Politics of pretext

The Bush administration wants terrorism on peoples’ minds at all times.

What to make of Gregg Knorn’s Sept. 13 column, “News media miss the point on terrorism”? I read the column three times in an effort to figure out its thesis. Here is what I came up with: the news media needs to call any and all violence committed by nonstate actors “terrorism.”

Therefore, those who commit such violence should only be referred to as “terrorists.” By Knorn’s logic, the media avoid saying and writing about “terrorists” and “terrorism” because keeping these words out of the headlines means that “there is a greater chance that people will vote on other issues.”

Actually, I tend to think that Knorn is wrong, in that I find it nearly impossible to take in news on a daily basis and not hear the words “terror,” “terrorism” and “terrorists” tens or even hundreds of times. But I will leave this aside and instead take up Knorn’s piece on its own terms.

With this in mind, it is first important to note that Knorn concedes as fact what is often dismissed as leftist lunacy: the 24-hour media must keep repeating the words “terrorist” and “terrorism” so that President George W. Bush has a better chance of getting re-elected.

Knorn furthers such an agenda when, like the Bush administration, he argues that the war in Iraq is part of the “battle against terrorism” because “there were terrorists before we invaded Iraq, just as there are terrorists now.” As sole evidence for this view, Knorn argues that before the war “al-Qaida operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi traveled in and out of Iraq with Saddam Hussein’s knowledge.” Knorn asks, “Who is to say that Saddam wouldn’t help him at some point?”

I’ll leave it to readers to decide if this one man was enough reason to bring about the war in Iraq. But before you make up your minds, it is important to note what Knorn leaves out of the Zarqawi tale. Namely, Knorn leaves out the March 2, 2004, NBC news story that reported “that long before the war the Bush administration had several chances to wipe out (Zarqawi’s) terrorist operation and perhaps kill Zarqawi himself – but never pulled the trigger.”

The NBC story reported, “Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawi’s operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.” In other words, the Bush administration did not care about taking out al-Qaida operative Zarqawi – instead, it was more interested in using him as another excuse to invade and occupy Iraq.

This should not surprise anyone as the Bush administration has never cared about taking on al-Qaida. Instead, 9-11 and al-Qaida were distractions from the war Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz had advocated since 1998: a war with Iraq.

Broadly, Al-Qaida, Zarqawi, and “terrorism” were only tools – tools which could be used to launch the Iraq war. Likewise, they continue to be tools for columnists like Knorn – tools to re-elect Bush.

Hopefully, before the election, enough voters will see through this cynical exploitation and remember that 9-11, the war against al-Qaida, and Osama bin Laden were merely distractions for an administration which had always cared much more about Iraq and Saddam.

Jason Stahl is a doctoral candidate at the University. He welcomes comments at [email protected]