Are We Safer Now?

by , January 06, 2005

USA Today reports the Bush administration will ask for $100 billion to cover the latest “off-budget” costs of the Iraq war, and notes the response of Senator Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.):

“I hope they ask for something big. Look, this is a test of wills. We need to show our enemies that we are not going to do this on the cheap.”

Do the Bushies have the “will” to bankrupt the country? We shouldn’t doubt it. As Tony Blankley approvingly noted during the presidential election campaign, it is the Republicans who have taken up the old Jack Kennedy trope of “pay any price, bear any burden” – including the burden of 1,300-plus-and-counting American deaths, over 10,000 severely wounded, and as many as 100,000 dead Iraqis. Blankley and the Bushies willingly court financial and moral bankruptcy in support of a war in which they have invested much. When they say “any price,” they mean it.

The costs of this war have been higher than anyone but its bitterest opponents ever imagined: certainly the American people were lied to when they were promised a “cakewalk” by prominent interventionists. But hardly anyone expected it to turn into a death march.

Yet that is precisely what it is becoming: insurgents killed the governor of Baghdad and nine others in a wave of violence that engulfed Iraq Tuesday morning. At the same time, a bomb exploded outside Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s election headquarters, and a prominent Iraqi general opined that the insurgency may number as many as 200,000. To top it all off, the “president” of Iraq was soon declaring that the election may have to be postponed. American casualties are skyrocketing while the prospects for success plummet, and where it will all end nobody knows – although a recent pronouncement by the Islamic Army in Iraq (IAI) might give us some clue.

The shadowy Islamic Army is one of three guerrilla groups that recently declared war on the democratic process in Iraq, stating that anyone who participated in the upcoming elections would be a legitimate target, and announcing, furthermore, that democracy is “un-Islamic.” Their capture of French journalists, and subsequent declaration that France is the “enemy” of Muslims, must’ve taken this guy by surprise, but then the IAI seems to specialize in targeting Europeans: in August, the Islamic Army took credit for the killing of an Italian journalist, and they went after the Macedonians in October.

But we may be seeing a shift in their tactics, because now it looks like they’re coming after us. The National Post of Canada, citing a statement posted on the group’s Web site, reports:

“‘This year ‘will bring woes on America. The mujahedeen [holy warriors] have prepared big surprises for your sons outside America and a big surprise for you inside America,’ said the statement, the authenticity of which could not be confirmed. The mujahedeen ‘will take the battle from inside our country [Iraq] to yours. We address you after you finished celebrating the new year, hoping that you are no longer drunk…. We will give American civilians a taste of what civilians in our country go through.'”

I would emphasize the importance of the Post‘s caveat on the authenticity issue, but, with that in mind, the IAI statement, framed as “a message to the American people,” has the ring of truth about it, once you get past the insults and the gloating:

“The statement, which described Americans as ‘uncivilized’ and ‘ignorant,’ claimed that ‘the whole world’ hates the United States. ‘Are you aware that the number of those who support striking America on its own turf has greatly increased? Last year was a picnic for your soldiers [in Iraq]. The year 2005 will witness a quantitative and qualitative change in the operations against your army, which will go down in history.'”

It is certainly true that anti-Americanism is on the rise, and not only in Muslim lands. But that dig about increasing support for terrorist attacks on American soil is what really chills the bones, because there appears to be some truth to it. A recent Zogby poll of Arab countries had Osama bin Laden tied with Saddam Hussein for fourth place as most admired world leader. The Arabs’ central grievance against the U.S. used to be our unconditional support for Israel’s disgraceful treatment of the Palestinians; now it is Iraq. In Egypt, disapproval of U.S. policy approaches 100 percent. The most deadly serious critique of the Iraq war and its consequences – advanced most eloquently by former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer – seems to have been confirmed: it is a boon for bin Laden, whose unvarying target has always been the continental United States.

The key argument for the war, repeated endlessly by the Bush camp, is:

“We are fighting that enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan today so that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities.”

But what if occupying Iraq and fighting the insurgency means we will almost certainly have to fight them on our own streets, in our own cities? Who will guarantee the IAI’s statement is just an idle boast? Surely not the U.S. government, which presided over the great “intelligence failure” that led to 9/11.

And I have another question: are we safer, today, than we were before the invasion of Iraq? Clearly the answer is an emphatic no. Yet the safety issue was the War Party’s main argument from the beginning. Rising antiwar sentiment is rooted in the growing realization that this war has made us less safe in our own country.

Americans must live in a constant state of color-coded alerts, calculating the risks and benefits of every airline flight, surrendering what’s left of their civil liberties on account of the increased danger, and all for the sake of a grandiose ideological vision that has nothing to do with protecting Americans at home or advancing our legitimate interests overseas. Sounds like a bad deal to me.

What is it that makes it worth it to these ideologues, of both parties, who would not only bankrupt the country and drag us into a bottomless quagmire, but also put us all – every American, and not just those who have enlisted in the military – in mortal danger?

We are supposed to take comfort in the grand proclamations of war-crazed neocons like Max Boot, who hail the triumphant procession of democratic success from Iraq to Ukraine (and, they hope, Iran). Somehow, I’m not consoled. Is the Golden Gate Bridge or Chicago’s Sears Tower worth an election in Iraq where the government can’t even announce the names of the candidates for “security reasons“? No one should have the right to authorize such a transaction. Yet that is precisely what our government has done.

We dump another $100 billion into Iraq, step up the war effort, and the consequences ripple outward. For that price, we have bought ourselves a worldwide Islamic insurgency with the means to strike us where we live. Having decided to take on a billion-plus Muslims, and having gone so far as to declare the onset of World War IV, the least one can expect is a repeat of 9/11 – or worse. Scheuer thinks it’s almost inevitable, and in my darker moods I tend to concur.

The hubris of the empire-builders is such that they have lost sight of the one reason why Americans put up with their government. It’s because they believe, perhaps naively, that the primary function of government is to protect them from foreign invaders, and defend their legitimate interests. The American people know government is a racket. Just as long as it affords them some measure of real protection, however, they are generally willing – nay, all too eager – to overlook the graft, corruption, power-lust, and worse that hides behind the mask of “public service.” But once the illusion of safety is dispelled by a tsunami-like disaster, either natural or man-made, the inherent American distrust of government power, supposedly eradicated by the shock of 9/11, will return with a vengeance. It is often said as if it were a self-evident truth that another terrorist attack on American soil would galvanize the country behind the War Party, yet such a reaction is very far from foreordained. The United States military, for all the billions we lavish on it, is desperately trying to ensure the security of Baghdad’s “Green Zone” – but what about the American Zone?

God forbid we should ever emerge from the smoking wreckage of another 9/11 asking that question. Which is why an answer is urgently required.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

God, I love controversy! It’s the fun part of my job. What could be more invigorating than the thrust and parry of rhetorical rapiers, and certainly cyberspace is a conducive arena: but a duel of wits is hardly what all too many of my opponents have in mind. For example, wrestling fan and former Antiwar.com columnist-turned-neocon-knuckle-dragger Anthony Gancarski, who can barely manage to write a readable sentence (ah, some things never change!). His latest Frontpage screed merely notes our defense of poor old Rummy against the neocons, without convincing anyone that Bill Kristol’s very public backstabbing was an act of virtue. He doesn’t say why the neocons want to dump Rummy: they want more troops, and he doesn’t. My favorite, though, is this remark at the end of a thread on Free Republic, the site that exemplifies what Lew Rockwell calls “red-state fascism,” in which one guy says to the other:

“Do you know you’re on the same side as Justin Raimondo? Maybe you should ask yourself why that is.”

Bwahahahahahahahaha!

The red-state fascists masquerading as “conservatives” don’t need arguments. Their demonology precludes arguing, thinking, or even referring to the arguments of their opponents. When Susan Sontag died, the ghouls at Little Green Footballs and Lucianne.com danced on her grave: over at Free Republic, her death was the occasion for a veritable torch-lit parade and public book-burning. But it isn’t just the dittoheads of the Right who have adopted this thuggish style: on the ostensible Left, we have one Jake Rudnitsky, writing in The Exile, who makes some complicated connection between the British Helsinki Human Rights Group (BHHRG), journalists who questioned the Yushchenko mythos, and the Russian government – possibly even the KGB! – and then notes,

“The real issue BHHRG has is with what they call the New World Order, a name that far-right libertarians, Pat Buchananites and Lyndon LaRouchians give to what they see as the dawning of a world government run by men in black helicopters. These guys’ paranoia makes Ames seem downright rational. {Mark] Almond explicitly refers to this worldwide conspiracy in his piece, while it lurks in the shadows of [John] Laughland’s. …

“It’s the same libertarian position that informs Chad Nagle’s article for left-wing Counterpunch.org, titled, ‘In Ukraine’s “Redneck” Regions, People Like Yanukovich.’ Nagle is one of the main contributors to the right-libertarian Antiwar.com (along with Pat Buchanan), a site which Wikipedia also links with the BHHRG. “

Black Helicopters! Lyndon LaRouche! Paranoia! This last is pretty rich, coming from someone whose entire case against journalist Jonathan Steele is that his sojourns to Ukraine were paid for by something called the “Russia Club,” and which Rudnitsky somewhat imaginatively describes as “5-star Kremlin-sponsored junkets.” I doubt there’s a single 5-star hotel in all Ukraine, and Kiev in winter is not the Riviera. But let’s not burden Rudnitsky with any facts: after all, he managed to write an entire article without once quoting any of his targets. He works himself up into a fury of indignation over this libertarian conspiracy against a much-maligned New World Order, and scolds the Left for sullying themselves with our odious right-wing black helicopter-ish presence:

“Reputable leftist media, ones I have always looked up to, have now, in a knee-jerk response, aligned themselves with a truly odious group of people. The suffering and hopes of Ukrainians don’t mean anything to them, which is why they’re so willing to sell out the Ukrainian public. But what’s worse, the left has shown that it is willing to sell out its own ideals just to take a cheap jab at the things it hates back home.”

The Ukrainian people are being used as pawns in a cynical geopolitical game. This will be brought home to them if and when Ukraine enters NATO, but by then it will be too late. That is the real sellout. If Rudnitsky sincerely believes the U.S. government and its neoconservative cheerleaders really give a hoot about the suffering and hopes of Ukrainians, apart from their campaign to encircle and slice up the former Soviet core, he is in for a cruel awakening. Although perhaps he wants another cold war and a military confrontation with Putin’s Russia: maybe it isn’t just the Left that is guilty of a “knee-jerk response.”

I would love to hear how it is a “sellout” for the Left to resist the start of another cold war, and the prospect of re-living something along the order of the Cuban missile crisis. But that’s not likely. In the end, Rudnitsky’s rant is all smear, and no real critique: it is curiously empty. Linkless, and clueless, Rudnitsky’s screed is cut from the same cloth as those torch-light paraders over at FreeRepublic.com. No need for any argument: it’s red state fascism with a “leftist” twist. He uses the same language as David Horowitz and our homefront witch-hunters: the title of his piece is “Russia’s Fifth Column” – and this from an American expatriate in Moscow who once said: “I could never be a playa in Manhattan. So here I am.” The little snake.

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