Pubdate: Fri, 21 Sep 2001
Source: Salon (US Web)
Copyright: 2001 Salon
Author:  Bruce Shapiro
Note: Bruce Shapiro, a national correspondent of Salon News, is co-author of
Legal Lynching: The Death Penalty and America's Future (New Press).


He didn't compare his war strategy to its real predecessor: The War on 
Drugs. And he made no offers of building an international coalition.

When President Bush walked out of the Capitol after his speech Thursday 
night, he left behind him bipartisan huzzahs, a new terrorism czar and a 
list of demands for the Taliban. Yet paradoxically, he also left behind a 
war on terrorism even more murky than it was when he entered the building 
an hour earlier.

 From his first shaken television appearance hours after the World Trade 
Center and Pentagon attacks a week ago, Bush has seemed to promise a swift 
and definitive and violent reply.

Standing atop the rubble in New York, he shouted into a bullhorn that the 
perpetrators of the attack would feel America's sting; earlier this week he 
declared presumed mastermind Osama Bin-Laden "wanted dead or alive"; in 
Congress he offered a high-oratorical version of the same John Wayne 
promise: either "we bring our enemies to justice, or we will bring justice 
to our enemies."

But the remarkable reality of Bush's speech Thursday night was just how far 
he backpedaled from that promise of easy vindication of the dead. He 
devoted much of the speech to explaining what his new world policy is not: 
"not one battle but a lengthy campaign," not a war for territory like Iraq, 
not a sanitized air war like Kosovo, not even a war with a pre-defined 
enemy but against any mafia or state "sponsoring, sheltering or supplying 

Bush stated his goals so broadly because, despite his rhetoric of the last 
days, he faces a crisis that defies military solution.

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld admitted as much at a press conference 
Wednesday in which he described the difficulty of finding suitable targets 
for air strikes in already-devastated Afghanistan, or waging a ground war 
in a rural mountain land that in a century's time defeated the best efforts 
of the British Empire and the Soviet Union. Instead, Bush defined the 
crisis so broadly Thursday night as to defy effective measurement even of 
success or failure.

Indeed, while he made reference to the great ideological conflicts of 
recent decades -- calling the bombers "heirs to the murderous ideologies of 
the 20th century" -- the past century, the new strategy described by Bush 
is really more heir to the War on Drugs than to World War Two or the Cold 
War. Like the war on drugs, Bush's new campaign means taking on 
conspiratorial actors rooted in some of the world's most impoverished 
economies. Like the drug war, it means parsing out -- or more likely 
looking away from -- the morphing, corrupt relationship between 
transnational criminals and governments, some of which happen to be key 
American allies.

For the drug war's Colombia, substitute Taliban-friendly Pakistan, or 
perhaps Saudi Arabia, deeply implicated in the funding of militant Islamic 
networks worldwide.

And like the War on Drugs, Bush's new campaign carries a domestic "homeland 
security" component which many Americans may find far from congenial.

As recently as the early 1980s, the label "terrorism" was applied with a 
broad brush to justify FBI spying on a broad range of American dissidents. 
Attorney General Ashcroft's demand for sweeping new power to detain 
immigrant "terrorist suspects" without charge and virtually without appeal 
has already been compared with the Palmer Raids of 1919, when hundreds of 
immigrant radicals were arrested and deported.

But it is also frighteningly reminiscent of the draconian anti-terrorist 
laws passed by Great Britain during the Irish Republican Army campaign of 
the 1970s -- where secret courts and arrests without evidence led to 
numerous cases of wrongful imprisonment, including the Guilford Four whose 
story was told in brutal detail in the film "In the Name of the Father."

If Bush left his goals vague it is also because his administration and 
advisors are still warring internally. On one side are those who, like 
former Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger and Paul Wolfowitz, 
call for putting an assortment of nations out of business no matter what it 
takes: essentially, sending America to war with Iran, Iraq, Syria and 
Afghanistan all at once. Colin Powell -- until last week the most 
marginalized member of the cabinet -- clearly favors more limited and 
precise action aimed specifically at bin Laden's mafia.

And alongside that debate is an even bigger question, left completely 
unanswered in Bush's speech and yet arguably key to the whole enterprise: 
whether he is willing to abandon the blunt policy of American unilateralism 
which has so far guided the Bush administration every step of the way. Bush 
showered praise on Great Britain's Tony Blair and applauded the sympathy 
displayed for America in Seoul and Cairo. At the same time, this president 
who spurned the Kyoto protocol on global warming, who has fought 
establishment of an International Criminal Court, who angered even close 
allies with his missile defense plan, made no mention in his speech 
Thursday of the United Nations.

It was an ommission all the more notable because recent years have brought 
a steady stream of transnational cooperation in the prosecutions of mass 
murderers. "Modern democracies have perfectly adequate justice systems for 
dealing with terrorists," says William Schabas, a leading international law 
scholar and director of the Irish Center for Human Rights in Galway. "We 
track them down, catch them, bring them to trial and impose fit punishment. 
That is what the United States and the United Kingdom did with those 
responsible for the Lockerbie crash, and for the embassy bombings in 
Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. It is what the UN is doing for those accused of 
genocide and crimes against humanity in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda." 
Indeed, says Schabas, "How much more healthy it is for democracy that 
Milosevic be judged by an international court rather than murdered by a 
cruise missile aimed at his home."

The possibility of such cooperation seemed far from the president's mind 
Thursday night.

The president's speech was clearly designed to mark for Americans a new era 
of global struggle -- but to the rest of the world, it also says that even 
after the World Trade center and the Pentagon this is a president who goes 
it alone.
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