- It occurred to me to write a satire about Osama and the
boys sitting around in the mountains somewhere holding a conference about
the worst possible damage they could inflict on the United States and deciding
that it would be whatever act got Bush re-elected.
- But retired American General Tommy Franks came along
and spoiled the fun. General Franks has followed the advice of the fictional
Doctor Strangelove by announcing to the world what he believes will happen
if the United States is attacked by terrorists using strategic weapons:
he says Americans will scrap the Constitution and set up a military government...
If you recall the bitter and hilarious Cold War film, Dr. Strangelove,
there is a scene where the Soviet ambassador puts down the phone to Moscow,
groaning about "The fools, oh, the mad fools," and then informs
the American President and Pentagon brass for the first time of the Doomsday
Machine. The Doomsday Machine, he explains to those gathered in a desperate
effort to stop an unauthorized attack launched by a lunatic American wing
commander, is an automated device that, once set, cannot be prevented from
responding to any attack by releasing an earth-straddling cloud of deadly
- Doctor Strangelove, a character based on captured scientists
and others from Nazi Germany who rose to high places in the American government
during the Cold War, shrieks from his wheelchair, struggling to control
the tendency of his right arm to rise in the Hitler salute, what is the
good of such a deterrent if no one is told about it?
- Indeed, so General Franks has warned us. Considering
the wholesale insanity we've witnessed since 9/11, there is little reason
to doubt the general's judgment.
- Many Americans would not be frightened by the idea of
military government. After all, they receive a steady diet of sappy stuff
about "our boyz." But if you look at what the boys have been
doing lately in Iraq and recall the atrocities of Vietnam, any warm, cozy
expectation of being ruled by the likes of Jimmy Stewart in khakis vanishes.
- For many reasons, democracy always has had a tenuous
hold in America. Its history as a democracy where almost everyone can vote
only goes back several decades, and as we saw in Florida during the last
presidential election, that basic principle is not yet firmly entrenched.
The adolescent nature of much of American culture - exhibited in a thousand
ways from endless movies about muscle-bound superheroes to the flag-waving
spectacles made of football games - reveals an attraction to fascism, fascism
being merely an adult form of adolescent fantasies about power.
- It is not difficult at all to imagine democracy's hold
being quickly snapped, especially where dark, exaggerated fears are involved,
such fears also being a prominent feature of American culture. Consider
the millions of Christian fundamentalists who fervently embrace the notion
that earth faces imminent destruction in an Armageddon. Just a few years
ago, as the calendar turned to the year 2000, millions of secular crackpots,
the militia/survivalist types, stocked ammunition and freeze-dried rations
in a modern-day repeat of the fallout shelter lunacy of the 1950s. There
have been countless gatherings on mountaintops to await the "end of
time" and many bizarre mass suicides. America, reflecting its unpleasant
Puritan heritage, almost certainly leads the advanced world in holding
to voodoo-like fears.
- The impact of an American military government on the
world would be incalculable. Treaties, agreements, diplomatic conventions
all might effectively be suspended since it is the Constitution that gives
foreign treaties their primacy in law within the United States. International
borders effectively could be erased since few are in a position to prevent
the American military's taking whatever arbitrary measure it pleases. The
United Nations might well be dismissed as an unnecessary expense and a
- Huge, destabilizing uncertainties would be introduced
into world markets. The flow of international capital would be affected.
A world depression could easily be induced. After all, it was poorly-considered
American law, the Smoots-Hawley Tariff, that helped create the Great Depression.
- The military-service draft would certainly be re-introduced.
- The prospect for a quick end to military rule would not
be good because such a government's central purpose would be fighting terror,
yet all applicable history tells us that conventional military action is
ineffective against terror - ineffective, that is, unless you are prepared
literally to crush great masses of people. Of course, America does have
its advocates for this last, like the upstanding young man from Texas who
e-mailed me, after reading something of mine, that Afghanistan should have
been reduced to a lump of radioactive glass.
- Bush's response to 9/11 has widely dispersed the adherents
of terror and strengthened terror's appeal to new recruits. Saudi Arabia,
Turkey, and other important countries display genuine signs of instability.
Every thoughtful statesman warned Bush of this before he invaded Iraq,
but he chose to ignore them all. This clearly is not all the work of the
mysterious al-Qaeda Bush loves to blame but of many aggrieved individuals.
Iraq itself has been turned into a suppurating wound of grievances. The
Arab world, a very large place indeed, deeply resents America's humiliating
occupation of a major Arabic capital and its continued generous support
for Israel's occupation and abuse of Palestinians.
- You might think that Americans - a people deeply attached
to guns and slogans like "Live free or die" and "Don't tread
on me" - of all people in the world would understand the anger and
resentment of Iraqis. Yet the polls still show substantial support for
a President who utters nonsense each time he speaks on the subject. I can
only explain this fact by out-of-proportion tendencies to fear and indifference
to the lives of others. Liberal Internet sites headlining every slight
downward tick in Bush's polls have about them a eerie feeling of desperate
- George Bush represents the culmination of America's long-term
arrogant and uninformed policies towards a good deal of the world, the
kind of policies that were indisputably the root cause of 9/11. A man whose
capacities and imagination do not exceed those of a dozy Southern county
sheriff has been thrust upon the world as a leader because many Americans
just can't be bothered to consider how the actions of their government
affect so many others.
- Bush has managed to convert a one-off, sensational terrorist
attack, which could and should have been dealt with by methods several
European states had long used against terror, into a tangle of nearly insoluble
world-scale problems. The invasion of Iraq particularly was an irrational
- Americans are not taught a sense of responsibility concerning
their great power in the world, and they often are unaware of the impact
they have on the others. After all, many Americans are raised to behave
exactly that way towards their own society, a predatory, often chaotic
place where having fun or getting ahead at the expense of others is widely
regarded as youthful exuberance or entrepreneurial skill.
- There is little doubt in the minds of thoughtful people
removed from America's unforgiving, brutish national politics that Bush's
actions as President have been destructive beyond calculation. They have
hurled America along a path from which it may not recover, for, regardless
of the upcoming election, the nation's political institutions may not be
adequate to the job.
- First, there is no easy way out for American forces in
Iraq. A sudden withdrawal now would be irresponsible and disastrous. And
yet the longer troops stay under existing circumstances, the more hatred
and resentment they engender. This seems an almost impossible paradox.
Turning over administration to the United Nations is the logical step,
but that would not likely mean the departure of all American troops.
- Suppose a Democrat wins the next election - miracles
do sometimes happen - the new President would face exactly the same choices.
Bush's rash act has effectively bound the hands of any successor. Despite
the pathetic appeals on some liberal Internet sites to bring home the troops,
this cannot quickly be done. In any event, the Republicans would stand
ready to harshly criticize every mistake and every American soldier killed
as a reflection of failed new policy.
- Of course, that assumes the Democrats manage to elect
someone whose views greatly differ from those of the gang feeding Bush
his lines. The Democratic party has some people running who really disagree
very little with Bush except on the issue of who should be in the White
House doling out patronage.
- The Republicans are expert at vicious, well-financed
attacks, and Americans are not immune to these. They are a people who thrive
on a great deal of momentary sensation and vitriol. Shows with conflict
and meaningless verbal attack do well on American television. So Republicans
maintain a large kennel of pet attack-commentators used to reduce all discussion
to confused, snarling noise, a technique perfected in Germany during the
1920s and '30s.
- As we can see through events since 9/11, Democrats possess
no comparable weapons. First, Democrats may not have the financial resources
for the job. Second, one suspects that twisted nastiness is part of the
right's genetic endowment. It's what enables them to sneer or laugh at
the miseries and concerns of others. It's what gives Lynne Cheney's smile
all the infectious appeal of a cracked hard-boiled egg.
- There's a role for stupidity, too. A good many Republicans
embrace stupidity so long as the ideology is right. The examples are numberless.
There was the late Sen. Hruska's immortal comment on one of Nixon's worst
attempted appointments to the Supreme Court that mediocrity also needed
to be represented on the court. There was Sen. Smith's lunatic muttering
about the federal government running a concentration camp where they kept
the poor Cuban boy, Elian, after finally rescuing him from his tormenters
in Florida. There was Sen. Jesse Helms' poisonous, almost treasonous, suggestions
on how military personnel should treat President Clinton. There was Tom
DeLay's racism-laced remarks on Clinton's highly successful trip to Africa.
And there was the colossal, multi-million dollar spectacle of impeaching
a President over a stain on a dress.
- Much of America's post-World War policy reflects exactly
the impact of such viciously-selfish political activity. George Wallace,
the late, hateful Governor of Georgia, nicely summed up the forces at work
when he once swore after a failed election that "nobody was gonna
out-nigger me ag'in." Applied to foreign affairs, Wallace's statement
becomes a template for much of American policy. America was dragged into
the Korean War by haunting fears of accusations like "loosing China"
- never mind that you can't loose what was never yours - despite the Pentagon's
assessment that South Korea was not a place of major strategic importance.
Truman instituted all kinds of dark measures such as loyalty oaths as he
felt the hot breath of vicious fanatics down his neck. Lyndon Johnson launched
the deadly crusade in Vietnam in large part through fear of being "out-commied"
by a political predator such as Richard Nixon.
- There is little basis for optimism if Bush remains in
office and not a great deal more promised in the circumstances and leading
personalities of the Democratic party. Were a new administration to manage
the patient and demanding steps to appropriately extricate the U.S., American
voters would begin showing impatience long before the end. And what administration
ever is going to adequately pressure Israel to give us peace with an end
to its occupation and land-grabs, shutting down that inexhaustible source
of Arab anger, humiliation and desire for revenge?
- In any case, who does not fear that some additional devastating
attack on the United States is just a matter of time? Even a succession
of them? Bush could hardly have done a better job of creating gangs of
new and bitter enemies, and bitter people carrying their grievances to
the United States reflect only the same inevitable forces of globalization
that have introduced countless other changes to American life. Then General
Franks' Doomsday Machine might well roar into operation, launching us all
into a new dark age. "