October 31, 2004

Why I Support Kerry, I: Fear and the Desire for Revenge as the Prime Motivators of Our Age

A columnist for the Scotsman had once predicted that Bush would lose this election, but he now revises that prediction:
Kerry desperately tried to make this election about issues favourable to the Democrats, such as unemployment, health care and housing. But he didn't have much success, since fear has stifled constructive debate. Kerry exhorted Americans to replace the politics of fear with the politics of hope, but he failed to inspire that transformation. Clinton could have pulled it off, but he was born in a town called Hope. Kerry, a chronically sombre man, lacks Clinton's ability to drive away the demons.

It's been a weird election. I've never seen so many books, pamphlets and articles by well-meaning pundits who think they've found the magical explanation for the current state of American politics. But, in my opinion, it's all bunk. The number-one issue is fear. Bush will probably win on Tuesday for the simple reason that no-one has yet provided an alternative to fear.
So, here I am, on my knees, admitting that I might have been wrong. Mea culpa.
I myself will not make a prediction about Tuesday, but if Bush wins, this writer is absolutely correct: fear will be the reason.

Whatever else they disagree about, Kerry and Bush completely agree that Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are evil, that they represent the worst kind of enemy, and that they must be defeated completely (or as completely as possible). Given that indisputable fact, it was startling to see the Republicans make an utterly self-damning admission after the reappearance of Osama bin Laden -- and a large part of that admission's significance is that the Republicans appear to have not the slightest clue about precisely what it is they are admitting.

For example, we had this story:
With his typical flair for drama, Osama Bin Laden inserted himself directly into the presidential election yesterday, and both parties believed it would boost President Bush's reelection hopes.

Bin Laden popping up like a malignant jack-in-the-box four days before the balloting may bolster John Kerry's argument that Bush should have finished wiping out Al Qaeda before turning his attention to Iraq.

But it also refocused the nation on terrorism, which polls show helps Bush. And it reminds voters of their horror on Sept. 11 and Bush's well-received response, as well as obliterating the recent flood of bad news for Bush.

"We want people to think 'terrorism' for the last four days," said a Bush-Cheney campaign official. "And anything that raises the issue in people's minds is good for us."

A senior GOP strategist added, "anything that makes people nervous about their personal safety helps Bush."

He called it "a little gift," saying it helps the President but doesn't guarantee his reelection.

In the closing weeks of the campaign, Kerry has accused Bush of "letting Bin Laden escape" when he was cornered at Tora Bora by "outsourcing" the job to unreliable Afghan warlords instead of using U.S. troops. And he has mocked Bush for never mentioning the Al Qaeda leader after pledging to get Bin Laden "dead or alive."

But the new tape - which is so nakedly political that it should end with the words "I'm Osama Bin Laden and I approved this message" - makes it difficult for Kerry to keep hammering Bush on the subject without appearing to be capitalizing on terror. Kerry eliminated those lines from his speeches yesterday evening.
It is a profound indictment of the media's general inability to think that while most pundits maintain that bin Laden's reemergence "makes it difficult for Kerry to keep hammering Bush" about his failures in the "war on terror," they simultaneously believe that fear of terrorism may well ensure Bush's reelection. The message seems to be: we all know that bin Laden's reappearance will terrify people so much that they will mindlessly vote for Bush, in a kind of Pavlovian response, but it would be beyond the pale for Kerry (or anyone else, one assumes) to mention this overwhelmingly significant fact.

And then the same pundits complain that political debate in this country is on a level that would embarrass most five-year-olds. They have permanently lost the right to complain in this manner: most media commentators are the five-year-olds leading the parade of stupefyingly meaningless puerility.

While we're on the subject, may we please put to bed permanently this debate over whether Bush "let bin Laden escape" at Tora Bora? He did, and there should be no doubt about it anywhere -- not, that is, for any observer who is honest about the matter. Exhibit A: Peter Bergen's brief but comprehensive recent analysis. I remind you that Mr. Bergen knows a thing or two about terrorism: he is the author of the best-seller Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden. He is CNN's terrorism analyst and has written for such publications as the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, and The New Republic. I also remind you of part of his article about the disaster represented by our invasion and occupation of Iraq:
President Bush's May 2003 announcement aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln that "major combat operations" had ended in Iraq has been replayed endlessly. What is less well remembered is just what the president claimed the United States had accomplished. "The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11th, 2001," he declared. The defeat of Saddam Hussein, he told the American people, was "a crucial advance in the campaign against terror." In fact, the consensus now emerging among a wide range of intelligence and counterterrorism professionals is that the opposite is true: The invasion of Iraq not only failed to help the war on terrorism, but it represented a substantial setback.

In more than a dozen interviews, experts both within and outside the U.S. government laid out a stark analysis of how the war has hampered the campaign against Al Qaeda. Not only, they point out, did the war divert resources and attention away from Afghanistan, seriously damaging the prospects of capturing Al Qaeda leaders, but it has also opened a new front for terrorists in Iraq and created a new justification for attacking Westerners around the world. Perhaps most important, it has dramatically speeded up the process by which Al Qaeda the organization has morphed into a broad-based ideological movement--a shift, in effect, from bin Laden to bin Ladenism. "If Osama believed in Christmas, this is what he'd want under his Christmas tree," one senior intelligence official told me.
Another counterterrorism official suggests that Iraq might begin to resemble "Afghanistan 1996," a reference to the year that bin Laden seized on Afghanistan, a chaotic failed state, as his new base of operations. ...

The damage to U.S. interests is hard to overestimate. Rohan Gunaratna, a Sri Lankan academic who is regarded as one of the world's leading authorities on Al Qaeda, points out that "sadness and anger about Iraq, even among moderate Muslims, is being harnessed and exploited by terrorist and extremist groups worldwide to grow in strength, size, and influence." Similarly, Vincent Cannistraro, a former chief of counterterrorism at the CIA under presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, says the Iraq war "accelerated terrorism" by "metastasizing" Al Qaeda. Today, Al Qaeda is more than the narrowly defined group that attacked the United States on September 11, 2001; it is a growing global movement that has been energized by the war in Iraq.


Harry "Skip" Brandon, a former senior counterterrorism official at the FBI, says the Iraq war "serves as a real rallying point, not only for the region, but also in Asia. We've seen very solid examples of them using the Iraq war for recruiting. I have seen it personally in Malaysia. The Iraq war is a public relations bonanza for Al Qaeda and a public relations disaster for us the longer it goes on." Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's prediction that the occupation of Iraq would create "a hundred bin Ladens" is beginning to look prescient. We may soon find ourselves facing something akin to a global intifada.

Yet despite Al Qaeda's undiminished global influence, the United States has pulled vital resources away from the hunt for bin Laden and Zawahiri. Soon after the fall of the Taliban, substantial numbers of Arabic speakers at the CIA and the National Security Agency were directed to focus on Iraq rather than the hunt for Al Qaeda.


Special Operations soldiers with critical skills--including Arabic language training--were perhaps the U.S. military's key asset in the effort to capture Al Qaeda leaders. But according to Larry Johnson, who used to work on counterterrorism issues at the CIA and State Department and who now advises the U.S. military on terrorism, those forces were pulled out of Afghanistan in the spring of 2002 to look for Scud missiles in western Iraq.


And therein lies the crux of the problem: The United States did not effectively crush Al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan during the war and its aftermath, which meant that those forces were able to slip away into the border region, where they can hide and organize attacks both inside Afghanistan and around the world.

Saddam Hussein's Iraq--despite the administration's arguments to the contrary--was hardly a haven for Al Qaeda. But now, Iraq has become what some experts call a "supermagnet" for jihadists. "We've created the World Series of terrorism," a senior government counterterrorism official told me.
Bush "sold" the war on Iraq "under the banner of winning the war on terrorism" -- but for the reasons Bergen sets forth, "by that standard, it has been a grotesque failure."

When you vote on Tuesday, remember those words: with regard to what Bush himself regards as the primary issue in this election, his policies have led to "a grotesque failure." If you wish your vote to count as an endorsement of those policies and for their continuation, be my guest. Just please don't tell me that you are doing so because you're concerned about America's security or well-being. If you were, you would vote for anyone other than Bush, or for no one at all.

Here are a few excerpts from Mr. Bergen's discussion of the Tora Bora debacle [link no longer working]:
So: Was al Qaeda's leader at Tora Bora? According to a widely-reported background briefing by Pentagon officials in mid-December 2001 there was "reasonable certainty" that bin Laden was indeed at Tora Bora, a judgment based on intercepted radio transmissions. In his autobiography, American Soldier, General Franks himself recounts a scene in Waco, Texas in December 2001 where he briefed President Bush saying, "Unconfirmed reports that Osama has been seen in the White Mountains, Sir. The Tora Bora area" Moreover, Luftullah Mashal, a senior official in Afghanistan's Interior Ministry, told me that based on conversations he had with a Saudi al Qaeda financier and bin Laden's chef, both of whom were at the battle, bin Laden was at Tora Bora. In June, 2003 I met with several US counterterrorism officials who told me, "We are confident that he [bin Laden] was at Tora Bora and disappeared with a small group." And Palestinian journalist, Abdel Bari Atwan, a consistently accurate source of information about al Qaeda, has reported that bin Laden was wounded in the shoulder at Tora Bora. Indeed, in an audiotape released on al Jazeera television last year bin Laden himself recounted his own memories of the battle. "We were about three hundred holy warriors. We dug one hundred trenches over an area of one square mile, so as to avoid the huge human losses from the bombardment." In short, there is plenty of evidence that bin Laden was at Tora Bora, and no evidence indicating that he was anywhere else at the time.

That being the case: Did the U.S. military throw away a golden opportunity to capture or kill bin Laden, during the one moment in the past three years that his location was known? There is no debating the fact that US "outsourced" the Tora Bora operation to local Afghan warlords. ...

Apologists for the US military failure at Tora Bora will no doubt provide several compelling reasons why this was the case, including a lack of airlift capabilities from the US base in neighboring Uzbekistan. However, such explanations are hard to square with the fact that scores of journalists managed to find their way to Tora Bora, a battle covered on live television by the world's leading news organizations. If Fox and CNN could arrange for their crews to cover Tora Bora it is puzzling that the US military could not put more boots on the ground to find the man who was the intellectual author of the 9/11 attacks. Sadly, there were probably more American journalists at the battle of Tora Bora than there were US troops. And in that sense, Sen. Kerry's charge that Tora Bora was a missed opportunity to bring bin Laden to justice isn't "garbage", but an accurate reflection of the historical record.
And here is one more nail to close the lid on the coffin of the Tora Bora dispute once and for all [link no longer working]:
Writing in The New York Times on Oct. 19, retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, said it isn't clear that bin Laden was in Tora Bora at the time and denied that the United States "outsourced" military action. "Afghans weren't left to do the job alone," Franks wrote. "Special forces from the United States and several other countries were there, providing tactical leadership and calling in air strikes."

Who's right?

Knight Ridder reporters Barry Schlachter of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Jonathan S. Landay and photographers Carl Juste and Peter Andrew Bosch of The Miami Herald were at Tora Bora during the battle, and photographer David Gilkey of the Detroit Free Press and reporter Drew Brown traveled there a year later, interviewed Afghan fighters, retraced al-Qaida escape routes and talked to Pakistani intelligence officers who were tracking al Qaida.

Their reporting found that Franks and other top officials ignored warnings from their own and allied military and intelligence officers that the combination of precision bombing, special operations forces and Afghan forces that had driven the Taliban from northern Afghanistan might not work in the heartland of the country's dominant Pashtun tribe.

While more than 1,200 U.S. Marines sat at an abandoned air base in the desert 80 miles away, Franks and other commanders relied on three Afghan warlords and a small number of American, British and Australian special forces to stop al-Qaida and Taliban fighters from escaping across the mountains into Pakistan.

"We did rely heavily on Afghans because they knew Tora Bora...," Franks wrote.

Military and intelligence officials had warned Franks and others that the two main Afghan commanders, Hazrat Ali and Haji Zaman, couldn't be trusted, and they proved to be correct. They were slow to move their troops into place and didn't attack until four days after American planes began bombing - leaving time for al-Qaida leaders to escape and leaving behind a rear guard of Arab, Chechen and Uzbek fighters.

"Ali and Zaman both assured our people that they had forces in blocking positions on the Spin Ghar (mountains) when there were, in fact, no people there," said a U.S. military official who played a key role in the campaign. "So besides taking Afghans at their word, we had no plans to bring up sufficient forces to make up for perfidy."

U.S. reconnaissance photos showed what appeared to be campfires at high altitudes along the trails across the mountains into Pakistan. The Afghans said the fires belonged to sheep herders. Instead, "they were exfiltrators, pure and simple," said an American military official.

Zaman and Ali began trying to negotiate an al-Qaida surrender even before they began their ground attack. Then, on the second day of the attack, Zaman declared a cease-fire. Ali and a third commander, Haji Zahir, who joined the attack at the last minute, resumed fighting after a few hours, and the U.S. bombing never stopped. But Zaman left open an escape route through the Waziri Tangi valley.

U.S. intelligence analysts estimated that 1,000 to 1,100 al-Qaida fighters, along with some of the group's top leaders, escaped the American dragnet at Tora Bora.

A Pakistani official later told Knight Ridder that intelligence reports suggested that some 4,000 al-Qaida members escaped and that 50 to 80 top leaders paid Zaman or Ali as much as $40,000 apiece for safe passage out of Tora Bora.

It isn't clear, however, whether bin Laden and his top aide, Ayman al Zawahiri, were among them, as Kerry has alleged. Bin Laden was last seen heading out of the Afghan city of Jalalabad toward Tora Bora in a convoy on Nov. 15, 2001. U.S. officials thought they'd heard him on a local radio transmission in Tora Bora in December, but later said they might have been mistaken.
On all the major points, Kerry is correct. End of story.

To return to the Republicans' undisguised joy at the return of bin Laden, note this story as well:
On the morning after a new video from Osama bin Laden emerged, ABC's influential "The Note," the political/media online tip sheet, observed: "In the absence of any data to grab onto, it is a near certainty that the vast majority of weekend TV chatterers will assume that the tape is good for the President and bad for Kerry."

One expects the worst from TV new pundits, but one hopes that newspaper reporters and commentators will not lose their heads in a similar manner. For, as The Note noted, the outcome of the election may be determined "partly from how the candidates handle this and partly from how the press does."

Apparently the notion that the arrival of the new tape is good for Bush is based on the belief that he is "strong on terrorism" and the re-appearance of Osama plays into this. This has quickly become the conventional wisdom and, possibly, a self-fulfiling prophecy.

One would think, however, that before the media helps re-elect the president by emphasizing the subjective "strong on terrorism" analysis, they might pause to give equal weight to the demonstrable fact that the tape reminds us that: 1) 9/11 happened on Bush's watch 2) Bush has not yet caught bin Laden, perhaps because he 3) switched his attention to Iraq where 4) we have contributed to the terrorist threat against us in numerous tragic ways, not to mention suffering more U.S. casualties (dead and injured) than we absorbed in 9/11, with eight more U.S. Marines added to the tally today.

As someone who lost a good friend on 9/11, not to mention the daughter of our neighbors directly across the street, I say this with some conviction. ...

The Boston Globe, meanwhile, had the sense, in a balanced assessment, to close by cutting to the heart of the matter, quoting Kerry foreign policy adviser Richard Holbrooke: "The important thing, unfortunately, is that Osama bin Laden is alive and looks pretty well. [The tape] raises a much deeper question: How can this grotesque mass murderer be out there on international television more than three years after 9/11?"

Or as Maureen Dowd put it in her Sunday column: "The Bushies' campaign pitch follows their usual backward logic: Because we have failed to make you safe, you should re-elect us to make you safer. Because we haven't caught Osama in three years, you need us to catch Osama in the next four years....You'd think that seeing Osama looking fit as a fiddle and ready for hate would spark anger at the Bush administration's cynical diversion of the war on Al Qaeda to the war on Saddam."
Bush and his most fervent supporters thus explicitly count on mind-numbing fear to dissolve the ability of a sufficient number of Americans to think at all: because we have failed so miserably, you have no choice but to reelect us -- so that, you can only hope, we will not fail so miserably in a second term. Why on earth would anyone fall for such a pitiful ploy for votes? The only strong indication of what Bush might do in another four years of his "war on terror" is that he will probably direct it to still more countries, in his unquenchable desire for a wider and wider war which might finally evolve into a world war, which would seem to be his ultimate aim. After all, they know all those WMD that Iraq supposedly had might be in Syria now, right? At least, they know that as surely as they knew that Iraq had WMD in the first place -- which is to say, they do not know it at all. But that hasn't stopped them so far.

In the midst of our mind-stoppingly mediocre media, there are a few journalists who see some important truths and write about them with great perception, and even notable wit. One of them is Matt Taibbi. In a noteworthy article in Rolling Stone recently, Taibbi first explained why he went to work as a volunteer for George W. Bush:
[Bush's] critics do a terrific job of mocking his mental deficiencies and dismissing his supporters as hapless morons, but they do not do a very good job of explaining the nature of his support. The few dissident commentators who bother trying to explain the Bush phenomenon seldom do more than reach for the nearest Marx-inspired academic cliche. They will tell you, for instance, that Republicans are a vast intellectual underclass cynically manipulated by the rich through a mesmerizing cocktail of yahoo enthusiasms, xenophobic fears and ancient superstitions -- and those same people will insist, if forced to offer an opinion on the subject, that one should feel sorry for most of them.

This is the wrong approach. As a professional misanthrope, I believe that if you are going to hate a person, you ought to do it properly. You should go and live in his shoes for a while and see at the end of it how much you hate yourself.

This was what I was doing down in Florida. The real challenge wasn't just trying to understand these Republicans. It was to become the best Republican I could be.
After recounting his adventures and offering some fascinating anecdotes, Taibbi gets to the heart of the matter:
One of the great cliches of liberal criticism of the Christian right is the idea that these people are wrongheaded because they profess to know the will of God. H.L. Mencken put that one best, and perhaps first: "It is only the savage, whether of the African bush or the American gospel tent, who pretends to know the will and intent of God exactly and completely."

These criticisms sound like they make sense. But I think they are a little off-base. The problem not only with fundamentalist Christians but with Republicans in general is not that they act on blind faith, without thinking. The problem is that they are incorrigible doubters with an insatiable appetite for Evidence. What they get off on is not Believing, but in having their beliefs tested. That's why their conversations and their media are so completely dominated by implacable bogeymen: marrying gays, liberals, the ACLU, Sean Penn, Europeans and so on. Their faith both in God and in their political convictions is too weak to survive without an unceasing string of real and imaginary confrontations with those people -- and for those confrontations, they are constantly assembling evidence and facts to make their case.

But here's the twist. They are not looking for facts with which to defeat opponents. They are looking for facts that ensure them an ever-expanding roster of opponents. They can be correct facts, incorrect facts, irrelevant facts, it doesn't matter. The point is not to win the argument, the point is to make sure the argument never stops. Permanent war isn't a policy imposed from above; it's an emotional imperative that rises from the bottom.
In a way, it actually helps if the fact is dubious or untrue (like the Swift-boat business), because that guarantees an argument. You're arguing the particulars, where you're right, while they're arguing the underlying generalities, where they are.

Once you grasp this fact, you're a long way to understanding what the Hannitys and Limbaughs figured out long ago: These people will swallow anything you feed them, so long as it leaves them with a demon to wrestle with in their dreams.
This point needs to be expanded a bit, and made more explicit. Bush and his more fervent supporters exhibit what I have called the apocalyptic-crusader psychology. In an earlier post, I set forth some excerpts from James Carroll's book, Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War. Here are a few notable points from Carroll:
Before the Crusades, Christian theology had given central emphasis to the resurrection of Jesus, and to the idea of incarnation itself, but with the war of the cross, the bloody crucifixion began to dominate the Latin Christian imagination. A theology narrowly focused on the brutal death of Jesus reinforced the primitive notion that violence can be a sacred act. The cult of martyrdom, even to the point of suicidal valor, was institutionalized in the Crusades, and it is not incidental to the events of 9/11 that a culture of sacred self-destruction took equally firm hold among Muslims. The suicide-murderers of the World Trade Center, like the suicide-bombers from the West Bank and Gaza, exploit a perverse link between the willingness to die for a cause and the willingness to kill for it. Crusaders, thinking of heaven, honored that link, too.

Here is the deeper significance of Bush's inadvertent reference to the Crusades: Instead of being a last recourse or a necessary evil, violence was established then as the perfectly appropriate, even chivalrous, first response to what is wrong in the world. George W. Bush is a Christian for whom this particular theology lives.

But sacred violence, once unleashed in 1096, as in 2001, had a momentum of its own. The urgent purpose of war against the "enemy outside" -- what some today call the "clash of civilizations" -- led quickly to the discovery of an "enemy inside." The crusaders, en route from northwestern Europe to attack the infidel far away, first fell upon, as they said, "the infidel near at hand." Jews.


Doctrinal uniformity, too, could be enforced with sacred violence. When the U.S. attorney general defines criticism of the administration in wartime as treason, or when Congress enacts legislation that justifies the erosion of civil liberties with appeals to patriotism, they are enacting a Crusades script.

Robert Jay Lifton shows how this phenomenon manifests itself now, with Islamist and American apocalyptic visions in fierce competition, both aimed at "purification and renewal." In his book "Superpower Syndrome," Lifton observes, "We are experiencing what could be called an apocalyptic face-off between Islamist forces, overtly visionary in their willingness to kill and die for their religion, and American forces claiming to be restrained and reasonable but no less visionary in their projection of a cleansing war-making and military power."
I went on to note that, in my view, this is not the entire, psychological truth.

In a previous essay (from my series on "The Roots of Horror"), which began with an examination of the scorn and contempt that many hawks heaped on Spain in the wake of the Spanish election last spring, I spoke of the ultimate roots of the hawks' reaction. In analyzing the significance and meaning of that reaction, I wrote:
In light of [Alice] Miller's analysis, we can now see the real tragedy of the terrorist attacks in recent years -- the attacks of 9/11, the attack in Madrid, and all the other atrocities that we have witnessed. The people who commit such monstrous acts are the perfect embodiments of the mechanism Miller describes: these are people who were terribly abused as children (read any description of the kind of education and upbringing endured by any terrorist, yet they deny their own history and their own immense pain, and idealize and venerate their elders, and their religious leaders.

Now, as adults, since their denial continues, they seek revenge -- and no mounting toll of bodies will sate their need, and their arguments are impervious to reason [quoting Miller]: "The unconscious compulsion to revenge repressed injuries is more powerful than all reason."

Such terrorist attacks demand a response, and they demand that our political leaders protect us from future attacks, to the extent possible. But a reasoned response would be one targeted to those who represent the danger: it would be an attack on the terrorist networks themselves, not on a third- or fourth-rate dictatorship that represented no substantial threat either to its neighbors, or to us.

But those who plan and implement our current foreign policy, as well as those who defend them, have adopted a different strategy, which arises from a different source altogether. They are using the threat of terrorism as a springboard to remake the entire world, one area at a time -- utilizing the Utopian delusion of "nation-building" as their rationale, and as their rationalization. They ignore the lessons of history, which show that such a delusion is simply that -- a delusion, one that it is doomed to fail; they ignore the huge costs in both human life, and economically; and they ignore that our current course provides a recruiting tool for our enemies that the terrorists themselves could only dream about, and would not be able to provide themselves, if we did not offer it to them.

But the hawks and their defenders ignore all this -- and they ignore the indisputable fact that rather than minimizing the dangers we face, our present course only increases them -- because they are not focused on the reality of the threat that faces us. And this leads to the additional tragedy now unleashed by the terrorist attacks of recent years, and it is this tragedy that almost no one cares to name, or to face.

The fact that we have been attacked by monsters who seek revenge for the injuries they themselves have suffered in the past, and particularly in their childhoods, has provided a morally defensible "cover" for the hawks now to engage in a similar revenge fantasy, arising out of the injuries that they have suffered in the past, and in their childhoods -- and it takes the form of their desire to remake the world, of their plans of "nation-building," and of their desire to impose their will on the rest of the world by military force, one country at a time.

This is the source of the rage and condemnation you see directed at the people of Spain. The hawks are saying, in effect: "How dare you disobey and disagree with us? How dare you question the wisdom of our course? How dare you suggest that you might have another plan of action which would achieve the end we say we care so much about, and would achieve it more effectively, and create less new dangers in doing so? Don't you understand that we know best, and that we are not to be questioned? How dare you?"

This is the voice of the enraged parent -- who inflicts untold cruelties on his child, all the while proclaiming that he is committing monstrous acts for the child's own good. And, in fact, this is precisely what the hawks tell anyone who disagrees with them, and what they tell the entire rest of the world: we know what is best for you, not your own citizens, and not your own leaders. We do -- and you had better do what we say...or else.

No, we are not at the point where another Hitler or Stalin could grab the reins of power here in the United States -- not yet. But the longer the indeterminate "war on terror" goes on, and the more attacks there are, the greater the likelihood becomes that either this administration or a succeeding one will finally impose an authoritarian dictatorship on us. All the required pieces are now being put in place, as revealed for example in this series about Ashcroft's unremitting attacks on individual rights, and on the personal liberty of us all.

In this deeper sense, commentators and writers such as David Brooks, Mark Steyn, Jonah Goldberg, James Lileks, Andrew Sullivan, and Steven den Beste are the harbingers of the horrors that might yet come. They are the people who will tell us, in a moment of great national and world crisis, that what we need is more "discipline" -- despite the fact that it is mindless, cruel, unnecessary "discipline" that caused the initial horrors. And they will tell us that anyone who dares to disagree is a "fifth columnist," who is aiding the enemy -- and who must be made to shut up and go away, or perhaps simply to disappear forever.

Then, in another thirty or forty years, assuming that mankind survives and people in the future study how it was that horrors visited the world yet again despite all the warnings of history, they will be the people who will say: "But we never knew it would come to that. We just did what we thought was required for our own survival." And one or two might even add that they "were only following orders."

What you are hearing now is the voice of the thug -- which in truth is the voice of the abused child, grown to adulthood, and still denying his own pain, and therefore denying the pain of everyone else. And the child now seeks to revenge himself upon an external enemy, any external enemy, and the terrorist attacks have provided the perfect opportunity to unleash destruction, but destruction on a scale that Hitler and Stalin could only dream of.

Do I think catastrophe can be avoided? Perhaps. It is too soon to tell. But many of the signs are not hopeful, and the longer the "crisis" goes on, the greater the danger becomes.

But it is not too late...not yet. And it is for that reason, and for that reason alone, that I will continue to write about these issues.
The ultimate key to what is now unfolding in the world lies in that single sentence from Alice Miller: "The unconscious compulsion to revenge repressed injuries is more powerful than all reason." This is the key that explains the open hostility that Bush and many of his supporters exhibit toward anyone who dares to disagree with them, just as it explains the demand for "doctrinal uniformity," "enforced by sacred violence." Disagreement is much more than an intellectual matter: it is an assault on the very identity of the apocalyptic crusader at the most fundamental level.

As long as such people continue to deny the nature of what motivates them, they represent a great danger to all of us, and to the world. They will continue to seek personal redemption through "cleansing war-making" -- and the attacks of 9/11 served as the mechanism which lifted the lid off the vastly destructive nature of this psychology. Certainly, the 9/11 attacks demanded a response -- but a healthy man, one motivated by a desire for successful life, and not merely the avoidance of death (which are not at all the same thing), would target his enemy as narrowly as possible and deal with it expeditiously. He would not seek to instigate a world war in an effort finally to achieve personal salvation, while continuing to deny what actually motivates him all the while.

It is a great tragedy that Kerry has not been able to articulate a strategy of life and hope to a greater extent (or to any significant extent at all) -- but he is, after all, a politician of our age. It was too much to hope that he would represent a serious alternative to Bush. Nonetheless, with regard to this issue, he is cut from a very different cloth than Bush and Bush's most ardent advocates. I think a large part of the reason for the difference is that Kerry served in war: he has killed and seen killing at close range, and he knows the horrors of war first-hand. The meaning of human suffering is real to him, in a deep and important way that it is not real to Bush or to many of Bush's supporters. It is only the denial of pain -- first of their own, and then the denial of the pain of others -- that allows Bush and the warhawks to continue in their lust for an ever-broader war, which means their lust for death, destruction and untold pain on a ever vaster scale.

This is one of the two major reasons why I will vote for Kerry on Tuesday -- not because I agree with his policy positions (which I do not), and certainly not because I agree with his foreign policy views. But on the basis of the available evidence, Kerry does not thirst for war in the manner that Bush does. I fervently hope that the American public rejects the politics of revenge and destruction in the most emphatic terms on Tuesday. Such a rejection might well represent a desperately needed second chance for us; we can only hope that it does not represent a last chance, but given the Bush administration's predilection for unnecessary and dangerous wars, it might, especially in a nuclear age.

With regard to the reappearance of bin Laden, the crucial point is this: for the apocalyptic-crusader mentality, which is propelled toward destruction by the unrecognized desire for revenge -- revenge for its own sake, completely divorced from any consideration as to who actually threatens or harms us -- an unending list of enemies is indispensable and necessary. Bush and his supporters make the old cliche completely true: if bin Laden did not exist, they would have to invent him. Fortunately for them -- and very unfortunately for the rest of us -- bin Laden has now made his actual existence known once again. Given the profound fear which permeates our culture so thoroughly at the moment, that might well seal the election for Bush.

I pray that it does not.