A comment on US policy

Patriotism - the last refuge of a scoundrel1

One of the weapons a scoundrel has at his disposal to make his enterprises look good is patriotism. The most extreme of examples in this regard is probably Adolf Hitler. A less extreme, though still worrying example is the current US President.

So what happens when a statesman uses patriotism to pursue his own ends? Eight months after taking office on September 10, 2001 President Bush's approval rating had dropped to a mere 50 per cent, an unusual decline for a President just months into his presidency. A day later, the World Trade Centre was reduced to a pile of rubble by a terrorist attack. September 11 was the day that changed America forever.

A people that had felt invulnerable on its own soil for 60 years was suddenly made aware of an invisible enemy. In the days and weeks that followed, the atmosphere changed dramatically. Stars and Stripes flags were being flown on the rooftops again, patriotism was blossoming. The US retailer Wal-Mart even had nappies with blue stars on sale "for little patriots".


After Bush had ordered his forces to attack Afghanistan, his approval rating rebounded strongly, jumping to around 90 per cent. So it is fair to say that in the atmosphere following September 11, the American people began to like their commander-in-chief. It demonstrates how, in a climate filled with patriotism, a president who is not liked very much by his people can suddenly turn into a national hero.


Less than two months after the tragedy, Congress passed the USA Patriot Act, a law which, according to Ronald Dworkin, "sets out a new, breathtakingly vague definition of terrorism and of aiding terrorists"2. In other words, "fundamental rights . are being set aside in the name of an emergency that may have no end . The enemy is apt to become 'anybody who makes us afraid'"3. That means the US Government can do everything, from detaining suspected terrorists indefinitely without allowing them to see a lawyer to invading any country by claiming it has links to al'Qaida - as recently happened in the case of Iraq.

The USA Patriot Act is just one example of how the Bush Administration has, under the cover of being patriotic and of pretending to stamp out the terrorist threat, pushed through measures to enforce its ultra-conservative agenda.


Until now, the US Administration has felt free to subject two countries to a frightening military assault to serve its interests along with those of big corporations such as Halliburton and Bechtel, to name but two of them. If President Bush gets re-elected in 2004, more conflicts will be looming.


All this points in one direction: The United States, it seems, are slowly being turned into a police state yet the vast majority of the American people take hardly any notice. If they are not vigilant, they may find one day that the great American democracy has been dismantled at the hands of a few megalomaniacs whose interests contrast sharply with those of most Americans.

By Florian Barisch


  1. scoundrel: Schuft, Schurke
  2. "The real threat to US values", The Guardian, London, 9 March 2002
  3. Maya Jaggi, "Civil Wrongs", The Guardian, London, 22 June 2002. In her article, she interviewed Patricia J. Williams, a Columbia Law Professor and former attorney.
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