Collateral damage

  • October 30, 2006

U.S. President George Bush made a startling admission last week. He agreed with a journalist that the war in Iraq is bearing an alarming resemblance to Vietnam. Now if only his administration would learn how not to repeat history’s mistakes.

Bush was asked in an interview on ABC News whether he believed recent violence in Iraq — October has been the bloodiest month since the siege of Fallujah in 2004 — was similar to the Tet Offensive that marked the beginning of the end in Vietnam. The president conceded that the comparison “could be right.”

Yet there seemed to be no recognition that the pursuit of a “war on terror” has led Americans to this point. And a sorry point it is.

The same week as the ABC interview, Bush signed a new law that allows his administration to bypass Geneva Conventions in determining what constitutes torture and it effectively protects from prosecution those who authorized CIA agents accused of using such techniques as mock drownings, sleep deprivation and hypothermia on captives. He did this in spite of widespread horror at the thought that Western governments would condone torture as a legitimate terror-fighting tactic. Nor can we forget that Bush also declared the United States was effectively claiming jurisdiction over space and warning other countries to stay out of the Americans’ way.

This is the same government that is preparing to build a huge fence along the Mexican-U.S. border and electronic listening towers along the border with Canada. It is also the same government that has begun dangerous live-ammunition testing with machine gun-toting gunboats on the Great Lakes. The American people are truly withdrawing into Fortress America.

This is the tragic collateral damage of the “war on terror.” It is distressing to see the American people dragged down so deeply by fear of the rest of the world. And they are not the only victims: the foreign policy approach of the Bush administration has increasingly alienated former friendly nations around the world, leaving us all in a more — not less — dangerous place.

Canadians have also seen their own government institutions acting out on their fears, sometimes unwisely, as in the case of Maher Arar. We have witnessed the erosion of fundamental freedoms and the deepening of distrust among peoples. Our own soldiers are dying in Afghanistan.

This is not about moral equivalence between terrorism and Western actions. Obviously the terrorists are the starting point for apportioning blame. But our response has not helped our cause, either.

“Counter-terrorism strategy must not sacrifice fundamental human rights in the name of security,” Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United Nations, said. When states erode human rights, they only give moral ammunition to terrorists. Judging from changes to Western society since 9/11, one conclusion seems inevitable: we are losing the “war on terror.” Shouldn’t we find a new plan?

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