwide have increased as well. Following the U.S. example, Israel pumped up its "war on terrorism." Suicide bombings and military incursions volley back and forth, like a deadly tennis ball. India and Pakistan veered, and are veering again, toward war. Both countries wield atomic bombs.
As Colonel Kurtz famously observed in the 1979 film APOCALYPSE NOW, "We train young men to drop fire on people. But their commanders won’t allow them to write ‘fuck’ on their airplanes because it’s obscene! " Last Fall, as we dropped fire on people in Afghanistan, "peace" was deemed obscene.
But Dick Cheney uttered an even darker obscenity on MEET THE PRESS: At his behest, Americans have killed and died to protect us, but we are no safer.
I hope it was just political duck and cover, that the Vice President sought merely to scare us, to distract us from recent revelations about the massive intelligence and security failure that helped terrorists murder innocent people on September 11. I hope the Vice President doesn’t plan to trick us into throwing good money after bad: "Hey, maybe this war didn’t work, but I have a great one to sell you in Iraq …."
Brian J. Foley is a professor at Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Delaware. He can be reached at Brian.J.Foley@law.widener.edu