Is America’s security grounded in its military strength or its moral strength? Today, America dominates the world’s militaries, but has relinquished much of its moral authority. Does that make us safer or more vulnerable?
America is now spending about the same as the rest of the world combined on its military. We have the capability to go anywhere and do pretty much anything. But the way we are going there and doing it is making us less rather than more influential.
The bipartisan Sept. 11 commission published an exhaustive staff report that concluded there was no ”collaboration” between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein. This exposed another lie of Bush and his national security gang, who had convinced Americans that Saddam was behind Sept. 11.
Immediately, Cheney and the president went on the offensive, criticizing the papers, claiming they never said Saddam was behind Sept. 11. I said they had a ”relationship,” said the president, because we know there were lots of contacts. Cheney blasted the press for trying to invent a story.
But the administration didn’t only link Saddam to Sept. 11, it used that link as part of its legal justification for the war. As Mimi Hall of USA Today noted, ”In a letter to Congress on March 19, 2003 — the day the war in Iraq began — Bush said that the war was permitted under legislation authorizing force against those who ‘planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001.”’
For Cheney, the lie was more stark. In September, he said, ”If we’re successful in Iraq . . . then we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base . . . of the terrorists who had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11.”
Everything this administration has told us about the war in Iraq has turned out to be false.
There were no weapons of mass destruction. Saddam wasn’t collaborating with al-Qaida and had nothing to do with Sept. 11. The Iraqis didn’t treat us as liberators. Our soldiers were put into an occupation without the forces or the training or even the basic equipment needed to meet the task. Everything Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Security Council turned out to be wrong.
The loss of moral authority, the loss of legitimacy, across the world is staggering. In only a few short months since Sept. 11, this administration squandered the global goodwill we had in the wake of the horror.
As a remarkable array of former national security managers and generals, calling themselves Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change, concluded: ”Our security has been weakened. . . . Public opinion polls throughout the world report hostility toward us. Muslim youth are turning to anti-American terrorism. Never in the two and a quarter centuries of our history has the United States been so isolated, so broadly feared and distrusted.”
The neoconservatives in the administration — Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the crowd — scorn such concerns. We’ve dispatched the Taliban and taken out Saddam, they say. Terrorists only understand strength. If we succeed in creating a democracy in Iraq, we will send a message to tyrants and terrorists across the world. Who cares about the U.N. or the allies or legal niceties? We have them on the run.
But cynicism about law is corrosive. Its spreads like a cancer across an administration. Soon, the president is claiming the right to imprison even American citizens, designate them as an enemy combatant, lock them up without a hearing, without a lawyer or without charges brought against them.
The president says we will remake the Middle East and spread the blessings of democracy, law and liberty there. But thus far, we’re spreading lies, subverting our own democracy, trampling on the law and sacrificing global legitimacy. If you don’t think that matters, consider that the ill-fated invasion in Iraq is now a bonanza for terrorist recruitment. We have the military prowess to police the world. But we better develop the moral prudence to shun being judge, cop and executioner too.