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Defending my right to disagree

Gary Caruso | Friday, October 6, 2006

Many Americans believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Yet, when the discourse shifts to the politics of life and death issues such as war or abortion, they turn a deaf ear to those who express differing points of view. These free speech obstructionists attempt to suffocate dissonance while conveniently forgetting that this nation was founded on dissension – that our strength lies in our diversity and our unyielding search for truth.

On Sept. 11, 2001, every American was abruptly drafted into action, individually called to better our nation’s defense of democracy abroad and to improve our own domestic safety. I personally know the call to serve my country, having first worn a U.S. Air Force uniform as a Notre Dame freshman during the height of the Vietnam War’s unpopularity. How dare anyone, especially another Notre Dame alumnus who is a military lawyer and Marine captain, denigrate the service of a National Guardsman as a mere “maintenance worker” in Iraq. How dare that same sworn defender of liberty and justice label this column’s description of military command failures that caused Marine deaths as “spurious allegations” and “imbecilic.”

Since the attacks of 9/11, the only man in this nation who is supposed to inspire us has purposely portrayed some Americans as good and others as bad. Our President has divided this nation into those whom he believes have a right to join his debate and others who do not until they agree with him. My father did not fight for three years in World War II against the Nazis for that type of distinction. I did not enroll in Notre Dame ROTC to pass a litmus test deciding who may wave our American flag. On that September day half a decade ago, every one of us was called to the front lines, and each of us has an unlimited right to be either a hawk or a dove.

Lest those who support the president forget, in September of 2001 Democrats and Independents united as Americans giving this president more than 90 percent support. In fact, the entire world reached out to us as a gesture of succor. “Old Europe,” especially France whose fries would be officially renamed “American Fries” in all of the U.S. House of Representatives cafeterias, wrote newspaper headlines touting, “We are all Americans.” Under similar circumstances, it is doubtful that those petty politicians from the rigid Republican fundamentalist wing of their party would have given such unconditional support to a Democratic president.

Our fellow Notre Dame alumni who refuse to ask tough questions, but who also attempt to place this column under a minister of propaganda, may recall that our president squandered that global goodwill with a series of imbecilic decisions. This writer once held the blue all-access White House pass and knows firsthand the complex demands of the Oval Office. The deaths of more than 2,700 American troops and tens of thousands of others are the direct result of simple slogans and rigid, stubborn ideology.

The president’s policies, with lock-stepping congressional approval, have lowered our once proud standing in the world. Those policies have lowered the standards of the Geneva Conventions, lowered our internal feeling of community and lowered our once lofty principles of freedom. All in the name of keeping this nation safe.

Despite our president’s popular slogan, they do not hate us for our freedom. They hate us for what we do and for what they perceive that we do, such as defiling their holy land in Saudi Arabia with military bases prior to the attacks on the World Trade Center. Does anyone ever wonder how Russia, once the fiercest of bin Laden’s enemies, wiggled out of Al Qaeda’s cross hairs?

Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit during the Clinton administration and an uncongenial critic of both Presidents Clinton and Bush, suggests in a Robert Novak column that we first need to understand bin Laden’s reasoning that keeps us on his enemies list, regardless of how absurd they may actually seem. Scheuer says, “We’re at war because of what we do in the Islamic world.” Unfortunately, Republicans who control every branch of our government refuse to recognize Bush’s folly, of course unless they are in direct danger of losing a coveted congressional seat this year.

Finally, the president’s illogical and absolute refusal to allow his civilian or military advisors to freely disagree and correct current policy has doomed our troops to combat in Iraq until Bush leaves office in 2009. Call this president what you may – idiot or hero – but every one of us has as much of a prerogative to say anything about defending this nation. And all of us earned the label “loyal American” during our national draft on Sept. 11, 2001.

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, is a political strategist who served as a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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