October 12, 2001
At his press conference on October 11, George W. Bush displayed disturbing symptoms of delusion.
He called Afghanistan "the first battle in the war of the 21st century," and said, "Ours is a war against terrorism in general."
He explicitly said this war was not limited to bin Laden or Al Qaeda or Afghanistan: "Success or failure depends not on bin Laden; success or failure depends upon routing out terrorism where it may exist all around the world."
That is an impossibly tall order, and it commits the United States to endless war, a tool that may be uniquely ill matched to the task.
Bush wants "to rid the world of terror," but his war will create more terrorists. The use of overwhelming force by the most powerful nation in the world against one of the most backward will only fuel the terroristic passions of those who view the United States as a global bully.
Already, the war has proven itself enormously unpopular in Pakistan, Palestine, and Indonesia. And Saudi Arabia is so worried about domestic unrest that it wouldn't even allow British Prime Minister Tony Blair to set foot in the kingdom, according to The New York Times.
But this has not given Bush pause. Instead, he is promising more war against additional enemies, "a war against those governments that support or shelter" terrorists.
Bush has no constitutional or Congressional mandate, and no justification under international law, to wage this limitless war.
And he vows to wage it in a limitless way.
His comments on Vietnam during the press conference are instructive--and scary--in this regard. He said Vietnam was "where politics made decisions more than the military sometimes." That's the standard rightwing view that claims the United States should have used every weapon in its arsenal to defeat the Vietnamese, including nuclear weapons.
As if to underscore that point, Bush said earlier the same day at the Pentagon that he would give the military "every resource, every weapon, every means to assure full victory for the United States."
But terrorism is not something that can be solved militarily.
Part of the solution must be political: It must address some of the legitimate grievances that contribute to the conditions that give rise to terrorism.
One of those grievances is U.S. support for Israel's thirty-four-year occupation of Palestinian territory.
But at the press conference, Bush was barely even able to utter Arafat's name, much less to say he'd meet with him. "My calendar's a little crowded," was his excuse.
That just doesn't cut it.
Another grievance is the enormous toll that economic sanctions have taken on Iraqi civilians. But Bush didn't deal with this at all. His only comments on Iraq were to warn Saddam Hussein that "we're watching him very carefully."
There are strong pressures on Bush--coming from the Pentagon and the grand Pooh-Bahs of the Republican foreign policy establishment--to go next to Baghdad, a war that would end up killing thousands more innocent Iraqis.
Hasn't the United States wreaked enough horror there already?
Now these are not the only contributors to the conditions that give rise to terror. Some have nothing to do with the United States, flowing from deeper poisonous wells, like religious fundamentalism and anti-Semitism.
But where the United States can affect the conditions, it ought to do so.
Bush's mind appears incapable of grasping this. He seems to have only three categories up there: good, evil, and sports.
And having placed the United States in the good category, he is suggesting that the United States can use "every means" to triumph against everyone he places in the evil category.
"If you harbor a terrorist, there will be a price to pay," he said.
But all too often, the people who pay the ultimate price are civilians.
And over the years, it is the United States that has harbored or trained many terrorists: contras in Nicaragua, death squad officers in El Salvador, goon squads in Haiti, brutalizers in Indonesia and East Timor, anti-Castro terrorists in Miami, mujahedeen in Afghanistan. As Eduardo Galeano points out, Bush's father called the Afghan guerrillas "freedom fighters," and "now they are evil incarnate, a mere thirteen years later."
But these are inconvenient facts in Bush's total war of good versus evil.
He is a born-again President, zealously leading his crusade, supremely confident in his righteousness.
And he's prepared to shed a lot of blood in his black and white world.