- In his State of the Union address February 2, President
Bush used the last six hundred words or so to outline a new war on tyranny.
"America will always stand firm," he said, "for the non-negotiable
demands of human dignity: the rule of law ... limits on the power of the
state ... respect for women ... private property ... free speech ... equal
justice ... and religious tolerance." He then summarized future behavior
by saying: "America will take the side of brave men and women who
advocate these values around the world -- including the Islamic world --
because we have a greater objective than eliminating threats and containing
resentment. We seek a just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror."
- All of these, as words on paper or in the ether, sound
right for the world's most powerful democracy. With them, and other supportive
lines in his speech, Bush transformed the war on terrorism into a war against
tyranny. And that, again as words, sounds OK.
- Why then are more people around the world now expressing
alarm or disbelief and not satisfaction with the President's announcements?
The simplest answer that covers all the facts is that the present American
behavioral model is wildly at odds with the language of the President's
speech. Much in present American behavior would need to be fixed to get
our country's own model on track:
- Deal with insults to human dignity in Palestine.
- Today more than three million Palestinians are waiting
for the promise of a Palestinian state to become real. They have suffered
expulsion from their ancestral homes, witnessed the destruction of their
homes and farms and businesses, endured willful expropriation of limited
water supplies, watched their children gunned down by Israeli Defense Forces,
experienced the assassination or imprisonment and torture of militants,
confronted the spectacle of separate roads for Israelis, found the land
of their would-be state turned into Bantustans by a meandering Israeli
wall, suffered the confiscation of their property in Jerusalem, and still
carry the blame for everything that prevents peace in Palestine on their
backs. If the President wants to prove his assertion that the demands of
human dignity are non-negotiable, he can start with Palestine.
- Stop the US assault on equal justice.
- The prisoner torture and abuse-both terms apply-at Abu
Ghraib, Guantanamo and probably in any of 200 or so prison facilities under
US or "friendly" government control have engraved in the public
mind everywhere a cruel pattern of unequal justice. To get to that point,
US military, CIA and supporting contractors have ignored or set aside well-established
rules of war, the Geneva Conventions on treatment of prisoners, the US
Constitution on individual rights, and, in the President's own words, "the
limits on the power of the state." To get our country beyond this
complete collapse of civility in our society, President Bush can start
by instructing his newly-confirmed Attorney General to withdraw the torture
memos written during the last four years and substitute rules that are
consistent with US law, with the international obligations of the United
States and with commonly held concepts of human rights.
- Strike a blow for private property.
- Most of what is modern Israel exists on private properties
that had belonged to Palestinian families for generations. That land was
mostly taken, sometimes in bloody massacres, by destruction and evacuation
of hundreds of villages and farms. The Israelis have used a defacto eminent
domain to achieve these results. They have either taken over or destroyed
the Palestinian homes and businesses that were on these properties, but
Israeli governments consistently have resisted the idea of return or any
compensation. Israelis can enjoy their property without paying the Palestinian
owners, while the former Palestinian occupants live in refugee camps or
struggle with abject poverty in towns and villages scattered across the
West Bank and Gaza. Either of two choices would honor the rights of Palestinians
in private property: Either compensate them or their descendents for their
losses at fair market value, or allow them to return and resume enjoyment
of their ancestral homes. In his stance on Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts,
President Bush should stand for either or both of those choices depending
on cases. All other choices amount to Israeli confiscation and theft.
- Restore the rule of law.
- The rule of law has been badly mangled since 9-11. The
first and most striking example was that the Congress, with little evident
debate, ceded its constitutional war-declaration powers to the President.
The second was that with hardly any examination the Congress passed the
Patriot Act which opened the gates to systematic reduction and averting
of constitutional protections of individual liberties. A third was the
unprovoked invasion of Iraq in violation of established rules of national
sovereignty. Another, quite recently, was a decision of Defense Secretary
Rumsfeld to initiate military intelligence covert operations without any
legislative consultation or authorization. A fifth was not only the virtual
castration of the CIA, but also the associated effort to make intelligence
collection an acolyte of Presidential policy, in short, a propaganda machine.
Another that continues to plague our country's reputation as well as observance
of the rule of law is, as cited above, the torture and abuse of so-called
"enemy combatants." These and other sidetracks of American practice
under-girded the invasion of Iraq, and they provide the between the lines
logic of the newly announced war against tyranny. Unless the President
cleans up this landscape, he has no product of value to sell to the rest
- Get the global picture straight.
- The promise: "America will take the side of brave
men and women who advocate these values around the world", fully implemented,
is an invitation to chaos. The situations vary widely by countries. In
some cases, the advocates of democratic or representative systems are either
governments or loyal oppositions actively engaged in politics. In many
cases however, the seekers after representation or advocates of human rights
are in out groups; some of them are the spawning grounds for terrorist
groups or terrorist attacks. The State Department typically reports on
more than sixty terrorist organizations, only about a third of them Islamic,
and a goodly portion of the so-called Islamic ones are involved in the
- About half of the groups worldwide appear to seek regime
change principally to achieve full participation in national life. The
problems at root are often extracts of cross-cultural, ethnic, religious,
territorial, and historic frictions. The President can help by assuring
that the understanding of these situations is widespread in government
and that appropriate efforts are being made to support solutions. The
war on terrorism has contradicted such efforts by encouraging and financially
or technically assisting various governments to suppress their indigenous
"terrorists", quite a number of them "brave men and women
who advocate these values."
- Fix the conflict between words and deeds.
- At present there is an enormous gap between the President's
words and America's deeds. His words are particularly out of phase with
(a) an unprovoked invasion of Iraq, (b) a threatened assault on Iran, (c)
reported covert operations against Iran or Syria, (d) US support for free-wheeling
Israeli operations in Palestine, (e) US association with the recent attempt
to overthrow the democratically elected President of Venezuela, (f) continued
support for autocratic and/or repressive regimes such as in Egypt, Saudi
Arabia, and Pakistan, (g) US treatment of enemy combatants, (h) reported
US plans to keep Guantanamo and other prisoners confined virtually forever
without any legal basis for doing so, (i) actual and planned expansion
of the Patriot Act to further undercut human liberties in the United States,
or (j) continuing US work on nuclear weapons with obvious plans to use
one or more, e.g., to take out deep bunkers in Iran. In its current edition,
The Economist described the basic US approach as "Democracy at gunpoint".
- President Bush could profitably use the remainder of
his years in the Oval Office to tidy up this mess. If he were to do so,
our country and the rest of the world could write off the experiences of
the past three years as excessive outbursts due to the shocks of 9-11.
It could be widely agreed that the United States needed some time to right
itself. If the President wishes a genuine and well-earned legacy, this
is the way to go.
- The author is a writer and speaker on global issues and
a regular columnist on rense.com. He was trained as a teacher but spent
most of his professional career as an officer of the US Foreign Service.
He has an AB from Stanford, a Master's and a General Secondary Teaching
Credential from San Jose State University. He is a graduate of the National
War College, and he served as Chairman of the National War College Department
of International Studies. He will welcome comments at firstname.lastname@example.org