Column: President using same tactics we despise from our enemies

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 25, 2003

&uot;It is perilous to study too deeply the arts of the Enemy, for good or for ill.&uot; &045; Elrond, Lord of Rivendell, from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings

Several weeks ago, I received an e-mail with an attachment, a picture of President Bush wearing the ring of power from the Lord of the Rings (for readers who aren’t familiar with that story, the ring is a weapon that brings its wearer nearly absolute power). At first I thought it was an immature prank, one designed to raise the ire of the Bush faithful. Tolkien himself certainly would have been appalled. He insisted that he did not write allegories of modern life. For example, the ring does not represent nuclear weapons and Mordor isn’t Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. Tolkien did write stories that used fantasy to reveal truths about the nature of evil, the power of faith, and human potential &045; either for good or evil.

But even though I found the &uot;joke&uot; in poor taste, the image wouldn’t go away.

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It would be wrong to say that President Bush is anything like Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor who made the ring; however, Bush does often appear nearly as dangerous as many of our enemies. I think he is actually more like Saruman, the sorcerer who starts out opposing evil, but falls into evil himself through &uot;studying the arts of the Enemy&uot; too deeply.

Behind the current reluctance of many of our allies to support us is an appropriate wariness of Bush’s intentions about the use of America’s superpower status. They are as afraid of Bush’s &uot;Pax Americana&uot; and what it means for their freedom as they are of Saddam Hussein and all the other evil dictators in the world.

Behind some of the opposition to Bush here at home are legitimate concerns about his treatment of the Constitution. Behind the screen of homeland defense, he is damaging the very democracy he claims to be protecting. In Bush’s proposals for America, there is no right to privacy, from either electronic eavesdropping or from our neighbors. If you are declared an enemy combatant, you lose all of your rights, with no chance for protection from any abuse of power. His intentions might be noble, for now, but his tactics are uncomfortably close to those of the terrorists we are fighting.

And what does Bush tell us? We’re just supposed to &uot;trust&uot; him &045; like Saruman asks Gandalf and others to trust him before he falls into evil. But we don’t need to look in fantasy for examples of the problem with this. More than once we have caught our leaders abusing their positions of power, all the while telling people just to &uot;trust&uot; them. In an interview Bush has stated that one thing he likes about being president is that he is accountable to no one.

No, President Bush does not possess the ring of power. But it seems to me that, like Saruman, he would like to wear it. Unfortunately, we cannot use the ring without it turning everything we do towards evil. Using the weapons and strategies of the enemies of freedom leads inexorably down the path to evil. The power of the ring lies in conquest, destruction, and death.

Today, too much of our energy is directed at those things. We are engaged in plans for a pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. On a smaller scale, we are actively seeking to assassinate our enemies’ leaders. Oh yes, it is all supposedly being done to &uot;protect&uot; us from those who would destroy us, but there is a fine line between using violence to protect and using it to conquer.

It was our decision to draw a line in the sand, making war the option of strength and peace the option of appeasement. Does the president really believe that seeking peace means ignoring evil or letting dictators do whatever they want? Instead of criticizing the warlike stance of the Israeli government, we support them, standing by while they punish whole communities for the terrorist acts of a few. How long until we are doing the same?

No, if someone said that George Bush is Sauron, or that the United States has become the land of Mordor, they would be wrong, at least for now.

David Rask Behling is a rural Albert Lea resident. His column appears Tuesdays.