Deal With American
Tyranny First

By Terrell E. Arnold
In his State of the Union address February 2, President Bush used the last six hundred words or so to outline a new war on tyranny. "America will always stand firm," he said, "for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law ... limits on the power of the state ... respect for women ... private property ... free speech ... equal justice ... and religious tolerance." He then summarized future behavior by saying: "America will take the side of brave men and women who advocate these values around the world -- including the Islamic world -- because we have a greater objective than eliminating threats and containing resentment. We seek a just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror."
All of these, as words on paper or in the ether, sound right for the world's most powerful democracy. With them, and other supportive lines in his speech, Bush transformed the war on terrorism into a war against tyranny. And that, again as words, sounds OK.
Why then are more people around the world now expressing alarm or disbelief and not satisfaction with the President's announcements? The simplest answer that covers all the facts is that the present American behavioral model is wildly at odds with the language of the President's speech. Much in present American behavior would need to be fixed to get our country's own model on track:
Deal with insults to human dignity in Palestine.
Today more than three million Palestinians are waiting for the promise of a Palestinian state to become real. They have suffered expulsion from their ancestral homes, witnessed the destruction of their homes and farms and businesses, endured willful expropriation of limited water supplies, watched their children gunned down by Israeli Defense Forces, experienced the assassination or imprisonment and torture of militants, confronted the spectacle of separate roads for Israelis, found the land of their would-be state turned into Bantustans by a meandering Israeli wall, suffered the confiscation of their property in Jerusalem, and still carry the blame for everything that prevents peace in Palestine on their backs. If the President wants to prove his assertion that the demands of human dignity are non-negotiable, he can start with Palestine.
Stop the US assault on equal justice.
The prisoner torture and abuse-both terms apply-at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and probably in any of 200 or so prison facilities under US or "friendly" government control have engraved in the public mind everywhere a cruel pattern of unequal justice. To get to that point, US military, CIA and supporting contractors have ignored or set aside well-established rules of war, the Geneva Conventions on treatment of prisoners, the US Constitution on individual rights, and, in the President's own words, "the limits on the power of the state." To get our country beyond this complete collapse of civility in our society, President Bush can start by instructing his newly-confirmed Attorney General to withdraw the torture memos written during the last four years and substitute rules that are consistent with US law, with the international obligations of the United States and with commonly held concepts of human rights.
Strike a blow for private property.
Most of what is modern Israel exists on private properties that had belonged to Palestinian families for generations. That land was mostly taken, sometimes in bloody massacres, by destruction and evacuation of hundreds of villages and farms. The Israelis have used a defacto eminent domain to achieve these results. They have either taken over or destroyed the Palestinian homes and businesses that were on these properties, but Israeli governments consistently have resisted the idea of return or any compensation. Israelis can enjoy their property without paying the Palestinian owners, while the former Palestinian occupants live in refugee camps or struggle with abject poverty in towns and villages scattered across the West Bank and Gaza. Either of two choices would honor the rights of Palestinians in private property: Either compensate them or their descendents for their losses at fair market value, or allow them to return and resume enjoyment of their ancestral homes. In his stance on Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, President Bush should stand for either or both of those choices depending on cases. All other choices amount to Israeli confiscation and theft.
Restore the rule of law.
The rule of law has been badly mangled since 9-11. The first and most striking example was that the Congress, with little evident debate, ceded its constitutional war-declaration powers to the President. The second was that with hardly any examination the Congress passed the Patriot Act which opened the gates to systematic reduction and averting of constitutional protections of individual liberties. A third was the unprovoked invasion of Iraq in violation of established rules of national sovereignty. Another, quite recently, was a decision of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to initiate military intelligence covert operations without any legislative consultation or authorization. A fifth was not only the virtual castration of the CIA, but also the associated effort to make intelligence collection an acolyte of Presidential policy, in short, a propaganda machine. Another that continues to plague our country's reputation as well as observance of the rule of law is, as cited above, the torture and abuse of so-called "enemy combatants." These and other sidetracks of American practice under-girded the invasion of Iraq, and they provide the between the lines logic of the newly announced war against tyranny. Unless the President cleans up this landscape, he has no product of value to sell to the rest of humanity.
Get the global picture straight.
The promise: "America will take the side of brave men and women who advocate these values around the world", fully implemented, is an invitation to chaos. The situations vary widely by countries. In some cases, the advocates of democratic or representative systems are either governments or loyal oppositions actively engaged in politics. In many cases however, the seekers after representation or advocates of human rights are in out groups; some of them are the spawning grounds for terrorist groups or terrorist attacks. The State Department typically reports on more than sixty terrorist organizations, only about a third of them Islamic, and a goodly portion of the so-called Islamic ones are involved in the Palestine issues.
About half of the groups worldwide appear to seek regime change principally to achieve full participation in national life. The problems at root are often extracts of cross-cultural, ethnic, religious, territorial, and historic frictions. The President can help by assuring that the understanding of these situations is widespread in government and that appropriate efforts are being made to support solutions. The war on terrorism has contradicted such efforts by encouraging and financially or technically assisting various governments to suppress their indigenous "terrorists", quite a number of them "brave men and women who advocate these values."
Fix the conflict between words and deeds.
At present there is an enormous gap between the President's words and America's deeds. His words are particularly out of phase with (a) an unprovoked invasion of Iraq, (b) a threatened assault on Iran, (c) reported covert operations against Iran or Syria, (d) US support for free-wheeling Israeli operations in Palestine, (e) US association with the recent attempt to overthrow the democratically elected President of Venezuela, (f) continued support for autocratic and/or repressive regimes such as in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, (g) US treatment of enemy combatants, (h) reported US plans to keep Guantanamo and other prisoners confined virtually forever without any legal basis for doing so, (i) actual and planned expansion of the Patriot Act to further undercut human liberties in the United States, or (j) continuing US work on nuclear weapons with obvious plans to use one or more, e.g., to take out deep bunkers in Iran. In its current edition, The Economist described the basic US approach as "Democracy at gunpoint".
President Bush could profitably use the remainder of his years in the Oval Office to tidy up this mess. If he were to do so, our country and the rest of the world could write off the experiences of the past three years as excessive outbursts due to the shocks of 9-11. It could be widely agreed that the United States needed some time to right itself. If the President wishes a genuine and well-earned legacy, this is the way to go.
The author is a writer and speaker on global issues and a regular columnist on He was trained as a teacher but spent most of his professional career as an officer of the US Foreign Service. He has an AB from Stanford, a Master's and a General Secondary Teaching Credential from San Jose State University. He is a graduate of the National War College, and he served as Chairman of the National War College Department of International Studies. He will welcome comments at



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