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War 4, by Sonal Panse © 2006

Freedom’s Antonyms
Fear, Deception, Terror: The Bush Legacy

It’s not that the British-Pakistan terror plot doesn’t have a ring of truth. Islam’s dervishes of regression have made no secret of their intention to whirl more cataclysms our way. The United States and trusty-dachshund Britain have missed no opportunity to encourage them. British and American taxpayers have invested a half trillion dollars in terrorism’s futures markets ( Iraq and Afghanistan ). With Israel ’s help, Lebanon might join the exchange. And with allies like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan , the world’s leading producers of crude terrorism, we have a modern Marshall Plan in place. We export wars, we get time-bombs in return, some of them with human hearts for tickers. But the Britain plot sounds too much like a variant on the WMD story — more fear than fact, more tell than show. I don’t buy it, even though it’s not a question of whether terrorists will strike — at some point they probably will — but whether they need to strike at all to have the desired effect, and whether we’re interested in stopping them. In both cases, the answer is no.

The United States sent two messages to terrorists after 9/11. The first was one of thanks for providing the excuse to end democracy as we knew it. Fear is as powerful an instrument of power as there is. But ruling by fear is the mechanism of totalitarian regimes. The terrorist attacks gave the Bush presidency reason to rule by fear without having to resort too nakedly to totalitarian methods. The result is the same. “We’re at war” is the all-purpose neutralizer of the democratic impulse. Britain’s Tony Blair and Australia’s John Howard aped Bush. And the three countries that showed the world how to champion democratic institutions and civil liberties now show the world how to do them in. Without Osama having to lift another finger in five years.

Osama’s greatest allies in the United States have been his ideological and spiritual kin — neo-cons and the religious right. With their apocalyptic visions of “good” and “evil” fueling a president who’s never known a nuance he couldn’t do without, the second message to terrorists after 9/11 was Osama’s godsend: Bush would gladly play into terrorism’s trap and respond to the attacks with all guns, rather than a few smarts, blazing. Wars don’t stop terrorism, as the British police would be first to tell you. Intelligent policing and enlightened foreign policy might. We have little of the policing, none of the foreign policy, and two wrong wars on our hands to inspire terrorists, maybe three. Osama must be grateful.

The tragic irony of the past week’s discovery of the alleged terror plot in Britain is that while that cataclysm was averted, a real cataclysm was in its fourth week in Lebanon . Rather than halt it, the administration encouraged it — and with rushed weapons shipments, enabled it while it supposedly searched for a long-term solution that addressed “root causes.”

Root causes of conflict? Try this: Even if the cease-fire promised for this week holds, the war’s toll still adds up to more than 1,000 Lebanese civilians dead, 1 million displaced, 200,000 homeless, and a country facing an economic and environmental catastrophe (the oil spill provoked by Israel’s bombing of oil depots on the Mediterranean may exceed the damage of the Exxon Valdez). Lebanon was a natural western ally. Not anymore. Most of Lebanon didn’t sympathize with Hezbollah, the Shiite militia Israel was aiming to destroy. Hezbollah got its sympathizers now. You want root causes of terrorism? You just got some fresh ones that didn’t exist four weeks ago. It’s not rocket science “why they hate us,” especially when you’re at the receiving end of an American-made cluster bomb that finds nothing more than a family on its knees, and shreds it.

It took no time for Bush to lump Lebanon into that war-on-terror of his. Power disguised as patriotism and “homeland security” can get away with murder as long as the disguise holds. So it has, thanks to wars and a series of terror alerts, most of them bogus, some of them possibly real, some coming ones inevitably so as our wars of liberation bear fruit and liberate slews of terrorists our way. The Bush legacy, five years after 9/11, the legacy we must live with, is the worst of all worlds. We live and breathe freedom’s antonyms — fear, deception, and plenty of room left for terror.

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