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Monday, September 11, 2006

Faith, Fear, Fictions & Informed Consent - by Caroline Arnold

Five years ago a small, marginal band of zealots set out to ignite fear, distrust and war in the world by crashing airliners into buildings in the proudest, richest, best-armed and most democratic nation in the world.

They succeeded far beyond their expectations, largely because the U.S. President, with the less-than- informed consent of the American electorate, used the occasion to launch a "Global War on Terror" (GWOT) " ideological struggle with an enemy that despises freedom and pursues totalitarian aims."

Continued on "Print Article and/or Read More" below >>>
In practice the GWOT has been less an ideological struggle than a real bloody war destroying the people and society of Iraq. Most of the civilized world sees it as an imperialist campaign of aggression. After 30 months of gory spectacle most Americans doubt that it’s worthwhile, and want to end it.

Seventy-six percent of voters polled this week said they were angry about something in the political landscape. They’re angry at the billions wasted on a war that had nothing to do with 9/11, about the millions that have not restored New Orleans. They’re angry about a Congress that doesn’t deal with their concerns about health care, good jobs/decent wages, and sustainable energy policy. They’re angry about spying and surveillance, and secrecy in policy making, angry about the abuse and torture of prisoners; and about their family members dying in a futile war.

And they’re angry at being accused of treason for questioning administration policies, and at being told that they are morally and intellectually confused about "who and what is right or wrong."

In "The One Percent Doctrine" Ron Suskind reminds us of the "awesome power" that rises from the ‘informed consent’ of the governed, and asks what should inform that consent. He suggests that consent is traditionally informed by facts, but that latterly we have let our consent be manipulated by appeals to faith, fear, fictions, or some ‘message’ those in power want to send to the rest of the world..

The fiction that the war in Iraq has kept terrorists from attacking in the United States ("better there than here") – blinded us to the reality of the neocon plan to make the Middle East the geographical center of an unwinnable but very profitable war.

Nine-eleven has proved to be a huge bonanza for American corporate entrepreneurs in weapons, construction, oil, media, and finance. They sell weapons to destroy cities and resources; they sell materials, tools and expertise to reconstruct them; they sell fuel to transport goods anywhere and everywhere; they sell messages and myths of fear and power to prolong the conflict; they sell loans to governments to pay the bills. And with their profits they buy Presidents, judges, and legislators.

But the ultimate costs of this war – all wars – come out of the pockets and veins of the common people, whether in workers’ low wages, sickness & injury, payroll taxes, high prices, or military and civilian casualties.

Suskind relates that by early 2004 the CIA had good evidence that al Qaeda was not plotting another terrorist attack in the US, but rather planning to force the Bush administration into deeper and more costly involvement in Iraq while pressuring other nations to withdraw their troops and support.

This was not information that a president seeking re-election on the grounds that he had protected his homeland from another terrorist attack wanted made public. It was also not information that al Qaeda could be allowed to know – that our intelligence efforts had given us access to their plans.

It was information that American voters should have had in order to give informed consent to a continuation of Bush’s presidency. It also revealed a core dilemma of democracy: Is it democracy when those in power keep information secret from the electorate?

Today, two months out from the midterm election, both parties are trying feverishly to sway voters, simultaneously bashing them for being wimpish, weak and confused, and designing campaign strategies to appeal to those same attributes.

This week a docu-drama on ABC about 9-11 was to have included a fictional scene in which a Clinton administration official refuses permission to a CIA operative to kill Osama bin Laden. Fierce protests forced the removal of the scene. But I’m not sure the public is so naive or confused as to believe whatever is shown. Nor do I think the public should be denied the opportunity to criticize and challenge what the media offers.

Also this week we have been hearing the phrase "point of no return" in reference to Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. It is rhetoric designed to persuade us that Iran is on an unstoppable course toward nuclear war, and must be bombed to keep it from attacking us. Intelligence and diplomatic experts (including our own) believe that it is "neither inevitable nor absolute" that Iran intends to build nuclear weapons.

This election will be a referendum on the war in Iraq and Bush’s leadership. Giving informed consent to those who would govern us – write our laws and direct our foreign policy -- is more challenging than it has ever been.

We must search out facts and challenge sources. We must ask questions of candidates and make them defend their answers. We must choose candidates who are willing to take political risks for better, more humane solutions to terrorism and lawlessness than fear, distrust and war.

Behind the suffering, ruin and waste of human wars and quarrels there awaits an unmeasured but steady shift in the basic physical systems that support life on our planet. At this time we cannot afford to be disinformed, misinformed or uninformed as we vote for leaders and consent to policies.

Before joining Senator Glenn's Washington staff in 1985, Caroline Arnold taught at every grade level, founded a successful small business, and served three terms on the Kent (OH) Board of Education. In retirement she is principal cellist of the Stow Symphony, and is active with the Kent Environmental Council , Family & Community Services and the Akron Council on World Affairs
Faith, Fear, Fictions & Informed Consent


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