Tenured University of South Florida Prof. Sami Al-Arian never stood a chance. After he and his Islamic think tank were cleared from any involvement in terrorism back in 2000, the FBI closed the case, and the court ruling went on to describe his organization as a “reputable and scholarly” research center. Oh, how times have changed. Two weeks ago, Al-Arian was unexpectedly arrested under the authority of the attorney general for his alleged connection to Islamic Jihad. But the information the arrest was based upon had been around for years and these allegations had already been dismissed in court, so why such a big deal now?
“It’s all about politics,” says Al-Arian. Post-Sept. 11 paranoia aside, it is in this columnist’s humble opinion that his arrest was no coincidence, but a well-timed PR endeavor amid fading support for an already unpopular war. In these jittery days of Code Orange alerts, the public has upheld blind faith in our government to do the right thing, though most Americans still can’t grasp the nonexistent relationship between Osama and Saddam. But by continually promoting this imaginary connection and detaining fictional terrorists like Al-Arian, Americans maintain an illusion of the government’s vigilance that the Bush administration has exploited to justify a violent confrontation with the not-so-pressing threat of Iraq.
The use of such manipulative tactics by pro-war advocates have proliferated as the international community and most Americans have voiced support for U.N. inspections and a global coalition before military action is considered. Noting the growing opposition, the administration and its proponents have resorted to dirty last-ditch efforts involving silencing dissent, fabricating facts and bribery intended to create artificial consent for the war where Americans would otherwise pass.
President Bush best epitomized this deceitful pro-war spirit last month when he inanely dismissed 10 million global anti-war protesters as a “focus group” that he wouldn’t let sway his foreign policy. While forgetting that his own campaign was largely financed by special interest groups, he also overlooked the fact that the largest anti-war rallies were held in the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy, our presumed allies in this venture. With friends like these and Rumsfeld’s “Old Europe” dragging us down, who really needs a coalition?
Optimists/warmongers like U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) still believe we have one. In a CNN “Crossfire” debate, he and the host reassured viewers that “we have a lot of countries behind us,” but couldn’t say whether anyone on that short list would even provide us with any money. Perhaps moral support is enough for these guys. Unfortunately, this kind of vague everyone-else-is-doing-it rhetoric is all too prevalent when every other strategy to convince the skeptics has failed, and misleading on-the-spot statistics like these are responsible for confusing America to the brink.
When Saddam was interviewed last week on an American network for the first time in 12 years, the White House criticized CBS for airing his propaganda, bitter that they didn’t get the chance to refute Saddam with just that: more propaganda. While CBS deserves some credit for rejecting that proposal, the major media is also to blame for candy coating the scenario of a post-Saddam Iraq. Not even Afghan President Hamid Karzai had the gall to admit, in his testimony to Congress last week, that his post-Taliban puppet government is in good shape. Instead, he pleaded to the United States not to divert vital resources to Iraq in case of war, leaving Afghanistan in ruins as was done shortly after the Soviets withdrew in 1989. With the exit strategy just as unclear in Iraq, it is plausible that Iraqis might not be as well off without Saddam as the White House would want us to believe.
Then there is the intentionally seldom-mentioned matter of money, where conservative estimates by the Pentagon range between $100 billion and $200 billion ($320 to $640 per capita) for the war and occupation, projected directly to the taxpayer. This probably doesn’t include more than $40 billion appropriated to nations like Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Spain and Bulgaria to bribe a reluctant “coalition of the willing” into showing that America is not alone on this one, while non-complying U.N. Security Council members get to be spied on. It is an awfully high price to pay for such an indecisive cause. Fortunately, the fear that has been ingrained within us – of nukes, anthrax, bearded men, high gas prices, etc. – eases the decision for many, and the delusion that the world is with us helps too. And though this was never our war, it certainly seems like the Bush administration and their proponents are willing to try anything to make us think so.
Sheikh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.