The election should be about America’s fall into darkness

by Fabius Maximus

Summary:  National elections should discuss who we are and how we have changed. Such as the results of the war on terror. Not the effects on the terrorists (who seem either unaffected or even stronger from our wars) but on our national character. It will be the most important issue never mentioned during the campaign.

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”
— Aphorism 146 in Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil (1886).

Statue of Liberty In Darkness - Dreamstime-127501202
ID 127501202 © Ilkin Guliyev | Dreamstime.

Torture by the CIA, aided by doctorsTorture in Abu Ghraib prison. A mass campaign of assassination, even including American citizens. Killing machines flying over the Middle East, like Skynet’s in the The Terminator films. Etc, etc.  We all know the list. After 19 years of moral decay, we have become a New America – mercilessly killing without logic, unconcerned with our two decades of failure. We were warned about the danger of traveling this path.

“The French … The Israelis … The Americans … {these deeds} proving that he who fights terrorists for any period of time is likely to become one himself.”
— Martin van Creveld in The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz (1991).

We concealed this transformation from ourselves (it is obvious to others) with hypocrisy, as described in “The Uses of al-Qaeda” by Richard Seymour in the London Review of Books, 13 September 2012.

What Makes a Terrorist: Economics and the Roots of Terrorism
Available at Amazon.

“Alan Krueger’s authoritative What Makes a Terrorist: Economics and the Roots of Terrorism (2007) was notable for being unable to define its subject. Krueger admits that it might have been as well to discard the word in favour of the more cumbersome ‘politically motivated violence carried out by sub-state actors with the goal of spreading fear within the population’.

“This excludes state violence, narrowing the field to insurgency or subversion of various kinds, but not all insurgent groups that Krueger – or the State Department – calls ‘terrorist’ make it a strategic priority to target civilian populations. Insofar as they do, they don’t necessarily differ in their methods from state actors.

“In the ‘war on terror’, a cardinal claim of ‘civilised’ states was that, unlike their opponents, they did not target civilians. Suicide attacks cause indiscriminate slaughter and are an indicator of barbarism; surgical strikes are the gentle civilisers of nations. There is little evidence for a distinction of that sort in the prosecution of recent wars.”

These policies didn’t just happen. They were not inevitable. Bush and Cheney made these policy changes amidst our terror after 9/11. We saw what was happening, but closed our eyes. Understanding how we got here can help us find a way back. For details about this history, see one of the most valuable books about America’s decay: The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals by Jane Mayer (2009) — Excerpt …

Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals
Available at Amazon.

“The lesson for Bush and Cheney was that terrorists had struck at the United States because they saw the country as soft. Bush worried that the nation was too “materialistic, hedonistic,” and that Bin Laden ‘didn’t feel threatened’ by it.

“Confronted with a new enemy and their own intelligence failure, he and Cheney turned to some familiar conservative nostrums that had preoccupied the far right wing of the Republican Party since the Watergate era. There was too much international law, too many civil liberties, too many constraints on the President’s war powers, too many rights for defendants, and too many rules against lethal covert actions. There was also too much openness and too much meddling by Congress and the press.

Cheney in particular had been chafing against the post-Watergate curbs that had been imposed on the president’s powers since the mid-1970s, when he had served as Gerald Ford’s chief of staff. As Vice President, Cheney had already begun to strengthen the power of the presidency by aggressively asserting executive privilege, most notably on his secrecy-enshrouded energy task force. He’d told Bush, who later repeated the line, that if nothing else they must leave the office stronger than they found it. Now Cheney saw the terrorist threat in such catastrophic terms that his end, saving America from possible extinction, justified virtually any means. …

“Beginning almost immediately after September 11, 2001, Cheney saw to it that some of the sharpest and best-trained lawyers in the country, working in secret in the White House and the United States Department of Justice, came up with legal justifications for a vast expansion of the government’s power in waging war on terror.

“As part of that process, for the first time in its history, the United States sanctioned government officials to physically and psychologically torment U.S.-held captives, making torture the official law of the land in all but name.

“The lawyers also authorized other previously illegal practices, including the secret capture and indefinite detention of suspects without charges. Simply by designating the suspects ‘enemy combatants,’ the President could suspend the ancient writ of habeas corpus that guarantees a person the right to challenge his imprisonment in front of a fair and independent authority. Once in U.S. custody, the President’s lawyers said, these suspects could be held incommunicado, hidden from their families and international monitors such as the Red Cross, and subjected to unending abuse, so long as it didn’t meet the lawyers’ own definition of torture. And they could be held for the duration of the war against terrorism, a struggle in which victory had never been clearly defined. …

“{A}lmost precisely on the sixtieth anniversary of the famous war crimes tribunal’s judgment in Nuremberg, which established what seemed like an immutable principle, that legalisms and technicalities could not substitute for individual moral choice and conscience, America became the first nation ever to authorize violations of the Geneva Conventions. …

“{T}o understand the Bush Administration’s self-destructive response to September 11, one has to look particularly to Cheney, the doomsday expert and unapologetic advocate of expanding presidential power.

“Appearing on Meet the Press on the first Sunday after the attacks, Cheney gave a memorable description of how the administration viewed the continuing threat and how it planned to respond.

‘We’ll have to work sort of the dark side, if you will …We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies – if we are going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in. So it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal basically, to achieve our objectives.’

“Soon afterward, Cheney disappeared from public view. But his influence had already begun to shape all that followed.”

Advice from history, which we ignored

John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams by G.P.A. Healy (1858).

One of our greatest leaders, John Quincy Adams, gave us sound advice in his speech at the House of Representatives on 4 July 1821. It applies just as well to our time as to his.

“{I}f the wise and learned philosophers of the elder world… should find their hearts disposed to enquire what has America done for the benefit of mankind? Let our answer be this: America … has held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity.

    1. She has uniformly spoken among them … the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights.
    2. She has … respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own.
    3. She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings …

“Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.

“She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force.”

Conclusions

We have forgotten Adam’s advice. But we can learn from our failures and dark deeds. We can exert ourselves to regain control of the government and its militaristic foreign policy. Our elites have largely drawn the lines of debate for the 2020 election. But our voices can still be heard. Let’s make this campaign a first step on this long road to building a better America.