Franklin Delano Roosevelt and George Walker Bush have one thing in common. They both chose war as a response to a devastating surprise attack on the United States.
Will Congress see that that's where the similarities end?
A year after 12/07/41, Americans had turned their outrage over the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor into the hard work required to defeat a powerful axis of nations bent on world domination. Rationing resources critical to the war effort was the rule of the day. War bonds sold at a rapid clip to insure that we had the financial resources to see us through.
In late 1942, FDR, in conjunction with the heroic efforts of our allies, was struggling through all obstacles to supply a war effort against a powerful axis of global enemies in a way that would leave us the strongest nation in the world at it's well defined and pre-ordained conclusion. Under his remarkable leadership, all Americans were in the same boat, rowing together for the common good of our Allied powers, victory of light over darkness, freedom over bondage, and democracy over all.
A year after 09/11/01 all Americans were still outraged by a massive attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon perpetrated by a small radical group. We had been put on notice that there was an "axis of evil" comprised of three nations who barely had diplomatic contacts, much less binding treaties. Massive tax giveaways siphoned resources away from the federal government, and deficit spending bloomed anew.
In late 2002 GWB, in conjunction with his political advisors, struggled through all obstacles to leverage the anger of average Americans in a clever and cynical partisan political exercise to save his political party's tenuous grip on power. Under his leadership, we were fighting undeclared, undefined and often unrealistic wars against a broad array international criminals and rogue nations - cleverly couched within his personal battle for political gain.
The Home Front
FDR moved quickly to provide federal resources to strengthen homeland security. Concrete, permanent physical efforts were made to secure domestic vulnerable points from enemy attack. Federal personnel were deployed in large numbers in an effort to prevent sabotage and conventional military attacks on American industry and the civilian population. Coastal and marine port defenses were quickly strengthened in order to protect points in our transportation infrastructure vulnerable to enemy attack. Despite the massive and well organized forces facing us across both oceans, acts of sabotage (terror) within our borders were virtually unheard of, despite the lack of a color coded alert system to tell us how concerned we all should be.
Constrained by the cynical politics of his party and the massive tax cuts hemorrhaging critical resources from the US Treasury, GWB preferred a cheaper approach. He had seen to it that efforts to limit and invade constitutional freedoms have been given a concise public hearing in the full coordinated voice of his Administration. Yet, despite the horribly clear indications that our airports were the vulnerable points of this war, and specific legislation enacted early in 2002, federal security forces had not yet arrived in the vast majority of them. Stunningly, thirteen months after the 9/11 breach, fully federal security staffs had only been provided to fewer than ten airports nationwide.
Indeed, a year into the post 9/11 world average Americans willingly sacrificed constitutional freedoms to improve national security. By constantly trotting out the dark face of the terror threat, GWB was able to focus public attention away from growing domestic turmoil. Patriotic fervor ran so high that even the unseemly activities of GWB's largest campaign supporters got lost within it, despite the corresponding loss of billions of dollars from average investor portfolios nationwide.
FDR's common sense approach dictated that we were engaged in a great struggle against a powerful evil adversary and we ought to be sure we have adequate resources on hand to wage it. Simply stated, he decided that we must provide the US Treasury the funding necessary to see the global struggle through to it's defined conclusion: Unconditional surrender of the Axis Powers.
Despite undertaking the epically broad mission to end global terrorism, GWB instead decided to head back into the deficit spending that marked his father's Administration. With victory in his "war on terror" so far off that it remained shrouded in the kind of rhetoric usually reserved for professional wrestlers and junior high school boys, he then began urging a more traditional war against long time Bush family nemesis Saddam Hussein. On the eve of critical mid term elections, he still concentrated on finding ways to siphon funds out of the United States Treasury in a political shell game, and quietly pass the bill on to future generations, with interest.
During his campaign for President he had stated his admiration for the kind of business model that Enron, Worldcom, and Halliburton employed. Unfortunately, all of these companies decided that running and camouflaging debt was far easier in their battle for short term personal gain. Hardly an appropriate model for the kind of long term, fiscally responsible approach that would be needed for real gain in a struggle against the broad horrific spectre of global terrorism.
In the midst of his partisan trillion dollar tax cut agenda, even basic math became fuzzy. While members of the GWB Administration virtually promised that we would be attacked again, it's easy to see why the economic environment he helped to create was not conducive to permanent changes in concrete, physical federal security. After all, we were engaged in an open-ended war on evil with the stock market sliding, the U.S. Treasury draining and the Social Security Trust Fund tapped. The basic ability of his Administration to show a firm, forceful, deep and long term commitment to the federal forces that were going in to guard our airports and public transportation facilities was in serious question - especially when added to that the hundreds of billions of dollars it would cost to defeat Saddam in a conventional land war and to support our troops already in the field.
Meanwhile, an ominous situation was developing in the effort to secure our nations airports. Perhaps the most visible example of the economic and political shackles that Bush had placed on us sat sadly on that front line of his war on terror. More than a year after 9/11, fully federalized airport security, signed into law by GWB, crept glacially forward, but perhaps it was the partisan political undertones that were most troubling. It was no secret that he and his allies vigorously opposed the creation of a full time federal force to secure our airports. In fact, Bush allies in the US Congress delayed legislation to provide federal security for many months. In the event of another failure of national security at a US airport rivaling 9/11, federal airport security would be a tempting target for partisan Republican scapegoating. Mistakes or problems with the deployment of this force would beckon to be cynically used in a foul partisan display. One of the few defined front lines of this "war on terror" was set to be sacrificed in a cynical, partisan and tragic showcase of the failings of the federal bureaucracy GWB repeatedly claimed to abhor.
The War Front
In late 1942, FDR and the allied powers had put in place a basic plan to liberate the world from the tyranny of the real Axis powers. Unconditional surrender was the goal, and the mission was underway. As the armies of democracy freed huge populations from a powerful axis of nations led by tyrannical rulers, democracy would be nurtured and supported in word and deed.
In late 2002, GWB had mired our nation into an undeclared war against an undefined enemy over an unknown time scale with spotty international cooperation, in which we wandered towards an equally undefined and unknown conclusion. Fights for "regime change" against "evil doers" had replaced fights for freedom and democracy. He made virtually no concrete effort to push back the undemocratic darkness that marks every battle front he has chosen. Instead, in a pale homage to FDR, he coined his own "axis of evil" between relatively weak countries who, in the best of times, had no treaties with one another and in some cases were avowed enemies.
GWB's disappointing failure to promote our democratic values following a massive foreign attack stood in stark contrast to the FDR policy of carrying the torch of democracy to the far corners of the globe 60 years earlier. Instead of promoting freedom, GWB instead continued to provide financial, military and diplomatic crutches to the undemocratic middle eastern leader du jour as long as they promised to help keep the oil tap "on" and not invade their neighbors. Never mind that this was the same old formula that fertilized the field of hatred for the horrible 9/11 attacks.
Despite his strident demands for democratic reform in Cuba, he didn't apply a milligram of similar pressure to the endless cycle of middle eastern dictators that our tax dollars have propped up over the years. The same basic system of sometime ally kings and schizophrenic jerry can dictators went virtually unchallenged, despite the fact that their countries had proven to be virtual incubators of terror. Instead, GWB adhered to the aged policies that sustained the same volatile mix of the fantastically rich, the desperately poor, millions of TV sets, live news, and trillions of barrels of crude oil in which Al Qaeda, and hatred, grew. These factors, added to GWB's hands off policy towards Ariel Sharon and warmongering towards Iraq, provided all the ingredients for an spectacular thousand mile wide fireworks display with truly global consequences.
Democracy was almost powerful enough to retard GWB's political career in 2000. Most Americans hoped that any apprehension that those events generated was not contributing to his general reluctance to export the principles on which our entire country, and indeed international stability, stood.
The End Game
In the unified global strategy that led to the defeat of the Axis powers in World War Two, laid down in large part by FDR, America would emerge as the most powerful nation in history. Under his vision, our sacrifices led to the most prosperous period in our history. Freedom would reign supreme in the USA, and the tone was set to export it to the far corners of the earth.
In the fractured and partisan tinged approach that marked the first year of the war on terror, a few members of our military made the ultimate sacrifice. Americans were willingly giving up freedoms in a burst of national solidarity to defeat terrorism. All of this while the GWB Administration did little to advance real reform on the undemocratic regimes under which terrorists have proven to thrive. All while the stock market continued to plummet. And all of this while neither GWB or his political allies had expressed any idea of what the end of this war would look like - and therefore delivered no clear plan on how to get there.
Certainly GWB campaign guru Karl Rove deserved praise for painting a resolute grimace on the face of his president that was used with success to stare down enemy and ally alike, but crossing into partisanship proved unwise. Concocting a mix of stunted rhetoric across a global stage to provide high approval ratings for the President and his Administration on the eve of a Congressional election proved despicable. When GWB turned to use that same determined grimace in an attempt to cling to political power on the eve of an election it cheapened his effort to avenge the agonizing losses we suffered on September 11, 2001.
The Next Episode
As we enter the second year of the post 9/11 world, we will be faced with some interesting questions:
Were we making the sacrifices that we will need to wage such an epic struggle without passing on the cost to the next generation?
Would we have the ability to provide the increased levels of homeland security that we will need to defend against reprisals for our open-ended global military strategy on an ever widening scope?
Was the solution to drain the US Treasury and the Social Security Trust Fund into the pockets of GWB's corporate allies, then borrow on a massive scale to fund the war overseas and security here at home?
Were we truly taking on terrorism by attacking the undemocratic, repressive power under which it thrives? Or were we just going to continue to try and keep the lid on the ketchup bottle by merely switching and strengthening undemocratic thugs throughout the region?
Were we winning the war on terror? Or were we supposed to believe that "winning" itself was just an outdated term from an old style of warfare?
Exactly how many American lives was GWB actually willing to sacrifice for partisan gain?
Tune in next year for the answers.
Meanwhile - Democrats, vote your conscience.