A Blank Check for War
September 17, 2001
Last weekend, Congress gave President Bush carte blanche. It empowered him to use "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harboured such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations, or persons."
The vote in the Senate was 98-to-0.
The vote in the House was 420-to-1.
Only Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of California, voted against this. (See her statement on our home page.)
She rightly pointed out that this is the equivalent of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that Lyndon Johnson received in 1964 for escalating the war in Vietnam.
Except this resolution is broader, allowing Bush to wage war against more than one nation, as well as any individuals and organizations he deems were connected to the attack.
Bush himself says we're at war, but Congress does not declare war, as it is required to by the Constitution. Instead, it abdicates.
The vastness of this war--a "crusade," Bush called it, echoing Osama bin Laden's "jihad"--is difficult to underestimate.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said on Sunday that bin Laden's "Al Queda organization . . . is a large, multiheaded effort that probably spans 60 countries, including the United States, and it is much bigger than one person, and the problem is much broader."
So Congress has justified the President attacking in 60 countries?
Not content with the blank check, not content merely to fight bin Laden, the Bush Administration is planning a war "to rid the world of evil," as Bush humbly put it. Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell went on television Sunday to say that Bush's goal is to fight terrorist organizations around the world even if they weren't directly implicated in the September 11 attack.
That authority, however, even this Congress has not given the President.
If Bush wages all-out war against Afghanistan or any other Muslim country, he could be playing right into bin Laden's hands, as Robert Fisk of the London Independent argues.
"Retaliation is a trap," he wrote on Sunday. The bombings were designed, he said, "to provoke the United States into just the blind, arrogant punch that the U.S. military is preparing. . . . Mr. bin Laden is unsophisticated in foreign affairs, but a close student of the art and horror of war. He knew how to fight the Russians . . . until, faced with war without end, the entire Soviet Union began to fall apart."
Bin Laden, he wrote, "wishes to overthrow the pro-American regime of the Middle East, starting with Saudi Arabia and moving on to Egypt, Jordan, and the other Gulf states. In an Arab world sunk in corruption and dictatorships, most of them supported by the West, the only act that might bring Muslims to strike at their own leaders would be a brutal, indiscriminate assault by the United States."
Or, as Fisk put it last week, "A slaughter by the U.S. in retaliation for the New York and Washington bloodbaths might just move the Arab masses from stubborn docility to the point of detonation."
But the warmongers in the media appear almost heedless of these risks. Tim Russert of NBC has been especially bellicose, calling for a "disproportionate" response.
What does that mean?
Since the terrorists killed 5,000 innocent people, does that mean that the United States will kill 50,000 innocent people?
Or listen to Ann Coulter, the professional anti-feminist and darling of the rightwing, who wrote in a recent column for National Review: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity."
Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence agencies--which screwed up royally--are seizing on the attack to justify not only a bigger budget but also the right to put torturers back on the CIA payroll and to be able to assassinate foreign leaders as in the good old days.
Meanwhile, many of our civil liberties are about to go by the boards, as the Attorney General is making calls for greater domestic surveillance.
Meanwhile, Arab Americans and Muslim Americans are being victimized by several hundred hate crimes, including two lethal ones over the weekend.
A gunman killed a forty-nine-year-old Sikh who owned a gas station in Mesa, Arizona, on Saturday.
And a Pakistani Muslim storeowner was shot and killed Saturday evening in the Dallas area, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The media and the government have funneled the raw emotions of the terrible attack last Tuesday into the incendiary flask of jingoism, and the casualties may mount.
In this terrible time, we must mourn for all the people who lost loved ones in the heinous acts of September 11, and we must raise our voices for peace and justice.