Opinion » Editorial


Watching the family next door



It is perhaps a sign of modern times that many of us live next door to someone we hardly know, or even if we know them to say hello, we have difficulty understanding them or what goes on in their household.

Such is the feeling one has looking across the Canada-U.S. property line this week at the Republican National Convention. Canadians know Americans, some would say much better than Americans know Canadians. We work together on many neighbourhood projects and we regularly socialize together, sometimes at our place, sometimes at their place. We are good neighbours for each other.

But even after living side by side for 137 years it’s difficult to understand the arguments going on next door.

In barely two months time Americans will go to the polls and either elect John Kerry or re-elect George W. Bush as president. It is an election that many are calling the most critical vote of the last half-century. There are enormous issues facing Americans in this election. And because the United States is the only remaining superpower, the rest of the world is facing those issues too. The United States’ ballooning deficit, the slumbering economy, energy, poverty, health care… none of them seem to be on the radar of the American people. The only matter that seems to be up for debate is which candidate is going to be "tougher" on terrorism.

As we approach Sept. 11 and the third anniversary of the terrorist attacks that took place in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, it is staggering to look back at how the world has changed in three short years. Referred to simply as 9/11, the reverberations from what happened that day have reached every corner of the world and touched nearly everyone on the planet.

And it can’t be said that world is a better place because of the steps that President George W. Bush and his administration have been taken since Sept. 11, 2001.

If the issue is fighting terrorism, the Bush administration has much to answer for. While never hesitant to exploit 9/11 for everything from the invasion of Iraq to the suspension of civil rights, the Bush administration actually spent considerable effort impeding the investigation of what happened on 9/11.

The Bush administration did lead a successful campaign to oust the Taliban in Afghanistan, the home base of Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda terrorist network. But nearly three years later the world’s number one terrorist is still on the loose, having successfully evaded all efforts by the most powerful country in the history of the world to find him.

Those efforts were not as focused as they should have been, as President Bush shifted his attention to the invasion of Iraq. Much of the world is still baffled, as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman put it, by how the Bush administration "…used an attack by Islamic fundamentalists to justify the overthrow of a brutal but secular regime…" But more than just a question of logic, "…crucial resources were pulled off the hunt for Al Qaeda, which had attacked America, to prepare for the overthrow of Saddam, who hadn’t."

On Monday at the Republican convention Rudolph Giuliani said: "… George W. Bush sees world terrorism for the evil that it is and he will remain consistent to the purpose of defeating it while working to make us ever safer at home."

The same day Bush said of terrorism: "Can we win? I don’t think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world."

On Tuesday the president back pedalled, telling a group of veterans: "We meet today at a time of war for our country, a war we did not start, yet one that we will win."

The Bush administration’s ability to frame public debate and perceptions is perhaps its greatest success in the war on terrorism. Unlike other recent declarations of war by American presidents, on drugs and on poverty, this war is understandable; it has a very real beginning, on 9/11, and a clear, if elusive, enemy. Through frequent reference to "freedom", "liberty" and "democracy" the president has further simplified the war on terrorism. It’s black or white; you’re either with us or against us. The middle ground is soft and dangerous.

This is the scope of the debate going on next door in our neighbour’s house. The rest of neighbourhood is hoping for a little broader perspective.