Joe Cochran, a co-worker who is quite liberal, sent me an email with a link to
article by Robert Steinback published in the Miami Herald on the effects
of Bush's anti-terrorist policies. Here is my reply.
Date: Tue, 27 Dec 2005 09:54:11 -0600
From: Jesus Ortega
To: Joe Cochran
Subject: Re: This is just sad
On Tue, Dec 27, 2005 at 09:15:41AM -0600, Joe Cochran wrote:
> One wonders if Osama bin Laden didn't win after all. He ruined the
> America that existed on 9/11. But he had help.
> If, back in 2001, anyone had told me that four years after bin Laden's
> attack our president would admit that he broke U.S. law against domestic
> spying and ignored the Constitution -- and then expect the American
> people to congratulate him for it -- I would have presumed the girders
> of our very Republic had crumbled.
> I seem to remember saying to someone, maybe you or maybe joe, on
> September 11th or 12th that I feared what my country would become as a
> result of the attacks much more than I feared any attacks.
> It's worse than I feared.
Yeah, I remember you telling me that back then. The way I see it, all
governments try to play dirty when it comes to fighting terrorism. I
wouldn't dare to make an exception of any government out there. However,
there are three peculiar things about how the US has decided to fight
o First of all, the Bush Administration thought it was correct to make
decisions on its own on how to fight terrorism. In most other places,
the government always sits down with the main opposition party (or
parties) to reach a broad consensus. They do this for several reasons,
and I think they all make a lot of sense: 1) it's the best way to make
sure there are no divisions among those defending democracy against
terrorism, thus avoiding the partisan use of the "patriotic" versus
"anti-patriotic" labels (this doesn't always work nicely, and from time
to time there are still differences of opinion between the main parties,
but for the most part it is a true side-effect of reaching a broad
consensus); 2) the government has a better legitimacy to implement its
policies, since they know that a huge amount of voters will back it
up through its representatives; and 3) there is continuity whenever a
party is unseated from government and another takes over, which is
vital when it comes to fighting terrorism.
o Second, the Bush Administration chose to approach the problem as a
"war" since the very beginning. Most other governments in the world,
including conservative governments, preferred the term "struggle" to
refer to this. The reason should be obvious: there are no armies
involved here, this is not a war between two governments, and there is
no chance of ending it by surrender or anything similar. Even more
important, terrorism is an open-ended phenomenon. There is a really
good chance it will never end, and it will always continue in one form
or another. In the case of terrorism, it's not easy (perhaps even
impossible) to bring about complete peace. There's always room for
some tiny faction of lunatics to blow up a few bombs here or there.
And, if the war never ends, neither do the "exceptional" measures we
take to end it. It seems to me that a more realistic approach would
be to take steps to limit its consequences, but always making it clear
to the citizens that one or another form of terrorism may always be
o Finally, the Bush Administration also chose to undo all sorts of legal
guarantees that make us precisely who we are. In this sense, Bush's
policies have been unique. As I said above, all other governments have
also pursued a "dirty war" against terrorism. However, in the case of
Bush he has chosen to do so without even having second thoughts,
without feeling any guilt, and therefore without even trying to hide it.
In other words, in his case he has clearly undone the legal guarantees
that represent the very foundation of a liberal democracy, and in doing
so I have to agree with your words that he has pretty much conceded
victory to the terrorists.
So, what do I think Bush should have done, so I cannot be accused of just
criticizing without putting forward any ideas? I'm afraid he had little
choice when it comes to launching an attack on Afghanistan. The Taliban
were protecting Osama bin Laden, and refused to turn him in to either US or
international authorities. The argument has been used quite often that the
Taliban wouldn't have been able to turn him in even if they wanted, and
therefore cannot be held responsible for it and shouldn't have paid for it.
I differ, for this argument does nothing but to strengthen my conviction
that the US had little choice there but to invade in order to, at the very
least, make it more difficult for Al Qaeda to set up bases and training
camps. However, once he was done with Afghanistan, he should have never
turned against Iraq. At that point, he should have pursued a multilateral
agreement that took anti-terrorism measures seriously, sitting all
governments together to define what we understand as "terrorism", and then
putting together non-fancy but effective tools of cooperation to go against
the terrorists: coordination of databases and police agencies throughout the
world; diplomatic, economic and political measures to take against those
regimes that supported the terrorists, including perhaps bringing them down
altogether; putting together an international anti-terrorist task force with
permission to intervene anywhere in the world; seriously working towards the
resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which is at the very root of
many of these forms of terrorism; and, of course, changing US legislation
to adapt to the new circumstances, but always avoiding the sort of
arbitrary executive powers he has been implementing since 2001, which have
absolutely nothing to do with the American tradition.