With Senator Obama the presumptive Democratic nominee, the question facing America, increasingly, boils down to this: intensify the "clash of civilizations," at the continued expense of domestic needs, or turn to diplomacy to resolve international conflict, so we can re-orient our national priorities to health care, education, economic recovery, and protecting the environment.
With President Bush's approval ratings in the cellar, Senator McCain has to convince America that his candidacy does not represent a continuation of the status quo. He's gotten a lot of help in this task from big media, which continues to promote the idea that he is an independent Republican, a "maverick." [Move-On makes fun of this notion with its "Bush-McCain Challenge" - a "blind taste test" to see if voters can tell the difference between the policies of Bush and the policies of McCain.]
Much attention has been given in the press to issues where McCain has managed to establish a little bit of daylight between himself and other Republicans. He doesn't want the US military to engage in torture (but believes the CIA should be allowed to do so.) He went further than his Republican colleagues were initially willing to go in supporting some form of campaign-finance reform. And for a Congressional Republican, he was early to acknowledge the science indicating a serious problem of human-induced climate change, although he doesn't support effective measures to address the crisis.
But these small differences are more than canceled out by the areas in which McCain, judging from his rhetoric, could actually be worse than the status quo. It was Senator McCain who said he was fine with a hundred-year US military presence in Iraq. It was Senator McCain, not President Bush, who sang about bombing Iran. It was Senator McCain, not President Bush, who recently and repeatedly made the outrageous and totally unsubstantiated allegation that Iran was supporting Al Qaeda in Iraq until he was finally forced to correct himself.
And it's Senator McCain, according to an undeservedly unnoticed UPI report last week, who continues to flog the idea of a war on "Islamic terrorism," even though the official policy of the United States Government is that there is no US war on "Islamic Terror."
U.S. officials are being advised in internal government documents to avoid referring publicly to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups as Islamic or Muslim, and not to use terms like jihad or mujahedin, which "unintentionally legitimize" terrorism. "There's a growing consensus (in the administration) that we need to move away from that language," said a former senior administration official who was involved until recently in policy debates on the issue.
Instead, in two documents circulated last month by the National Counter-Terrorism Center, the multiagency center charged with strategic coordination of the U.S. war on terrorism, officials are urged to use terms like violent extremists, totalitarian and death cult to characterize al-Qaida and other terror groups. "Avoid labeling everything 'Muslim.' It reinforces the 'U.S. vs. Islam' framework that al-Qaida promotes," reads "Words that Work and Words that Don't: A Guide for Counter-Terrorism Communication," produced last month by the center. "You have a large percentage of the world's population that subscribes to this religion," noted the former official. "Unintentionally alienating them is not a judicious move."
Urging officials not to use the word Islam in conjunction with terrorism, the guide notes that, "Although the al-Qaida network exploits religious sentiments and tries to use religion to justify its actions, we should treat it as an illegitimate political organization, both terrorist and criminal."
By employing the language the extremists use about themselves, the guide warns, officials can inadvertently help legitimize them in the eyes of Muslims. "Never use the terms 'jihadist' or 'mujahedin' ... to describe the terrorists," instructs the guide. "A mujahed, a holy warrior, is a positive characterization in the context of a just war. In Arabic, jihad means 'striving in the path of God' and is used in many contexts beyond warfare. Calling our enemies Jihadis and their movement a global Jihad unintentionally legitimizes their actions."
Now, you might think that since Senator McCain presumably has access to the same information that US officials have, and since he claims to share the same goals, he would be moved by these common-sense arguments. Not so, UPI says - these considerations are "apparently being ignored" by Senator McCain:
In a recent interview with the Washington Times, a McCain aide said the senator would continue to use the term Islamic terrorism.
Of course, if America sees itself as facing an enemy of "Islamic terror," while that might be very harmful to the U.S. internationally, it could be very useful domestically. It would be much easier to rationalize a military attack on Iran.
If McCain runs for President on the alleged threat from Iran and wins - a possibility that sadly cannot be excluded today - the danger of U.S. military confrontation with Iran during his Administration will be very great. Who wants to be in the position of trying to lobby Congress not to go along with President McCain's attack on Iran?
If the past is any guide, McCain can expect generous treatment for his efforts to beat the war drums against Iran from the commanding heights of U.S. media. A citizen peace surge is needed to thwart him.
Activists in Chicago are providing a good example this week. Led by Alderman Joe Moore and supported by Chicago's No War With Iran Coalition, the Chicago City Council is considering on May 14 (Wednesday) at 10AM (central time) a resolution opposing a military attack on Iran. The previous day, Tuesday the 13th, there will be a press conference at 10:30 and hearings at 11:30 with Scott Ritter, John Mearsheimer, and Stephen Kinzer, among others.