Bush's Legacy: Torture and Obsession on the GWOT
Tom Engelhardt has written a couple of posts that lay out the Bush legacy. In his first comprehensive and well-written piece, he shows how the Bush legacy is a locked down country overwhelming convinced of its victimhood and the necessity of using any means at hand to protect itself and willing to lash out against those who in any way threaten it. The "threats" include complaining about what Bush is doing to the country, especially if you happen to be a suspicious person (ie: a foreigner or a Muslim-American).
George W. Bush didn't invent the world he inhabits. He, his top officials, and all their lawyers who wrote those bizarre "torture memos" that will be hallmarks of his era chose from existing strains of thought, from urges and tendencies already in American culture. But their record on this has, nonetheless, been remarkable. In just about every case, they chose to bring out the worst in us; in just about every case, they took us on as direct a journey as possible to the dark side.
It's not necessary to romanticize the American past in any way to consider the legacy of these last years grim indeed. Let no one tell you that the institution of a global network of secret prisons and borrowed torture chambers, along with those "enhanced interrogation techniques," was primarily done for information or even security. The urge to resort to such tactics is invariably more primal than that.
Words matter more than one would think. In the Bush era, certain words have simply been sidelined. Sovereignty, for instance. If, in principle, you can kidnap anyone, anywhere, and transport that person into a ghost existence anywhere else, then national sovereignty essentially no longer has significance. This is one meaning of "globalization" in the twenty-first century. On Planet Bush, only one nation remains "sovereign," and that's the United States of America.
In part two, Engelhardt reviews how Bush's obsession on the Great GWOT has made all other real threats to our country worse.
[A]s an obsession, as war policy as well as domestic policy, banking everything on the GWOT has proved about as foolish, as self-defeating, as -- let's say it -- mad, as anyone could possibly have imagined.
And he asks us to imagine what we would face if magically all al Qaeda terrorists were gone and we "won" the GWOT.
Imagine that, by some unknown process, the GWOT succeeds. Instantly. Al-Qaeda and other like-minded terrorist and wannabe terrorist groups are simply wiped off the face of the Earth. They cease to exist. Tomorrow. No al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. No original al-Qaeda (with its local admixtures) in the Pakistani tribal areas or Afghanistan. No al-Qaedan-style car bombers lurking in London. No more hijacked vehicles heading for American buildings or U.S. Navy vessels. No more trains blowing up in Madrid railway stations. No more al-Qaeda-labeled suicide car bombs going off in Algiers, or Istanbul, or anywhere else. The end. Finis.
...Now, we still have a few minutes left in this segment of our "debate," so let's just keep imagining. Take a glance around the world -- theoretically made "secure" and "safe" for Americans -- and ask yourself this: If the Global War on Terror were over, what would be left? What would we be rid of? What would be changed? Would oil be, say, $60 a barrel, or even $20 a barrel? Would Russia return to being an impoverished nearly Third World country, as it was before 2001, rather than a rising energy superpower? Would the Iraq War be over? Would the Arctic Sea re-ice? Would Afghans welcome our occupation with open arms and accept our permanent bases and jails on their territory? Would all those dollars in Chinese and Middle Eastern hands return to the U.S. treasury? Would Latin America once again be the "backyard" of the United States? Would we suddenly be hailed around the world for our "victory" and feared once again as the "sole superpower," the planetary "hyperpower"? Would we no longer be in, or near, recession? Would hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs begin flowing back into the country? Would the housing market bounce back? Would unemployment drop?
The answer to all of the above, of course, is resoundingly and repeatedly "no." Essential power relations in the world turn out to have next to nothing to do with the war on terror (which may someday be seen as the last great ideological gasp of American globalism). In this sense, terrorism, no matter how frightening, is an ephemeral phenomenon. The fact is, non-state groups wielding terror as their weapon of choice can cause terrible pain, harm, and localized mayhem, but they simply don't take down societies like ours. The IRA did not take down England despite years of devastating terror bombings in central London; nor did al-Qaeda take down Spain, even with a devastating bombing of trains entering a Madrid railway station. And neither the British, nor the Spanish acted as though that might happen.
The Global War on Terror's greatest achievement -- for American rulers and ruled alike -- may simply have been to block out the world as it was, to block out, that is, reality.
So all the money, all the giving up our rights "to be safe", all the acceptance of torture and cruelty have only brought about a country sadly divorced from reality and facing some real threats our so-called leader can't even imagine solving without demanding more police power and more tax breaks for the rich. And to think we still have more than a year of this jinx's administration to endure (373 days to be precise). The saddest thing of all, Tom doesn't see any possibility that a new administration will undo the paranoia and misspent billions that have become the norm for our country under the dark spell of Bush's obsession.