Shrink wrap nation
Commentary by ADAM TANOUS
The scenario seems surreal: people out
buying duct tape and rolls of plastic sheeting, preparing to shrink-wrap their
lives. They are buying bottles of water, batteries and walkie-talkies. Parents
in big cities are debating whether it’s safe to send their kids to kindergarten.
How comforting it would be to believe that
these are members of the ever-present fringe, believers in imminent apocalypse.
From the news reports it appears there are a lot more soccer moms and
stockbrokers buying emergency supplies than there are kooks.
We can, and do, repeat like a mantra that
we aren’t afraid We are told daily to go about our business as normal—that it is
the only way to send a message to our enemies. That message, however, tends to
get muddled when, as last week at London’s Heathrow Airport, there were hundreds
of machine gun-totting troops strolling around and tanks parked in the taxi
stands. There’s a point where brave defiance dissolves into delusion.
The fact is people are afraid. Even here
in the Wood River Valley people feel ill at ease; imagine life in a target-rich
big city or down river of the Hoover Dam.
We feel threatened, so whether a
commercial plane is taken down or not, whether small pox is actually unleashed,
seems almost irrelevant. On one level this war is about intercepting
communications, blowing up caves, detecting explosives. But ultimately it is a
battle over our state of mind. That’s where terror resides. It’s like a
low-grade viral infection that we just live with forever. At times it will be in
check, at others it won’t. Right now it seems to have gotten hold of us.
Lest anyone shrug off the psychological
power of terror, consider what two guys, a modified car and a rifle did to the
Maryland-Virginia-Washington, D.C. area. Why couldn’t the hundreds of Al Qaeda-connected
terrorists reportedly living in the U.S. do something as simple? Why would they
even go to the trouble of using small pox?
We keep puffing our chest out farther and
farther, but our Achilles heel grows proportionately. I do think Iraq and Al
Qaeda are connected as the president has been arguing for weeks, but the
connection he has outlined is not necessarily the only one.
The terrorism-Iraq nexus debate has gone
as follows: The pro forces say there’s evidence that Al Qaeda has a training
camp there, that operatives are being harbored. The con side maintains that
there’s no way the fanatically Islamic bin Laden would be in cahoots with the
secular "infidel" Saddam Hussein.
Whether they are connected in any real
way—logistically or by cause or religion—is less important than the connection
that exists in the mind of President Bush. Probably contrary to the majority
opinion, I do not believe the president has conjoined these issues for political
reasons. Why? Because the political reasons just don’t add up.
The two political theories that get the
most play—we’re after the oil and revenge for Daddy Bush—seem pretty far-fetched
to me. I really don’t think President Bush is out to seize oil fields in Iraq.
The world, let alone the American public, would never allow our government to
blatantly seize those oil fields. While Bush may be no intellectual giant, he is
very astute when it comes to politics.
Would he be going through all this to
avenge the 1993 assassination attempt on his father, reportedly a
Saddam-sponsored one? While it seems like a clever retort from the left to the
hawks of the world, it seems even more outlandish than going after the oil.
As far as the president is concerned, I
really think the link between these two wars we are tentatively engaged in, has
to do with something far simpler than politics: namely, good and evil. As each
day goes by, I become more convinced that our president and Prime Minister
Blair, both of whom share deep religious conviction, see this struggle in
biblical terms. There is a clarity of purpose that comes from seeing the world
as either for us or against us.
On one level, such clarity is admirable
because it is wed to good intentions. At the same time, I think it’s a dangerous
way to conduct foreign policy. I would maintain that the recent moralistic
approach to events attempts to over-simplify complex situations.
The world and its people comprise infinite
gradations of good. When we cast the world in stark terms of good and bad, us
versus them, it is bound to alienate just about everyone but God and Satan.
Witness the millions of protesters over the past weekend. They spanned the
cultural and political globe. As for the U.N. members, France, Germany, Russia
and China are taking pause when it comes to letting the bombs fly. While we love
to dismiss the French as being petulant, it’s harder to dismiss out of hand the
opinions of the others.
For selfish reasons, namely my kids’
futures, I’d love to see Saddam and his regime blown off the face of the earth,
provided it made the world a better place. But I have yet to be thoroughly
convinced by the administration that doing so wouldn’t make the security
situation here and abroad worse. Will we stay in Iraq long enough—5 to 10 years,
not the 18 months planned—to prevent it from becoming another destroyed country
rife for breeding terrorism?
What, in the end, is it going to take to
reclaim our peace of mind? More patrols? More guards, more security checks, more
I.D. cards? Well, it’s like traveling between two points and vowing to travel
halfway each day. You’ll never get there. How could we ever patrol enough to
prevent one guy with a shoulder mounted surface to air missile from hiding
behind a bush at any airport in the country?
What it’s going to take is a lot of good
faith on our part to reclaim our position among others in the world. We’ve gone
to great lengths to distinguish ourselves militarily and, more importantly,
moralistically from everyone else. Not only has our approach made conducting a
war logistically and politically more difficult, but also it has fomented
disdain and more hatred toward us, making our longer-term security at home more
As mighty as we may be and as right as we
may be about Saddam, it doesn’t amount to much unless the rest of the world sees
it the way we do. It might be inconvenient, frustrating, even risky to delay war
in an effort to see eye to eye with most of the world on this, but I think our
long-term security is well worth the gamble.
Meanwhile, the frenzy for duct tape and
Visquin continues. Most of the experts say, yes, plastic sheeting and duct tape
will work against a biological attack. You can seal up your house; it will be
Ebola-tight and, of course, airtight as well.
Undoubtedly there is a political lesson