A few weeks ago Jim McDermott, a courageous congressman from Washington state, traveled to Baghdad in pursuit of peace and was sharply criticized, particularly for his comment that George Bush “might mislead” the American public to build support for an attack on Iraq. He got only one thing wrong — the “might.”
George Bush HAS misled the American public. He IS misleading the American public, and we can assume he WILL continue to mislead the public. In fact, the entire Bush administration has been misleading the public, sometimes by misdirection, sometimes by fudging the facts, and sometimes by straightforward, outright lies.
Remember when Donald Rumsfeld told a congressional committee that Iraq kicked out U.N. weapons inspectors in 1998? That’s a lie. The head of the inspection team pulled the inspectors out after being informed that the Clinton administration was going to proceed with Operation Desert Fox, its illegal bombing of Iraq.
Fudged facts? Well, remember Rumsfeld’s declaration that the U.S. had “bulletproof evidence” of a connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda? For a bulletproof story, there certainly are a lot of holes, including a report from Czech President Vaclav Havel that suggests there is no evidence, at least of the long-rumored meeting between one of the 9/11 hijackers and an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague.
Some lies are not lies, of course, but just “alternative interpretations.” Take the so-called no-fly zones, in the north and south of Iraq, where U.S. and U.K. planes patrol the skies and bomb Iraqi targets at will. The U.S. claims these zones are authorized by U.N. Security Council resolutions. That the rest of the world disagrees and sees it as a violation of Iraqisovereignty is of little concern to the U.S. Power means your alternative explanation can’t be challenged.
Misdirection is helpful, too. Take Bush’s assertion that if Iraq could “produce, buy, or steal an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year.” Yes, that’s likely true, but it is the equivalent of saying, “If Iraq had a nuclear weapon, it would have a nuclear weapon.” Creating the other components of a nuclear bomb would be relatively easy; the fissile material is the issue.
The question isn’t whether Saddam Hussein is a nice guy or not; in case anyone isn’t clear on that, he’s not. The question is whether he is a real threat. Given that none of his neighbors feel threatened and are adamently against war, that Iraq is far weaker than in 1991, and that all the world thinks renewed weapons inspection and diplomacy is the proper course, it leaves the Bush administration only a few choices for dealing with other countries (mainly threats and bribery, what one British journalist called “diplomatic kneecapping”) and only one choice for dealing with the U.S. public — propaganda. They know that the only way they can get the American people is to frighten us with nightmare scenarios, no matter how implausible.
Well, on this one point, I actually agree. I am frightened, but not for the reasons Bush is pushing. International terrorism is a serious problem that requires serious attention, and there are reasons to be afraid of future attacks in the U.S. And if the U.S. goes to war against Iraq, the likelihood of such terrorists attack will increase dramatically. That’s a real reason to be afraid.
But beyond that, I am afraid of other threats.
I am afraid for a country that protects the greed of the few over the needs of the many, the United States.
I am afraid for a Middle East flooded with weapons sold by the the #1 arms dealer in the world, the United States.
And I am afraid — I am terrified — for a world dominated by an empire that has acquired such a massive destructive capability, and a demonstrated willingness to use it. I am afraid of the empire in which I live, the empire of which I am a citizen. I am afraid of the men sitting in Washington — of Rumsfeld and Cheney and Wolfowitz, and of George W. Bush — who are planning the lives and the deaths of people all over this planet.
But I hope that I am not afraid to resist this madness. I hope I am not afraid to speak out. That is always easier if one’s voice is not the only voice. So, today I hope we can all find our voices and come together to speak as one.
–A voice that says no to an illegal and immoral war, and says yes to international law and diplomacy.
–A voice that says no to an economic system that enrichs the few at the expense of the many, and says yes to an economy that puts need above greed.
–And, most important, a voice that says no to imperial America, and yes to a truly democratic America, a democratic America that becomes part of the world, not a ruler of the world.
We must not only say yes to the vision of a truly new world order based on justice, but we must commit to the struggle that is necessary to make that world real. We must be willing to risk our own comforts and our own privilege, to be impolite when necessary, to agitate, to cause trouble.
In 1857, the great Frederick Douglass made it clear that:
“If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning, they want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
Let us not be unrealistic about this struggle. We have to ask, who is on our side in this struggle? Is the media on our side? No. Are the corporations on our side? No. Are the politicians on our side? No.
Who is on our side? Take a minute and look to the person at your side. That is what we have. We do not have the power of money; we have the power of people. Many voices into one, not denying our differences but uniting in our strength, the strength of people of conscience who will not abandon the struggle.
With that voice, we can confront Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and George W. Bush with our demand.
We all have many demands for justice, and over time we will press them all. But today we come together to say, in one voice, that at this crucial time in our nation’s history, in the world’s history, the best traditions of humanity — the political, moral and spiritual traditions that have led us here today — demand that we say, in one voice, loud and determined, proud and resolute:
Robert Jensen is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, a member of the Nowar Collective, and author of the book Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstreamand the pamphlet “Citizens of the Empire.” He can be reached at [email protected] .