Tuesday, September 05, 2006

“Nous Sommes Tous Américains” or so we thought

The approaching anniversary of the September 11th attacks is not only a reminder of the failure to crush Al Qaeda or to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden but the diminished international position of the United States due in no small part to the uninspired leadership of the Bush administration. The United States had the sympathy of the civilized world following the attacks. The international community, for the most part, was willing to follow the U.S. lead in combating these terrorists and, under the auspices of NATO, did so in Afghanistan. But the Bush administration lost interest in Afghanistan and diverted resources to Iraq leaving others to fight our fight. The absolute incompetence of the administration’s occupation policies in Iraq turned an otherwise noble deed of overthrowing a tyrant into something sleazy.

On the home front, the Bush administration has attempted to redefine the role of the executive branch in our system of government without the consent of the American people. Single party rule of all three branches of the national government seemed to pave the path for the executive branch bypassing the legislative and judicial branches – it is still to be seen as to how much damage has been done to the Constitution. The war rhetoric has been nonstop for five years yet the American people are promised tax cuts and urged to go shopping. The current conflicts are being referred to as World War III but by no stretch of the imagination does this come close to resembling the first two world wars. Those wars brought about conscription, war related taxes, war bonds, and rationing – in other words, sacrifices. This war hasn’t even brought about an energy conservation policy of substance given that we are funding our enemies at the gas pump. Not surprisingly, the current conflict has little or no bearing on the day-to-day lives of most Americans. Americans support it or oppose it on an academic level. Those who oppose it, or even question it, have become targets of the administrations demagoguery, particularly this past week.

Hendrik Hertzberg has written in the current New Yorker about the aftermath of the attacks of September 11th as well as the aftermath of the aftermath. He writes,
The wider counterpart to our traumatized togetherness at home was an
astonishing burst abroad of what can only be called pro-Americanism. Messages of solidarity and indignation came from Libya and Syria as well as from Germany and Israel; flowers and funeral wreaths piled up in front of American Embassies from London to Beijing; flags flew at half-staff across Europe; in Iran, a
candlelight vigil expressed sympathy. “Any remnants of neutrality thinking, of
our traditional balancing act, have gone out of the window now,” a Swedish
political scientist told Reuters. “There has not been the faintest shadow of
doubt, not a trace of hesitation of where we stand, nowhere in Sweden.” Le
Monde’s front-page editorial was headlined NOUS SOMMES TOUS AMÉRICAINS, and Italy’s Corriere della Sera echoed, “We are all Americans. The distance from the United States no longer exists because we, our values, are also in the crosshairs of evil minds.” In Brussels, the ambassadors of the nineteen members of NATO invoked, for the first time in the alliance’s fifty-two-year history, Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, affirming that “an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all” and pledging action, “including the use of armed

No one realistically expected that the mood of fellow-feeling and
coöperation would long persist in the extraordinarily powerful form it took in
the immediate wake of September 11th. The normal divisions of American politics
and society were bound to make themselves felt again, and whatever the United
States did in response to the attacks would provoke the tensions and
misunderstandings that inevitably accompany the actions of a superpower in
distress, no matter how deft its diplomacy or thorough its consultations. But it
was natural to hope that domestic divisions would prove less rancorous in the
face of the common danger, and that international frictions could be minimized
in a struggle against what almost every responsible leader in the world
recognized, or claimed to recognize, as an assault on civilization itself.

What few expected was how comprehensively that initial spirit would
be ruined by the policies and the behavior of our government, culminating in,
though hardly limited to, the disastrous occupation of Iraq. This shouldn’t have
been so surprising. George W. Bush campaigned in 2000 as a “compassionate
conservative,” one who recognized that government was not the enemy, praised
bipartisanship, proclaimed his intention to “change the tone in Washington,” and
advocated a foreign policy of humility and respect. None of that happened. Nine
months into his Presidency, an economic policy of transferring the budget
surplus to the wealthy, a social policy hewing to the demands of the
Christianist far right, and a foreign policy marked by contempt for
international instruments (the Kyoto protocol, the anti-ballistic-missile
treaty) and the abandonment of diplomatic responsibilities (the negotiations
over North Korea’s nuclear activities, the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate) had
pushed Bush’s job ratings lower than those of any of his predecessors at a like
point in their tenures. September 11th offered him a chance for a new beginning,
and at first he seemed willing to seize it. Although the war against Al Qaeda
and the Taliban in Afghanistan was not as widely backed at first as is often
assumed (particularly among many on the European left and some on the American), it is now almost universally supported in the Western world, with some forty countries involved and NATO troops carrying an increasing share of the military burden. But then came a reversion to form, and Iraq.

In “America Against the World: How We Are Different and Why We Are
Disliked,” based on ninety-one thousand interviews conducted in fifty nations
from 2002 to 2005 by the Pew Research Center, Andrew Kohut and Bruce Stokes
write that while “the first hints that the world was becoming troubled by
America came soon after the election of George W. Bush,” and that “whatever
global goodwill the United States had in the wake of the September 11 attacks
appears to have quickly dissipated,” after the Iraq invasion “favorable opinions
had more than slipped. They had plummeted.” It’s grown worse since May, when the book was published. The most recent Pew findings show that “favorable opinions of the U.S.” have gone from eighty-three per cent in 2000 to fifty-six per cent in 2006 in Britain, seventy-eight to thirty-seven in Germany, and sixty-two to thirty-nine in France. The majorities saying that the Iraq war has made the
world more dangerous are equally impressive: sixty per cent in Britain,
sixty-six in Germany, and seventy-six in France. On this point, the United
States is catching up. The most recent CNN poll, taken in late August, found
fifty-five per cent of Americans saying that the Iraq war has made them less
safe from terrorism.

Last week, the Administration launched a new public-relations
campaign aimed at marketing the war in Iraq as the indispensable key to the
struggle against terrorism. The Vice-President and the Secretary of Defense gave
speeches attacking the war’s opponents (a category that includes, if that same
CNN poll is to be believed, sixty-one per cent of the American public) as the
contemporary counterparts of the appeasers of Nazism. President Bush, as one of
his contributions to the P.R. campaign, granted an interview to Brian Williams,
of NBC. As the two men, shirtsleeved in the sun, strolled together down a bleak
New Orleans street, Williams wondered if the President shouldn’t “have asked for
some sort of sacrifice after 9/11.” Bush’s reply:

”Americans are sacrificing. I mean, we are. You know, we pay a lot
of taxes. America sacrificed when they, you know, when the economy went into the tank. Americans sacrificed when, you know, air travel was disrupted. American taxpayers have paid a lot to help this nation recover. I think Americans have sacrificed.”

And so we have. Not by paying “a lot of taxes,” of course; we pay
less of those than we did before, and the very, very richest among us pay much,
much less. But we have sacrificed, God knows. “The military occupation in Iraq
is consuming practically the entire defense budget and stretching the Army to
its operational limits,” John Lehman, Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan
Administration and a member of the 9/11 Commission, wrote in the Washington Post a couple of days after Bush’s interview. “This is understood quite clearly by
both our friends and our enemies, and as a result, our ability to deter enemies
around the world is disintegrating.” That’s a sacrifice. And here’s another: our
country’s reputation.

No comments: