The politics of swagger
Commentary by Pat Murphy
"We have the terrorists on the run.
We’re keeping them on the run." (Applause) — White House transcript,
State of the Union address, January 2003
"Al Qaeda has unambiguous plans to hit
the homeland again," James L. Pavitt, the CIA’s outgoing head of
clandestine operations, said in a speech in New York last week, "and New
York City, I am certain, remains a prime target." —The New York Times,
If "we have the terrorists on the run," as
President Bush claims, then why is the CIA expecting terrorists to "hit the
And who’s really "on the run"?
- The Justice Department has stepped up
the frequency of alerts about "credible" terrorist threats to the U.S.
mainland, expressing major concerns about attacks on the Democratic and
Republic national conventions in Boston and New York City.
- The U.S. Navy has ordered 350 families
housed with the Fifth Fleet evacuated from the island kingdom of Bahrain off
the Saudi Arabian eastern coast out of fear of terrorist attacks.
- Washington has the appearance of a
fortress with streets sealed off, permanent blockades installed around
buildings and some monuments made less accessible.
The Bush administration seems to be
engaged in a conflicting public strategy—creating the macho presidential image
of holding the upper hand over terrorism even as U.S. security agencies keep the
public stranded permanently in fear of terror attacks.
The president’s swagger and swashbuckling
are unconvincing. His declaration of "Mission Accomplished" was deceitful,
leaving White House damage control specialists the unpleasant task of (a)
repudiating the huge aircraft carrier sign as an unauthorized Navy stunt – but
(b) maybe interpreted as a statement on the successful invasion of Iraq, if not
the end of the war.
He swashbuckled Texas-style when asked
about insurgents in Iraq. "Bring ’em on," he said cockily a half a world away
from the shooting and assuming (incorrectly) that Iraq was tucked securely in
the U.S. pocket. Sure enough, terrorists complied: more GIs, more Iraqis, more
American contractors in Iraq began dying after the president’s cavalier "bring
The problem is Americans don’t know what
to believe. The president and his political manipulators have tried to conceal
politically inconvenient reality with fiction.
The phony "imminent threat" of Iraqi
doomsday weapons misled Americans into supporting a war that’s already cost more
than 800 U.S. military lives and tens of billions of dollars from the national
Stubborn claims that more troops weren’t
needed has led to extended duty in Iraq, stop-loss orders preventing discharges
and resignations and a call-up of long ago discharged ready reserves.
The White House deceived Americans by
claims the president could waive rights of detainees labeled "terrorism
suspects" and slap them indefinitely in confinement without a court hearing or
attorneys. Hundreds are now being released without charges, others asking for
court hearings after the president was rebuked by the Supreme Court.
This president who stakes out "values" as
a virtue should try truth for a change.