Washington – When President Bush took the national pulpit on September 20 to address a joint session of Congress, he faced perhaps his greatest challenge since his inauguration. Mainstream media pundits spoke at length of his need to rise to the occasion – to solidify the nation’s commitment to fighting terrorism. With the chamber’s applause still audible, the reports were already coming out. Bush’s approval rating had risen ten more points, to an astronomical 91 percent. His singling out of common citizens – some of whom sat in the audience – had captured the allegiance of skeptics. His calls for justice constituted the uncompromising stance that United States politics needed to embody during such a period of national crisis.
Amidst all of this praise, numerous critics spoke out against the presidential call for war.
“In Bush’s speech we got no doctrine, no strategy, no evidence,” said Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. “What we did get was a lot of Wild West rhetoric – dead or alive material.”
Matt Rothschild, editor of The Progressive magazine, seized on another aspect of the president’s rhetoric. “Bush said that America was targeted ‘because we embrace freedom,'” Rothschild stated. “Not knowing with any certainty who the attackers were, it’s hard to speculate on their motives. But many groups in the Third World have grievances that are more specific than the ones Bush mentioned.”
After declaring war on Al Qaeda, the terrorist syndicate headed by Osama bin Laden, and “every terrorist group of global reach,” Bush turned to an examination of the reasoning behind anti-Western sentiment: “Americans are asking ‘Why do they hate us?”
G. Simon Harak, a Jesuit priest from New York City who has visited the Mideast numerous times, issued a rejoinder to President Bush’s query. “When I’ve spoken to families in Iraq who have suffered from the economic sanctions and bombings; or with Palestinian fathers and sons tortured by an Israeli government which we back – they asked me the same question: ‘Why does America hate us?'”
“Many have opined that a distaste for ‘Western civilization and cultural values’ fuels terrorism, but large numbers outside this country believe that Western civilization has hurt them badly,” said Edward Herman, professor emeritus of finance at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
According to Herman, the blame for this sentiment rests largely with the U.S., whose command of corporate globalization “has unleashed an impoverishment process on the Third World, through the ruthless imposition of a neoliberal regime that serves Western transnational interests and is buttressed by a willingness to use unlimited force to achieve Western corporate and political ends.”
With the President calling for “a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen,” other critics expressed apprehension about the impending war.
Bob Jensen, author of Writing Dissent: “The last time the U.S. responded to a terrorist attack, on its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, it was innocents in Sudan and Afghanistan who were in the way. We were told that the U.S. missiles hit only military targets but the Sudan target turned out to be a pharmaceutical factory. There are calls for a ‘massive response’ but let us not forget that, if the pattern of past U.S. actions holds, such a response will kill innocent people like the ones in New York and the hijacked airplanes.”
Stephen Zunes, chair of Peace and Justice Studies Program, University of San Francisco: “Military responses usually result only in a spiral of violent retaliation. Similarly, simply bombing other countries after the fact will not protect lives. Indeed, it will likely result in what Pentagon planners euphemistically call ‘collateral damage,’ i.e., the deaths of civilians just as innocent as those killed in New York City. And survivors bent on revenge.”
Jay Truman, director of Downwinders organization: “Rumsfeld declined to answer whether the U.S. would rule out the use of nuclear weapons. Rumsfeld’s assistant, Paul Wolfowitz, has stated that the Pentagon is poised to unleash ‘a very big hammer.’ The administration could be angling to use earth-penetrating nuclear weapons, which they were already planning to test.”
Beau Grosscup, author of The Newest Explosions of Terrorism: “The Israeli model is not only ineffective in dealing with terrorism, as the track record of anti-Israeli violence shows, but is also bankrupt both politically and morally.”
William Hartung, senior research fellow, World Policy Institute: “It certainly seems as if these attacks are being used as an excuse by the military and the political right to basically take all their pet projects … and label them ‘anti-terrorist.’ In the name of ‘national unity,’ the Democrats have for the most part agreed to roll over and give the president anything he asks for in the military and intelligence spheres — hardly a sterling example of democracy at work.”
Michel Chossudovsky, professor of economics, University of Ottawa: “The imminent shift from civilian into military production would pour wealth into the hands of contractors at the expense of civilian needs. Behind the Bush administration is the power of the ‘big five’ military contractors (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon et al.), increasingly in partnership with the energy giants, which are behind many of the regional wars and along strategic oil pipelines.”
Many other critics provided alternatives to the lengthy war promised by Bush’s speech, such as bringing the perpetrators to the so-called “World Court.”
“The U.S. should deal with the events of September 11 as criminal acts, investigate and prosecute those guilty and do so with the backing of the United Nations Security Council,” said Michael Ratner, vice president of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
“The U.S. is under an absolute obligation to resolve this dispute with Afghanistan in a peaceful manner as required by UN Charter Article 2(3) and Article 33,” stated Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law. “The U.S. should offer to submit this entire dispute with Afghanistan to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.”
Boyle further criticized the U.S. government’s eagerness to resort to retaliation over extradition: “According to the facts in the public record so far, this was not an act of war and NATO Article 5 does not apply. President Bush has automatically escalated this national tragedy into something it is not in order to justify a massive military attack abroad.”
Evan Woodward is a writer with IPA Media, a project of the Institute for Public Accuracy.