Have We Learned Anything from the Bush Years? → Washingtons Blog
Have We Learned Anything from the Bush Years? - Washingtons Blog

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Have We Learned Anything from the Bush Years?

Fear makes people stupid.

It makes us unable to think straight. And it makes us give up our power to tough-talking authoritarians.

War Is Stupid

And since the "war on terror" is now being expanded to Yemen, it is worth remembering that experts state that the "war on terror" has been counterproductive for keeping us safe. For example, a leading advisor to the U.S. military, the hawkish Rand Corporation, released a study in 2008 called "How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al Qa'ida".

The report confirms what experts have been saying for years: the war on terror is actually weakening national security (see this, this and this).

As a press release about the study states:

"Terrorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors, and our analysis suggests that there is no battlefield solution to terrorism."
And see this.

Indeed, while the 9-11 Commission made numerous recommendations on how to prevent future terrorist attacks -- many of them simple and inexpensive to implement -- the Bush administration failed to do so (and see this and this). Moreover, the Bush administration and its allies actively blocked efforts to do so.

The Department of Homeland Security, instead of protecting vulnerable targets and concentrating on keeping actual bad guys out of our country, instead randomly made up lists which included kangaroo centers, petting zoos and ice cream parlors as high-priority terrorist threats. And the Bush administration refused to fill important positions at DHS so that our security could be protected.

Things haven't improved much - at least in some areas - since Obama has taken office.

Torture Is Stupid

And, purportedly, some are again pushing torture in response to the underwear bomber.

As president-elect of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, Roy Eidelson, points out - most Americans supported the use of torture because they were deceived into thinking that it works and was a necessary tool in a life-or-death war on terror.

In fact, overwhelming evidence and the opinion of the top experts in the field prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that:

  • Torture does NOT work to produce intelligence or prevent terrorist attacks
  • Torture HARMS national security
  • Most of those tortured were INNOCENT

(For religious people, you could thus say that torture is evil, as it inflicts harm for no beneficial purpose. For Christians, fear also goes against the basic teachings of Jesus).

The Repeal of Constitutional Rights Is Stupid

Finally, the Bush administration claimed that we needed spying on Americans, the loss of basic constitutional rights, and more presidential power because of 9/11. In truth:
  • Cheney advocated strengthening the powers of the White House to the point of monarchy before 9/11
Incidentally, both the Iraq war - which we now know was wholly unnecessary (see this and this) - and the Afghanistan war were planned before 9/11 as well.

Have We Learned Anything?

Remember the words of one of America's founding fathers and one of the fathers of philosophy:
Those who would trade safety for freedom deserve neither.
Ben Franklin

Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees the others.
- Aristotle

As Ryan Sager points out:

Terrorism is not now, and has never been, an existential threat to the United States. As we’ve discussed, the threat of dying in a terrorist attack is far smaller than the threat of being hit by lightning. No one’s arguing we shouldn’t be vigilant against terrorism — and airline security in particular is a farce, a problem that must be solved, and (frustratingly enough) a problem that can be solved. As is the problem we seem to have of keeping people — even people who’ve been flagged by their own families — on the proper watch lists. But these are law-enforcement problems and intelligence problems. They are not a war.

The war is in our minds, between being scared of our shadows and keeping the true threat in perspective. It’s not easy of course — I’m a New Yorker, every day I get on a subway that could be bombed, that rumbles under what used to be the World Trade Center. But is there any true solution other than to keep a stiff upper lip?

Fear is a powerful weapon — and there’s no reason the American president should act as a force multiplier for Al Qaeda.

And as professor Scott Atran notes:
To terrorize and destabilize, terrorists need publicity and our complicity. With publicity, even failed terrorist acts succeed in terrorizing; without publicity, terrorism would fade away ... By amplifying and connecting relatively sporadic terrorist acts into a generalized "war," the somewhat marginal phenomenon of terrorism has become a primary preoccupation of our government and people. This transformation puts the lie to the constant refrain by our same leaders that "terrorists will gain nothing."
Have we learned anything from the revelations that the Bush administration lied us into the need for a war in Iraq, lied about the need for torture, lied about the reason for spying, loss of constitutional rights, and an overwhelmingly powerful executive branch?

Have we learned anything from the discovery that unnecessary war, torture and panic over sporadic terrorist attacks create more terrorism and reduce national security?

Or will our fear of the underwear bomber and other terrorist acts scare us into stupidity again, as it did so many people during the Bush years?


  1. You are talking about a nation a majority of which no longer considers torture or pre-emptive military attacks moral evils, sir. In any objective moral sense they are, of course, but not to the American people of 2009. But what would you expect when the great bulk of our ruling clique considers a dreadful little maggot like Tom Friedman influential and worthy of a hearing. Speaking of Friedman, here's some deserved personal history he'd rather forget about, I'm sure:


    We, too, are getting only what we might have expected. A prognosticative piece today at Zero Hedge by James Howard Kunstler places the situation in particularly stark relief:

    "Unlike the 1930s, we are no longer a nation who call each other "Mister" and "Ma'am," where even the down-and-out wear neckties and speak a discernible variant of regular English, where hoboes say "thank you," and where, in short, there is something like a common culture of shared values. We're a nation of thugs and louts with flames tattooed on our necks, who call each other "motherfucker" and are skilled only in playing video games based on mass murder."

    Our "shared values", largely religious, were tossed in the garbage by a self-serving, narcissistic generation caught up for four decades in a denial of nature, child killing and the normalization of sexual aberations, these portrayed throughout as a matter of "right". One reaps what one sows, I'm afraid.

    Andrei Vyshinsky

  2. Do you read Glenn Greenwald over at Salon? He is always talking extensively about how American foreign policy actually makes the terrorism problem worse because when we drop bombs on other countries we (intentionally or unintentionally) kill hundreds (maybe even thousands) of civilians, and it's these acts of violence from American bombs, the pictures of women and children dead and smoldering in the ashes, that get fed to Muslims which then radicalizes them and pushes them to be sympathetic to Al Qaeda's causes. I'm just wondering if you read him because you share similar viewpoints to his but you never link to his articles. His blog posts are some of the most intelligent musings on this cause/effect relationship that can be found in the "mainstream" press today, if Salon is indeed considered mainstream.

  3. toombsie,

    Greenwald is great. I've read hundreds of his articles, and would read them all if I had time.

  4. This has nothing to do with security and everything to do with the $600 Billion of goodies that Congress has showered on DOD.

    The only way to get more goodies is to show you can fully waste the goodies you got before.

  5. Have we learned anything?

    I do not think so. The number of immoral acts is virtually limitless. We cannot try them all, -one right after the other, -only to revisit them again and again.

    Better rules must be made, categorical rules.

    As far as the depth of economic understanding, we are getting worse at it -every day-, while we repeat the same mistakes -over and over again.

    We even make the same mistakes -when no one but the criminal beneficiaries of the malfeasance -supports making those mistakes -again-.

    Our reality is obfuscated, intentionally. We should not contribute to the effort.

    Go out into the marketplace. Look at what there is to buy. There's food, and consumer goods, automobiles, homes and a few high ticket luxury items.

    Really, not much has changed -in a very long time.

    But look at the great mountains of money being spoken about and tossed to the feeding frenzy of the financial world through stocks, deriviatives, insurances, financing, surety bonds and futures contracts.

    Now weigh the one against the other, -what we actually might use, -and- -what these financial devils have contrived to convince so many are prerequisites to a modern well-functioning economy!

    Compared to an ever-growing mountain of immoral financial fraud built on debt and the exotic instruments of debt, -and- the massively disproportionate size of government, -->>there is really very little that humanity actually requires.

    And yet, we see families living in the streets, in tents, in cars, under highway bridges, and in campgrounds under the stars -while millions of homes are empty and formerly productive workplaces are idled.

    We have learned nothing.

  6. GW, for all my respect, I have to pop off about my first reaction to your early words on this one. "Fear makes people stupid. It makes us unable to think straight. ..."

    Just reacting. Global statements like this are sometimes true, but sometimes not. Fear makes some people smart, sometimes, if not courageous and smart.


  7. GW:

    I may be wrong but, I think the "Those who would trade safety for freedom deserve neither".quote should be attributed to Ben Franklin.

    I found the following here:


    According to a blog by the New York Times:

    "The Yale Book of Quotations, which attempts to trace all famous quotations to their sources, has the following:

    'Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.' Benjamin Franklin, 'Pennsylvania Assembly: Reply to the Governor,' November 11, 1755."

    So basically it was Ben Franklin.


  8. And, what is a terrorist? Does a terrorist have to be a private individual or is it possible for a country be a terrorist?

    The U.S. has claimed to be engaged in a war on terror for the last decade, but it has bombed wedding parties and even news reporters. It has used depleted uranium weapons and white phosphorus. It has tortured people with little justification and it has conducted a campaign of shock and awe. Doesn't this sound more like a country that is conducting acts of terror than it does a country that is fighting against terrorism?

  9. To Bill Bergman.

    John Adams, in his 1776 Thoughts on Government, put it this way:

    Fear is the foundation of most governments; but it is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men in whose breasts it predominates so stupid and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it.

  10. Also to Bill Bergman....

    Those who want to claim that the media's hysteria over the latest "underwear" incident is not matched by the general public's are going to have to explain this:

    Fifty-eight percent (58%) of U.S. voters say waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation techniques should be used to gain information from the terrorist who attempted to bomb an airliner on Christmas Day. . . . Seventy-one percent (71%) of all voters think the attempt by the Nigerian Muslim to blow up the airliner as it landed in Detroit should be investigated by military authorities as a terrorist act. Only 22% say it should be handled by civilian authorities as a criminal act, as is currently the case.

    Does that sound like a calm and sober citizenry?

  11. Torture is evil and contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ. What we see... again and again and again... is SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS as an excuse to do evil.

    To me, the bottom-line of the Government's capacity to "excite" the mob mentality of a truly sick society - is their pushing the "self-righteousness" button of the American people. Americans are trained like Pavlov's dogs to salivate and demand blood everytime their self-righteous button is pushed.

    Those other people are evil - therefore any deed is judged "righteous". Those other people are not as righteous as "Americans" - and nothing America does can be viewed as wrong.

    Self-righteousness, self-righteousness, self-righteousness again and again and again.

    Bush perfected the "self-righteous button" and created bloodthirsty neocons. To challenge anything about the bloodlust or the reason of war and UN occupation using American troops is to challenge their sense of self-righteousness.

    To apply any maxim equally and to hold Americans subject to uniform standard like "torture is evil" is to challenge American self-righteousness and is met with snarling teeth by the neocons and Americans who never question their own "rightness" but point the finger at the "other" and say, "They are evil. We are good and just defending ourselves and spreading democracy."

    You could tell these neocons that we took a village full of women and children and raped and killed them all and say, "But it was for America!"...

    And they would self-righteously declare it "right" - and snarl their teeth at you for challenging them on the immoval standards of moral law that no longer apply to the self-righteous who constantly see the splinter in the eyes of others - and see not the beam in their own.

    Why, you're just denying the evil of the "other" to attempt to hold the USA government and the American people to any standard.

    "We are as gods knowing good and evil!" the Americans cry - and claim this is "Christian" and the "neocon way".

    These are the most evil among us: the self-righteous of any group.

    One need not be religious to be self-righteous. Liberals are self-righteous in their mindsets and sneer at conservatives. However, to me, one of the most profane show of evil is the self-righteousness of those who call themselves Christians and self-righteously promote torture of the innocent as a "necessary evil" to defend and protect them in their supposed "goodness".

    Still disgusted with Christians promoting evil in the name of "self-righteous America"...

    A Christian yours truly


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