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Al Gore The Politics of Fear TERRORISM IS THE ULTIMATE MISUSE OF FEAR FOR POLITICAL ENDS. Indeed, its specific goal is to distort the political reality of a nation by creating fear in the general population that is hugely disproportion­ ate to the actual dangers that the terrorists are capable of posing. That is one of the reasons it was so troubling to so many when the widely respected arms expert David Kay concluded a lengthy, extensive inves­ tigation in Iraq for the Bush administration with these words: “We were all wrong.” The real meaning of those words, and of Kay’s devastating verdict, is that for more than two years, President George W. Bush and his administration have been (wittingly or unwittingly) distort­ ing America’s political reality by force-feeding the American people a grossly exaggerated fear of Iraq that was hugely disproportionate to the actual danger posed by Iraq. Now how could that happen? Could it possibly have been intentional? It’s a serious question—more serious than the laughter from the audience might imply. And there are some clues to the answer. Here’s one: the fear campaign aimed at invading Iraq was precisely timed for the kickoff of the midterm election campaign of 2002. You remember that campaign? The one where Max Cleland, who lost three limbs fighting for America in Vietnam, was accused of being unpatri­ otic? The curious timing was actually explained by the president’s chief of staff as a marketing decision. It was timed, he said, for the post-Labor Day advertising period because that’s when advertising campaigns for “a new product”—as he referred to it—are normally launched. The implication of his metaphor was that the “old product”—the war against Osama bin Laden and A1 Qaeda—had lost some of its pizzazz. social research Vol 71 : No 4 : W inter 2 004 779 And so, in the immediate run-up to the election campaign of 2002, a “new product”—the war against Iraq—was being launched. For everything there is a season, particularly for the politics of fear. Here’s another clue: the fear campaign did serve to distract the American people and divert attention from pesky domestic issues like the economy, which were after all, if you look back, beginning to seri­ ously worry the White House in the summer of 2002. So they needed to change the subject. And of course the third clue is to be found in the now volumi­ nous evidence that a powerful clique inside the administration that had been aggressively agitating for war against Iraq since before the 2001 inauguration immediately seized upon the tragedy of 9/11 as a terrific opportunity to accomplish what it had not been able to do beforehand: invade a country that had not attacked us and did not threaten us. The members of that clique were clever and they managed to get the job done. But it is now painfully obvious to most people that, in the process, some deceitfulness took place. There hasn’t been specific responsibility assigned for this deceitfulness yet, but it’s being investi­ gated by the president. The so-called intelligence concerning the threat posed by Iraq was stretched beyond recognition, distorted and misrepresented. Indeed, some of the intelligence that the president personally presented to the American people on national television in his State of the Union address turned out to have been actually forged by someone, though we still do not know who. And amazingly enough the White House still doesn’t seem to really care who forged that document. Imagine for a moment that you were president of the United States. It’s not that hard. And imagine that you were standing before a joint session of Congress on live national television, speaking on the one occasion of the year when the Constitution of our nation commands the president to report directly to the Congress and the American people about the State of the Union. Imagine that on this solemn occasion, you delivered an important message on the grave issue of war and peace. 780 social research And then imagine that after your speech the United Nations...


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