by William Safire
Bush Is Addicted
To Perpetual War
began working on a graphic-novel update and parody of
"1984" a few years ago. An awful lot had changed
since Orwell posited his dystopian vision of the future
from his late-1940s deathbed, and I accounted for those
differences in my own version, 2001's "2024."
order to acknowledge the collapse of Soviet Communism
and the failure of fascism to reemerge as a potent political
force, I ditched Orwell's oppressive totalitarian state
in favor of an entertainment-fueled nihilism in which
dimwitted citizens frittered away their lives watching
web TV and working at slightly overpaid jobs to buy worthless
junk ... on web TV, natch. Where Orwell envisioned endless
rows of soldiers marching in perfect unison to the strains
of the Two-Minute Hate, I saw a world where nations had
been replaced by trading blocs and the objects of hatred
were the immigrants in our midst.
six months following The Really Bad Thing That Happened
have made clear that I wasn't the only guy boning up on
"1984," the elite Inner Party rules the rattled
and irradiated citizens of Oceania through three conduits
of fear and intimidation: surveillance, terrorism and
Oceanians had their two-way telescreens; we suffer a 10,000-employee
National Security Agency that relies on automated voice-recognition
and keyword software (Echelon, not to be confused with
the more picayune and widely-reported Carnivore system)
to monitor millions of e-mails, faxes and phone calls
each day. But few Americans give much thought to this
wholesale violation of their privacy; only those who are
doing something wrong, they tell themselves, have anything
to worry about.
first eight months of the Bush Administration were characterized
by political insecurity. Bush, widely derided as unintelligent
and oafish, had carried less than half of the popular
vote in 2000, and many Democrats believed that he had
bullied his way into the Oval Office. Jim Jeffords' defection
from the GOP, partially a reaction to Bush's hard turn
to the right after his inauguration, cost Republicans
control of the Senate. Most analysts expected big Democratic
gains in the 2002 Congressional elections, due both to
the stagnating economy and to historical trends against
incumbency in mid-term.
White House saw September 11 as a golden opportunity.
The first catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil
sparked an unprecedented case of leadership projection:
desperate for protection and answers (why do they hate
us? can we kill them before they kill us?), Americans
wishfully compared Bush to FDR and Churchill. Approval
ratings hit 92 percent. But Bush's political advisors
knew that peaking early wouldn't guarantee reelection
in 2004. Bush's father had been turned out of office just
20 months after the Gulf War ratcheted his score up to
Bushies have lifted their reelection strategy straight
out of "1984," and not just by creating ominous-sounding
agencies like the Office of Homeland Security, the supposedly-closed
Office of Strategic Information, and a "Shadow Government."
As in "1984," the Bush regime tolerates zero
dissent --a two-party system in name only has been distilled
to one in which only Republicans express acceptable opinions.
And an absence of follow-up attacks has been met by endless
alerts, advisors and empty hysterics in the name of security,
most recently culminating with Tom Ridge's much-mocked
color-code warning system.
Americans don't seem to miss their Democratic Party very
much; after all, Clinton spent more time sucking up to
big business than worrying about the fact that ordinary
people can't afford to see a doctor. And unless Bush resorts
to the Orwellian tactic of setting off bombs to kill his
own citizens, the passage of time will inevitably yield
to the complacency that could cost him '04.
leaves "1984's" most potent political tool:
perpetual warfare. Just as Oceania was always at war with
Eurasia or Eastasia -- who could keep track? -- the "war
on terror," we are told, will continue indefinitely.
is just another word for forever.
hundreds, possibly thousands, of American troops are headed
to the Philippines to fight a rag-tag outfit of 80 jungle
bandits. Our boys are scouring the back hills of far-flung
Yemen in search of Al Qaeda fighters on the lam from our
ongoing war in Afghanistan. We've set up bases in Uzbekistan,
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to fight Central Asia's Islamic
Movement of Uzbekistan -- never mind that the world hasn't
heard from them since they kidnapped four American mountain
climbers in 2000.
Indonesia, the former Soviet republic of Georgia, the
Axis of Evil, you name it ... we're targeting alleged
terrorists in 50-to-60 countries with tens of thousands
of soldiers and tens of billions of dollars. "So
long as there's Al Qaeda anywhere, we will help the host
countries root them out," Bush says. "If we
expect to kill every terrorist in the world, that's going
to keep us going beyond doomsday," responds Senator
Robert Byrd (D-WV).
of all for Bush, the more we go after Islamist extremists,
the more they'll go after us. The war on terror begets
more terror begets more war.
truth is that Bush isn't considering his post-apocalyptic
future --at this point November 2004 will do nicely. But
by '04 Cheney or some other GOP big-wig will be gearing
up for '08, and after that there'll be a reelection campaign
in '12 ... old George Orwell, it turns out, wasn't that
far off the mark.
Rall's new book, a graphic travelogue about his recent
coverage of the Afghan war titled "To Afghanistan
and Back," will be published in April.
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