important thing is that Brzezinski can get it published on the front
page of today's Outlook section of the Post.*
Terrorized by 'War on Terror'*
How a Three-Word Mantra Has Undermined America
By Zbigniew Brzezinski
Sunday, March 25, 2007; B01
The "war on terror" has created a culture of fear in America. The Bush
administration's elevation of these three words into a national mantra
since the horrific events of 9/11 has had a pernicious impact on
American democracy, on America's psyche and on U.S. standing in the
world. Using this phrase has actually undermined our ability to
effectively confront the real challenges we face from fanatics who may
use terrorism against us.
The damage these three words have done -- a classic self-inflicted wound
-- is infinitely greater than any wild dreams entertained by the
fanatical perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks when they were plotting
against us in distant Afghan caves. The phrase itself is meaningless. It
defines neither a geographic context nor our presumed enemies. Terrorism
is not an enemy but a technique of warfare -- political intimidation
through the killing of unarmed non-combatants.
But the little secret here may be that the vagueness of the phrase was
deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors. Constant
reference to a "war on terror" did accomplish one major objective: It
stimulated the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason,
intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to
mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue. The
war of choice in Iraq could never have gained the congressional support
it got without the psychological linkage between the shock of 9/11 and
the postulated existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Support
for President Bush in the 2004 elections was also mobilized in part by
the notion that "a nation at war" does not change its commander in chief
in midstream. The sense of a pervasive but otherwise imprecise danger
was thus channeled in a politically expedient direction by the
mobilizing appeal of being "at war."
To justify the "war on terror," the administration has lately crafted a
false historical narrative that could even become a self-fulfilling
prophecy. By claiming that its war is similar to earlier U.S. struggles
against Nazism and then Stalinism (while ignoring the fact that both
Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were first-rate military powers, a status
al-Qaeda neither has nor can achieve), the administration could be
preparing the case for war with Iran. Such war would then plunge America
into a protracted conflict spanning Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and perhaps
The culture of fear is like a genie that has been let out of its bottle.
It acquires a life of its own -- and can become demoralizing. America
today is not the self-confident and determined nation that responded to
Pearl Harbor; nor is it the America that heard from its leader, at
another moment of crisis, the powerful words "the only thing we have to
fear is fear itself"; nor is it the calm America that waged the Cold War
with quiet persistence despite the knowledge that a real war could be
initiated abruptly within minutes and prompt the death of 100 million
Americans within just a few hours. We are now divided, uncertain and
potentially very susceptible to panic in the event of another terrorist
act in the United States itself.
That is the result of five years of almost continuous national
brainwashing on the subject of terror, quite unlike the more muted
reactions of several other nations (Britain, Spain, Italy, Germany,
Japan, to mention just a few) that also have suffered painful terrorist
acts. In his latest justification for his war in Iraq, President Bush
even claims absurdly that he has to continue waging it lest al-Qaeda
cross the Atlantic to launch a war of terror here in the United States.
Such fear-mongering, reinforced by security entrepreneurs, the mass
media and the entertainment industry, generates its own momentum. The
terror entrepreneurs, usually described as experts on terrorism, are
necessarily engaged in competition to justify their existence. Hence
their task is to convince the public that it faces new threats. That
puts a premium on the presentation of credible scenarios of
ever-more-horrifying acts of violence, sometimes even with blueprints
for their implementation.
That America has become insecure and more paranoid is hardly debatable.
A recent study reported that in 2003, Congress identified 160 sites as
potentially important national targets for would-be terrorists. With
lobbyists weighing in, by the end of that year the list had grown to
1,849; by the end of 2004, to 28,360; by 2005, to 77,769. The national
database of possible targets now has some 300,000 items in it, including
the Sears Tower in Chicago and an Illinois Apple and Pork Festival.
Just last week, here in Washington, on my way to visit a journalistic
office, I had to pass through one of the absurd "security checks" that
have proliferated in almost all the privately owned office buildings in
this capital -- and in New York City. A uniformed guard required me to
fill out a form, show an I.D. and in this case explain in writing the
purpose of my visit. Would a visiting terrorist indicate in writing that
the purpose is "to blow up the building"? Would the guard be able to
arrest such a self-confessing, would-be suicide bomber? To make matters
more absurd, large department stores, with their crowds of shoppers, do
not have any comparable procedures. Nor do concert halls or movie
theaters. Yet such "security" procedures have become routine, wasting
hundreds of millions of dollars and further contributing to a siege
Government at every level has stimulated the paranoia. Consider, for
example, the electronic billboards over interstate highways urging
motorists to "Report Suspicious Activity" (drivers in turbans?). Some
mass media have made their own contribution. The cable channels and some
print media have found that horror scenarios attract audiences, while
terror "experts" as "consultants" provide authenticity for the
apocalyptic visions fed to the American public. Hence the proliferation
of programs with bearded "terrorists" as the central villains. Their
general effect is to reinforce the sense of the unknown but lurking
danger that is said to increasingly threaten the lives of all Americans.
The entertainment industry has also jumped into the act. Hence the TV
serials and films in which the evil characters have recognizable Arab
features, sometimes highlighted by religious gestures, that exploit
public anxiety and stimulate Islamophobia. Arab facial stereotypes,
particularly in newspaper cartoons, have at times been rendered in a
manner sadly reminiscent of the Nazi anti-Semitic campaigns. Lately,
even some college student organizations have become involved in such
propagation, apparently oblivious to the menacing connection between the
stimulation of racial and religious hatreds and the unleashing of the
unprecedented crimes of the Holocaust.
The atmosphere generated by the "war on terror" has encouraged legal and
political harassment of Arab Americans (generally loyal Americans) for
conduct that has not been unique to them. A case in point is the
reported harassment of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
for its attempts to emulate, not very successfully, the American Israel
Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Some House Republicans recently
described CAIR members as "terrorist apologists" who should not be
allowed to use a Capitol meeting room for a panel discussion.
Social discrimination, for example toward Muslim air travelers, has also
been its unintended byproduct. Not surprisingly, animus toward the
United States even among Muslims otherwise not particularly concerned
with the Middle East has intensified, while America's reputation as a
leader in fostering constructive interracial and interreligious
relations has suffered egregiously.
The record is even more troubling in the general area of civil rights.
The culture of fear has bred intolerance, suspicion of foreigners and
the adoption of legal procedures that undermine fundamental notions of
justice. Innocent until proven guilty has been diluted if not undone,
with some -- even U.S. citizens -- incarcerated for lengthy periods of
time without effective and prompt access to due process. There is no
known, hard evidence that such excess has prevented significant acts of
terrorism, and convictions for would-be terrorists of any kind have been
few and far between. Someday Americans will be as ashamed of this record
as they now have become of the earlier instances in U.S. history of
panic by the many prompting intolerance against the few.
In the meantime, the "war on terror" has gravely damaged the United
States internationally. For Muslims, the similarity between the rough
treatment of Iraqi civilians by the U.S. military and of the
Palestinians by the Israelis has prompted a widespread sense of
hostility toward the United States in general. It's not the "war on
terror" that angers Muslims watching the news on television, it's the
victimization of Arab civilians. And the resentment is not limited to
Muslims. A recent BBC poll of 28,000 people in 27 countries that sought
respondents' assessments of the role of states in international affairs
resulted in Israel, Iran and the United States being rated (in that
order) as the states with "the most negative influence on the world."
Alas, for some that is the new axis of evil!
The events of 9/11 could have resulted in a truly global solidarity
against extremism and terrorism. A global alliance of moderates,
including Muslim ones, engaged in a deliberate campaign both to
extirpate the specific terrorist networks and to terminate the political
conflicts that spawn terrorism would have been more productive than a
demagogically proclaimed and largely solitary U.S. "war on terror"
against "Islamo-fascism." Only a confidently determined and reasonable
America can promote genuine international security which then leaves no
political space for terrorism.
Where is the U.S. leader ready to say, "Enough of this hysteria, stop
this paranoia"? Even in the face of future terrorist attacks, the
likelihood of which cannot be denied, let us show some sense. Let us be
true to our traditions.
/Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Jimmy
Carter, is the author most recently of "Second Chance: Three Presidents
and the Crisis of American Superpower" (Basic Books)./