It is interesting, and not a little disturbing, to see how nonsense can be wrapped in an American flag, delivered to the public and found to be not only palatable, but entirely enjoyable.
During the second debate between the countless Republican presidential candidate wannabes, an interesting exchange took place between so-called top tier candidate Rudy Giuliani, and Texas Representative Ron Paul, media-determined to be one of the children of a lesser political god.
Breaking with the usual Republican mode of ignoring facts, Mr. Paul said that the attacks of September 11, 2001 on New York, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania were at least partly the result of intense hatred of America’s long history of imperial aggression against Middle Eastern countries. He referred to the 9/11 Commission Report which said, in part, the following: "America’s policy choices have consequences. Right or wrong, it is simply a fact thatAmerican actions in Iraq are dominant staples of popular commentary across the Arab and Muslim World." Further, the report quoted Osama bin Laden from 1998: "If the present injustice continuesit will inevitably move the battle to American Soil." Mr. Paul was simply referring to these facts.
Mr. Giuliani rose up in righteous indignation that such a statement could be uttered. Wrapping himself in the easy, jingoist solutions that have always sold so well in middle-America, he stated his understanding of the attacks. Said he: they "came here and killed us because of our freedom of religion, freedom for women, because they hate us." He pointed out that he had lived through the attack, and was horrified that anyone would think that ten years of U.N. sanctions, resulting in the deaths of an estimated one million Iraqis, most of them under the age of five, and ten years of U.S. bombing of Iraq, would cause any anger toward America. Mr. Giuliani characterized Mr. Paul’s suggestions as ‘absurd.’
How living through the attack provides one with special knowledge of the motives of those perpetrating it, he did not trouble himself to explain. How reading and quoting from a careful, government-sponsored report on its causes makes Mr. Paul’s suggestion ‘absurd,’ also escaped Mr. Giuliani’s rhetoric. Such facts and details are unimportant when one can grab the nearest American flag and wave it around to show one’s patriotism.
The crowd, of course, went wild with Mr. Giuliani’s response. It pandered to the old standby that has proven so effective for President Bush and Vice-President Cheney: America, as the world’s unrivaled beacon of peace and freedom, is hated by those who seek world domination. And coupled with that is the corresponding adage that it’s not wrong when the United States does it.
Mr. Paul, of course, was only looking at the facts. The sanctions imposed by the U.N., with strong U.S. support and encouragement, did little to impact Saddam Hussein; it was the Iraqi people who suffered from them. As Mr. Paul has since pointed out, it appears that Mr. Giuliani did not bother to read the 9/11 Commission Report, preferring to cast the tragedies of that day in a ‘good vs. evil’ context.
In the nearly six years since the 9/11 attacks, Mr. Bush & Co. have launched two wars, supposedly in retaliation. The first, in Afghanistan, was purportedly to overthrow the Taliban, which was alleged to be sheltering Osama bin Laden, the believed power behind Al-Qaeda. The second, in Iraq, was to prevent that country’s imminent attack on America, with its weapons of mass destruction. Along with this it was both openly stated and darkly alluded that Iraq was in cahoots with Al-Qaeda.
Six years later, Osama bin Laden is still on the loose, the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and American soldiers are bravely and futilely trying their best in Iraq’s bloody civil war. No weapons of mass destruction, no plans to obtain nuclear weapons, have been found. Yet Mr. Bush says that America must ‘finish the job’ in that nation, without bothering to tell anyone what that ‘job’ is. The Democratic Party, after sending legislation to Mr. Bush that mandated an end to the war, and which the president vetoed, has now decided to fund the war with few restrictions, and none that mandate the withdrawal of American troops. Congress, apparently, wants to ‘support the troops,’ and seems to agree with Mr. Bush that the best way to do this is to prolong their mortal risk by continuing an illegal and immoral war of aggression. The war in Iraq is palatable only when wrapped in a bloody American flag. The war in Afghanistan is basically ignored.
Mr. Paul did not back down, even when Mr. Giuliani, flushed with righteous, right-wing anger, demanded he retract his shocking, albeit true, statements. There was no need for the former New York City mayor to respond intelligently to Mr. Paul; he had no reason to comment on the 9/11 Commission Report, since it was unlikely that his listeners had ever read it. It is far more likely they have heard Mr. Bush’s explanations of the tragic attacks of September 11, explanations that are founded in the arrogance of America’s self-proclaimed moral superiority, rather than any thoughtful investigation of world politics and America’s imperial role on the world stage.
Why should the public, one wonders, explore America’s possible role in provoking the 9/11 attacks, when it is so much easier to view them as the work of madmen, seeking world domination and hating America for all it’s glorious freedoms and prosperity? Why bother to understand religious and political beliefs far different than what is commonly known and accepted in the U.S? What possible good can come from recognizing that American presidents for generations have sought to manage the affairs of other nations, including the overthrow of democratically-elected leaders who are not willing to dance to the American puppeteer, despite vehement and often violent opposition from those nation’s citizens? Why look beyond the ‘good vs. evil’ argument, when doing so forces the confrontation with unpleasant facts?
The campaign for the presidency is in full swing nearly eighteen months before the votes will be cast. It can only be hoped that the level of discourse demonstrated during the second Republican debate was only an anomaly, and that future debates, among and between both major parties and others, will rise to a level that will provide the citizenry with at least some basic facts on which to make an intelligent decision. Unfortunately, the recent history of American political discourse does not bode well for such an environment to exist. And as long as those players who would prefer to ‘Swift boat’ candidates from the shadowy sidelines remain as major powerbrokers, garnering success from their duplicitous ways, all that can be reasonably expected is the continued waving of the flag, blocking out rational discussion. And America and the world will continue to suffer as a result.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.‘