Ira Chernus  


Winter is coming in Afghanistan. The Bush administration says 1.5 million Afghanis will lack food. A UN World Food Program official puts the number closer to 6 million. But no matter how many might starve, our government is committed to ending terrorism, once and for all. Right? Well, yes¼ and no.

President Bush called the war "a task that does not end." Vice-President Cheney said, "There's not going to be an end date when we're going to say, `’There, it's all over with.’'' Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld explained that we "surely will not" eliminate terrorism "completely from the face of the Earth.¼ You can't stop [terrorists] from doing things that are unpleasant to their neighbors or their neighboring countries." It sounds like "Operation Enduring War." If we can never defeat terrorism, what is the point of endless war and endless deaths?

Rumsfeld says we can win by redefining victory: "We can continue to live in a world with powerful weapons and with people who are willing to use those powerful weapons¼ and that will be a victory," as long as "the American people and our interests and friends and allies and deployed forces can go about our business not in fear." But if terrorists are still around with powerful weapons, how can we ever live "not in fear"?

"Business" and "interests," not safety, sound like the operative words here. Listen to the president: "The stakes of this fight are high: our lives, our way of life and our economic future." "Terrorists want to turn the openness of the global economy against itself. We must not let them." "Out of the sorrow of September 11th, I see opportunity¼ to expand our ties of trade." "We cannot let the terrorists achieve the objective of frightening our nation to the point where we don't conduct business or people don't shop. That's their intention." When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.

Rumsfeld was a bit more sophisticated: "We have to engage in that world as free people because the linkages we have across this globe are so centrally a part of our lives¼ that we have no choice but to contribute to a more peaceful and stable world." In the vocabulary of U.S. political and business elites, a "stable world" means a world predictably safe for long-term international investments. Bush understands that. He told the Asian Pacific Economic Conference that we will defeat terrorism when "nations accept the rules of the modern world"¾ rules written by the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization, the guardians of stability.

International investments and financial rules are the essential "linkages we have across the globe." They afford many Americans a very comfortable way of life. Rumsfeld has defined victory as protecting that way of life. "The United States is linked with so many nations across the globe that we need to be able to engage in the kinds of things that Americans engage in," he said. Victory is when "you are satisfied that the American people are going to be able to live their lives in relative freedom and have the kinds of linkages with the rest of the world that we feel are so central to our well being."

"Relative freedom"? Does that mean always having murderous terrorists out there, as long as the American way of life, based on multinational corporate interests and linkages, survives? Rumsfeld seemed to say so: "What we are attempting to do is to assure that we can prevent people from adversely affecting our way of life.¼ Children have to go off to school and we have to have reasonable expectation that they'll be coming home from school."

Well pardon me, Mr. Secretary, if I want more than a "reasonable expectation" that my child will come home from school. Why should we continue running any risk of terrorism? Why do we have this risk now?

Rumsfeld himself answered that question: "Mostly what [terrorists] hate, I suppose, is any infringement on their extreme beliefs, whether it comes from us or another country." Osama bin Laden’s "extreme" belief is that U.S. troops should not be in the holy Muslim land of Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. should not continue sanctions that kill people in Iraq. Those are the infringements he hates most. As the vice-president said, "his objective, obviously, is to try to influence our behavior, to force us to withdraw from that part of the world."

Why not withdraw our troops and our sanctions, if it will insure our safety? Perhaps it has something to do with the most vital interest of all, our linkage to the world’s largest pools of oil (one in Saudi and the other just north of Afghanistan). Perhaps we should call the operation "Enduring Free Trade" or "Enduring Free Enterprise." Is it worth risking our children’s lives, and the lives of millions of Afghanis, to stabilize the global interests and linkages that preserve our way of life? Shouldn’t we at least have a national debate about it, before the next terrorist attack?