Liberty and Fear Essay

Pages: 5 (1603 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Terrorism

Liberty and Fear

Anti-terrorist politics: A return to the Cold War mindset in a post-Soviet world 'It can't happen here.' For the many individuals who never witnessed the McCarthy hysteria of the 1950s, the idea that Americans could ever have been willing to sacrifice their freedoms of speech and assembly in the name of anti-communism seems both terrifying and ludicrous. Yet according to Al Gore's 2004 essay for the journal Social Research entitled "The politics of fear," that is precisely what Americans are doing today, regarding terrorism. Gore does not deny the horror that terrorism can generate, as was manifest during the attacks upon the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. But sacrificing one's personal freedoms in the name of counterterrorist efforts is both counterproductive and subverts the American's true values, states Gore. Moreover, anti-terrorist hysteria has not made America safer: fear has merely generated a faulty foreign policy agenda, most notably in Iraq.

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Because Americans were so willing to support any policy in the name of anti-terrorism, they did not question the spurious position of the Bush Administration, which suggested that somehow Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq was linked to the activities of Al-Qaida and the perpetration of the World Trade Center attacks. This was the same type of thinking that caused America to become involved in Vietnam. During the Cold War era, there was an assumption that the communist, nationalist insurgency in North Vietnam was a puppet of the Soviet government, simply because the Soviet government had installed puppet regimes in Eastern Europe. Many innocent Muslims were viewed as potential terrorists by the U.S. government in the wake of 9/11, and in the wake of the Cold War all leftist movements were assumed to be totalitarian in nature and somehow connected to the Soviet government.

Essay on Liberty and Fear Assignment

Conservative American political leaders, including Nixon, have long established their authority and the need for secrecy and militarism by citing American 'safety' as their main concern. The fear-mongering of the Bush Administration regarding terrorism, says Gore, was both cynical and calculating, as well as reflective of sloppy military intelligence: "President George W. Bush and his administration have been (wittingly or unwittingly) distorting America's political reality by force-feeding the American people a grossly exaggerated fear of Iraq that was hugely disproportionate to the actual danger posed by Iraq" (Gore 2004, p. 779).

Gore places the blame squarely on the Bush Administration for the Iraqi debacle: much like Americans during the Cold War were fearful and vulnerable regarding charges pertaining to national security and the Soviet threat, post-September 11 America believed that threats from the Arab world were lurking around every corner, and looked to their presumably wiser and better-informed government to provide them with guidance. "The so-called intelligence concerning the threat posed by Iraq was stretched beyond recognition, distorted and misrepresented. Indeed, some of the intelligence that the president personally presented to the American people on national television in his State of the Union address turned out to have been actually forged by someone, though we still do not know who" (Gore 2004, p.780). Despite the fact that the rationale behind President Bush's decision to go to war was patently in error, there was no investigation of why the intelligence was so poor by the Bush Administration -- which presumably should have been a national security concern.

Gore implies that the trumped-up charges about weapons of mass destruction were deliberate, rather than accidental, as was previously alleged. This is another parallel between Cold War America and the America of the Bush Administration -- a lack of transparency in government, further reinforces the public's fears and an creates an expectation that the government must lie, must be secret, and must dissemble to function in the real world of politics. "The administration did not hesitate to heighten and distort public fear of terrorism after September 11 in order to create a political case for attacking Iraq, even though no facts to justify a connection between Iraq and the attack of September 11 could be found" (Gore 2004, p.782). Gore would call this a kind of anti-terrorist witch-hunt on the part of the Bush Administration. All other policy goals were subsumed to terrorism, including the need to establish good relations with other Middle Eastern nations, and to respond rationally to potential geopolitical threats other than Iraq.

Similarly, during the Cold War, American pursued a kind of 'my enemy's enemy is my friend' strategy. All right-wing dictators and dictatorships, no matter how tenuous their democratic credentials, received political and often monetary support from the American government. Left-wing leaders were openly or covertly subverted. In the Bush Administration, all hostile Arab leaders were deemed to be terrorists and part of a united front, despite the fact that Saddam Hussein's brutal but secular government was antithetical to the theocratic aims of Al-Qaida.

To some extent, the confusion of the American public is understandable, just as it was understandable during the Vietnam era. For most Americans, Vietnam was a nation very far away, in a region of the world that they knew little about. Similarly, other than the frightening attack on September 11th, non-Muslim Americans knew little about the complex history of the Middle East, and the subtle and nuanced tensions between different religious and military groups. They looked to the Bush Administration to provide them with guidance, and their president let them down. This was reflected in willing dissembling about Iraq's fundamental political character as well as because of the false intelligence circulated by the Administration, which did not provide any sense of clarity in terms of how the threat was to be understood.

But was there an anti-terrorist witch-hunt? To some extent, this word is problematic, given that 'witch-hunt' implies that what is being sought after does not exist. The analogy between McCarthyism and witch-hunts is likewise a thorny one, despite Arthur Miller's masterful play the Crucible, on the subject of anti-communist hysteria. Communism was a real and horrific threat in the geopolitical scene, during the 1950s, and Stalin was determined to expand his nation's empire. Terrorism is a real threat, but it is a phenomenon not rooted to a specific state, and it has many economic and political causes: it is not simply bolstered with the support of one man, nor is every Arab government allied together to perpetrate terrorism. To hunt a real threat, and to acknowledge its reality without turning it into a bogeyman is the challenge -- a challenge the Bush Administration failed to meet.

It is also essential that a nation does not limit its citizen's liberties, in the name of preserving its status as a free nation. During the anti-communist 1950s, Americans were encouraged to be watchful of communist spies, and saw their liberties encroached upon by increasingly dictatorial policies regarding their political life, in the name of curtailing communism. Many of the individuals called before the McCarthy hearings were not communists at all, but merely leftists who were sincere patriots as well as sincere in their opposition to the policies of the current administration. Everyone during the Cold War was fearful of asking: why is it wrong to be a liberal, if the nation is supposedly free? Silence and stifling of alternative views was the result.

In the wake of 9/11, the Patriot Act demanded increased scrutiny of free expression of ordinary Americans, including what library materials they read. For the first time since the Cold War era, citizens and non-citizens alike experienced a seismic, severe reduction in their civil liberties. Perhaps the most obvious example of this was in the Guantanamo Prison: "Nor did the administration show any scruples at using fear of terrorists as a means to punch holes in the basic protections of the Constitution to create a class of permanent prisoners and to make it possible to imprison… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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