The drums of war are beating once again with the vanguard of US bombers already over Iraq (and soon Syria) to, in President Obama’s words, “degrade and destroy ISIS.” The Republican Party, led by war-at-any-cost Senators Lindsay Graham and John McCain, wants a bigger military buildup which can only mean US soldiers on the ground.
Here they go again. Another result of Bush’s war in Iraq. Washington has already expended thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of American injuries and illnesses, and over a million Iraqi lives. The achievement: the slaying or capture of Al-Qaeda leaders, but with that came the spread of Al-Qaeda into a dozen countries and the emergence of a new Al-Qaeda on steroids called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which has nominal control over an area in Syria and Iraq larger than the territory of Great Britain.
Still, no lessons have been learned. We continue to attack countries and side with one sectarian group against another, which only creates chaos and sets in motion the cycle of revenge and sparks new internal strife. So if slamming a hornet’s nest propels more hornets to start new nests, isn’t it time to rethink this militarization of US foreign policy? It only increases the violent chaos in that region with the risk of a blow back affecting our country, such as suicide bombers attacking heavily populated public spaces. This kind of attack is very hard to stop, as we have seen thousands of times overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to Richard Clarke, former White House anti-terrorism advisor to George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden wanted Bush to invade Iraq, so that more Muslims would take up arms against the US and more Muslims would hate our country for its destruction of their land and people. Similarly, ISIS would like nothing better than to embroil the US and our soldiers in a ground war so that it can rally more people to expel the giant US invader.
Then there is the massive over-reaction by our government and its ever-willing corporate contractors. Political turmoil ensues and our democratic institutions, already weakened in their defense of liberty, due process, and the rule of law, are further overwhelmed by the policing dictates of a profitable national security state.
Randolph Bourne, a hundred years ago, wrote an essay with these words about war:
“It automatically sets in motion throughout society those irresistible forces for uniformity, for passionate cooperation with the Government in coercing into obedience the minority groups and individuals which lack the larger herd sense… Other values such as artistic creation, knowledge, reason, beauty, the enhancement of life, are instantly and almost unanimously sacrificed…”
Benjamin Franklin understood this collective panic, when he said that people who prefer security to liberty deserve neither.
The fundamental question is whether our civil society can defend our institutions critical to maintaining a democratic society.
Will our courts fold before the over-reaching panic by the Executive Branch and its armed forces?
Will our Congress and state legislatures stand firm against sacrificing our liberty and our public budgets that serve our civil society’s necessities in the face of a police/military state’s over-reacting ultimatums?
Will our media resist hyper-focusing on the “war on terror” and give us other important news about ongoing American life?
Will our government pay more attention to preventing the yearly loss of hundreds of thousands of American lives from hospital infections, medical malpractice, defective products, air pollution, unsafe drugs, toxic workplaces and other domestic perils?
Not likely. The aftermath of the 9/11 atrocities resulted in brutal reaction. In devastating two countries and their civilians, far more American soldiers were injured and killed than those lives lost on 9/11, not to mention the trillions of dollars that could have been spent to save many lives here and repair, with good-paying jobs, the crumbling public works in our communities.
Sadly, our democratic institutions and civil resiliency are not presently prepared to hold fast with the forces of reason, prudence and smart responses that forestall a national nervous breakdown – one which happens to be very profitable and power-concentrating for the few against the many.
Consider what our leaders did to our democracy during their “war on terrorism.” Secret laws, secret courts, secret evidence, secret dragnet snooping on everyone, unauditable, massive secret spending for military quagmires abroad, secret prisons and even censored, judicial decisions that are supposed to be fully disclosed! Government prosecutors often have made shambles of their duty to show probable cause and respect habeas corpus and other constitutional rights. Thousands of innocent people were jailed without charges and detained without attorneys after 9/11.
The Al-Qaeda leaders wanted to not only instill fear about public safety in America, but also to weaken us economically by tying us down overseas. Why are our rulers obliging them? Because, in a grotesque way, power in Washington and profit on Wall Street benefit.
Only the people, who do not benefit from these wars, can organize the exercise of their constitutional sovereignty to shape responses that promote safety without damaging liberty.
One percent of the citizenry diversely organized in congressional districts and reflecting the “public sentiment” can turn around, perhaps with the funding support of an enlightened billionaire or two, the Congress and the White House. Are you up to this challenge?
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His latest book is The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future.