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Freedom is not free in 2005

Peter Quaranto | Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Weeks before his inauguration last Thursday, President George W. Bush told his speechwriter that he wanted his second Inaugural Address to be his “freedom speech.” And it was just that – a dazzling allocution of America’s vocation to freedom against the dark forces of tyranny. In his “pep-oration,” the president laid out the fundamental plank of his vision: “The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.” It is certain that few rational Westerners would argue with this Kantian democratic-peace hypothesis, yet we ought to interrogate its manifestations in real politick. Especially in the Bush case, where it appears the roads of “freedom” lead to war against Iran in 2005.

Last week, Seymour Hersh, the famous muckraking journalist who exposed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq, published an article in The New Yorker magazine claiming the United States has been carrying out secret reconnaissance missions in Iran for over a year, preparing military strikes against select targets. According to Hersh’s contact, a high-level intelligence official, the Bush Administration is seeking to find three dozen or so target sites that could be destroyed by precision strikes and commando raids. Hersh’s contact said, “We’re not dealing with a set of National Security Council option papers here … It’s not if we’re going to do anything against Iran. They’re doing it.”

The troubling part of this is that the European nations and IAEA have been working tirelessly, and with some success over the last year to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Evidence from negotiations suggests that Iran is willing to halt its weapons development for economic trade and aid carrots. Yet, such anti-proliferation efforts have been hindered by lack of support from the United States. Against almost all evidence, it appears that the neo-conservatives in the Pentagon are convinced that Iran will continue to develop weapons systems regardless of diplomacy. Further, some believe military attacks on Iran could empower secular nationalists against the fundamentalist Islamic regime. Can you say “freedom on the march?”

The British newspaper, The Guardian, further reported that the Pentagon is planning to use members of the Iranian rebel group, Mujahedin-e-Khalq, to cross the Iraq-Iran border to gather intelligence. The MEK is considered a terrorist group by the state department, but the United States has worked with terrorist groups in the past and will in the future. The Guardian also reports that the Pentagon is bringing in officials from the Reagan Iran-contra days to write policy papers for military action in Iran.

In response, the White House has claimed Hersh’s article is “riddled with inaccuracies.” Yet, the White House has been nebulous in its statements regarding Iran, continuing to note that the military option remains on the table. In the morning before the Inauguration ceremonies, Vice President Dick Cheney remarked that Iran is “right at the top” of the administration’s list of threatening nations, and that Israel “might well decide to attack” Iran’s nuclear capacity first. It is clear that the administration sees their electoral victory as a mandate to amplify their aggressive foreign policy agenda.

Perhaps the most troubling development that Hersh uncovers in his reporting is the conglomeration of power by the Pentagon at the expense of the CIA. In recent months, Bush has issued executive orders that allow Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to utilize and control military commandos in covert operations that are free from the legal scrutiny of the CIA. In other words, no accountability. There is even serious talk that Bush will give the Pentagon complete control over the CIA’s own elite paramilitary unit. In the recent intelligence-reform bill, the White House made changes at the last moment to ensure that the Secretary of Defense would not have to answer to the new national-intelligence director.

Under these new changes, the Pentagon will be able to coordinate covert “action teams” in countries overseas. Recent reports by Newsweek claim the Pentagon is entertaining the idea of bringing back the use of death squads as was done in El Salvador throughout the 1980s, resulting in the murder and torture of tens of thousands. Also, according to an article in Monday’s Washington Post, Rumsfeld has a new intelligence group, titled the Strategic Support Branch, which is hidden from Congress and the CIA. This intelligence group has been working with Special Forces and outside agents to conduct clandestine activities.

All of these developments are troubling, especially when they occur under the misguided semantic cloak of freedom. The linguistic blunder that Bush makes is that he envisions freedom as a state of being, rather than praxis, an end as opposed to a means.

The philosopher Voltaire once said, “So long as people do not care to exercise their freedom, those who wish to tyrannize will do so.” The challenge in 2005 for you and I is to exercise our freedom, to ensure that the forces of tyranny and deceit do not prevail within our country and among our own policymakers. Freedom is not free, and in the coming year as the empowered and emboldened Pentagon beats the war drums once again, we must demand transparency and truth. Freedom comes not through the barrel of a gun, but from the heartbeat of a people who refuse to be misled or silenced.

Peter Quaranto is a junior political science and international peace studies major. He will write from Uganda this semester where he will be studying. Contact Peter at pquarant@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.