Thursday, December 22, 2005

Fear of the Devil: This Maze Leads to a Trap Without an Exit

Published on Thursday, December 22, 2005
by Robert C. Koehler
 

The nation is headed for a showdown with Evil ... or rather, with the sense-shattering, all-justifying, absolute belief in it. My God — finally!

Here, for instance, is U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, explaining to Wolf Blitzer and archconservative (but pro-Constitution) former congressman Bob Barr on CNN's "The Situation Room" last week why George Bush needs the leeway to spy on American citizens as he sees fit:

"Well, I'll tell you something, if a nuclear weapon goes off in Washington, D.C., or New York or Los Angeles, it'll burn the Constitution as it does. So I'm very happy we have a president that's going to wiretap people's communication with people overseas to make sure that they're not plotting to blow up one of our cities."

And the commander-in-chief himself, in one of his angry defenses of wiretapping, pointed out that he's fighting an enemy who is "quick, clever and lethal," making an unprecedented concentration of power in his hands necessary. Debate any supporter of the war on terror and you're certain to run up against some variation of that theme. It's like debating the existence of hell. If you believe in it, it rules your life — far more, it appears, than a belief in God does.

The Bush administration's belief in Absolute Evil — or at any rate its success peddling that belief to Congress and the American public — has been one hell of a governing tool. Few politicians dare stand tough for tolerance and the rule of law in the face of the great abyss of "what if": What if we pull back on the firepower and the terrorists strike again? What if we follow the niceties of the Geneva Convention and the terrorists strike again?

Domestic spying is pretty far down on the list of crimes this administration has committed in the last five years in its battle with the Devil, but the president's brazen attitude about it — making him, in the words of Watergate whistleblower John Dean, the first president in U.S. history to admit an impeachable offense — has tipped a historical balance.

Bush's all-out assault on American values, evident to many of us (the ones he's been spying on) since day one, has at last run into serious opposition. This time Congress has stiffened. This time it has refused to be cowed by the commander-in-chief's big bluff: that the "war on terror" can't be fought without an increasingly dictatorial concentration of power.

Senators are drawing the line and defending the Constitution. Barbara Boxer, explaining that "unchecked surveillance of American citizens is troubling both to me and many of my constituents," has asked four presidential scholars whether impeachment is warranted.

The undoing of King George, if that's what is happening, involves three separate but intertwined spy scandals, involving the Pentagon, the FBI and the National Security Agency. The three entities have engaged in various types of invasive, illegal domestic surveillance of American citizens. Loath to reveal its own secrets, the administration is nonetheless obsessed with prying into the private lives of its citizens.

Many of the outed surveillance activities are indicative of priorities that bode ill for anyone with a critical intelligence and passionate determination to have a say in the nation's direction. Such people are the real enemy, it sometimes seems.

The un-winnable war on terror is, among other things, a pretext to target peaceniks: They're a threat to war itself. And slowly, over the long haul, they're winning.

"The protest itself was very peaceful," Snehal Shingavi, a graduate student at UC Berkeley and a member of the Berkeley Stop the War Coalition, told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now. "It included about 20 students who went in and confronted military recruiters about their presence on campus."

This event was one of the hundreds of "threats" to national security the Pentagon monitored and logged into its data base. "And the thing that's quite striking," Shingavi said, "is not that they are watching antiwar and anti-recruitment activity ... but it's how nervous the military has actually become by some pretty tame and pretty peaceful protests against military recruitments and ... the war in Iraq."

Groups such as Shingavi's are suspect because they won't be cowed by the administration's constant blare about Absolute Evil.

We'll never be secure as long as we act like the enemy we're trying to destroy. Waging war on Absolute Evil — through torture and missile strikes on civilians populations and the shriveling of domestic civil liberties, as though freedom is some childish indulgence, not our strength and greatest hope — is a trap with no exit.

Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. Email to bob@commonwonders.com

© 2005 Robert C. Koehler 

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