“Its purpose is to promote its ideology based upon the perversion of Islam . . .”
— British Prime Minister Tony Blair, July 28, 2006
“[W]e’ve come to learn more about our enemies — we learned more about their dark and distorted vision of Islam.”
–President George W. Bush, September 7, 2006
During his September 7th speech reporting progress made in the “Global War on Terror,” President Bush cited “9/11” thirty-eight separate times in the thirty-six minute address. While repeatedly assuring his audience that “America is safer,” invoking the 9/11 attacks with such frequency was meant to keep the event and the “terror” it brought to the nation center stage in the minds of his listeners. Perhaps more than any other president, George W. Bush has utilized repetition of signal words and phrases during his tenure, especially to instill fear in both his supporters and those who disagree with his policies.
“Fear,” wrote John Adams several years before he was elected President of the United States . . . “Fear is the foundation of most governments; but it is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men in whose breasts it predominates so stupid and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it.” Of course, after his elevation to the nation’s highest office, Adams abandoned this most noble principle, approving laws to instill fear in those who would dare criticize his government.
For Adams and for others engaged in writing the constitution for this new government “of laws, and not of men,” a bedrock principle was that “the happiness of man, as well as his dignity, consists in virtue.” Indeed, “Honor is truly sacred, but holds a lower rank in the scale of moral excellence than virtue.”
Throughout man’s dismal human history, government by fear has been practiced, sometimes with a vengeance. Later, historians usually come to regard those periods of fear and terror as low points in the practice of politics and governance. Therefore, the Christians and others who defied bloody Roman rule are seen as martyrs, Christian-political practices (the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch-burning, New World genocide and others too numerous to list here) hail the victims of these outrages but not the perpetrators. More recently, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Usama bin Laden and other ambitious power-hungry madmen generously employed “fear” to achieve their blood-soaked goals.
Now three of the 21st century’s democracies, Great Britain, Israel and the United States have made conscious decisions to conduct public policy by means of instilling fear in hearts and minds. The Bush Administration has moved to rule not just foreign enemies but the very nation itself through a strategy of fear and trembling. How else can one describe egregious sections of “The Patriot Act,” secret wiretapping and domestic surveillance, threats to sue newspapers and reporters, secret detentions, torture, attempts to legalize the indefinite incarceration of citizens, the public vilification of administration critics and members of the courts as un-American and unpatriotic?
Abroad, as writer Thomas Freidman recently noted, “The world hates George Bush more than any U.S. president in my lifetime. He is radioactive – and so caught up in his own ideological bubble that he is incapable of imagining or forging alternative strategies.
For reasons known and unknown, Britain’s articulate Prime Minister Tony Blair long ago made a conscious decision after peering into the eyes and soul of George W. Bush to enthusiastically embrace the Bush Administration’s anti-terrorism and “democratizing” Middle Eastern policies in the wake of September 11, 2001. It was British writer J. M. Barrie who noted, “Ambition — it is the last refuge of noble minds,” echoing Oscar Wilde’s “Ambition is the last refuge of failure.”
And of ambition there is plenty. Like crazed scientists intent on creating the elixir of eternal life, Bush, Blair and their army of instigators have designs on turning the entire world into one big, back-slapping “democracy” where purple-fingered masses march to polls and elect with presumed legitimacy their representative governments. Whether the voters will be free from secret government eavesdropping, questionable detention, “undemocratic” judicial proceedings and lying politicians: the jury is still out.
In Israel, as its soldiers and tanks were invading Lebanon and moving ever farther into country, Israeli spokespeople repeatedly proclaimed that Israel was not invading Lebanon, it was merely sending its armed forces north toward Beirut for awhile. Israel’s supermen in power also approved bombing the daylights out of Lebanon in order to tame Hezbollah and terminate that organization’s dreadful practice of sending rockets by the hundreds into Israel. Never mind the numbers of men, women and children who are wounded or killed in the process by either side — although when tolling up the slaughter of innocents, top place must go to Israel for accuracy in blowing apart United Nations observers, Red Cross passengers and vehicles, buildings where families have taken refuge from bombardment.
President Bush observed during his July 28 press outing with Tony Blair, the suffering in Lebanon was caused not by Israeli bombing raids but by Hezbollah’s shelling of Israel and the capture of some Israeli soldiers in hopes of negotiating a prisoner exchange. Israel’s bombs (including cluster bombs) and shells may have demolished Lebanese homes and snuffed out the lives of innocents, but that was beside the point. Bush also forgot to remind his listeners that Israel had itself abducted one-third of the democratically-elected Palestinian parliament and illegally locked them up somewhere — out of sight, out of mind.
As Governor of Texas, George W. Bush demonstrated his fondness for the death penalty, so it should come as no surprise that he now wants Congress to write laws permitting abusive interrogations, rigged trials where defendants are denied the right to see evidence and a warrantless secret spying free-for-all. These and other perversions of this nation’s valued “democratic” values and ethics suggest that the “terrorists” have succeeded in proving to their sympathizers that the United States is as corrupt as they’ve always claimed it to be.
No one seems better at staying “on message” than Vice-President Cheney, who continues implying that somehow Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat, that the invasion of Iraq was necessary and that the continued occupation of that country is on track for success. It was no surprise when, during his September 10 exclusive hour-long interview with Tim Russert on “Meet the Press,” Cheney would predictably claim half-a-dozen times that we are making “progress” in Afghanistan and Iraq. The day after the Cheney interview, however, Washington Post op-ed pieces described the re-arming and resurgence of the Taliban and discussed how the war against terrorism is being lost.
One might wonder whether Bush Administration leaders are in deep denial and blithely whistling in the dark. Clearly both Bush and Cheney are averse to questioning the wisdom of their statements, policies and actions. As increasing evidence emerges from Thomas Ricks and others to show how many experts challenged the Bush push to attack Afghanistan and invade Iraq, these two national leaders cling to the false claim that all available evidence and argument supported their reasons for making war just as they chose to do.
As he began his September 7 speech in Atlanta, President Bush quoted Lieutenant General Russ Honoré’s advice, “Don’t get stuck on stupid.” But now that they are really “stuck,” it is doubtful Bush and Cheney will ever really wonder where it all went wrong. They could consider the words of John Adams regarding fear as the cause of stupidity and misery. For President Bush and his Republican cheerleaders whose manipulation and good fortune have permitted years of one-party rule, they would be well-advised to recall another of Adams’s observations. “A single assembly is liable to all the vices, follies, and frailties of an individual; subject to fits of humor, starts of passion, flights of enthusiasm, partialities, or prejudice, and consequently productive of hasty results and absurd judgments.”
As we begin the twenty-first century, three powerful democracies have willingly and deliberately perverted the very core of their democratic values and virtues. Basic principles have been abandoned under cover of platitudes such as “everything changed after 9/11.” Pious rhetoric, fear mongering, lying, secrecy, manipulation and deceit are not valid substitutes for honesty, open government, true compassion and competence. Instead, they inevitably lead to hubris, to war crimes. Increasingly, the United States, Great Britain and Israel are becoming Democracies of Death, unmindful of the Adams insistence on “great political virtues of humility, patience, and moderation, without which every man in power becomes a ravenous beast of prey.”
DOUG GIEBEL is a writer and analyst who lives in Montana. He welcomes comment: firstname.lastname@example.org