Partisanship has denuded the political landscape of meaningful debate to the point that anyone who criticizes President Bush's policies is presumed to be a Democrat who is still angry about the outcome of the election.
However, as a critic of the president, I speak for a lot of people when I say that it's not simple partisanship that motivates us. Many of us believe that President Bush is doing great harm to the United States, and we're concerned about where our nation will stand four years from now.
As the Bush administration gears up for an invasion of Iran, Americans need to ask whether we can fight another pre-emptive war. To understand how wrong this doctrine really is, you need merely to reverse roles. Imagine that, in the face of all this saber-rattling, Iran decided to attack us pre-emptively. Would Americans shrug and say that it was legitimate for Iran to hit us first?
How many hundreds of billions will this war cost? Will the president give us an estimate beforehand or will he try to hide the costs as he's doing with the war in Iraq? Will American servicemen again be deployed for extended periods in a deadly conflict with vague goals and no exit strategy? How many of them will die fighting the president's pre-emptive wars?
How many more domestic programs will President Bush have to cut in order to finance the war? How much more debt will our nation take on in order to pay for it?
The freedom to ask these questions is among the characteristics that separates us from other nations. And when it comes times for actual combat, most of us believe that there is a wide gulf between war and terrorism, but the differences are actually quite subtle. By definition, war is organized fighting conducted by a nation against another nation; violence or terrorism is everything else.
So when the United States sent troops into Iraq, we called it war, but when Iraqi citizens fought back, we didn't describe their actions as warfare because they weren't part of a national army. Instead, we called them "insurgents engaged in violence." Civilians who die at the hands of insurgents or terrorists are called "victims"; civilians who die at the hands of powerful states are called "collateral damage."
The words are important because they reinforce the right of nations to use force. But along with this power comes great responsibility to follow established rules of warfare. And we've always believed that the United States follows those rules. The U.S. has in the past believed in the rule of law and engages only in legitimate warfare, taking great care to follow the international protocols for war.
Yet, lately, we invaded Iraq without a threat of imminent attack. We have held hundreds of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay without calling them POWs and without giving them the protection of the Geneva Convention. We've held people around the world without charges and without access to lawyers or courts.
We have an attorney general who said that torture was a legitimate tool in the war on terrorism and, consequently, we have soldiers who have tortured prisoners.
But how many rules can the United States break before it's guilty of engaging in simple violence rather than legitimate warfare? Can you imagine us giving our blessing to any nation that held American POWs without giving them protection of the Geneva Convention? We would immediately condemn that action. But somehow, when we're the nation committing the same offense, we shrug as if it's no big deal.
I know I'll be accused of being a member of the Blame-America-First crowd, and that's OK. Too many of our citizens are part of the Blame-America?-Never! mindset, and that has the danger of leading us down a very tyrannical path.
Former Denver Broncos player Reggie Rivers writes Fridays on the Denver Post op-ed page.
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