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The Right Stuff, The Wrong War, and the Shameful Politics of Fear


For the first time since Christopher Columbus first set eyes on the New World, the leader of America is waging an aggressive campaign to spread fear throughout the land, to divide American against American, and to exploit that fear and division to abuse cardinal rules of the American Experience and the American idea.

As America approaches historic elections in 2006 and 2008 let me propose that the great divide is not between the Democrats and the
Republicans, or the liberals and conservatives, but between those who believe in a politics of fear that divides the country, versus those who believe in a politics of bravery that is based on common sense and the common history of Americanism.

In For Whom The Bells Tolls, are these words: "No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is part of the continent, a part of the main." At home and around the world today, the bell tolls for us. The arch of crisis and chaos that leads the evening news is the inevitable and certain outcome of attitudes and policies that stray dangerously far from the mainstream of the American Experience and the American idea.

Those who have done the most to cause these crises have no better way than escalating these catastrophic attitudes, and magnifying these monumental misjudgments.

The partisans and ideologues speak of World War III, which is not only historically false, which not only borders on insulting to those who fought World War I and World War II; it is their desired trump card in the politics of fear, used to justify deviations from traditional Americanism that are unprecedented in our history from our leaders.

Never before have American leaders promoted fear to justify the use of torture and abrogation of key points in the Geneva Convention that are supported by every branch of our military service.

Never before have our leaders promoted fear to seek to exempt themselves from American laws governing crimes of war.

Never before has a commander in chief created fear to demonize half the country as unpatriotic and for the first time since George Washington crossed the Delaware, never before has an American commander in chief launched and supported systematic attacks on the bravery and heroism of authentic war heroes because he views them as domestic political enemies.

Never before has a commander in chief promoted fear to claim the unilateral power to abrogate the bill of rights, or violate statutes with a statement asserting he alone will choose whether or not he is bound to faithfully execute the laws he signs, not once, not twice, but now approaching a thousand times.

Never before in our history, has any President so brazenly and so wrongly and so disastrously used war itself not as a call to heroism to unite our people, but as a call to fear, as a cheap weapon of wedge politics and war partisanship where instead of having nothing to fear but fear itself, we are told to fear our enemies, fear for our lives, and fear each other.

George Washington twice surrendered power when he could have had it all for himself, first when the Continental Army won and some wanted Washington to the equivalent of King, then when he had served his terms and some wanted him to be President for life. What would the man who led our troops through Valley Forge and across the Delaware think of the man who today tells us to be afraid?

It is true, there is a war against terrorism; but this is also true: in this latest incarnation of the politics of fear, if we are supposed to be so afraid of bottled water and after shave on airplanes, why was this problem ignored since 1995 by those promoting these fears, and why were there attempts to cut funding for airport screening from those who use their own failures to create new fears?

It is true, there is a war against terrorism, but this is also true: it is a war the involves the miltary but also a battle of ideas where we
must appeal to best aspirations for democracy; it is a war against poverty and hunger and desperation in the world, which are breeding grounds for terrorists of today and tomorrow.

It is true, there is a war against terrorism, but its weapons include homeland security that must be competently managed and should
never be incompetently cut, ngeligently used for pork barrel corruption, or shamefully abused for partisan rewards, through no bid contracts and sweetheart deals.

It is true, we live in a dangerous world, but the way to reduce those dangers is not to make us the only generation in our history that is afraid of them, but to do the smart and right things that matter. Instead of fear, every American, every Israeli, and every friend of freedom and democracy should initiate a long overdue Herculean campaign to rid our country and our world from this inexcusable dependence on Middle East oil.

The only fear that matters is not what we should feel, but the fear of those who employ secret meetings with profiteers from foreign oil business, because they are afraid of what the American people would think if they knew the whole truth.

Yes, we live in a dangerous world and the Middle East is a dangerous place, but the answer lies not in our being afraid of the harm that will befall us, and turning on each other, but the bravery and wisdom of every American leader since 1948 to combine the force of our power with the force of our ideas through American leadership in Middle East diplomacy that has been completely absent, for the first time ever, for the past six years.

The problem with the current Administration is not that virtually none of them have combat experience, but that they are so fast to demean the advice of those who do, that they learn no lessons from world history or their own terrible mistakes. No matter what the lessons of either history or experience, their only response is to keep making the same mistakes on even larger scales, with ever more harmful consequences.

Funding homeland security, leadership in diplomacy, winning the battle of ideas, uniting the American people, fighting poverty and injustice, intelligence that provides the best information to decision-makers without being twisted for ideology or partisanship, the proper ways to wage counter-insurgency war, the need to genuinely respect the advice of commanders and the need to appeal to the aspirations of people everywhere; these are not part of their vision of a permanent world war with an always divided nation, where even our neighbors at home and friends around the world are treated like enemies and demeaned by the politics of fear.

For Whom The Bell Tolls: When our national life becomes dominated by a war crazed policy that knows nothing but war, from those who know little about how to win them. When American democracy becomes dominated by a fevered war partisanship deliberately designed to create fear rather then courage. When the essence of the mission becomes the warped obsession to defeat and destroy each other by the warped notion of a permanent and endless world war. Of course, as a law of nature and history, the result will be the tragedy witnessed every night on the evening news.

The great truth of our times must include this:

There is no World War III comparable in any way miltarily to World War II. Military force must be part of the policy, but we fight a war of counter-insurgency where shock and awe bombing, massive use of precision guided missiles, heavy long range artillery and the excessive killing of civilians can do great harm when they alienate vast populations who's support we need to win.

War includes a political dimension, a tactical dimension, a human dimension that are just as essential to victory or defeat as the power of the bombs we drop and the missiles we launch. The war fever partisans in Washington have learned nothing from the experience of Iraq except an obsession to repeat the same mistakes everywhere.

The great truth of our times and all times is clear: the risks we take for peace are just as important as the risks we take for war. There is no reason we cannot and many reasons we should seek a cease-fire in Iraq, aimed at preventing civil war by bringing internal Iraqi insurgents into the political system through negotiations, splitting them off from the foreign terrorists who exploit sectarian violence, and defeating the smaller number of Al-Quada foreign terrorists on the battlefield once and for all. It will not be easy, but this is the solution favored by many of the commanders and it makes far greater sense than the disastrous status quo.

The risks we take for peace: we must restore the traditional role of the United States in the Middle East supported by every American and every Israeli Admnistration since 1948 of combining ironclad security for Israel with a capacity of being widely seen as an honest broker for a broader peace. The arch of chaos, instability and war throughout the region is not the only way; while we defeat the terrorists on the battlefield we also defeat them by offering young Arabs and Israelis alike the hope of a better world.

There must be a renewed U.S. leadership including high level Democrats and high level Republicans such as President Clinton and
Secretary Powell to at least open the door to a new cycle of hope. Hard though it is, it is necessary and better than the disastrous status quo where American diplomacy has been AWOL for six failed years. The road to a just peace between Israel and Palestinians is long and hard, but must begin with the first steps and must include the leadership of America that all previous presidents since
Truman have tried to provide.

The risks we take for peace: nothing would be lost and potentially much would be gained by seeking a major diplomatic breakthrough with Syria. Without question the Syrians like the Iranians have been malevolent players thoughout the Middle East. But it is a deadly mistake to accept the war fever of the war partisans, which lumps everyone into this giant blob of Islamo-fascists, and fails to recognize that we can exploit the natural differences of malevolent players who are not ordained to be in permanent alliance against us.

The Syrians have many common interests but also important different interests from Iran. We must first understand two things about the war fever of the war partisans and why they refuse to even test the possibilities. The first is that they are fundamentally motivated by the desire to drive fear among Americans and to use fear to drive us apart from each other. Risks for peace reduce fear, and they certainly do not want that.

Second, the inevitable consequence of this war fever partisanship is that America is ultimately at war with virtually everyone in the region, on a virtually permanent basis. Their motto is: more Iraqs. Our motto is: lets learn from Iraq.

We risk absolutely nothing by asking Syria: we want you to stop supporting terrorism, to stop all actions against Israel, to stop all support and sanctionary for those attacking our troops in Iraq. We are willing to offer very considerable inducements for you to do so.
What do you want in return? This is the real game changer in the Middle East: the upside is greater security for Israel, a stronger and more democratic Lebanon, a significant cut-off of support to those opposing us in Iraq, and isolation and pressure on Iran. Here is the downside if the Syrians say no: nothing. We give up zero by making the offer; we gain enormously if it works.

Richard Nixon took risks to open the doors to China; Ronald Reagan took risks that changed history with Gorbachev; risks for peace protect our security as much as risks for war, and war fever, with war fear, and war partisanship, is not only without precedent in our history but it will virtually guarantee the escalated damage of the mistakes that have gotten us to this point today.

We don't need World War III to understand and honor the greatness of those who won World War II, and ask why their spirit that is so lacking from our leaders in Washington today.

Like John McCain, I honor my father, Murray Budowsky, a decorated Army medic who fought the Battle of the Bulge, who kept charging into bullets to tend to his wounded brothers, until they carried him away to care, on a stretcher, with them. But we also honor those who stayed at home to join the fight in the factories, in the shipyards, in every community in America, with a courage and unity and bravery that is so quintessentially American.

On the front lines, Clark Gable, James, Stewart, and Tyrone Power shared combat side by side with the son of the steelworker, the brother of the taxi driver, the daughters of great wealth who were heroic nurses in the hardest theaters of combat. From the home front Bob Hope and Judy Garland supported the effort with USO tours and singing Over The Rainbow to give our forces inspiration, and women flocked to Washington not only to be secretaries but to serve Naval Intelligence and Marine Corps recruiting and do whatever was needed.

When we lacked the boats to land at Normandy or retake the Pacific from Imperial Japanese Army, an entrepreneur from New Orleans named Andrew Higgins hired not only men but women, blacks, the elderly, the handicapped and paid them fairly and built more 12,000 "Higgins Boats" that General Eisenhower praised as one of the greatest contributors to Allied victory. What a contrast to the inability of our war fever partisans to provide enough armor, bandages and helmuts to our troops today!

Risks for peace as well as risks for war: one of the great Generals of that era created one of the most visionary and enlightened weapons for freedom in this history of democracy, the Marshall Plan. What a contrast to the hustlers and protifeers who misuse much of our money given to them through insider deals from the partisans of the politics of fear!

Whatever our views of the MIddle East, lets act with a spirit of generosity towards the people of Lebanon, as General Marshall did, strengthening their democacy, training and equipping their Army, rebuilding their homes and infrastructure and calling on every nation from Europe to the Gulf States to contribute amounts worthy of the mission.

We must reject the war fever partisans who believe America must be in a permanent world war, creating fear, exploiting fear, exporting fear, manipulating fear and championing fear which is a radically warped view of American security and American democracy, which has caused enough escalating trouble not only for a lifetime, but for a generation.

The American people are better, wiser and nobler than fear politics and war partisanship. We are a Right Stuff people, a can-do nation of optimism and aspiration that sets the right mission, and gets it done, together. We are not afraid of anyone or anything, and we will defeat those who try to make us afraid, and reject those who try to divide us, because we are a better nation than that.