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Bursting the Bubble of the War On Terror

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"So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Franklin Roosevelt offered this powerful admonition in his first inaugural speech in 1933 as America was in the deep throes of economic and emotional depression. Roosevelt understood that nations have a collective psyche that needs positive encouragement from its leaders during troubled times. His innovative leadership emerged at a critical historical juncture and our nation responded and began recovery.

"Our message is be afraid, be very afraid." Sounds like an ad for a scary movie. No, it was the headline quote of the lead news story plastered across the nation during one of the many heightened terrorist alerts over the last few years. Was it a quote from Bin Laden? No, it came out of the mouth of a senior Bush administration official. This theme of fear stands in stark contrast to the FDR approach to national unity during crisis and has been perpetually broadcast by Bush and company since 9/11. It has proven to be an effective ploy Republicans utilize whenever it seems politically expedient.

Sadly, Bush's refusal to implement many of the security improvements mandated by his own hand picked bipartisan 9/11 panel should cause Americans to be concerned, if not fearful. Our airlines are still very vulnerable, our ports are basically undefended and our borders are like a sieve. National security experts say we are less safe now than before 9/11 and yet, there have been no more attacks in America and few instances of plots thwarted. These facts reveal it is time for a more realistic reassessment of the magnitude of the terrorist threat that lurks in the shadows and new discussion initiated as to the best methods of curbing said threat.

First, we need to get away from the misnomer of the fight against terrorists as being a "war on terror." My dictionary defines war as being "a state of hostility between two states." The tragic events that occurred on September 11, 2001 were not acts of war perpetrated by one country on another. It was a criminal act planned and executed by a Middle Eastern gang of suicidal murderers under the leadership of a Saudi expatriate. According to our government, they were comprised of 15 Saudis, 1 Egyptian, 1 Lebanese, and 2 citizens of the Arab Emirates. If this was an act of war, why didn't we retaliate by attacking one of the countries whose citizens were responsible?

These gang members were able to easily exploit the exposed vulnerabilities inherent in negligent airline security. Better passenger screening, air marshals on flights, cockpit door locks, armed pilots and a policy of never relinquishing control of an airliner to a passenger could have prevented the hijackings. This atrocity could possibly have been averted if Team Bush had prioritized Osama Bin Laden like Team Clinton had encouraged them to. Also, better inter-agency sharing of intelligence might have allowed authorities to intercept the plotters before they got off the ground.

It has recently been revealed that new technology, which could be used to detect liquid explosives, has been under funded and thus not developed. What other security technology and prudent security measures are languishing for lack of funding and prioritization? Is this administration as inept as they appear or is something else going on? I suspect the latter.

I think the leaders in the executive branch know the threat posed by terrorists is not as great as they would have us believe. Inflating the alarm level serves multiple purposes for Republican interests. One, it has caused many frightened citizens to vote red in recent national elections because of the misperception of Democrats being weak on defense. It has allowed for a dangerously unprecedented and unchecked power grab by the executive branch under war powers claims. It has greased the transfer of the national treasury into the accounts of the military industrial complex and other corporations like Halliburton.

They know there is no vast army of terrorists hiding in our midst or even trying to sneak in with weapons of mass destruction. Why else would they have not secured our borders, our ports, our airlines and other forms of mass transit? Why are our chemical plants, refineries and nuclear power plants no more secure now? Why have the FBI, CIA and other law enforcement agencies not been substantially bolstered? Why is our National Guard depleted in the service of the federal government in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Why would our president constantly sound the alarm about terrorism while doing so little to improve our security? He believes voters filled with fear will continue to blindly support the GOP and feels little need to take any substantial measures to further protect us because he knows the threat is minimal. He knows the vast majority of Muslims in America are here because they like it here and pose no threat to our security. He ironically claims they attack us because they hate our freedom while he has done more to reduce our freedom than any follower of Islam.

Willful and cunning suicidal terrorists could strike us at anytime in hundreds of ways because, for now, we are still a free society. Freedom will always have peril as a companion and we must accept that evil maniacs will occasionally exploit a free society by committing heinous acts. The balance we should strive for comes by insisting our government do what must be done to improve our security at home without compromising our constitutional freedoms. We should heed the powerfully liberating exhortation of FDR and not the war mongering words of fear spoken by G.W. Bush. Let's secure victory in the "war on terror" by coming out of the illusory fog of fear and resume living free.
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Gary Vance is an evangelical pastor/writer living in rural Tennessee. He is the author of "Wasn't Jesus a Liberal?" and other published essays.
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