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Give Us a Break

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Given current events along our nation’s Caribbean coast, it’s understandable that this small news item escaped our attention. And given the fact that the current administration dismissed an Aug. 6, 2001, intelligence briefing warning of “patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings,” it’s certainly no surprise that President Bush made little of it. Then again, and especially after a luxurious five-week vacation, he’s got his hands full.

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Here it is: Last week, U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar decided that families of the 17 sailors killed in al-Qaida’s October 2000 attack on the USS Cole harbored in Yemen may pursue a lawsuit against the government of Sudan. Why? The judge felt there was evidence the East African nation aided al-Qaida’s plan of attack. Osama bin Laden and his operatives moved in and out of Sudan before a suicide bomber hit the Navy vessel, and Osama himself enjoyed Sudanese financing for the attack. Judge Doumar, who once chided the U.S. government for its unconstitutional handling of “enemy combatants,” is hardly a hawk. That makes his pronouncement all the more remarkable.

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So, where were the pronouncements from our most stalwart defenders of this administration’s “war on terror”? Where were the calls for an immediate wave of “shock and awe” on the people of Sudan? “If you’re not with us, you’re against us,” President Bush reminds the entire world. And it would seem Sudan was not just “not with us,” but actively, concretely “against us.” We’ve paid little attention to Sudan’s continually unfolding humanitarian crisis of starvation, plunder and rape, so surely this is the moment the long-suffering people of that nation have lived in hope of. That is, the moment we join our nation’s self-interest in the war on terror with the gilded vision of liberating the oppressed. Besides, Sudan’s just a stone’s throw from all that uranium in Niger.

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Curious, isn’t it, that more than two years into Iraq we hardly seem up to the task. But Judge Doumar’s words on Sudan are just one piece of evidence that we’ve lost our way in this “war on terror.” Bush has compared our intentions in Iraq to the noble ends of World War II, even if the only similarity that effort shares with Iraq is that both were armed conflicts. Conventional war and terrorism are as similar as cheese and chalk. There’s a reason we call it “terrorism,” not “war.” Give Karl Rove credit for marketing this as a “war on terror.”

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We’ve no stomach for tax increases during “war.” Yet, as Newsweek columnist Christopher Dickey pointed out, we’ve gladly spent more than $190 billion and counting on Iraq when we ought to pay far more than the mere $100 million annually we give the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Safeguards division’s efforts to track and monitor anyone building or attempting to build nuclear weapons undetected. We threaten Syria and Iran when terrorists seep across their borders into Iraq, but then brag about maintaining a presence in Iraq so we can fight the terrorists “over there” rather than “here at home.” Well, no weapon brings the war home quite like nuclear weapons, and our continued occupation of Iraq gives Iran all the propaganda needed to defend its nuclear program.

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We don’t need phrases like “Bring ’em on!” to see our way through this mess. But words are nothing alongside actions, and Bush is hardly up for the job. With 336 days of vacation at his Texas ranch, no president in our history is better rested, or has gotten more breaks, during a time of “war.”

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