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   Bush Administration's World View Just Doesn't Add Up

Let’s Try to Find Causal, Not Personal, Links:

Bush Administration’s World View Just Doesn’t Add Up

by J. Russell Tyldesley

Not only do our leaders seem to be uninterested in causes, they seem to positively resent any suggestion that we should explore the genesis of terrorism; yet, by arming the world in a defensive posture that looks like offense, they may be actually be playing into the hands of the terrorists.
It gets increasingly harder to buy the U.S. administration’s world view—things just don’t add up. An Iraqi Kurd was just captured in Afghanistan who was wired as a human bomb aimed at either Hamid Karzai or his defense minister, whichever opportunity presented itself first.

The world has been told by President Bush that it must fight terrorism, but just how do you fight these ad hoc, freelance efforts? The US wants to connect everything to Al Queda, and it may be that they are the largest and best-organized menace, but maybe not. We know of many other terrorist groups extant with both local and international agendas that may or may not mimic Al Queda’s aims.

By trying to find links, are we intent on solving the mystery of why all this chaos seems to be manifesting itself at this moment in history? Or are we engaged in influencing public opinion to have us believe that the conditions that fertilized terrorism are not the issue—that, rather, there is a finite number of very warped, very villainous individuals, who are mistaken in their world view and their tactics, and are themselves the victims of the influence of a few really evil, charismatic leaders?

Why these evil leaders exist is, therefore, not a subject for discussion—it is questioning God. Why did God put a serpent in the Garden of Eden? But, an Iraqi Kurd, apparently acting on his own, will be difficult to link to Al Queda, unless there is, indeed, evidence, open to public scrutiny, or unless Osama’s triumph of 9/11 has emboldened a variety of disenchanted and disenfranchised people all over the world to embrace symbolic violence, because destructive actions can advance a cause that can get no traction in the absence of established political channels that work.

If this is a correct assessment, should we look at causes and see if they can be linked? Not only do our leaders seem to be uninterested in causes, they seem to positively resent any suggestion that we should explore the genesis of terrorism; yet, by arming the world in a defensive posture that looks like offense, they may be actually be playing into the hands of the terrorists. The terrorists probably know they cannot bring us down through arms (notwithstanding all the talk of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists), but they may be able to economically. They may be able to cause us to spend ourselves into oblivion, much like those who credit Ronald Reagan with the genius of suckering the Soviets into an arms race that brought their economy down

What each surrender of freedom will mean, is a death sentence for community and for collective action to deal with problems of our own making. As long as we accept our government’s definition of us as scared consumers, the enemy has won.

A war in Iraq could cost us $100 to $200 billion, and $100 billion more for a 1-2 year occupation. Our military budget is nearing $400 billion. The new Department of Homeland Security will carry a large price tag and our debt service is growing to where it will rival the bomb it became under Reagan. By becoming a police state, invoking virtual martial law (The U.S. Patriot Act), and diverting scarce resources away from socially responsible investments, the conditions of life may become progressively unbearable for the average citizen and, ultimately, they may turn their gaze towards the elites who suffer little personal sacrifice, and perceive every threat to their own way of life as an occasion to ramp up the security apparatus even tighter, as not providing the kind of protection as advertised.

So far, aside from the airlines and the insurance industry, I don’t hear a clamoring from the public for more protection. I think people know intuitively that the kind of threat we are facing is of a different character than other “wars” of the past, and more guns, more military, and more policing may not do it. For goodness’ sake, all kinds of contraband is getting through airport security, and we are told almost daily how vulnerable we are at our ports, our reservoirs, our food supply, etc. etc.

The government has done a good job of elevating levels of fear, but not so good at reassuring that everything is under control. Tom Ridge said recently that every day we become safer. Does anybody believe this?

So, we are getting more secure, government style, without any real democratic conversation on the subject. There are those who would like to be heard, that our policies toward the rest of the world ought to be reviewed to see if some adjustments could bring us a different kind of security. These conversations are not going on in the halls of power, so far as we know.

This top-down approach to guaranteeing security is the same sort of device that governments and empires have utilized for millennia, to disenfranchise those they would putatively serve. So, our government may not want answers, because the answers could discredit the notion that government exists for the welfare of their citizen-clients. They might discover, indeed, that governments exist mostly to protect property, and, by extension, the propertied class. When viewed through this prism, actions and inactions observed in policy decisions, become a lot more rational.

Hypocrisy and hype become more understandable as instruments to advance policy designed to distract and misdirect people away from an objective view of the fundamental dilemma of citizenship. This is why we should not be surprised by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s conception of a department of propaganda, to be aimed at leveling the field against the supposed propaganda policies of our enemies. Announcing such an institution is, perhaps, worse than actually having one, but the idea that anyone, including American citizens, could ever know when truth was spoken, was not the reason that he backed off—it was, after all, a public relations gaffe.

If the citizen, however, given a perfect understanding of duplicitous policy, is still inclined to accept a trade off of freedom, democracy, transparency, and egalitarianism for centralized control, abridged rights, secrecy, and a lack of tolerance for dissent; then, that would be understandable, albeit unwise and ultimately counterproductive. What each surrender will mean, is a death sentence for community and for collective action to deal with problems of our own making. As long as we accept our government’s definition of us as scared consumers, the enemy has won. There is no comfort our government can bring to us when there is so much poverty, preventable disease, and starvation, and environmental devastation extant in the world. The voices of the masses crying out are not heard, and the voices of the few are being heard in increasingly violent ways.

A culture of violence, protected by armies to wall off extreme wealth and material goods, blinds us to the system that creates inequality; it is therefore also a culture of greed, extravagance, fear, and wanting.

To sell this result as a triumph of western civilization, the final victory of capitalism over socialism, the final evolution of freedom and democracy, is fraudulent misrepresentation. There is no room provided to imagine a different world. The door is closing, the noose tightening—are we to be suffocated by our own indifference?

The essence of bringing down something as large as the World Trade Center Buildings, is to suggest that they were, at least symbolically, evil ideas, and need to be replaced by something better. Is world trade itself, as practiced, evil or good? It is not an idle question, I think. There are serious minds questioning the neo-liberal conceptions epitomized by the World Trade Organization and its facilitating institutions, the IMF and World Bank. Who really benefits from the construction of increasingly interdependent systems of imports and exports and cash crops for trading, as opposed to local, sustainable industries and self sufficient cultures, constructed over thousands of years on diverse models?

Is there a bottom-up vision? There is, but it does not rest in the halls of government. World trade, so far, is a disaster for the indigenous peoples of third world countries. When will the benefits of free trade kick in? When Americans and their clones in Europe become sufficiently sated with cheap goods, perhaps—but that may never happen. When natural resources of third world countries are finally all mined out and/or degraded, perhaps—but that is a long time to wait. Waiting that long will surely mean that we have exceeded the planet’s carrying capacity that would be required to sustain a population that may not stabilize until it reaches 12 billion.

The door is closing, the noose tightening—are we to be suffocated by our own indifference?

The clean-up of the WTC disaster brought the issue of property versus people to the front stage. The October issue of the Atlantic Monthly contains a long article by William Langewiesche entitled “American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center.” It goes into remarkable detail on the day-to-day real-life conflicts and decisions that took place during the massive effort to find the bodies and demolish and remove what remained of the buildings. The N.Y. firemen wanted to slow the clean-up out of respect for their fallen comrades (they lost the most), and they placed body recovery ahead of the goal of cleaning the site and getting things back to normal as quickly as possible. They did not want to be sorting for body parts at the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island, where all Manhattan’s garbage ends up. The widows and the families of the 3,000-plus victims embarked on a still-not-ended quest to find a measure of vindication for the loss of their loved ones, and were often sickened and angry beyond words, with the struggle against the bureaucracy of reparations.

The main point the author makes is that bodies had to be converted to dollars. It was the ultimate monetization of life. No one could answer the monstrous question of why a 25-year-old stockbroker making $400,000 per year could justify a widow’s benefit of $17 million, and the 40-year-old father of six making $20,000 as a probationary fireman, having left a career in the marines at near-poverty wages, would justify a widow’s benefit of $600,000.

The solomonic personage charged with responsibility for making these calls on compensation was given some discretion by Congress to allow for subjective evaluations of entitlement, but Congress set the main parameters to be related to salary and earning potential, and the whole goal was to avoid litigation, which could have potentially brought down the airline system and have even more seriously impacted New York City, the Port Authority, insurance companies and other public and non-public entities.

If Osama only knew how close things came to unraveling even more than they have. The fact that the average settlement with a family will be close to $1.5 million can be seen as a compromise that will keep the government bailout to families at about $5 billion total—far less than the bailout to airlines and, perhaps, insurance companies under the newly-enacted terror insurance bill.

The Congress played God, and enabled us to see the benefits and drawbacks of the system by which we are governed where property values are the only way we know to deal with personal and corporate disasters. In one sense, the government’s assumption that they are the insurer of last resort will lead them to a military and security paradigm to guard against such calamitous occurrences as 9/11. Not to do so might expose the government to property damage claims that would directly lead to increases in taxes. We could see, in that case, a gradual stripping away from citizens of the accumulation of property and wealth earned in the past, and seriously redraw the boundaries of the American Dream for them. There could indeed be a redistribution of wealth, one of the jobs of government favored by progressives, a shift not necessarily from the rich to the poor, but from the lucky to the unlucky.

But, the total wealth left would still be contained within our borders. The sacrifices to the system will be propitiated to maintain the system. In this closed system of thinking about 9/11, we may miss an opportunity to plug the leaks in our wealth-creation machine. We could even question what constitutes wealth, if we were bold enough to go really deep—as deep as, say, the foundations of The World Trade Center. Would a transfer of some of our excess monetary wealth to places outside our borders, lighten the load of our burden as consumers? And, if liberally spread around in the right places, would such redistribution have a salutary effect on others, and a concomitant cathartic effect on us?

If our towers are not so high as a consequence, they will not be compelling targets, and we may all feel a little safer living on the first floor, closer to earth and all its creatures. 9/11 will be seen as, perhaps, the most pivotal event in modern history, if not in all of history. We will be forced, perhaps, to face the ultimate question of who we are.

Perhaps a leader will emerge to pose the question.

J. Russell Tyldesley is an insurance executive who lives in Catonsville, Md.

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This story was published on January 8, 2003.
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