Sunday, September 03, 2006

Demagoguery Won't Keep Us Safe

Huffington Post
Demagoguery Won't Keep Us Safe
Coleen Rowley

In the past week, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld have both made impassioned appeals to continue the U.S. occupation of Iraq, insisting that any other option means defeat or, worse yet, is an effort to "appease" the terrorists. Cheney insisted that opponents of the occupation are not "serious" about fighting terror, while Rumsfeld accused critics of wanting to "Blame America First".

It didn't take long for Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei of the Washington Post to expose the fact that the only thing Rumsfeld and Cheney are serious about is using the terrorist threat --- again --- to vilify their opponents for political gain:

Bush suggested last week that Democrats are promising voters to block additional money for continuing the war. Vice President Cheney this week said critics "claim retreat from Iraq would satisfy the appetite of the terrorists and get them to leave us alone." And Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, citing passivity toward Nazi Germany before World War II, said that "many have still not learned history's lessons" and "believe that somehow vicious extremists can be appeased."

Pressed to support these allegations, the White House yesterday could cite no major Democrat who has proposed cutting off funds or suggested that withdrawing from Iraq would persuade terrorists to leave Americans alone.

The fact that senior members of the administration are relying so heavily on straw men in their efforts to bolster support for the occupation of Iraq demonstrates just how weak their case is. But Donald Rumsfeld made a particular appeal to "history's lessons" in his speech, and it is worth pointing out a number of historical lessons which the current administration would do well to learn.

1. Bravado is no substitute for policy. As Keith Olbermann so eloquently explained, the real parallel between today's situation and Neville Chamberlain's attempts to appease Hitler is that, like the Bush administration, Chamberlain willfully ignored important facts which contradicted his chosen course. In the absence of a detailed plan for success in Iraq --- and it's abundantly clear more than three years in that there is none --- the Bush position essentially boils down to Chamberlain's: trust that the government knows what it's doing.

For some administrations, this might be a tenable position. However the Bush administration has been consistently proven wrong about every aspect of the 'war on terror', from supposed links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda to the magnitude of Iraq's weapons stockpiles to the number of troops required for a successful mission to the overall cost of the war. Given their track record alone, their 'stay the course' policy is almost certainly the wrong one. As I've often said on the campaign trail these last 14 months, quoting from the great Albert Einstein, "We cannot solve a problem with the same level of mentality that created it."

2. Military force is ineffective against insurgencies. The U.S., U.S.S.R. and Great Britain were able to defeat the Nazis on the battlefield because the Nazis were on the battlefield. Yet despite the administration's acknowledgement that the terrorist threat is "a different kind of enemy," they still believe terrorism can be defeated militarily.

From the American withdrawal from Vietnam to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan to the 18-year Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, history teaches us that military force is an inefficient tool for combating insurgencies. It is even less effective when focused on a single country in an effort to defeat a global enemy like al Qaeda.

3. Our choices are not limited to all-out war or 'appeasement'. The Cold War was 'cold' because we never directly engaged the Soviets in combat. There were proxy wars, to be sure, but there was also a great deal of negotiation, economic pressure, and carrot-and-stick applied to bring about the demise of the Soviet Union. It took nearly fifty years, but in the end we won, and democracy flowered in Eastern Europe in spectacular fashion. This came about not as the result of armed conflict or 'appeasement', but by tough-minded negotiation based on rock-solid intelligence, all backed by a credible threat of force.

4. Violating civil liberties in the name of security is a mistake. Japanese-Americans were forced into internment camps during WWII. Joe McCarthy conducted a witch hunt investigating 'un-American activities'. And Cold War surveillance abuses under Presidents Johnson and Nixon led to near-unanimous approval of the FISA act. All of these efforts purporting to increase security by violating the constitutionally-guaranteed rights of Americans have been rightly regarded by posterity as 'un-American'. There is no question history will render the same verdict on President Bush's illegal and unconstitutional surveillance of innocent Americans.

There is one final lesson of history, not for Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, but for the American people. The two U.S. presidents who have come closest to 'appeasement' in Iraq are Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, each of whom turned a blind eye to massacres Saddam Hussein committed against his own people. Bush Senior even failed to lift a finger as Hussein massacred hundreds of thousands of Shi'ites who attempted to depose him at Bush's behest. Rumsfeld was the Reagan administration envoy who negotiated with Hussein, and Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush.

If Cheney and Rumsfeld had admitted error in their previous dealings with Hussein, they might have more credibility now. But for them, as for George Bush, the top priority is never to admit fault, and never to appear weak. Ironically, the desire to appear strong has dangerously weakened our military and significantly increased the terrorist threat.

Bravado is not a defense against terrorism, and neither is demagoguery. It's time America had leaders who understand that.

Co-written by Coleen Rowley, Candidate for Congress in Minnesota's 2nd District and David Bailey, researcher and writer for the campaign.