On September 11, 1990, more than a decade before the fatal 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., then-president George M. Bush ("W"s father) delivered a ringing speech to a joint meeting of Congress. “Today [a] new world is struggling to be born,” he said, “A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak.”
The occasion? Saddam Hussein had just invaded Kuwait.
Bush Sr. envisioned a new world order, “freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace.”
It was an elegant speech, rightly establishing the undeniable correlation between rampant terror on one hand, and stable peace with justice on the other. The more persistently world powers pursue the arts of diplomacy and development, the less human society will suffer from the forces of terror. But the converse is also true; the fewer resources rich and powerful nations devote to peace and justice work, the more frequent will be catastrophic incursions of terror.
Despite his persuasive rhetoric, however, George Bush Sr. did little, as leader of the world’s only remaining superpower, to advance the causes of either peace or justice. Then the United States was visited with the terror of September 11, 2001, eleven years later. And those fateful attacks happened, with bizarre irony, on the presidential watch of his own son.
What did George W. Bush Jr. do after this huge terrorist operation succeeded right in the heart of "homeland" America? The answer is almost too simple: he ignored those basic principles of international co-operation and integrity so eloquently outlined in his father’s speech eleven years earlier. Instead of focusing on a new world — "where the strong respect the rights of the weak" — he launched costly and unwinnable wars, first on Afghanistan and then on Iraq.
Could George "Dubya" have acted differently? Probably not, given that he filled the White House with affluent neoconservative oilmen. In fact, vice-president Dick Cheney and his chief of staff Lewis Libby submitted a report in 2000 -” the year before 9/11 -” calling for America to take over Iraq so as to assure unimpeded access to its proven oil reserves of 120 billion barrels (compared with leading Saudi Arabia’s 262 billion).
In his groundbreaking political handbook Il Principe, or The Prince (finished in 1517), Italian Renaissance statesman-philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli asserted that rulers who accomplish the most are those who pay little heed to keeping their promises, but who know how to craftily manipulate the minds of friends and enemies alike. In the end, he believed, they win out over those who try to act honestly. “A certain prince of our time, whom it’s just as well not to name," he wrote, "preaches nothing but peace and mutual trust, yet he is a determined enemy of both.”
How accurate was Machiavelli — some five centuries ago — in describing someone (likely one of the powerful Medicis) as if he were speaking about George W. Bush today? We will know in November, after the American people elect, or re-elect, their next president. Will they give the nod to Bush for another four years after his current track record in office?
But who is this modern day poster-child for Machiavellian manipulation anyway? Consider how Bush Jr. initially dealt handled the aftermath of 9/11 — with biblical attacks on evil and “the evil one” and by confiding to friends that he felt chosen by God to lead America in its response. He even described that response as a “crusade,” claiming that such a loaded historical label would increase his "Christian-based support.”
The Bush administration was already strongly identified with the neoconservatives and with the Christian Right, but the catastrophe of 9/11 and the resulting War on Terrorism hugely magnified that influence, creating a heightened sense that the Word of God now emanated from the White House. “God knew George [W. Bush] had the ability to lead in this compelling way,” said one American Christian Right leader.
It would be hard to imagine words of such ludicrous seriousness coming from this country’s religious leaders. But what should we do here in Canada?
We cannot be drawn into partnership with a super power that has declared an open-ended War on Terror; a war with no constructive goals, no definable victory, and no point at which its perpetrators will tell us it’s over. Thus the U.S. -” whether Bush is re-elected or not -” has embarked on a new thirty-year war, with no hope of either truce or victory.
In the face of what we have seen so far, and will doubtless see from future U.S. leaders and policies, Canadians should move now to develop and widely discuss their own post 9/11 principles. Here is my attempt to develop principles that will keep us safe, but sane, for the next 30 years (give or take a few), while the U.S. is bogged down in its futile War on Terrorism.
1). We Canadians will endeavour to keep our nation and world secure by faithfully pursuing the cause of peace with justice everywhere. We will resist all who try to create so-called security by dropping bombs, or sending their young to die for the greedy interests of the rich and powerful.
2). We Canadians will commit ourselves wholeheartedly to creating a truly "just society" (remembering Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s vision), by addressing the real issues of neglect and discrimination inflicted on our First Nations peoples, French Canadians, Acadians, visible and invisible ethnic minorities, our poor, our elderly, our homeless, our sick, and all those among us who are needy in this affluent country.
3). We Canadians will morally and strategically support America by being good neighbours, warning them not only of external danger, but more importantly, when danger comes their way from within.
4). We Canadians, as joint shareholders and stewards of North America with the citizens of the U.S., believe that inward enemies ultimately pose the greatest threat to peace, justice and democracy. For if we want to overcome enemies from without, we must first conquer internal ones — elected tyrants, corrupt governments, criminal corporate executives, censored media, fanatical ideologies, extremist religious dogmas; and finally, to overcome the rampant amoral greed of our own rich and powerful and their insatiable appetites for more wealth and power at any cost.
5). We believe Napoleon when he said, "In war, moral considerations make up three-quarters; the balance of actual [military] forces accounts only for the remaining quarter.” Thus we Canadians will commit to keeping our country and world secure by upholding the highest humanitarian principles of equality and justice, and promoting universal rights and freedoms. We will treat all citizens of other nations as we would want them to treat us. We will continue to work for, and believe in, “a world where the strong respect the rights of the weak.”
* First published by Waterloo Record, Canada