Thursday, September 2, 2004

Zell Miller Pops a Vein

Scowling like a constipated headmaster, Democratic senator Zell Miller unleashed a venomous scolding last night of John Kerry and the unpatriotic ingrates who dare to work for the removal of the current commander-in-chief.

Here once again we saw a frightening example of blind militarism masquerading as patriotism. Miller's vein-popping rage is inspired by an unhealthy belief that once bullets begin to fly, the reasons that triggered them need to be buried and we all need to fall into line in humble obedience to the president and unquestioning support for his policies. For Miller and many of his ilk, military action is in and of itself sacred and opposition to it tantamount to treason. I can only hope that reasonable people will see the danger in this type of thinking and the hateful rhetoric that accompanies it. Dissent in this country is always legitimate, especially in matters of war. People like Miller are justifiably proud of having served in the armed forces and his claim that American troops serve as liberators and not occupiers can be amply supported in most of our historical military engagements, notably the two world wars of the last century. But we cannot permit ourselves to so fetishize our military as to render ourselves incapable of criticizing actions that result in its deployment. And if we believe that a presidential administration has improperly used military force, conscience and civic duty demand that we work vigorously to oppose and remove it from office.

Miller's diatribe was a shameful disservice to the millions of Americans who are concerned about Bush's actions and his posture in combatting Al Qaeda. Few of us opposed taking action in Afghanistan and few of us call for restraint in pursuing, capturing, and destroying the Islamic extremists who use terror as a tactic to advance their sick politico-religious agenda. The reason Bush's support has dropped from greater to 90% to less than 50% is that many people are troubled by the admininstration's willingness to speak of terror as movement rather than as a tactic and his willingness to blur distinctions between the Islamic radicals who represent an urgent and imminent threat to our interests and everyone else who may have some sort of hostile posture with respect to the U.S. Iraq is the case in point.

The United States was attacked on 9/11 by an organization of Islamic extremists. This organization and others like it also hold responsibility for the attack of the Cole, the original World Trade Center bombing, the attacks on our embassies in Africa, and many others. They are inspired by a radical brand of Islam that is taught in various forms in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan and which managed to come to power in a perversely medieval form in Afghanistan. We've been dealing with this Islamic radicalism in one way or another since at least the time of the Iranian Revolution, in which a secular dictatorship supported by the U.S. was overthrown and an Islamic theocracy put in its place.

Iraq was not on the verge of Islamic revolution. Iraq was a secular society controlled by a dictator, as is Syria and some would argue, Egypt.. Iraq's threat to the U.S. was much different in character than that posed by the nihilistic, suicidal extremists of Al Qaeda. Iraq behaved like a traditional nation-state with the same desires for power and fears of retribution as any other nation-state. Certainly, Iraq was hostile to the U.S. and if there was a strategic case for pre-emptively invading Iraq, it could have been made and should have been made in the context of comparing its relative threat to other states that are similarly hostile to the U.S. (North Korea, Cuba, the Sudan, Syria, and others)

However, Bush avoids differentiating between state actors and non-state actors, between Islamists and secularists, between hostile postures of nations wishing to exist in perpetuity and suicidal individuals ready to die for the glory of Islam. He instead lumps everything into the single abstract category of terrorism. This is tactically brilliant for his own political philosophy and for the aggregation of power by the executive branch. It is dangerous, in my view, for the nation for two reasons. The first is that it allows the president to exploit people's fears to ram through policies and actions that would not be so easy to get away with otherwise. The second is that it emboldens the Zell Millers of the world to lash out wildly against people who exercise their right to dissent, paint them as unpatriotic and "soft on terrorism," and unfairly destroy careers, reputations, and lives. Zell Miller is cut from the same cloth as Joseph McCarthy - change the word from terrorist to communist and you're finding reds under the beds and holding hearings on Un-American Activities.