September 5, 2006

Back to the Well

Keith Olbermann of MSNBC's Countdown, has become increasingly important as a voice of reason in the mainstream media. While his sometimes clownish feud with Bill O'Reilly is amusing theater, and his daily Worst Person in the World award is good fun with a bite, Olbermann's value to the country is evident when our leaders engage in fear-mongering demagoguery and political intimidation.

In a prime example of just such behavior last week, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld delivered a speech to the national convention of the American Legion in Salt Lake City on the topic of the war in Iraq. In it, he decried the "moral (and) intellectual confusion" of war opponents - comparing them to those who favored appeasing Hitler rather than confronting him in the run-up to the second world war - and asked whether we can afford the view that "America... is the source of the world’s troubles."

The irony of that last question of course, is thick, given the video of Rumsfeld glad-handing with Saddam Hussein in 1983 (screen capture at right, image links to video), back when Iraq was a valuable ally against Iran after the overthrow of the Shah. In any case, condescension from Donald Rumsfeld is nothing new, but he clearly crossed a line with this speech. Olbermann agreed, and offered an extended commentary on Rumsfeld's remarks that is empassioned, eloquent, powerful and timely:

The Rumsfeld diatribe however, was not an isolated event. The first clue that it was not an aberration, but the initial salvo in the newest Bush White House communications barrage arrived Friday when he wrote an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times "clarifying" his remarks to the Legion. Far from distancing himself from the Tuesday speech, Secretary Rumsfeld reinforced his key points, once again comparing opposition to the Iraq war to the appeasement of Hitler, and this time adding in an extra layer of fear by comparing the threat from al Qaeda to that from the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Still, one might consider Donald Rumsfeld's comportment in recent years and conclude that he was merely continuing the long, public professional slide that has so damaged his - and the nation's - credibility. President Bush put to rest any notion that the Secretary of Defense was freelancing, however, when he clearly supported the beleagured Rumsfeld in a speech yesterday, again drawing comparisons between bin Laden and Hitler, as well as Lenin. What was perhaps worse however, was that Mr. Bush declared:

Secondly, along with this campaign of terror, the enemy has a propaganda strategy. Osama bin Laden laid out this strategy in a letter to the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, that coalition forces uncovered in Afghanistan in 2002. In it, bin Laden says that al Qaeda intends to "[launch]," in his words, "a media campaign… to create a wedge between the American people and their government."

This media campaign, bin Laden says, will send the American people a number of messages, including "that their government [will] bring them more losses, in finances and casualties." And he goes on to say that "they are being sacrificed… to serve… the big investors, especially the Jews." Bin Laden says that by delivering these messages, al Qaeda "aims at creating pressure from the American people on the American government to stop their campaign against Afghanistan."

In other words, if the citizens of this country criticize the policies of this administration, they play right into the hands of Osama bin Laden. In other words, if you are not with the White House, you are with the enemy, wittingly or unwittingly. In other words, we have come full circle to the remarkable statement made by former Attorney General John Ashcroft to the Senate Judiciary Committee in December 2001 when he said:

... to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve.

Olbermann again had a timely and strongly-worded response:

The Bush Administration, foundering in the wake of a failed war in Iraq, burgeoning insurgency in Afghanistan, and a host of domestic calamities lead by its response to Hurricane Katrina, has gone back to the well. Politically bankrupt, the President and the Secretary of Defense are now leading a charge to again demonize an opposition that they were once able to silence after September 11th through intimidation and fear-mongering. As Mr. Olbermann states, "Mr. Bush and his colleagues have led us before to such waters. We will not drink again."

Loyal opposition to failed policies is not treason; it is the duty of every American and the responsibility of every citizen. The threat from al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, as frightening as it is, in no way equals the threat posed by either Nazi Germany or the U.S.S.R. Millions were killed in World War II, while a nuclear conflict between NATO and the Warsaw Pact would have resulted in the annihilation of much of human civilization.

In conflating his "war on terror" with these threats, President Bush endangers this nation, effectively crying "Wolf!" and generating complacency as his analogy crumbles under scutiny and the citizenry questions his judgement in using it. Terrorism is indeed a genuine threat, but it is a very different threat than either Adolph Hitler or the Soviet Union embodied. Most importantly, it is one the United States is in no way addressing by miring itself in Iraq.

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