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When Cowboy Politics Falls Short
April 26, 2002
By Christopher Miller

"There's an old poster out West that I recall that said, 'Wanted, Dead or Alive.'"

President Bush spoke these words shortly after the events of September 11, unwittingly revealing the guiding metaphor for how he would wage the war against terror. Bush and cronies are the old west sheriff, dispensing haphazard justice with little patience for those who question their tactics. We, the townspeople, are constantly told of new faceless, voiceless enemies (one week Afghanistan, the next week Iraq or the Philippines, or Iran, or North Korea) who are the personification of pure, unreasoning evil and want nothing less than to destroy our way of life.

This is nothing new in American politics. Unfortunately the United States has a long and embarrassing history of polarizing complex issues into asinine, media-fed dualities of good versus evil when neither side is as good or evil as they are represented. Often the darkest times in our history have been when we, as a nation, have allowed this to happen. The results are always the same: neighbor spying on neighbor for signs of 'unpatriotic' activity, people being tried on hearsay and rumor, widespread violations of civil liberties, and entire groups - be they ethnic, religious, or social - being violently ostracized from society.

These are the hallmarks of terrible periods in American and world history when vilifying and oversimplifying issues leads to events that we would like to believe could never occur again.

Our war on terror, as currently being conducted, is disastrously simplistic, by the accounts of virtually every country that was once our ally. President Bush has turned a global war on terror into an American vendetta against any country deemed 'evil', often with little rhyme or reason given to the public (We have yet to see the promised evidence linking Osama Bin Laden to the events of September 11).

The original plan, immediately following the attack against America, called for hunting down and eliminating those persons directly responsible for the attacks of September 11. That mission soon expanded into destroying the Taliban regime, and any other who aided the terrorists. Then came the State of the Union address when we were told that three other countries were evil, primarily for their development of weapons of mass destruction - this coming a little more than a month after Bush backed out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Since then, there has been no follow up to these comments. There is wide speculation that Saddam Hussein will be the next target in our ever expanding war, but what about Iran and North Korea? Our military is also currently involved in 'training exercises' in the Philippines and Georgia. And through all this, it seems likely that the almost forgotten Osama Bin Laden may still be alive and planning the next attack against America.

Where in all this fighting do our allies fit in? Many countries are lending troops to the fight in Afghanistan, but who will support our expanding war? Perhaps a better question is why would any of our allies support a military invasion of any country with as little justification as has been provided. These other nations have not failed to notice the Cowboys and Indians approach to our war thus far. In addition to the almost universal negative response to Bush's characterization of the axis of evil, France, Germany, Russia, Canada, and Japan have all expressed concern for the vast oversimplification of his approach to the war.

Here at home, the polarization of the war on terror has also caused trouble. It is the undeniable atmosphere among our leadership of either 'being with us or against us' that has led to staggering and unquestioned abuses of governmental power. It seems the oft plugged excuse, "It's a whole new ballgame," is a blank check to Bush, Ashcroft, and Rumsfeld to push through any policy, no matter how unethical, unreasonable, or unconstitutional without having to bother explaining it to the American people. Consider some recent events:

An unprecedented and shortsighted abuse of civil liberties in the forms of racial profiling, monitoring of attorney-client conversations, unlawful detainment, and censorship of the media. The USA Patriot Act, passed with almost no public discussion, grants government, particularly the executive branch, new powers to breach our privacy, monitor email and internet usage, detain us with no explanation for indefinite periods of time, and harass immigrants. There is even a clause requiring people entering the country to make a 'Core Values Statement' to be evaluated for any non-American values or ideals.

President Bush is asking Congress for an increase of $48 Billion for defense spending, despite the fact that the Department of Defense can't account for over a trillion dollars (that is $1,000,000,000,000) of their previous year's budget. If this occurred on even 1/1000 this scale in any private business in the world, there would be an immediate response, not limited to the firing of top officials and a criminal investigation, yet little to nothing is reported about this abomination by the Department of Defense.

President Bush has prevented the release of 68,000 pages of documents from the Reagan era by twice invoking an executive order to bypass the Presidential Records Act. This act, coincidentally, was created to protect the American people from such government abuses as those that lead to Watergate. So much for the appearance of impropriety.

The American people can not be blamed for questioning this attitude when the government's policy is so clearly unilateral. How can we decry the evils of Iraq for giving money to the families of suicide bombers, while openly supporting the Saudi government. Not only do the Saudis give compensation to the families of suicide bombers, they have a long history of violations of basic human rights. A little more than a month ago, 14 girls were trapped in their school and burned alive because the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (essentially the morality police) deemed them inappropriately dressed to be outdoors.

Our way of life truly has been threatened by world terrorism, but it will not be destroyed by a suicide bomber or by anthrax. Our way of life will rot away in the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the White House, while the people of America are looking in fear towards foreign specters. It's become painfully clear that Bush understands the war on terror in simple terms of good and evil. The world is a more complicated place and we desperately need leadership capable of understanding these complexities.

Check out "It Can't Happen Here" by Sinclair Lewis. Eerily timeless...

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