Guest post by Glenn Greenwald, about his new book “A Tragic Legacy”

NOTE FROM JOHN: I’ve asked Glenn Greenwald to join us and post a bit about his new book, “A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency.” Without further ado, here’s Glenn…

Events of the last several days highlight a central point of my new book, A Tragic Legacy, which John has generously invited me to highlight here on AMERICAblog.

As they always do, right-wing Bush followers immediately exploited the disrupted terrorist attacks in England and Scotland in order to “justify” the full range of Bush radicalism, from ever-increasing and illegal surveillance of Americans to endless Middle Eastern militarism.

Before any details were even known, Sean Hannity invited Rudy Giuliani onto Fox News to proclaim jointly (and excitedly) that these plots prove that the President was right to eavesdrop on Americans without the warrants required by law, and further, they show how we needs still greater surveillance. Joe Lieberman made the same claim on ABC: “I hope these terrorist attacks in London wake us up here in America to stop the petty partisan fighting going on about electronic surveillance.”

But this exploitation of disrupted terrorist plots is both incoherent and deceitful. In every case, including this latest one, the terrorist plots are disrupted by legal means, by standard police work operating within the rule of law — not by invasions, torture or lawbreaking.

Moreover, nobody disputes that there is such a thing as “the threat of terrorism.” To the contrary, objections to Bush’s policies do not depend upon some sort of belief that terrorism threats do not exist, but instead are grounded in the premise, one supported by Bush’s own National Intelligence Estimate, that Bush’s policies exacerbate that threat. As I argue in the following excerpt from Tragic Legacy — based on a 2006 column by George Will in which Will admitted that John Kerry’s “law enforcement” approach to terrorism turned out to be correct — each newly revealed terrorist plot demonstrates how misguided and dangerous the Bush approach to terrorism has been:
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From A Tragic Legacy:

In an extraordinary August, 2006 column, long-time conservative George Will wrote that the Bush administration had “denied the obvious, that Kerry had a point.” In defending (two years after the fact) Kerry’s arguments about terrorism Will specifically cited this:

In a candidates’ debate in South Carolina (Jan. 29, 2004), Kerry said that although the war on terror will be “occasionally military,” it is “primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world.”

It is critical to note the circumstances in which Will argued that Kerry was right all along about terrorism. Two highly illustrative events were dominating the news that week — the intense, brutal (and ultimately woefully unsuccessful) Israeli bombing campaign of Lebanon with the ostensible aim of eliminating the Hezbollah threat, and the announcement by the British government that it had disrupted a plot by Islamic extremists in England to blow up ten commercial jets over the Atlantic Ocean. Bush supporters were touting both events to underscore the necessity of waging war in the Middle East as a means for fighting terrorism, even though — as Will noted — they each proved exactly the opposite.

The President himself, as he always does whenever it comes to news of alleged terrorist plots, was excitedly hyping the dramatic “U.K. airline” plot to claim that it vindicated his approach to terrorism:

The recent arrests that our fellow citizens are now learning about are a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation.

Manichean war cries of this type are, as one would expect, politically effective. Glorious crusades to crush Evil with violence will always be more intuitively exciting and emotionally satisfying than less flamboyant means for defeating it. But in the case of terrorism, this mindset is incoherent, dangerous, and — worst of all — entirely counter-productive, because nothing fuels the anti-America resentment at the heart of terrorism more than invasions and bombing campaigns in Muslim countries.

For that reason, such rhetoric ought to — as Will put it — “repel all but the delusional.” After all, as Will noted in his column, the U.K. terrorist plot was disrupted not by invading other countries or dropping bombs on Middle Eastern neighborhoods, but through diligent and patient law enforcement efforts, i.e., the measures advocated by Kerry which prompted such mockery in the press:

The London plot against civil aviation confirmed a theme of an illuminating new book, Lawrence Wright’s “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.” The theme is that better law enforcement, which probably could have prevented Sept. 11, is central to combating terrorism. F-16s are not useful tools against terrorism that issues from places such as Hamburg (where Mohamed Atta lived before dying in the North Tower of the World Trade Center) and High Wycombe, England.

Cooperation between Pakistani and British law enforcement (the British draw upon useful experience combating IRA terrorism) has validated John Kerry’s belief (as paraphrased by the New York Times Magazine of Oct. 10, 2004) that “many of the interdiction tactics that cripple drug lords, including governments working jointly to share intelligence, patrol borders and force banks to identify suspicious customers, can also be some of the most useful tools in the war on terror.”

The Bush administration and/or its supporters unabashedly exploit terrorist threats for political gain every time a new plot is revealed — no matter how serious or frivolous, how advanced or preliminary, a particular plot might be. Bush followers squeeze such events for every last drop of political gain they can. As the President stated when the U.K. plot was revealed, this was “a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom.” Put another way, the President’s use of terrorist plots such as this one is designed to convey this message: those who oppose my policies forget that there are Evil people in the world. Terrorist plots thus prove that there is Evil and that the President is right.

But that argument is as incoherent as it is manipulative. Nobody doubts that there are Muslim extremists who would like to commit acts of violence against the U.S. and the West. No political disputes are premised, nor have they ever been premised, on a conflict over whether terrorism exists or whether it ought to be taken seriously. Nor does anyone of consequence doubt that terrorists are malicious and dangerous. Thus, events such as the U.K. plot reveal what everyone already knows, and do nothing to inform or resolve political debates over the Bush administration’s militaristic foreign policy or its radical lawlessness at home.

Above all, the existence of Evil Terrorists and the fact that some are plotting to attack the U.S. certainly does nothing to vindicate the President’s invasion of Iraq. Opposition to the war in Iraq is not and never was based upon the premi
se that no terrorist threat exists. It is based on the premise that that invasion of Iraq undermines, rather than strengthens, the American campaign to fight terrorism. What has been, and still is, in dispute is the highly manipulative claim that invading Iraq would somehow reduce anti-American terrorism.

Though the President attempted to exploit the U.K. plot to ratchet up the fear of Evil terrorists and thereby bolster support for the war in Iraq, that plot actually captures the core deceit and incoherence at the heart of the President’s Manichean militarism. Most of the participants in that conspiracy were British citizens, born in England. They had nothing to do with Iraq or Saddam Hussein or Iranian mullahs or the ruling Assad family in Syria. They were motivated by hatred for the United States, hatred which could not possibly be anything other than inflamed, and certainly not diffused, as a result of watching the U.S. attack a sovereign oil-rich country filled with Muslim holy sites. The ongoing occupation of Iraq spawned daily video of corpses of Muslim children, pictures of bombed marketplaces and tales of American abuses against Muslims inside torture prisons formerly used by Saddam Hussein. That such conduct by the U.S. would heighten the risk of terrorism and spread Islamic radicalism is self-evident.

The President and his supporters love to speak of Osama bin Laden and his Terrorist allies as hiding in fear of the President’s militarism — or even hoping that Democrats win elections because Terrorists so dislike George Bush’s war-making. Yet the exact opposite is true. Nothing has aided the cause of Islamic terrorism more than George Bush’s brutal and endless acts of aggression in the Middle East, as nothing has increased the fuel of terrorism — anti-American anger — more than that.

And it is hard to imagine a more ardent fan of the President’s embrace of a Manichean worldview than Osama bin Laden, who shares that Manichean mentality and expressly sought, with the 9/11 attacks, to provoke exactly the split between the U.S. and the Muslim world which the Bush policies have wrought. As James Fallows reported in a 2006 article in The Atlantic Monthly:

Documents captured after 9/11 showed that bin Laden hoped to provoke the United States into an invasion and occupation that would entail all the complications that have arisen in Iraq. His only error was to think that the place where Americans would get stuck would be Afghanistan.

Bin Laden also hoped that such an entrapment would drain the United States financially. Many al-Qaeda documents refer to the importance of sapping American economic strength as a step toward reducing America’s ability to throw its weight around in the Middle East.

Invading and bombing Muslim countries does not diminish the threat of terrorism. Quite the contrary, warmongering in the Middle East exacerbates terrorist threats by radicalizing more Muslims and increasing anti-U.S. resentment. That is self-evident at this point.
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Reprinted with permission of Crown Publishing. All rights reserved.

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