Tens of thousands of trained terrorists are still at large … spread throughout the world like ticking time bombs, set to go off without warning.
—George Bush, Jan. 29, 2002
War without end, against a shadowy, ill-defined enemy. That’s what we are being offered, according to the most ominous State of the Union message in history.
Take Dubya’s words above. They are typical — and significant. Naturally, we’ve never been offered any proof there are “tens of thousands” of these people. In fact, I couldn’t help thinking of that dreadful old Excedrin commercial in which thousands of “tiny time pills” spread through the bloodstream and wage terror on a headache.
What is clear is that our long national Clinton-era nightmare of peace and prosperity is over. But if the Bush administration is not to blame, they are at the very least attempting to sell us a bill of goods, and we need to pry open the crate and check the contents. For months, I’ve felt that something was missing every time I heard Bush-Cheney-Ashcroft-Rumsfeld, doing their best to sound like B-movie World War II generals, lecture us on the sacrifices we must face as a nation at war.
Sometimes they even sound like Franklin D. Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor, although in what seems a curious disconnect, the Bushies are perfectly capable of telling us in one breath to prepare for enormous new horrors and in the very next to tell us to act as though everything is normal and take the whole family to Disneyland.
Then, suddenly, I figured out what was wrong.
We’ve got just about everything that’s needed for a rip-roarin’ war: Beefy boys in camo and khaki. Snazzy machines. The media whipped into a newfound shape, content to serve mostly as a PR apparatus for the glorious cause. Citizens hot for battle, especially those who’d never have to go.
We’re lacking only one thing: A real enemy.
Who are we fighting, anyway? Yes, yes, I know about bad old Osama and his pal, the one-eyed mullah, both of whom, incidentally, are probably being hidden by some of our so-called allies. As I’ve said before, I have absolutely no problem if they were to be killed. But even if they are alive, they are pretty clearly out of commission.
So who are we fighting?
Do we really believe Osama controls an all-powerful, invisible, global empire of evil? Twenty years ago, the last time we were scared into an enormous military buildup, we did have a very tangible potential foe. Whatever your politics, Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire” of the Soviets really existed. It was armed to its nuclear teeth and had done many bad things to its own citizens. Occasionally it threatened other nations.
That reality helped persuade Americans — their congressional reps, anyway — to reluctantly spend many billions of dollars to build up our military forces. Which, naturally, made those who sell us our weapons very happy.
But then in 1991, almost without warning, the evil empire did the one thing no one had ever imagined it would. It simply … vanished.
And that created an enormous problem for our own military-industrial complex. The Soviet Union, after all, was its main reason for existing. When Reagan tried to get people worried about barefoot Nicaraguan leftists invading Texas, the result was giggles. Nor were most Americans hot to take on the role of world policeman.
Then Sept. 11 happened. Let’s review the bare facts: Nineteen hijackers, armed with nothing more high-tech than knives, took control of four planes. All were killed in the horror that followed. Most were trained in camps in Afghanistan that have now been wiped off the face of the earth.
The Taliban regime has been overthrown and replaced with a U.S. client Afghan state, led by one Hamid Karzai, who seems to be in Washington these days, palm outstretched toward Pennsylvania Avenue, more than he is in Kabul.
Two years ago, while running for the office he didn’t really win, Bush lost no chance to sneer at the very thought of “nation-building.” Now, he seems ready to remake the globe. And if our “timid” allies get cold feet, pretzel boy will, all by his lonesome, clean up Dodge. “Make no mistake about it. If they do not act, America will.”
North Korea, Iran and Iraq form an “axis of evil.” The clear implication was that we, the good guys, are honor-bound to smite the evildoers. Now it should be noticed that Bush’s daddy called Saddam “worse than Hitler,” then left him in power. The voters punished Poppy for that, however, and you can believe Dubya remembers.
Today, the arms merchants are ecstatic. Unfortunately for George Bush, the idea of an endless war won’t fly. You have to admit it is fairly brilliant. He can blame the recession on the war. He can say he cannot be bothered with a real investigation into the Enron mess because of the war. He can use the war to mask all his many failings.
That may work for a while. But Americans won’t buy it in the long run, not unless we suffer another wave of terror attacks. We need clear evidence and a clear goal before we sign on. We wearied of endless conflict in Vietnam and rebelled when it was clear our leaders had no end in sight. And that was an era when we were much more naive about our government. We are far wiser now. Early on in the speech, Bush told us that his father’s nemesis, Iraq, “has something to hide from the civilized world.”
But it’s now clear that so does he and, perhaps especially, Dick Cheney: What did they know about Enron, and when did they know it? The whispers are getting louder.
They will get louder still.Jack Lessenberry is a contributing editor to Metro Times. E-mail comments to [email protected]