Will we win the war, but lose our freedom?
WASHINGTON — Celebration of the Fourth of July this year should be more a time of sober reflection than of the red-white-and-blue rhetoric that is typical of our national day.
Propelled by the attacks of Sept. 11, we are rightly engaged in a war against terrorism in order to protect the freedom central to our independence. We should rightly take precautions against further attacks, but we do not want these precautions to undermine core American values.
All wars challenge civil liberties and enhance presidential powers. President Bush has arrogated to himself, without regard to Congress, decisions on the extent of the war. A new doctrine, which he would probably be pleased to have named for him, embeds preemptive strikes in US foreign policy to replace the no-first-strike rule of the cold war.
The administration has given many signs that the first country against which this is likely to be used is Iraq. What happens to the congressional power to declare war in this circumstance? In the nature of things, one cannot very well declare war on terror, but one ought not to invade a country without declaring war.
Normal judicial process is under attack. The courts have told the Justice Department to open its hearings on deportation cases. That ruling is being appealed. Some prisoners are being held incommunicado with no hearing and without access to a lawyer. This is still under judicial consideration.
The Defense Department has tried in various ways to control media coverage of the war. To the shame of the media some have acquiesced. At the department's request, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and CNN have all agreed not to broadcast unedited statements by Osama bin Laden and his followers and to remove language that the department considers inflammatory. A White House spokesman said it was "unpatriotic" for an ABC commentator to criticize the use of cruise missiles in Afghanistan.
Rights to privacy are being threatened. Under authority of the misnamed USA Patriot Act, which Congress passed last fall in hot-blooded reaction to Sept. 11, the FBI is visiting libraries nationwide and checking what is being read by people it suspects of having ties to terrorism. Librarians are criminally liable for revealing details about the investigation. The act also loosens restrictions on intelligence gathering.
Security precautions isolate the United States Capitol. Police in Washington are talking of a massive security presence on the Fourth of July on the Mall site of the main celebrations possibly including a double fence.
The avowed objective of Mr. bin Laden, our will-o'-the-wisp enemy, is to destroy the United States. Nothing would fit that strategy better than to disrupt the observance of our Independence Day. So precautions must be taken, distasteful though they may be. But it is sad, nonetheless, to see how far we have been driven from the way we were. In a sense, bin Laden has already succeeded. The instant the first hijacked aircraft hit the World Trade Center, it was immediately apparent that the United States would never be the same again.
By expanding US objectives in the war, President Bush gave himself an endless series of contradictions. During the cold war, the US cooperated with distasteful governments in the name of protecting freedom from communism. Now the US is doing the same thing, substituting terrorism for communism in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, among others. We cannot have it both ways; we cannot spread democracy and fight terrorism at the same time.
Another Bush war aim is to make the world free of terrorism (as President Wilson tried to make it safe for democracy). But the world has not been free of terrorism for half a century. Certainly no terrorist incident in that time reached the spectacular level of bin Laden's World Trade Center, but there has been terrorism nonetheless Puerto Rican nationalists attacking Washington's official Blair House and the US House of Representatives, aircraft hijackings galore, bombs planted in the Capitol.
Meanwhile, shrinking the government (everybody's objective) has been reversed. The FBI is growing almost exponentially, is becoming ever-more intrusive, and is well on its way to establishing a worldwide presence.
The ultimate irony will be if we finally decide we have won the war on terrorism only to find that we have lost what we were trying to protect.
One must resort to a paraphrase of Shakespeare (the original is from "Hamlet") to express adequately our current troubles:
"The time is out of joint; O cursed spite
"That ever we got Bush to set it right."
Pat M. Holt is former chief of staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.