Significance for the Long Run: Developments Last Week

The drumbeat has now begun to undermine Ibrahim al-Jaafari as the new prime minister in Iraq. He's not secular enough. He's too friendly with Iran. He depends on the support of Moktada al-Sadr, who is not exactly a great friend of the United States. The New York Times has pronounced him to be the "wrong man." Yet, he's the man with the votes, and if he is now undercut by U.S. money and U.S. guns, it's not hard to imagine what the consequences will be. What else did we have any right to expect? The notion that a peaceful democracy can be established in a country by sending a foreign army to kill tens of thousands of its citizens is so fatuous it stuns the imagination. And yet that's the story the American public gobbled down. Now, thousands more will die because of our credulity. The hatreds bubbling under the surface of Iraqi life because of all the killing that has taken place so far is incendiary. And if anyone thinks it's going to be directed anywhere but at us, he is even more foolish than the people who got us into this horrible mess in the first place.

A nation has a body, a mind, and a spirit said Franklin Roosevelt on January 12, 1941, in his third inaugural address. Five years into the Bush administration, we can feel what a fine thing it would be to have a president who could say a thing like that and mean something by it, a president who could speak to the nation with something more in mind that enhanced poll numbers. Here sixty-five years later we can say that the body of the nation, though not perfect, is okay. The mind is weak. And the spirit is in a condition that's hard to fathom. What is the spirit of America? Is it a spirit of freedom? A spirit of fairness? A spirit of cooperation and respect for people as people? It's not an easy question to answer. Certainly some Americans are motivated by those spirits, but many are not. For many, a spirit of vengeance and fear has taken the place of the attitudes Roosevelt tried to promote. And the spirit of vengeance and fear has fastened on an argument that the weak mind of the nation finds hard to refute, an argument which proclaims we must have security "before" we can have anything thing else. And, therefore, everything else must be sacrificed to security. It's an argument straight from hell. And yet we hear it pouring our of politicians' mouths every day. Our most pressing political need is a voice that can be heard and that will ask, "What kind of security are you talking about?" Until we get it, the national spirit will be less than a shining thing.

The upcoming U.N. report on conditions at Guantanamo directs attention at a number of sources which show not only that conditions in the prison are bad but that many of the men being held were put there because of false accusations. Furthermore, their captors know the accusations are false. But even so, they still classify the prisoners as enemy combatants. It's worth asking, "What's going on?" The Bush administration, of course, says that nobody has the right to ask that question because any answer may endanger our security. Yet, it's obvious that we are threatened primarily by the rising tide of hatred towards the United States that's unrestrained in many quarters of the globe. And the knowledge that our government is holding men in prison that we know were falsely accused can only stoke that hatred. If one were cynical he might begin to wonder whether our government wants to intensify the hatred against us. There is, of course, a short range benefit for the president and his advisors that comes from a hate-filled world. But the long range prospects are dismal.

If the American public could be persuaded to pay attention to the arguments federal attorneys are making in court cases, the people would be less complaisant about the threat to their basic freedoms than they are. Here's a pattern that's emerging. Classify virtually everything having to do with government action, including information that has already appeared in newspapers. Then say that anybody who even talks about this material is violating an espionage statute. That way, the government can, if it wishes, bring charges against anyone who pays attention to government behavior or expresses opinions about it. That's pretty much what's going to be happening in a court in Alexandria, Virginia soon. Two men who do not work for the federal government have been indicted for talking to one man who does. As Fred Kaplan of Slate explains in an article titled "You're a Spy" the interpretations being put forward by the government lawyers in this case can be applied to millions of citizens. And if the government is successful, the idea that aggressive reporting is legal and a bulwark of American liberty will be set aside. This is where the fear mongering practiced every day by the Bush administration is leading us. And, at the moment, a majority of us, including a majority of our Congress, seem willing to be led.

Vice President Cheney declined to tell Brit Hume of Fox News whether he had ever, on his own, declassified formerly classified information. But of course he could if he wanted to. The issue arises because Scooter Libby has told the federal prosecutor that he was instructed by his superiors to leak classified information to the press. There are some people who might think that was illegal, or, at least, dishonorable. But if it ever comes down to testimony in court that Mr. Cheney was involved, the vice president can, and probably will, say that he was doing no more than what he had decided to do, and that it was legal because he decided to do it. Besides that, he was just protecting the American people against terrorists and in that effort nothing he could ever do would be illegal. Mr. Nixon is reported to have said that if the president does it, it's legal. And now, in an effort towards democratization, Mr. Cheney seems to be expanding that hypothesis.

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