Substances - A Year of War Under FDR and GWB
October 8, 2002
By Ted Westervelt
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
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
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
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
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
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.