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The last 21 months certainly have been wild and crazy. We’ve seen the vaporization of the World Trade Center, a successful attack on the Pentagon, the transformation of George Bush from a bumbling laughing stock to an awe-inspiring tyrant, the overnight creation of a mammoth global peace movement, a lightning war of aggression and conquest by the U.S., and the simultaneous shattering of a half-century-old alliance and of the United Nations.
Now it’s time to look ahead at what may be coming, which could prove to be crazier and scarier still.
A lot, I suspect, will depend upon what America’s enemies decide to do next, and where they decide to act.
If Osama Bin Laden and his supporters decide to target the U.S. and manage to pull off another high-casualty terrorist attack within the United States, on the scale of what they did in Manhattan, it could spell the end of democratic government and of our civil liberties tradition. The growing backlash against the government’s post 9/11 assault on civil liberties, and the tentative questioning of the integrity and competence of the Bush administration that has begun more recently, would be swept away in a wave of new anti-terror fervor and Gestapo-like tactics that would be irresistible.
On the other hand, if the Iraqi resistance, with or without the help of outside organizations like al Qaeda, manages to move from isolated attacks on American soldiers in Iraq to a major massacre of American troops in that country, it could have a reverse effect back in the U.S., much like the Tet Offensive in the Indochina War–leading Americans to demand a pull-back from what will be widely viewed at that point as a hopeless quagmire. With the U.S. having kept its casualties so astonishingly low through the duration of the war, it might seem hard to imagine Iraq’s rag-tag guerrillas pulling off such a feat. Recall, however, that occupation is a lot different from invasion. An attacking army has all the advantages of mobility and surprise–and in America’s case, of massive aerial support. An army of occupation, in contrast, is a sitting duck, can make little use of air support, and moreover has to struggle against low morale, boredom and lack of attention. Moreover, the more aggressively the U.S. occupiers employ seek-and-destroy tactics against the Iraqi resistance, the more hostile they are likely to make the populace, thus creating an environment all the more favorable to the guerrillas.
It seems a safe bet that the Iraqi resistance and its allies throughout the Middle East are contemplating just such a major attack on American troops. They have to know that American public opinion has little patience for foreign adventures, that much of the occupying army is composed of reservists with families, jobs and lives that they want to get back to, and that heavy casualties are generally not politically tolerated. Thus, it seems only a matter of time before a Lebanon-style attack occurs.
What about a new major terror attack within the U.S.?
Sadly, it would seem such a terrible event is becoming increasingly likely, too. Even under the best of circumstances, the U.S. invasion of Iraq virtually assured that whatever experimental chemical or biological horrors Saddam Hussein might have been cooking up, plus the nuclear waste materials in Iraq, would find their way into the hands of terrorists. But beyond that, the incredible ineptness and disinterest demonstrated by the invading U.S. and British armed forces, which waited weeks to try to secure dangerous weapons and waste materials, handed such hostile groups a golden opportunity. Not only were the materials available–there was a broken enemy motivated to sell whatever it could, both to punish the U.S. and to raise cash to escape Iraq.
On top of that, beyond creating a ludicrous color-coded alarm system and arresting, terrorizing and deporting hundreds of hapless Islamic immigrant visa violators, it turns out that the Bush Administration has done almost nothing concrete to protect the U.S. against terrorism. The fraudulently promoted Iraq war was a huge diversion not just of attention, but of domestic security forces and financial resources. Whole state police and urban police departments, as well as fire departments, have been gutted, thanks to a legacy of programs which have encouraged people in those jobs to sign up as reservists or in the National Guard. Moreover, Rand Beers, the top Bush counter-terrorism advisor who resigned in disgust in March, says that the Bush administration has been “making us less secure, not more secure,” because of a pattern of neglect and homeland security budget cutting, for example in the area of port security or border security.
A conspiracy theorist could have a heyday speculating on whether it’s actually in the Bush administration’s interest to have the U.S. suffer an occasional terror hit. Certainly the current resident of the White House–whose claim to the title “President” has always been rather tenuous–was not winning any popularity contests until he was able to start calling himself Commander-in-Chief instead of Chief Executive. His whole reelection campaign appears to be premised upon his running dressed in khaki.
Whatever the White House’s real motives, we have the ironic situation of a military establishment resorting to all manner of aggressive actions in a desperate bid to avoid a calamitous attack on its troops in Iraq, and an administration at home offering , as Beers puts is, “only a rhetorical policy” for protection against a domestic terror attack.
The near certainty of large-scale bloody attacks on Americans both in Iraq and in the U.S. presents Democrats, liberals, progressives and the whole opposition movement with a dual challenge: to prepare now for both eventualities.
In the case of domestic terrorism, now is the time to forcefully remind Americans that terror attacks, however awful, do not in themselves threaten America’s existence; that it is, rather, the unthinking, panicky and jingoistic response to acts of terror–for example sweeping arrests, detentions without trial, hasty passage of laws like the USA PATRIOT Act, and the like–which pose the real threat. If the newsmedia, political leaders and other opinion makers make that argument powerfully and often now, before terror strikes again, it will be far easier to challenge the inevitable push towards a police state that will follow any major act of terror.
At the same time the peace movement needs to lay the groundwork now for a major campaign to recall American troops from Iraq, in order to be able to capitalize on the inevitable loss of support for the occupation that will follow any large-scale attack on American troops in that country.
Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html