Evil and the Empire (12/03)

Here’s an unpleasant political fact: When leaders feel compelled to MIS-lead, they often tend to declare war on something.

Back in the late 1960s, for example, President Nixon – whose secret plan for "peace with honor" in Vietnam was to bomb Southeast Asia back to the Stone Age – declared war on unemployment. But that was really a way to prematurely end a different war – the "war on poverty." We lost that one, too.

President Ford declared war on inflation, desperately calling his crusade WIN – for Whip Inflation Now. And Reagan declared war on drugs, a move both misleading and ironic in the world’s most drug-dependent society. This one turned into a attack on campesinos and freedom fighters in Latin America, while doing nothing to reduce drug use at home.

Thus, it’s no shock that George Bush II, possibly the most compulsive liar to steal a US presidential election, declared "war on terrorism." But it’s actually a war on freedom, on the Bill of Rights, free speech, privacy – the very things he claims to protect. And what have we seen in this war, waged in the name of fighting "evil"?

  • People being rounded up just because they’re Muslims, held without charges indefinitely, prevented from calling lawyers, beaten and abused by guards. Of the 5000 people detained since 9/11, only four have been charged with violent crimes – and two of them were acquitted.
  • The FBI and Justice department tapping more telephones, seizing people’s private information without warrants, harassing foreign students. A new computer-based Student and Exchange Visitor Information System also took effect in August, while bookstores and libraries are forced to help the government spy on reading habits – and hide what they’re doing.
  • Joint Terrorism Task Forces. Reminiscent of the old "red squads," they are targeting groups simply exercising their right to disagree with a government that’s out of control.
  • The Total Information Awareness Program (TIA), designed by convicted Reagan aide John Poindexter. The most expansive electronic surveillance network yet, it can monitor reading habits, Internet surfing, travel, finances, and health records. And when people complained, they didn’t stop. They just changed one word – Total – to Terrorism.
  • And let’s not forget the "mother of all repressive laws" – the cleverly named USA Patriot Act. But what does being patriotic mean to the Bush League? Detaining and deporting non-citizens simply because the government doesn’t like something they said or someone they’ve met, monitoring communications between lawyers and their clients, a definition of terrorism so broad it can include people protesting against the WTO or engaging in civil disobedience

The Justice Department also wants the power to deport anyone, even citizens, who support a group it defines as terrorist. This would turn citizens into aliens if their presence conflicts with "national defense, foreign policy, or economic interests." It’s the most sweeping deportation power since the Alien and Sedition Act, but they call it Domestic Security Enhancement. Our language itself has been hijacked.

Reagan also talked about evil, the "evil empire" then known as the Soviet Union. But now, Bush II calls Russia’s leader, Vlad the Imposter, his best buddy, and points instead to an "axis of evil." China, Russia, and Pakistan? No, not that nuclear club. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar? Certainly can’t go there. Instead, it’s Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, three very convenient targets. If there is a real axis of evil, however, it seems to be located in Washington, DC, headquarters for the Evil Empire known as Special Interest Capitalism, run by corporations and the superrich through the World Bank, WTO, IMF, and other branches of our emerging global dictatorship.

Of course, Bush II does know something about evil. He’s surrounded by it. The emperor’s court includes Donald Rumsfeld, a Darth Vader-esque war criminal who wishes he was king; John Ashcroft, head of what increasingly looks like a national secret police, who says complaints about losing basic rights help terrorists; and Elliot Abrams, who lied to Congress for Reagan and yet was brought back, reportedly helping to stage a coup in Venezuela. Beyond the immediate court, there are the Bush family friends in the Carlyle Group and Halliburton, profiting from war and human misery, and the coup-plotters in Florida, Texas, and California, attempting to terminate democracy and replace it with celebrity fascism. Now, that’s terrorism.

There is a real war going on, but not the one advertised. It’s a long, global fight for justice, equality, and democracy. And it can still be won. Bush II said recently, "Anytime you take away power from a group of thugs, they’re not going to like it." He wasn’t talking about his thugs, but it’s good advice. When they lose their power, they definitely won’t like it. But the rest of us will be a lot happier and safer.

– Greg Guma

Based on remarks delivered Oct. 25 at a rally outside the state capital in Montpelier, Vermont.