War on Terrorism for Non-Experts
By Bernard Weiner
Don't know about you, but all this war and politics stuff
can be mighty confusing. So I picked up a copy of "The War
on Terrorism for Non-Experts," a kind of primer on current
events, and now feel much better-educated. Here are some of
Q. Is this all about oil and greed
A. Not all. Life is complex. Politics is even more
complex. (Not as complex as marriages, but close.) The Persian
Gulf historically has been a shaky area politically. The developed
world has to find another, more stable area to service its
oil needs. The next large commercial oil reserve is in the
Caspian Sea area of Central Asia, but how to bring that oil
and gas to market without having to go through Russia? Obviously,
a more southern route. True, oil and gas companies had plans
for a pipeline through Afghanistan long before the year 2001,
but they put their plans on hold while the political situation
there was so chaotic.
When the authoritarian Taliban finally brought order to the
country, the U.S. government began talks with the Taliban
leadership - some of those talks were in Texas - about that
old pipeline idea. Eventually, the Taliban said no, whether
because the money offered wasn't enough or out of ideological
reasons isn't clear. Then the terror of 9/11 happened and
the bombing of Afghanistan began. The Taliban were removed
from power, a new government installed, and now talks are
progressing on the joint Pakistan/Afghanistan pipeline, to
handle the Caspian Sea oil from the former Soviet "stan" republics.
Now the above facts might seem to suggest that the true answer
to the question posed above is Yes. But, as we said, things
are often much more complex than they seem to be on the surface.
We can't forget that the U.S. mainland was attacked in a most
vicious way - nearly 3000 people lost their lives in the attacks
on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and another plane
was on its way to a populated target before it crashed into
the ground in Pennsylvania.
Any American leader, beholden to oil companies or not, would
have had to respond to protect American citizens and property.
Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist network have made
it very clear that they are not finished, and that there is
no such animal as an "innocent civilian." American "infidels"
must die, period. The nation responded by going on the offense
in rooting out as many terrorists as possible, and disabling
their financing and operational network.
So, yes, access to cheap oil and gas is one, maybe even THE
major, ingredient in the mix of why the U.S. is behaving the
way it is - as it certainly was in the Persian Gulf war under
Poppa Bush - but greed and profit are not the ONLY reasons.
Q. Did the Bush Administration know about or participate
in any way with the events leading to the terrorist attacks
A. All the facts are not yet in. At this point, it
appears that the Bush Administration knew that a major attack
of some sort was going to happen - for months prior to 9/11,
Osama had been telling his supporters that "something big"
was planned against America, probably in America - but the
U.S. probably didn't have specific intelligence as to what
There are conspiracy theorists around who question why Air
Force fighters weren't scrambled in time to shoot down the
suicide jet-bombers, why the CIA chief in Dubai may have met
with bin Laden in July, why many institutional investors bought
"put options" (gambling that the stock would go down) on airline
stocks before 9/11, and so on. And perhaps more information
about these and other questions will be revealed in time,
as more investigative digging unearths more facts, but right
now what's out there is mostly conjecture and circumstantial
evidence, devoid of smoking guns. At the time of the 9/11
terrorist mass-murders, it's likely that chaos and ill-preparedness
and the usual bureaucratic bungling and incompetency prevailed.
Now, having said all that, one must note that the events
of 9/11 arrived at just the right time for the beleagured
Bush Administration. Its conservative agenda was bogged down
in Congress because the Senate was now controlled by the Democrats,
Bush was taking great heat (and was the butt of stand-up comedians)
for being an ineffectual dolt, and so on. Suddenly, bin Laden
hands Bush the gift of terrorism on American soil, and, lo
and behold, he is a different man, the public is solidly behind
his responses to terrorism, the Democrats are cowed into silence,
the conservative agenda is back on track.
True, the Bush administration has played the "patriotism"
and "national security" cards to rationalize whatever policies
and bills it wants passed. But that only reveals how cynical
and manipulative they are, not that they were necessarily
involved in a mass-murder conspiracy with Islamic extremists.
(But why has Dick Cheney warned Congressional leaders not
to delve too deeply into pre-9/11 events? Hmm.)
Q. Is John Ashcroft a proto-fascist?
A. Yes. If he were an official in the Taliban, he'd
feel quite at home. But before going into his record, let
us remember that Ashcroft was chosen by Bush. Ashcroft is
the lightning rod taking the heat, but it's the Bush Administration
that creates and approves his policies. Now to Ashcroft: You
may remember that after he lost his Senate re-election bid
to a dead man, his appointment to be Attorney General made
it through the Senate with one vote to spare. He was villified
as a narrow-minded supporter of racist organizations, a hard-line,
uptight, puritanical theocrat who would force his right-wing
agenda on the country. Ashcroft swore he would do no such
He lied. The events of 9/11 gave him the opportunity to fly
his far-right, draconian agenda under the political radar
by couching everything under the rubrics of "national security"
and "homeland defense." He has shredded the U.S. Constitution
- on everything from vitiating attorney-client confidentiality
to permitting phone taps and black-bag jobs and computer privacy
violations - and has made it virtually impossible for the
press and ordinary citizens to find out what's going on under
the Freedom of Information Act. (In addition, Ashcroft has
reversed his states'-rights philosophy and is trying to overturn
the "death with dignity" act voted into law by Oregon citizens
and medical-marijuana laws voted into law by citizens of a
number of states.)
It's not just his puritanically spending public monies to
clothe naked statues; this guy is bad news for the Constitution.
Q. What is Enron all about, and why should ordinary citizens
A. Enron is reflective of Reagan/Bush-era corporate
greed, and the public be damned. It's very common these days
for large, high-priced auditing firms to be in bed with those
they supposedly are auditing. Enron was all about making money
for the firm's executives and directors - including huge sums
made from multitudinous military contracts. Enron covered
its ass not only by its alignment with shoddy auditing firms
but by buying political influence; millions of dollars were
given to political officeholders, three-fourths of them Republican.
Kenneth Lay, the CEO of Enron, for years favored Bush with
his largesse, in Texas and in Washington, D.C., and got all
kinds of favors in return, including deregulation (read: letting
corporations do whatever they want, devoid of much oversight)
and letting Lay pick those who would oversee his industry.
The Bush Administration is like an Enron alumni reunion, with
the officials in charge of investigating Enron formerly working
for Enron. There may even be Enron tie-ins to the Afghanistan
pipeline plan. Bush himself pretends that he barely knows
Mr. Lay. It's all rather nauseating, especially when you realize
there are a lot of undiscovered Enrons out there.
Q. Will Bush be impeached?
A. Whoa! Let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Impeachment
(or resignation) certainly is a possibility down the road,
as this influence-peddling scandal unwinds and deepens. But
Bush isn't going to get cornered easily. He's bobbing and
weaving pretty good, trying to keep the public convinced that
Enron is only a business scandal and doesn't involve him or
his administration at all; but it seems clear (and most Americans
agree in recent polls) that Bush is hiding something that
could prove a major political embarrassment for him and his
Administration. To that end, he's trying to keep all documents
relating to Enron locked up tight in the White House.
Congress may subpoena documents and back up their demands
by taking the Administration to court - as the Government
Accounting Office, the non-partisan investigatory arm of the
Congress, is doing - and he'll drag that out as long as possible,
hoping that the case might take years to get to the U.S. Supreme
Court. There, he's counting on his conservative majority -
the one that installed him in office - coming through again
to save him.
The key fight here, which is just beginning, is whether an
Independent Counsel, one with no ties to Enron and not beholden
to the Bush Administration, will be appointed to investigate.
The Democrats are starting to call for a special prosecutor,
and the Bush Administration is digging in its heels mightily,
saying that the Justice Department (the same department loaded
with former Enron employees and consultants) can handle the
job quite well, thank you very much, you're either with us
or with the forces of evil.
Q. Why are the Democrats acting so cowardly in confronting
Bush's domestic and foreign policies?
A. Leaving aside the fact that many Democrats - coming
from the same corporate-culture mentality - agree with Bush
on many things, including the advisability of the "war on
terrorism," a great many feel they can't risk being anything
other than a Loyal Opposition while the country is "at war."
(There has been no Declaration of War by the Congress, and
Bush is not about to ask for one, since doing so would imply
that the Legislative Branch should share power with the Executive.
The Bush Administration wants to share power with no one,
in or out of the country.)
The Democrats feel they would be branded "unpatriotic," or
"soft on terrorism," and not get re-elected, and, understandably,
that they would not be able effectively to battle Bush's non-war-related
policies, such as on drugs-for-seniors or Medicare reform
or education or whatever. So they're doing a kind of soft-shoe
shuffle in place while waiting to see if and when the climate
of the electorate begins to shift away from automatic support
Since this is just now starting to happen, you can expect
to see the Democrats become a bit bolder. Perhaps as more
and more American troops become engaged in more and more countries,
and more body bags begin coming back to this country, and
the draft is re-instituted, the Democrats will come out of
their shells and assert a more courageous attitude. But ordinary
citizens probably will have to lead them once again.
Q. Is there any possibility that the Bush Administration
will attempt to alter U.S. policy in the Middle East and elsewhere,
so that more terrorists don't grow out of the soil of mass
poverty, lack of hope, dictatorial regimes and Western slights
to their religion?
A. No. There is not the slightest indication that
the Bush Adminstration gives a fig for making any changes.
It's the world's only superpower, so it thinks it can do whatever
it wants. Military power and threats are expected to keep
recalictrant countries in line. If changes were made in U.S.
policy and terrorism began to recede, the necessary objective
conditions for keeping Bush in power and the country in a
state of insecure fright, would begin to deteriorate. So don't
hold your breath that the situation will improve until Bush
and those supporting him are removed from office.
Q. Are you really part of the "for Non-Experts" publishing
A. No. And you're not dummies either. Organize, agitate,
educate - and defeat Republican candidates in November, thus
ensuring (if the Senate and House are both once again in Democrat
party hands) that Bush's hard-right agenda goes nowhere for
two years. During that time - assuming Bush hasn't been impeached
or resigned by then - we all build the electoral foundation
for his removal from office in 2004.
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught American politics and international
relations at Western Washington University and San Diego State
University. He was with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly