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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

July, 2005

 

Taking Back The Power-The Real War On Terror
By Sandy Leon Vest

It is now widely understood that the Bush administration might never have succeeded in launching the historical abomination known as the "Iraq War" were it not for that administration's absolute contempt for truth, its calculated exploitation of public grief and its cynical manipulation of the American people under the guise of "patriotism."
The ill-conceived "war on terror" did not begin, nor will it end, in Iraq-or Afghanistan for that matter. The broad range of atrocities now being perpetrated globally in the name of "freedom" includes torture, unlawful detention and cultural desecration. The cost of such a war in lives, morale and dollars is inestimable and threatens to sweep away what little remains of the Great Society envisioned by at least some of our founders. These actions seem the very definition of evil and they serve to highlight the stunning scope of this administration's contempt for the people it is sworn to serve. Still, if viewed through the proper lens-that of a political culture that is both thoroughly ideological and corrupt-it is not difficult to comprehend how such a contemptuous attitude might be spawned. After all, it is the job of elected officials to be accountable, and being accountable to those you consider irrelevant, well, that just doesn't make sense.
To begin to appreciate how this current clique of corporate thugs managed to worm their way into the White House and hijack any remaining semblance of "democracy" by declaring a never-ending world war, one must be willing to fathom the unfathomable. It further requires the willingness to revisit the presidential election of 2000. The selection/election question has yet to be definitively decided by political historians, but surely one compelling explanation for such pathological politics is the political process itself. It is no accident that corporate lobbyists with deep pockets and an even deeper sense of entitlement are thriving. In such a climate, losing-whether in war or politics-is not an option and cheating, lying, bribing and stealing are just part of the game. It is logical then that an unelected president would bear no burden of accountability, would be contemptuous of the people he never meant to serve anyway.
It is difficult to argue that there is anything particularly new-or newsworthy-about the present state of the political universe. The difference is by degree-not so much qualitative as quantitative. Too many people without enough resources, too much misery amid too many weapons, too much consumption amid appalling scarcity, too much greed and too little sharing. Such an era demands exceptional vision and wise leadership. The Bush administration's religiously myopic approach falls far short of that standard and simply put is unsustainable. Its perpetuation of the politics of hopelessness and despair have gravely exacerbated an already critical situation.
At the local level, cities, counties and states struggle for solvency under the burden of multiple crises and massive budget deficits that are projected into the unforeseeable future. In the wake of the corporate heists of the nineties (Enron, Tyco, Arthur Anderson) and more recently the "underfunding" of employee pensions by a virtual "Who's Who" of major corporations, everything and everyone is suspect.
The phenomenon known as privatization-once considered the corporate panacea for budget woes and increasing profit margins-has fallen from grace both at home and abroad as it has proven calamitous for much of the world populous. In Bolivia, Bechtel's takeover of that country's once publicly-owned water works has brought the country to its knees, with "water wars" disintegrating into civil unrest and chaos.
That disastrous experiment with privatization might prove instructive if anyone were paying attention. The massive failure of privatization in Latin America and other countries, where public resources are being sold off to multinational corporations in the name of "debt relief" has triggered a backlash against capitalism from which it may never recover. Selling privatization to governments up to their eyeballs in debt to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank has all but decimated any remaining social safety net in those countries.
As we enter the 21st century, it is not only Americans who are plagued by a seemingly unshakable sense of dread. A palpable inertia threatens to propel the world's population toward certain disaster. In the US and abroad, anyone who can read or watch television is reminded on a daily basis of the irony of a non-elected president declaring war on the world in the name of "democracy," while at home the American people and their representatives are deemed irrelevant. George W Bush's derogatory tone in his use of the term "American people" is as revealing as it is infuriating. It begs the question, "just who are the 'American people' anyway?" Could it possibly be that this contemptible class of illiterate, unmotivated, TV-watching, SUV-driving consumers to which the administration refers is us?
The desire to distance oneself from such a despicable designation, while understandable, does not make it so. For better or worse, we are the American people and-if only by default-it is the American people who allowed the Bush administration to seize absolute power in the first place. Now we live with what we have not chosen. We live under the shadow of what we will never know. We live with the Big Question that can never be answered: How might the course of global history been changed had "we the people" been less willing to accept our assigned roles as "consumers" and more physically, intellectually and emotionally responsive? Had we but known, perhaps those of us who did not vote out of apathy, illiteracy or ignorance might have thought twice, and once the lever was pulled we might have been more willing to question that authority; we might have called up whatever energy and inspiration we had within us to get up and speak out. We might have taken it upon ourselves to redefine terms like "American people," "patriotism," "freedom" and "democracy."
But these decisions now lie in the past and the American people make decisions on a daily basis. Even in the face of what seems irrevocable and irreversible, the course of history can be altered still another time. Americans need not continue to settle for the degrading spoils of war. We need not continue to take our citizenship for granted while languishing in our role as consumers in a consumer-driven culture. The critical nature of global circumstance challenges us as never before to take on the role of, not just national, but global citizenship. For it is civic responsibility and civil disobedience that are the real stuff of patriotism and meaningful democracy.
The Bush administration's once-masterful manipulation of public opinion notwithstanding, its hegemonic global agenda is visibly disintegrating. Patience for the war has dropped precipitously as cynicism sets in and optimism about the Iraqi elections in January wears thin. Violence against US troops continues to escalate and polls report for the first time that a majority would be "upset" if President Bush sent more troops. A new low, 36%, say troop levels should be maintained or increased. In Iraq and Afghanistan, murder and mayhem continue to wreak havoc in direct contradiction of the administration's stubbornly upbeat assessments. Even their own top level officials now acknowledge that the military was not prepared for the repercussions of these ill-conceived invasions.
The Big Lie is in the spotlight as one revelation after the other bobs to the surface. Only last month still another document dubbed the "Downing Street Memo" was uncovered suggesting that the Bush administration first decided to go to war in Iraq and built a case for it later. All this has lead an increasingly vociferous and bipartisan call for an end to the war-or at least a timeline for troop withdrawal. In June, Democratic representatives Shirley Jackson-Lee of Texas and John Conyers of Michigan began a congressional investigation into that memo. Jackson-Lee says she wants the public to understand what happened. "This is just the beginning," she told a group of Capitol Hill reporters. "I look to 2002 and the names many of us were called for opposing the war in Iraq and then I look at where we are today. If this is to meet the test of history, we must have a comprehensive answer to what happened."
The souring of public opinion against the Iraq war and more broadly the "war on terror" presents a timely opportunity for Americans to "take back the power." This turn of events challenges the president and his administration to do that which they are not capable of-admit their mistakes and begin the arduous diplomatic process of making amends to the international community. Bush's promise to stay the course in Iraq until democracy is established is a prescription for his own demise. Sending more troops is no longer an option as the recruitment pool dries up under increasing scrutiny of the war. The pattern of public opinion on Iraq-strong support for the first two years that subsequently erodes-is all too reminiscent of the Korean and Vietnam wars.
It is in the eerie light of this strange dawn that a real "war on terror" must be waged-one that redefines terms and expands the parameters of the national conversation-one that takes on heretofore sacred ground and institutionalized assumptions.
If we are to seize the moment and change the course of history, Americans can start by demanding in no uncertain terms the return of US troops. We will further demand that the media break their deadly silence and report the real story of the war on terror, its victims on all sides and its real cost in lives and dollars. If we are to be less bombarded with propaganda and more informed of and involved in the critical events that shape our lives, Americans will need to take on the mass media and challenge the corporate monopolies that provide fertile ground for absolute power and corruption. We will demand more responsive and responsible representation and more access to that representation. And if we are serious about restoring-or better still reinventing-our shattered democracy, we will not stop there. We will demand an end to the cycle of weapons production and proliferation that imperils the entire planet and we will make it our business to expose the lunacy and hypocrisy that emboldens this administration to order an end to nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea while it continues to lead the planet in its unabated pursuit of same.
Here at home we can begin by demanding the bare essentials-equal opportunity education, jobs with a living wage, an inhabitable environment and the restoration of a social safety net. We will demand election reform-including meaningful campaign finance reform. Furthermore, we will make it clear-at the polls and in the streets of America-that we will settle for nothing less than voices of reason and wisdom at the international table. We will insist on legitimate representation in the United Nations, the White House and Congress.
Time is not on our side. There is much work to be done-and it is ours to do. While it is unlikely that America will ever recover its perceived position of international prestige and respect, most of us will still have to live here. The quality of our lives and those of our children, grandchildren and the rest of the planet is yet to be determined. To a great extent it will depend upon the willingness of the American people to reclaim their rights and responsibilities as world citizens.
Sandy Leon Vest Renewable Energy Advocate

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