Nearly five years into the "war on terror,"
it's still at the core of American media and politics.
Yeah, I've seen the recent polls showing a drop in public support for
President Bush's "war on terror" claims. And I've read a spate of
commentaries this month celebrating Bush's current lack of political
traction on the terrorism issue, like the New York Times piece by
Frank Rich last Sunday triumphantly proclaiming that "the era of
Americans' fearing fear itself is over."
That's a comforting thought, hovering somewhere between complacent
Reflexive fear may be on vacation, but it hasn't quit. The "war on
terror" motif is fraying – but it remains close at hand as a mighty
pretext for present and future warfare.
The U.S. war effort in Iraq is, if anything, more horrific than it was a year
ago. Back then, in late summer, Frank Rich wrote a Times column – under
the headline "Someone
Tell the President the War Is Over" – mocking Bush's assertion on Aug.
11, 2005, that "no decision has been made yet" about withdrawal of
U.S. troops from Iraq. Responding in print days later, Rich concluded: "The
country has already made the decision for Mr. Bush. We're outta there."
A year later, are we "outta there"? Only via the intellectualizing
gymnastics of punditland.
More Americans are aware that the "war on terror" – as an umbrella
excuse for making war – is a bunch of lethal baloney. But can anyone
point to a falloff of active U.S. militarism as that realization has
dawned? Did the Pentagon's warfare dissipate in the slightest while
disdain from mainstream anti-Bush pundits went through the roof?
Looking ahead, does anyone credibly think that Democratic Party
leaders can be relied on to stand up against rationales for a huge
air assault on Iran – in the face of predictable claims that a
massive attack became necessary to forestall the development of
nuclear weapons by a Tehran regime that supports the "terrorist"
Hezbollah organization and has pledged the destruction of Israel?
In late summer 2006, all you've got to do is read the news pages of the New
York Times to see systematic agenda-building for an airborne assault on
Iran. Right now, in front of our eyes, the propaganda blitz is rivaling the
kind of war groundwork laid by the same newspaper four years ago, replete with
endless coverage of the U.S. government's supposed "diplomatic" efforts.
"The era of Americans' fearing fear itself is over"? Don't make
laugh to keep from crying.
A war against a defined enemy can end; a war against an undefined
In late November 2002, appearing on the "Washington Journal" program,
retired U.S. Army Gen. William Odom told C-SPAN viewers: "Terrorism
is not an enemy. It cannot be defeated. It's a tactic. It's about as
sensible to say we declare war on night attacks and expect we're
going to win that war."
Continuing his heretical comment, Odom said: "We're not going to win
the war on terrorism. And it does whip up fear. Acts of terror have
never brought down liberal democracies. Acts of parliament have
closed a few."
The Bush administration, of course, has bypassed – and frequently
vilified – any such insights. Meanwhile, few Democrats on the
national stage have gone near challenging the themes of the "war on
terror(ism)." And while some journalists have grown to express
skepticism about the nonstop "anti-terror" rhetoric from the White
House and its supporters, the overall stance of news media has
involved routinely embracing the assumption that the USA is at war
with terrorism. Along the way, that means ignoring how American
firepower has been terrorizing civilians – directly in Iraq and
Afghanistan, indirectly in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.
The movie Good Night, And Good Luck dramatized Edward R. Murrow's decision
to (finally) take on Sen. Joseph McCarthy's red-baiting tactics. For those who
wonder why so many journalists hung back and declined to directly challenge
those tactics, which ran roughshod over the American political process for years,
we can look around the U.S. news media of 2006 and get a partial answer.
Yes, we can point to quite a few journalists who have gotten tough on
Bush's refusal to address substantive criticism without reverting to
the anti-terrorism pitch to tar his critics. But on the whole – and
most egregiously in routine news coverage on front pages and news
shows – the reporting accepts and propagates the basic world view of
the Bush administration.
Typically, under the headline "Number
of U.S. Troops in Iraq Climbs," an Aug. 23 story from Associated Press
reported matter-of-factly: "No more than 2,500 Marines will be recalled
at any one time, but there is no cap on the total number who may be forced back
into service in the coming years as the military helps fight the war on terror."
But the assertion that the U.S. military is fighting a "war on terror"
amounts to rhetoric, not fact.
Only as journalists stop cowering and start reporting on the basic
flaws of the "war on terror" concept will the body politic benefit
from the free circulation of ideas and information – the lifeblood
of democracy. And only then will there be appreciable media space to
really explore why so many people have become violently angry with