Gaylord Guenin: Shock and awe in Iraq, and stealth at home
April 10, 2003
War is confusing! For instance, I’m not certain if our Shock and Awe (S&A) campaign has already happened, if it is still going on or if we abandoned that approach for something else.What I do know is that there is a fella who lives down the road from me, a guy who wrote a book called “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” who probably knows more about S&A than anyone on this planet. If the current administration and our military really wanted to rattle some Iraqi cages with S&A, they should have contacted my neighbor, the good Doctor Hunter Thompson. As with most of us, he isn’t a big fan of this war but he is, when he wants to be, a pretty good guy, and I’m certain he might have given the Pentagon some hints on S&A if they had asked nicely. Especially if the government guaranteed that he could pursue his medical practice in peace.George W., our compassionate warrior president, really doesn’t have a clue about the roots of S&A. George W. obviously just wants to be seen as a true-blue cowboy who sits tall in the saddle. Someone must have convinced him that his John Wayne image would be improved if he adopted the S&A approach. Wrong!My neighbor, on the other hand, doesn’t have to try – S&A seems to come quite naturally to him. For all I know, he may have invented the concept. God knows, he has been practicing S&A for decades. He is a professional! George W. is a rookie! The dangerous aspect of this is that George W. doesn’t understand that he truly is a rookie!But we do have to give George W. high marks in at least one arena: He not only knows how to make war, he knows how to wage war on multiple fronts.While we are dumping munitions on Iraq the way trucks pour garbage into landfills, the administration is quietly (at least as quietly as it can) dumping on the environment as if nature itself were the greatest threat there is to America’s future. Many months ago a national columnist called George W. “the most anti-environmental president in our history.” At the time those words sounded a bit too harsh. Not anymore!This administration has quietly been chipping away at environmental laws almost since the day George W. took office. We are familiar with the way the administration thumbed its nose at an international treaty that might have helped to clean the world’s air, and the administration’s absolute determination to drill for oil anywhere it pleases, but those items are not headline makers. The administration prefers to avoid headlines.George W. may dream of putting on his white cowboy hat and policing the world, but in his war against the environment it appears he is more comfortable wearing a dark ski mask and sneaking in through your back door. Shock and awe may be a goal in Iraq, but against the environment George W. definitely prefers the stealth approach.Just a couple weeks ago it was disclosed that the Pentagon ordered military service chiefs to provide examples in which the administration could cite national security in order to exempt defense facilities from certain environmental laws. The president wants Congress to ease laws governing endangered species, marine mammals and air and water standards at defense facilities. In a time of war, it is difficult to argue against such measures if the laws we are talking about actually are threatening military training or our readiness as a nation. Congress rejected most of the military’s requests for changes in environmental laws last year, but that was before the fighting actually began. The obvious problem is that changes in any environmental rules and regulations could have a dribble-down effect. If we waive certain rules for the military, why not also waive the rules for those who manufacture the weapons of war?This oblique approach to reversing gains made in conservation and protecting the environment comes as no surprise. Gale Norton, secretary of the Interior, is a master of the back-door approach.Speaking of back doors, consider this: The National Resources Defense Council reported in its spring issue of its magazine “onearth” that during the past two years George W., on more than 50 occasions, has chosen 5 p.m. on a Friday to release “bad environmental news” to the public. The policy makes sense for the administration because that news is released too late to be developed into in-depth stories immediately, and by Monday it’s apt to be seen as “old news.” Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a Democrat, remarked that “for the environment, every Friday is Friday the 13th.”If you are interested, the NRDC has a guide, “Rewriting the Rules,” which lists more than 100 environmental protections the current administration has undone. Shock and awe may not be George W.’s gig, but he sure as hell is accomplished at stealth. It’s obvious why more and more Americans are locking their doors at night.But the grand prize goes to our invisible vice president, who two years ago fled to a bunker with his industrialist friends to draft this nation’s energy policy. Environmentalists and conservationists were excluded from the meetings, and to this day we still don’t know who the attendees actually were. Actually we do know, but we can’t prove it. George W. likes it that way.This is the 283rd article in a two-part series devoted to the community of Woody Creek, a place where shock and awe have long been part of the local scene.