Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Times stated that a recent intelligence report indicates that the U.S. is no safer from terrorism than it was on September 10, 2001. If this were not enough to stop the so-called War on Terror in its tracks, I don't know what is.
For the past five and a half years, the Bush administration has been at war with terrorists and enemy combatants in the name of freedom and democracy. U.S. forces have invaded two countries and dissolved their respective governments. U.S. policymakers have subverted the Geneva conventions to allow for the practice of torturing detainees (though the secret CIA-established prisons at which this measure is employed were not approved by elected officials). And the White House, legally or otherwise, has paved the way for federal agents to wiretap phones and read emails of private citizens without first obtaining warrants. The LA Times report notwithstanding, many changes have occurred as part and parcel of the War on Terror--both within our society and in our relationships with other nations--which should lead us all to question how and why they have come about.
George W. Bush and his administration have been successful at propagating the myth of the War on Terror--that it is a simple struggle of good and evil, the West versus radical Islamists, America versus the terrorists. This convenient dichotomy has placed Americans on the good side; after all, who can argue with freedom and democracy? But if you do happen to argue, you're a terrorist sympathizer; it was the Commander in Chief, after all, who proclaimed, "Either you're with us or you're against us." As irrational as it is, the sentiment has until recently discouraged politicians and citizens alike from speaking out against the crimes of this rogue administration. The most recent manifestation of the spinelessness this attitude has spawned can be seen in the senate Democrats' rescinding on their bill to impose a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. In this way, a black and white picture of reality painted by the Bush administration has, especially in the War on Terror, reduced the actions of would-be challengers to mere floundering and undermined democratic principles of discourse.
As No Questions Asked author Lisa Finnegan noted, the media since 9/11 has failed to scrutinize administration policies, including the decision to go to war in Iraq. The major networks have all stood compliantly in line, quick to report on the latest skirmish but ever slow to question the larger state of affairs. Worse yet, the media has lent credence to Bush's erroneous dichotomy using terminology like the "clash of civilizations," elevating the scope and threat of Al-Qaeda far beyond their realistic levels.
This practice has gotten completely out of hand. The botched amateur terrorist attacks in London and Glasgow, for example, were interpreted as ominous signs of the "new Al-Qaeda"--a dispersed and desperate group, totally unpredictable in its forms and actions. Unfortunately, the reality is that such an attack represents the most common form of terrorism: small-scale, isolated and usually limited in its physical impact. The case was given just treatment in Steve Chapman's July 12 Tribune editorial, but in our post-9/11 world of paranoia, 9/11 has typically been held as the new conceptual standard. That is, many assume that each and every attack is intended to equal its severity. The notion that 9/11 was an extreme and deadly exception to the rule is much closer to reality, but this idea has certainly not been in vogue during the Bush era. As Chapman put it, "Intent and ability are not the same thing." The administration and the media have significantly distorted both, the former creating an atmosphere of perpetual tension, and the latter tagging along every step of the way.
In TV news broadcasting, such a notion is hardly new. An article in the March 1987 issue of the Western Political Quarterly, whose relevance persists to this day, notes that CBS, NBC and ABC have consistently provided distorted coverage of international terrorism, downplaying bombings and political threats while over-reporting more dramatic events such as hostage seizures and hijackings. Researchers Michael Carpini and Bruce A. Williams found that from 1969 to 1980, terrorists' targeting of businesses and their affiliates was reported with much less frequency than cases in which private citizens were involved. It is understandable, then, why a large percentage of Americans naively define terrorism as a struggle between innocence and evil. Furthermore, statistics compiled by the authors indicate that coverage is erratic year-to-year and that the number of terrorist attacks in a given year, involving U.S. citizens or not, rarely has a bearing on the number of coverage minutes devoted to the subject.
The simplifications and half-truths produced and spread by our government and the media over the past six years have contributed to all-time lows in presidential and congressional approval ratings, significant political polarization, and dire straits for the United States Treasury and Armed Forces. Serious domestic problems including poverty, urban decay and the health care crisis have been largely ignored by the preoccupied federal government. It is of little doubt that debate over who is to blame will surround many of these conditions for years to come, long after America recovers from the disastrous Bush era. More importantly, however, over 80,000 Iraqi civilians and over 3,600 U.S. troops have been killed in the so-called War on Terror.
There is thus a tragic, yet poignant truth contained in that LA Times story. The current character of the War on Terror, with its tools of unilateral coercion, conformity and partisanship in politics, and the all-too-prevalent secrecy of it all, represents a self-replicating cycle of failure. Though some slogans have changed and visible decision makers have been forced into early retirement, the strategy and rationale have remained constant to the detriment of America's reputation and security. It is our duty to continue fighting terrorism, but executive-branch crusading must go to the trash heap if we are to begin repairing the damage. In 2008, when Americans go back to the polls to select a new leader, one can only hope we choose one who is more politically in-touch, more worldly, and more open to opposing viewpoints. The time has come to relegate America's Seven-Year War to the past and ensure that our methods of safeguarding national security truly reflect the greatness of this nation.