- On April 12, 1945, the President of the United States
died. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had started his fourth term as President
only weeks earlier, was succeeded by Harry Truman, who had been Vice President
less than three months and had spent little of that time with Roosevelt,
because FDR was away at Yalta much of the time. It is possible that Murphy's
Law could have arranged for a less experienced new President at a time
when the United States was at war in Europe and the Pacific. But the main
thrust of America 's war effort, along with key domestic policies, did
not falter, and in short order Truman made very hard decisions including
use of atomic weapons against Japan, terms of the Japanese surrender, and
the startup of recovery in Europe.
- In the years since World War the United States has faced
potentially severe leadership crises with the assassination of John F.
Kennedy in 1963 and the resignation of Richard Nixon a decade later. But
the ship of state did not flounder, because experienced people, who understood
how our system works, and who worked within our system of laws and practices,
were able to take over the helm.
- Nothing in world or national history, not wars or rumors
of wars, or attacks on Americans have challenged the stability of our system
since the Nixon fiasco. Except that now we appear to have an administration
that is looking for ways to stay in power after its lawful term expires.
- The groundwork for this is a series of moves toward a
soft coup, "soft", because the intent is to continue in power
without the use of force. According to Newsweek, Homeland Security Secretary,
Tom Ridge, has been tasked to find a rationale for postponing the Presidential
election in November. That is a step obviously based on Tom Ridge's close
ties to George W. Bush, because Homeland Security has no mandate to make,
interpret or enforce election laws. Homeland Security can, however, obtain,
discover, or even invent a scenario that Bush could use for such purposes,
and given the information management record of this administration, Ridge
could find himself under unbearable pressure to do that.
- Ridge's first step, if he pursues this assignment, would
be to publish a statement of enhanced terrorist risk, perhaps to put the
country on long-term orange alert. The next step would be to issue a threat
statement, however arrived at, predicting that the United States will be
subject to a major terrorist attack before, during or immediately after
the election. The threatened attack would be unspecified as to perpetrators,
timing, target, location, or means, because a scenario with who, where,
when, why, what, how details would make it only an incident to be managed.
Even so, Osama bin Laden and al Qaida surely will be the villains of choice.
The scheme would be for the Bush team to publicize that position, assert
that an election could not be held under conditions of such potential nationwide
stress, therefore the election should be delayed beyond a period when,
presumably, selection of leadership and the handoff to new leaders would
be most in process and most subject to disruption.
- The final step would be to get a compliant Congress,
the only entity that can fix or change the date of a Federal election,
to codify the scheme. Congressional action may take longer than remaining
session time would allow this year, but such action is not impossible,
especially if Bush were to press for it.
- Just like that! Present leadership could remain in power.
Elections could be indefinitely postponed, because the threat would hang
over us indefinitely. The country would be truly under un-elected leadership
for whatever period the Bush team could keep this ball rolling. There will
never have been a more public, or softer, coup d'etat.
- Quite aside from the obvious objection to any tinkering
with a system that has worked well for more than two centuries, there are
several problems with this scheme.
- Problem one is the scheme is unnecessary. Under our system,
a national, regional or local disaster could disrupt polling, but the process,
and such emergency decisions respecting changes of time and venue are the
responsibility of state and local-mainly county-- officials. For elections
to occur, plans must be made months in advance, changes are not easily
managed, and schedules should be kept unless there is a compelling reason,
one that prevents voters and officials from getting to the polls. The risk
of a terrorist attack in some location should not alter the nationwide
system, granting that a publicized risk may well reduce voting.
- Problem two is a workable system for assuring continuity
of government has been in existence for a long time, and that system is
designed specifically to deal with crisis disruption and/or loss of leadership.
The lines of succession developed for such a scenario are established and
agreed, implementation is virtually automatic, and the roster of candidate
leaders is such that experienced politicians will take over. The country
does not face loss of leadership in any situations short of the end of
the world catastrophic scenarios that were the focus of exercises during
the Cold War. One of the primary missions of Homeland Security must be
to assure that the operating systems to support continuity of government
plans are current, well staffed, and properly coordinated across department
and agency lines. Creating a trigger to start this system, however, was
never previously in the cards.
- Problem three is that the scheme plays into the hands
of the terrorists. What would be the terrorist goal? Regime change? If
that were the case, the choice between Bush and Kerry on Middle East policy
appears, to say the least, limited. However, any American President will
go after anyone who attacks our country, so the gain for the terrorists
appears illusory, no matter who gets selected, or whose swearing in gets
- Much has been made of the regime change that occurred
in Spain following terrorist bombings. However, the link is by no means
assured, especially because the losing candidate, Asnar, was not a shoo-in
before the bombings. Moreover, for many years Spain has had attacks on
leading political figures, many of them fatal, of wholly indigenous origin,
mainly works of the Basque Fatherland and Liberty movement. So asserting
that outside terrorists pulled off a regime change in Spain, and one that,
incidentally, did them little good, is a stretch.
- Problem four is the opportunity such a scheme gives the
terrorist to play with the minds of the American people. In a regime of
established readiness to postpone elections when threatened, the terrorists
have the ball. All they need to do is threaten, and the United States will
give a suitably Pavlov's dog response. In that case, the threat itself
need be the only attack. This is no risk, maximum gain for the terrorists:
A disrupted America, squirming under the possible threat of a dirty bomb
in some unknown place.
- Problem five is this scheme looks like another playing
of the fear card. Many critics suggest that the national terrorism alert
system run by Homeland Security has been used excessively to maintain a
state of fear that causes the public to huddle under Bush leadership. It
is tempting in the run-up to the election to play the fear card and underscore
the Bush role as a wartime President. The only way the Bush team can avoid
a charge that the game is fear mongering is to treat all threat information-terrorism,
war, natural or manmade disaster-with complete detachment and integrity.
That has yet to happen, and that fact surely makes any proposal to tinker
with the election very suspect.
- Problem six is how long does this interregnum last? Does
the country defer elections until the war on terrorism is won? If so, our
country is in deep trouble. Terrorism is one symptom of complex political,
economic, social, and cultural problems in many countries, including the
United States. The treatments for this symptom are responsive political,
economic, social, and cultural remedies, supported by law enforcement.
War-making strategies and tactics cannot defeat it, because they never
address its causes, and armies of all sizes are too bulky to deal with
lone terrorists or small groups. Given those conditions, normal governance
could be suspended forever, an outcome that might well please extremists.
- The final problem is whom do we trust? The Bush team
has shown itself eminently capable of lying or stumbling around over the
truth about Iraq, terrorism, and Middle East issues in general. Moreover,
a Republican led Congress has shown itself too subservient to the President
on matters of war and peace. Nothing visible has occurred to improve that
track record. We need to stop attacks and deal with terrorists whenever
necessary, but should we the people permit the Bush team to manhandle our
electoral processes because of a terrorist threat, when we survived World
War II, Korea, the assassination of President Kennedy, Vietnam, the Watergate,
and the Cold War without such meddling? The answer has to be an emphatic
- How can we the people keep such an absurd action from
occurring? First, we must use what we know about the system. Only Congress
can change the date of the election; thus we should be in touch with our
Senators and Representatives to protest vigorously any such action. Congress
sets the time, but State and County officials in every state run the elections,
and we should be sure they understand that we want no interference in this
process. State and local officials should also make it clear to the President
and Congress that the electorate does not support such tinkering.
- Finally, the Bush administration has made subtle and
constant use of fear as a device to gain public support. As the facts of
both 9/11 and the Iraq situation show, that fear mongering often has been
based on ignorance, incomplete information, and deceit. But even if the
threats are real, we must not be driven by fear, and we must not allow
our leaders to mislead us because of fear. In real life, we all know that
bad things happen, but we must face them as issues and move on. If, out
of fear, we continue to allow this administration to restrict or remove
our basic freedoms, we will have only ourselves to blame. The idea of tinkering
with the election is only the current horror.
- The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer
of the United States Department of State. He can be reached at: email@example.com
- Dear Mr. Arnold,
- I read your article on Rense and I agree with(your comments
on)the intent and motives of the administration. I thought, prior to the
200 elections, that they were some very dangerous people and I voiced my
concern to a number of friends at that time.
- Guess what? They did not care or they did not believe
it. This makes for some interesting thoughts. Is this man right? I don't
think so. Are the people that disinterested? It does not seem so from the
bumper stickers and I've seen and the conversations I have had. Are they
so entirely underinformed as to the reality of the situation? Possibly,
if you look at the state of education in this country today.
- Finally, and here is the most worrisome of all. Do they
all agree with him for whatever reason? I think this is a distinct possibility.
As a people, we have become more bloodthirsty the last 10 to 20 years.
Almost like in Roman times. This worries me most because if this is the
case, there is no stopping what will eventually happen here.
- I just hope that people open their eyes and realize what
it is they are giving away here in return for once again being "the
big boy on the block". The Germans and Japanese learned that all too
well after WWll. If we don't learn from history we will be doomed to repeat