July 11, 2005

Not white, not Christian... not registered to vote?

My jaw dropped, and I had to read this quotation over three times to be sure I'd gotten it right. A CNN.com article quoted president Bush's homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend, from an interview she gave on "Fox News Sunday":

The war in Iraq, she said, attracts terrorists there "where we have a fighting military and a coalition that can take them on and not have the sort of civilian casualties that you saw in London."

On July 9th alone, at least 9 Iraqi civilians were killed by violent attacks. Car bombs and mortar attacks routinely are killing groups of five, ten, twenty Iraqi civilians. These incidents and statistics are not created by a liberal media but are real: civilians are being killed every day by terrorist insurgents in Iraq.

That must be why Townsend qualified her statement with the short phrase, "the sort." You don't have "the sort" of civilian casualties when the terrorists are blowing people up in Iraq that you have when they're blowing people up in London. One wonders what she meant by that. I would think that civilian casualties amounted to dead innocents no matter where they happened. Perhaps she meant that dead Iraqi civilians are different because they're not white. or maybe because they're not Christian. Or maybe because they're in a different time zone, or speak a different language, or eat different sorts of foods. Or maybe because they can't vote for Republicans.

With those two words, Townsend defined the Bush homeland security policy more clearly than Bush has ever done himself. Clearly, Bush's policy of "taking the fight to the terrorists" supposes that people who aren't citizens of his country are less valuable. OK, I admit that it's his job to take that approach, and I can't fault him entirely for it. But it is a terribly cynical and un-American way to approach the world.

Perhaps it's no different than any administration has attempted to do in a hundred years. Perhaps Bush and his staff are just more clumsy and less subtle about how they go about it.

But it's a dangerous policy because some day the terrorists will wise up and realize that they're fighting an army in a place that American citizens don't see as having actual people and children and mothers and brothers and cousins and shopkeepers and librarians and teachers and all other types of regular folks living there. Civilian deaths in Iraq simply don't have any impact on the psyche of the average American. At least, not today.

Bush's policy banks on two things: First, that Americans will never grow to care about Iraqi civilians. (I think this is actually a pretty good bet.) Second, that the "insurgents" will stay in Iraq, getting killed by the best-trained and best-equipped military in the world. That, I think, is not a very good bet. Now, I understand that the insurgents won't be able to charter a flight and just show up at LAX, but all it takes is a few to cause the kind of havoc and death and destruction in our own towns that we saw last week in London.

Perhaps it's enough just to keep them busy until our homeland security is improved. Perhaps the short-term tactic of war in Iraq is just a first step in a much longer and more complex strategy. I have a hard time believing that.

No, I think the simpler answer is more likely. The Bush administration is simply hoping that by having soldiers in Iraq, we will keep the terrorists busy there while obese Americans happily watch "The Bachelor" and believe that no regular civilian people are being hurt in Iraq.

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