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Eric Alterman Fear: What Is It Good For? “You can’t distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror.” —President George W. Bush, September, 2002 (quoted in Huffington, 2003: 344). THOUGH HISTORY TEACHES US TO AVOID THE SNAP JUDGMENTS OF pundits and politicians, virtually everything we read and hear about the aftermath of the American and British invasion of Iraq appears to indicate that it will likely stand as one of the most costly self-inflicted injuries ever to befall a democratic nation. That it was done on the basis of transparently dishonest arguments—about Iraq’s capabilities both before and after the war—merely adds insult and injury to American democracy and its good name among the peoples of the world. It is imperative that as intellectuals, social scientists, and responsible citi­ zens we ask ourselves how this happened. How did President George W. Bush take what was a generally popular cause and globally agreedupon goal of protecting the United States and the West against future incidents of Islamic terrorism on the model of the Al Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001, and manipulate the entirely legitimate fear and uncertainty this threat inspired into an imperialistic war that not only failed to make the nation any safer but clearly threatened to inspire the very threats against which it alleged to protect and defend? Just how elastic are the uses of fear in a democracy in which the ruling elites fall prey to exotic ideologies combined with hubristic (and ahistorical ) notions of the capabilities of military force to rule and reorder the world? social research Voi 71 : No 4 : W inter 200 4 997 The Bush campaign of deception had many aspects. It vastly over­ stated the level of threat Iraq posed to its neighbors and, by extension, to the United States through its weapons programs, leaving no room for doubt in its public pronouncements when, as we now know, its assumptions were based on extremely weak and possibly manipulated evidence. It bullied the government’s professional experts into endors­ ing its views. And it routinely offered simplistic interpretations of complicated phenomena that remained consistent with its arguments for war, despite frequently contradicting previous arguments it had made for the same policies based on diametrically opposed evidence.1 In this paper I will focus on only one of these: the attempts to portray the war against Iraq as the logical response to the terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001. LET US GO BACK TO THE SOURCE. FOUR DAYS AFTER THE AL QAEDA a t ta c k s , as Americans and their representatives in politics and the media strug­ gled to make sense of the shattering of their collective sense of security, Vice President Dick Cheney scribbled, ominously, on his notepad, “”Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not” (Krugman, 2003: A21). In a meeting ofwhat would come to be called President Bush’s “war cabi­ net,” that day, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz made an argu­ ment for an immediate attack on Iraq. Why Iraq rather than Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda originated and where its leader, Osama bin Laden, was understood to be living and plotting? Because it was there, Wolfowitz replied. “Attacking Afghanistan would be uncertain . . . Iraq was a brittle oppressive regime that might break easily. It was doable” (Woodward and Balz, 2002: Al). Five days later, on September 20, 40 neoconserva­ tives sent an open letter to the White House instructing President Bush to attack the guerrilla group Hezbollah as well as Syria, Iran, and Iraq. Containing signatures from such luminaries as then-Defense Policy Board chair Richard Perle and William Kristol, William Bennett, Norman Podhoretz, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and Charles Krauthammer. A failure to accept its instructions, the letter warned, “will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism.” 998 social research George W. Bush did not so much decline to attack Iraq as delay his decision for a few months. According to the semi-official court stenog­ rapher, reporter Bob Woodward, Bush told his advisers, “I believe Iraq was involved, but I’m not going to strike them now...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 997-1014
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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