Reconstruction 7.1 (2007)


Return to Contents, The state, Nationalism, Sexuality, Terrorism»


Threatening Bodies Resisting Containment: Enemy Combatants, War Protestors and Same-Sex Couples / Mary K. Bloodsworth-Lugo and Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo

 

Abstract: The U.S.-launched "War on Terror" has been a major driving force in political discourses during the last few years, including presidential discourse. Since September 11, 2001, presidential rhetoric has systematically entangled international efforts, such as "the War on Terror" and the War in Iraq, with domestic issues, such as same-sex marriages and civil unions. In so doing, international and domestic threats have been effectively merged into one, and in the process, specific bodies have been constructed as "terrorist" agents in need of strict containment (for example, enemy combatant bodies, war protestor bodies, and the bodies of same-sex couples). This paper makes a case for understanding the effects of containment within the borders of the United States (the first superpower). We relate U.S. governmental rhetoric to the treatment and isolation of those rendered "un-American" (that is, those perceived as "terrorist" agents within the U.S.). Using the examples of José Padilla (a U.S. citizen designated as an "enemy combatant"), war protestors, and same-sex couples (treated as a "threat to civilization"), we argue that the year 2005 emerged as a significant year for the public (the second superpower) with the threat posed by the public itself emerging as in need of strict containment. It is our contention that the g eographical area encompassed by the U.S. offered the battleground for an ideological struggle between the two superpowers, and the year 2005 marked the beginning of a public fighting on multiple fronts to escape the containment to which it had been subjected since September 11, 2005.

 

 

There is only one course of action. We will continue to take this fight to the enemy and we will fight until this enemy is defeated. The war on terror goes on. (Gill)

President Bush on "The War on Terror"

"[I know that] there is a lot of people protesting." (Pickler, "Bush to Meet Today" A8)

President Bush on War protestors

 

Introduction: Bringing the U.S. Imperial Grand Strategy Home

<1> The U.S.-launched "War on Terror" has been a major driving force in political discourses during the last few years. "The War on Terror" was consistently cited as a key concern for voters in the 2004 U.S. presidential election, and it has been invoked by President Bush himself in most of his speeches since September 11, 2001. We argue elsewhere (Bloodsworth-Lugo and Lugo-Lugo 469-488) that in 2003, presidential rhetoric systematically entangled international efforts, such as "the War on Terror" and the War in Iraq, with domestic issues, such as same-sex marriages and civil unions. In so doing, international and domestic threats were effectively merged into one. These perceived threats were located in the bodies of "terrorists" and "gays" [1]. In a separate article (Lugo-Lugo and Bloodsworth-Lugo 227-248), we press this thesis further to argue that in 2004, the presidential rhetoric of entanglement continued and provided Americans with a cleverly-orchestrated agenda for action during the Presidential election. Given ways in which presidential discourse concerning "the War on Terror" and same-sex marriages unfolded, we claim that merging these two issues serves to construct gay men and lesbians as "terrorist" agents within the U.S. Gays and lesbians, like international threats, have been rendered in need of strict containment. This containment has meant securing and subduing "terrorist" bodies.

<2> In Hegemony or Survival, Noam Chomsky states that "[w]hile the enemy at home often has to be controlled by intensive propaganda, beyond the borders more direct means are available" (8). As Chomsky points out, the enemy both at home and abroad is the public. Both domestically and internationally, Chomsky claims, the public is a powerful threat to any system of governance. Indeed, he refers to the public as "the second superpower" (the first superpower being the United States). Chomsky suggests that the first superpower exerts a great deal of energy trying to control the potentially dangerous enemy represented by the public. Using an argument comparable to one used by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri ( Empire; The Multitude) regarding the multitude, which they situate in opposition to Empire, Chomsky reasons that the world's second superpower should work to understand the role that the first superpower plays in the international arena "if it hopes to escape the containment to which it is subjected and to take seriously the ideals of justice and freedom" (10).

<3> By invoking the notion of "the public", it is important to clarify that we do not conceptualize the public as a homogeneous entity. Rather, we view the public similar to Hardt and Negri's concept of the multitude: as an umbrella for various groups within a society. Because of their heterogeneity in composition, aim, and access to resources, the public does not necessarily act in unison - even when pursuing similar (political) ends. Differences notwithstanding, however, these collectivities (may) have a direct effect on how governments conduct themselves. Likewise, it should be noted that the public is impacted by race and racialization, gender, economic inequality, and sexuality given that these markers contribute to the heterogeneity of the public, while they also lend meaning to other categories addressed in the present paper (such as "enemy combatant," "war protestor," and "same-sex couple"). Thus, we will refer to the umbrella of collective action developed by a variety of groups and individuals as "the public". Obviously, collective inaction is also part of this dynamic.

<4> We pause for a moment to consider the role of nation-building within this discussion. As a practice and an ideology, nation-building seeks to integrate the citizens within the state for the purpose of achieving and maintaining political stability. Chomsky conveys that nation-building involves the use of ideologies (or propaganda); thus, nation-building requires constant (re)structuring, and the nation-state must always be reified (Feldman 211). Moreover, nation-building requires development of an infrastructure designed to create unity. In many cases, it is from nation-building efforts that nationalism and nationalist sentiments emerge. And while Hardt and Negri argue that "[e]ven the most dominant nation-states should no longer be thought of as supreme and sovereign authorities, either outside or even within their own borders" ( Empire xi), it is important to note that the process of nation-building occurs regardless of a nation's actual supremacy or sovereignty. The case of nation-building in the U.S., post-September 11, 2001, offers an excellent example: despite the fact that the U.S. was a sovereign nation and a world power, the U.S. nonetheless had to engage in a systematic effort to unify its people.

<5> In her book, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World, Partha Chatterjee identifies two types of nationalism: the nationalism of the Enlightenment, which was more rational than emotional, and nationalism based on culture and tradition, which views the nation as a natural community, as something "sacred, eternal, organic and [with a bigger purpose] than the works of men" (18). A significant aspect of nationalist sentiment in the U.S. has been its connection to expansionism and its desire to be omnipresent (historical examples of each include the ideology of manifest destiny and the Monroe Doctrine). Both expansionism and omnipresence require a level of control of and compliance by actors outside the U.S. In many instances, compliance is sought by war. Of course, President Bush's own comments on nation-building are quite interesting for they deny his commitment to such a project. As the President remarked, prior to September 11, 2001, "I don't think our troops ought to be used for what's called nation-building. I think our troops ought to be used to fight and win war" (Harper and Clarke 135).

<6> According to Chomsky, war has historically represented the most significant means of controlling enemies abroad for the U.S., and the current war in Iraq is part of what he calls the U.S.'s imperial grand strategy. As the name implies, this grand strategy is a "work in progress" and whether the U.S. actually moves to other regions (e.g., Iran, Syria, and the Andes) depends "in large part on whether the second superpower can be intimidated and contained" ( Hegemony or Survival 22). Intimidation and containment of the public are ways of "securing obedience," as Chomsky explains in his book, Year 501: The Conquest Continues. General obedience is obtained through "ideological institutions and cultural managers" (276). In Chomsky's view, the masses are seen by those in power as a bewildered herd in need of taming, and taming is obtained through "manufactured consent". In this regard, Chomsky's model of power is akin to Antonio Gramsci's position that power is maintained through hegemonic consent or coercive domination. For Gramsci, even in the case of coercive domination, support for this domination must be achieved via a process of hegemonic persuasion. This process includes convincing the public that coercive actions, both domestically and internationally, are in the public's interest.

<7> A crucial element of the imperial grand strategy, as described by Chomsky, is that it "extends to domestic U.S. law" ( Hegemony or Survival 26). Chomsky offers the example of September 11, 2001, when "the government used the occasion of the terrorist atrocities... to discipline its own population" by designating U.S. citizens as enemy combatants and as suspected terrorists, holding them indefinitely without access to counsel or their families (26). On the issue of enemy combatants, courts (as ideological institutions) sided with the government ruling "that a war time president can indefinitely detain a United States citizen captured as an enemy combatant on the battlefield and deny that person access to a lawyer" (26). Chomsky states that these new logics of containment, though reminiscent of "the darkest days of McCarthyism" are indeed "more extreme" (27). From now on, he cautions, "force reigns, and the U.S. will exercise that force as it sees fit" (28). Since September 11, Chomsky conveys, those at the center of power have declared "that it is unpatriotic and disruptive to question the workings of authority" (217). Chomsky identifies fear as the ultimate tool of, or method for, the containment of the public and the maintenance of political power. As he recalls, "that tactic was employed throughout the Reagan-Bush years, as the leadership conjured up one devil after another to frighten the populace into obedience" (115). Indeed, in Year 501, Chomsky argues that even when the majority of the population is able to see governmental practices as unfair, thoughts remain "private" and unvoiced. As he explains, "Whatever the individual thoughts may be, collectively we march in the parade" (275).

<8> In what follows, we make a case for understanding the effects of what Chomsky terms "the U.S. imperial grand strategy" within the borders of the United States. Mainly, building upon our previous work connecting official U.S. rhetoric regarding "the War on Terror" and that concerning same-sex marriage, we continue to relate U.S. governmental rhetoric to the treatment and isolation of those rendered as threats. Using the examples of José Padilla (a U.S. citizen designated an "enemy combatant") and same-sex marriage (rendered a "threat to civilization"), we argue that 2005 emerged as a significant year for the second superpower. For Gramsci, the public awareness occurring in 2005 could be considered a "crisis of hegemony" (210). In response, during 2005, and as the chief ideological institution, the Bush administration responded to public concern more directly than in previous years (specifically, 2003 and 2004). The administration designed a strategic campaign purposely aimed at addressing and subduing the public's perception by employing two specific techniques: (1) a relentless justification of the War in Iraq, and (2) a continuous invoking of September 11, 2001. Consequently, while we have argued elsewhere that the Bush administration employs rhetorical strategies to cleverly motivate responses by the public (e.g., pushing voters to ban same-sex marriages from many state constitutions during the 2004 presidential election year), we now argue that the threat posed by that very public itself has emerged as in need of a new means of containment.

 

Same-Sex Marriages and Constitutional Amendments

<9> Within the U.S., the second superpower gathered momentum in 2005, overtly challenging the strict containment to which it had been subjected for over three years. One of the areas challenged was the debate over same-sex marriage, which had been played out on the bodies of same-sex couples. For instance, prior to his second-term inauguration, The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) released several advertisements in the Washington, D.C. area regarding "the Bush administration's record on gay rights, hate crimes and same-sex marriage" ( The Spokesman-Review A3). Also, in February 2005, a bill before the legislature of the State of Washington aimed to "add sexual orientation to the state's ban on discrimination" (Roesler B1) [2]. During that same time, Oregon witnessed a court procedure challenging a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages (Associated Press, " Oregon's Ban on Gay Marriage Challenged" B2). And, while Republican Senator Gerry Sweet argued that "we" and "the family" are "under attack" and stated that he was co-sponsoring a much-debated bill proposing an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment in the Idaho Senate because, in his words, "people want this" (Russell B3), the bill was nonetheless defeated. On Valentine's Day, the public also took a stand for gay rights within the domain of the Church, when a group of Christian residents of Washington State demonstrated in Olympia, the state capital, for (and not against) gay rights. According to Pastor Stephen D. Jones, "we have allowed the far-right fundamentalists to distort the truth" (Associated Press, "People of Various Religions Rally" B3). On the East Coast, a " Manhattan judge [in New York] ruled... that the city clerk cannot deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples" and that "a state law prohibiting such unions is unconstitutional" (Freifeld B4).

<10> Thus, during the first few months of 2005, the public's views about homosexuality and same-sex marriage began to shift. The rendering of same-sex couples as domestic threats was challenged. Further evidence of this challenge on the part of the public was a Gallup Poll, released in May, showing that while 52% of respondents considered "homosexual relations to be morally wrong" and 50% opposed "having same sex marriages registered in Massachusetts recognized around the country," 90% of respondents also thought that "gays and lesbians should have equal rights in terms of job opportunities" and 51% replied that "homosexuality should be considered an acceptable lifestyle" ("Homosexual Relations"). Also in May, "[r]epresentatives of the nation's top psychiatric group [the American Psychiatric Association] approved a statement urging legal recognition of gay marriage" (Associated Press, "Psychiatrists Want Gay Marriage Legalized" A2). This event was followed by the Pew Research Center, in July, finding that although 53% of respondents opposed "allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally," 53% actually favored "allowing gay and lesbian couples to enter into legal agreements with each other that would give them many of the same rights as married couples" ("Law and Civil Rights").

<11> In addition to shifts in public opinion and challenges to church and legislative efforts, the public appeared to be resisting containment in other ways as well. For instance, when President Bush conveyed his decision, in January 2005, not to lobby "the Senate to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage during his second term" (VandeHei and Fletcher A3), which had been one of his major campaign points during the 2004 election season, a coalition of conservative groups threatened "to withhold support for President Bush's plan to remake Social Security unless [he] vigorously champion[ed] a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage" (Kirkpatrick and Stolberg). This development is especially relevant, since until this moment, this sector of the public (meaning, conservative groups) had been relatively controlled and contained within the fold of the U.S. government. Presidential and Christian-right opposition to same-sex marriage had been aligned, as had the narrative of domestic threat posed by same-sex couples. During his State of the Union Address in February, the President tried to secure obedience from this segment of the population once again by re-deploying the rhetoric of values and morality - a tactic that worked in previous years. According to President Bush, the "great responsibility to our children and grandchildren is to honor and to pass along the values that sustain a free society" ("State of the Union Address"). The President also conveyed that his "generation is determined to bring up responsible, moral children" ("State of the Union Address"). He followed these remarks by restating his views on marriage: "marriage," he said, "is a sacred institution and the foundation of society, it should not be re-defined by activist judges" and he insisted that he supported "a constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage". The importance of these statements is twofold: first, they provide a response to a particular sector of the public, and second, they are part of the intensive rhetoric employed to induce obedience by that public. Christian-right groups themselves were deemed to be threats to Presidential efforts and in need of strict containment. We will now turn to consider how U.S. citizens have been "contained" through the category "enemy combatant" - a category employed both to threaten the public and to contain the threat of that public itself.

 

Enemy Combatants and Containing the Public

<12> Since September 11, 2001, an integral element of the U.S.'s imperial grand strategy to contain the public at home and abroad has been the deployment of the classification "enemy combatant". Up to 2005, the President was able to hold indefinitely, and without the prospect of due process, any suspected terrorist by labeling him or her an "enemy combatant". This designation also applied to U.S. citizens, the most famous case being that of José Padilla. Thus, in the case of "enemy combatants," containment has been secured through physical measures (i.e., detention in facilities). However, in 2005, the U.S. government began a slow process of releasing and/or finally charging some of the detainees classified as enemy combatants. For instance, on April 24, 2005, a news article reported the release of several Afghan men who had been held at various facilities (including the Guantánamo Base) since their arrests two months after 9/11, on November 17, 2001 (Khan). At that point, the number of detainees classified as enemy combatants held at the Guantánamo Base was estimated to be "about 520 from about 40 countries" (Khan A4). In September, the case of José Padilla resurfaced in the national media, when a federal appeals court "reversed a judge's order that the government either charge or free" him (Associated Press, "Court Allows Dirty Bomb Suspect"). According to the unanimous ruling of the Appeals Court, "the President of the United States possesses the authority to detain militarily a citizen of this country who is closely associated with Al Qaeda, an entity with which the United States is at war" (Associated Press, "Court Allows Dirty Bomb Suspect"). At that point, Padilla had been held in a military brig without due process for over 3 years. The move to charge Padilla, in 2005, coincides with other efforts to resist containment in this year.

<13> On November 22, Padilla was finally charged "with being part of a North American terrorist cell that sent money and recruits overseas to 'murder, maim, and kidnap'" (Associated Press, "Padilla Indictment Avoids High Court") [3]. As the Associated Press points out, however, "absent from the indictment were the sensational allegations made earlier by top Justice Department officials that Padilla sought to blow up U.S. hotels and apartment buildings and planned an attack on America with a radiological 'dirty bomb'" (Associated Press, "Padilla Indictment Avoids High Court"). In fact, during those three years, Padilla became known as the dirty bomb suspect or the "dirty bomber". As presented by the U.S. Department of Justice, the threat posed by U.S. citizen Padilla merged with the sort of attack feared by "the international terrorist organization" Al Qaeda immediately following the events of September 11, 2001. However, finally charging Padilla allowed the Bush administration to avoid a showdown with the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the issue of whether the U.S. government could label U.S. citizens as enemy combatants and hold them indefinitely without charges (Associated Press, "Padilla Indictment Avoids High Court").

<14> The New York Times published an article, on November 23, regarding the confusion engendered by designating U.S. citizens as enemy combatants. As the author of the article, Adam Liptak, argues, "[t]the upshot of that approach, underscored by the decision in [José] Padilla's case, is that no one outside the administration knows just how the determination is made whether to handle a terror suspect as an enemy combatant or as a common criminal, to hold him indefinitely without charges in a military facility or to charge him in court." Considering cases other than Padilla's, Liptak claims, "does nothing to illuminate" the procedure. He states, "One American captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan was held in the United States as an enemy combatant, while another was prosecuted as a criminal." At the same time, a "foreigner seized in the United States as a suspected terrorist" was "being held as an enemy combatant without charges in a Navy brig" in North Carolina, while others have been prosecuted for crimes (Liptak). We could argue that the classification "enemy combatant" has been used to set an example for the various sectors of the public who refuse to "march in the parade". The erratic nature of this way of securing obedience underscores the category's ability to evoke fear from the public, while it hints at the difficulty that containment has posed for the first superpower. The New York Times' Editorial Board seemed to address this difficulty in a November article when it remarked:

The Padilla case was supposed to be an example of why the administration needs to suspend prisoners' rights when it comes to the war on terror. It turned out to be the opposite. If Mr. Padilla was seriously planning a 'dirty bomb' attack, he can never be held accountable for it in court because the illegal conditions under which he has been held will make it impossible to do that. If he was only an inept fellow traveler in the terrorist community, he is excellent proof that the government is fallible and needs the normal checks of the judicial system. And, of course, if he is innocent, he was the victim of a terrible injustice. (Editorial, "Um, About That Dirty Bomb?")

Vagueness surrounding the designation "enemy combatant" notwithstanding, the case of José Padilla is even more haunting, for he is not only a U.S. citizen, but also a Muslim-converted Puerto Rican. We could argue, then, that the uniqueness of this case had at least some connection to Padilla's racialized body. That is to say, given historical constructions of Muslims and Puerto Ricans in the U.S., Padilla's Muslim Puerto Ricanness was perceived as a bigger threat than other U.S. citizens designated as enemy combatants.

<15> The case of John Lindh offers a good example of the point above. Lindh was captured in Afghanistan in January 2002 after spending months training in armed conflict for the Taliban. After being brought to the U.S., Lindh was classified as an enemy combatant. However, unlike Padilla, Lindh was provided access to legal counsel and was tried in the U.S. court system. Despite his classification as an enemy combatant, Lindh was granted the rights afforded by U.S. citizenship. The fact that Lindh is "white" should not be underestimated, for his whiteness played a fundamental role throughout his court procedures. For instance, in his sentencing memorandum, subtle but repeated appeals to his whiteness are evident in expert witness testimony that Lindh "is not a terrorist and has a non-violent nature," "does not fit the profile of a terrorist," and "is a young man of twenty-one years who has never been in trouble with the law before". Lindh is also described in the document as "gentle, shy, reserved, close to his family, sensitive to the suffering of others and very bright". Another expert witness described Lindh as a "highly moral, even moralistic person" and as being "highly ethical, dependable, and self-disciplined" (Gunaratna). The racially-coded descriptors used by these expert witnesses were employed strategically to detach John Lindh from other enemy combatants suspected to be terrorists.

<16> The discourse around Lindh can also be considered justification for the differential treatment that he was receiving. That is, these ways of describing Lindh serve to explain why even though he was caught "red handed" in Afghanistan, he was able to derive the benefit of the U.S. court system. The handling of Lindh stands in contrast to that of Padilla who was caught on U.S. soil but was still awaiting an opportunity to access the courts at the time of Lindh's trial. In the end, the citizenship afforded by whiteness seems to defeat other forms of citizenship. Even with the apparent slipperiness of the category "enemy combatant," the designation has actually proven to be one of the easier ones for the U.S. government to contain: it provokes fear and seems untouchable. On the other hand, the categories "war protestor" and "war critic" have demonstrated a greater challenge for the first superpower.

 

War Protestors and Securing Obedience

<17> In November 2005, "a dozen war protestors... were arrested... for setting up camp near President Bush's ranch" during the President's Thanksgiving vacation (A. Brown A3). Charged with trespassing, the protestors were arrested for violating "new local bans on roadside camping and parking" (A. Brown A3). The arrests, made by more than two dozen deputies, concluded months of protestors speaking against the war outside of the President's ranch. The new bans, which prohibited "camping in any county ditch and parking within 7 miles of the ranch," were instituted after Cindy Sheehan, mother of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq, camped off the road for 24 days in August (A. Brown A3). At the time of the arrests, the bans were being challenged in a federal court. Control over war protestor bodies, whose mere presence in proximity to the President's ranch were deemed threatening, was secured through the enactment of these new laws. The court challenge of the laws represented a disruption to these efforts at containment. Given the need of the first superpower to "secure obedience" and support for the War in Iraq, challenges to the narrative of "staying the course" and efforts at U.S. nation-building were especially alarming to the Bush administration.

<18> Consequently, during this time, war critics became a direct target of the President and his administration [4]. The most illustrative example was Vice President Cheney's accusations against criticisms of the war as "'corrupt and shameless' revisionism" (Associated Press, "Cheney Pounces" A5). Denying that "he and President Bush manipulated intelligence and misled the nation in a rush to war," Cheney added that such criticisms were "dishonest and reprehensible" tactics. He also "denounced proposals for a quick U.S. withdrawal from Iraq as 'a dangerous illusion'" (A5). In December, a press item reported a new strategy developed by the Bush administration to exclude critics of his presidency from government-sponsored programs. The practices, wrote Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan Landay, "appear to be the latest examples of the Bush administration's efforts to tightly control information, maintain 'message discipline' and promote news about the United States and its policies" (A3). The effort, "known as the 'U.S. Speakers/Specialist Program,' is part of a public diplomacy effort to change negative foreign opinions of the United States" (A3). The journalists also point out that "[u]sing political views to screen candidates appears to violate the speaker program's charter, which is to present "a range of responsible opinion in the United States to overseas audiences, not to hawk a particular administration's policies" (A3).

<19> To return for a moment to the case of Cindy Sheehan, Sheehan complicates many discussions of anti-war protestors, for her example brings to the fore the relentless feminization of the anti-war movement. However, in Sheehan's case, a woman resists her prescribed role (to be compliant), while she simultaneously deploys a rhetoric of motherhood. Or, as Sara Ruddick has pointed out, the nurturing and caring of children that is expected of mothers might usefully be deployed to foster an anti-militarist politics of peace, although as Patrice DiQuinzio and Sharon Meagher have suggested "a logic of paternalistic treatment of women and children that purports to protect them... also disempowers them and sometimes harms them" (1). President Bush, responding to Sheehan and to an increasing number of protestors, stated that although he had "heard the voices of those saying 'pull out now,'" and although he had "thought about their cry and their sincere desire to reduce the loss of life," he strongly disagreed with their position, for "pulling the troops out would send a terrible signal to the enemy" (Pickler, "Bush to Meet Today" A9). With these remarks, the President strategically feminizes anti-war proponents by reinvoking the masculinist rhetoric of troops and enemies.

<20> In addition to Sheehan's attempts to speak with President Bush, the public likewise started to openly question the rhetoric circulated by the administration since September 11, 2001. Thus, for the first time, a letter to the editor in our local newspaper connected extremist ideologies abroad with ones at home. According to the letter's author: "Worldwide, Christian fundamentalists share far too many terrorist hatreds for secular America. How can we defeat Muslim terrorism abroad when so many Republican fundamentalists at home openly share the fundamentalist mullahs' hatred for liberal America and the freedom of each American to live as he chooses free from government and religious authority?" (Thomas B5). Another very short letter to the editor challenged the President's statement that no sacrifice is too great with three simple questions: "Mr. President, what have you sacrificed in the past? What might you sacrifice in the future? Why can't you face the mothers of those who have fallen in Iraq and who are camped near your vacation hideaway in Texas?" (B. Brown B7). With these letters, Christian fundamentalists and the President, who had effectively acted as one for much of the Bush administration, were challenged on the issues of terrorism and sacrifice.

<21> The first letter above is especially interesting in its suggestion that Christian fundamentalists have affinities to terrorists themselves, echoing the conflation between lesbian/gay bodies and terrorist bodies that had been so successfully deployed by President Bush in 2003 and 2004 (Bloodsworth-Lugo and Lugo-Lugo; Lugo-Lugo and Bloodsworth-Lugo). On the day the second letter was published, President Bush finally acknowledged Cindy Sheehan, stating that he disagreed with her position and that it did not represent the view of military families with whom he had met (Pickler, "Bush sees no cuts" A8). The President claimed to strongly support Sheehan's right to protest, acknowledging, "there is a lot of people [sic] protesting" (Pickler, "Bush sees no cuts" A8). This candid statement was President Bush's first public acknowledgment of anti-war protests. He countered requests to bring the troops home by insisting that retreating from Iraq would send the wrong message to terrorists and would embolden them (Mursch).

 

The War in Iraq

<22> Ongoing efforts at securing obedience from the public showed mixed results for the Bush administration. For instance, in January 2005, according to the Pew Research Center, 42% of Americans considered the War in Iraq and terrorism to be the two most important problems facing the country ("Bush Approval Rating Lower"). In addition, 49% of respondents named defense-related concerns as the leading problem for the nation. However, even though President Bush garnered the most support at this time for his handling of terrorist threats in general (62% approved), his lowest level of approval was for his handling of the War in Iraq and the economy (with 45% approval each). U.S. public disenchantment with the War in Iraq was such that, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll, 59% of Americans actually opposed the War in Iraq by June 2005 (CNN, "Poll: Disapproval of Bush"). Interestingly, the public began to differentiate between the War in Iraq and "the War on Terror" in 2005. According to a Gallup Poll, 50% of Americans perceived the War in Iraq to be an "entirely separate military action" from the war on terrorism, something that had not been the case in the previous two years ("The War on Terrorism"). In fact, the conflation between the War in Iraq and "the War on Terror" had been consistently held by the public and culminated on September 6, 2003, when "nearly 7 Americans out of 10 believe[d] that Saddam [Hussein] played a role in the September 11 th attacks" (Bloodsworth-Lugo and Lugo-Lugo 479). Given the public's separation of the War in Iraq and "the War on Terror" during 2005, the perceived threat posed by same-sex marriage also waned. That is, during 2003 and 2004, "the War on Terror" and same-sex marriage came to connect in the U.S. public mind to render same-sex unions in need of containment and the sanctity of marriage in need of protection. The lesbian/gay body became the "domestic terrorist" - a body in which danger and uncontainability became one (Lugo-Lugo and Bloodsworth-Lugo 228). However, with the public separation of the War in Iraq from "the War on Terror," and the consequent separation of September 11 from Saddam Hussein, other sites of conceived threat (e.g., same-sex marriage) were minimized by/within the public. In fact, public alarm over same-sex marriage was not evident during the second half of 2005.

<23> The public also began to show unease about the human toll associated with the War in Iraq, and the U.S. press began to cover the "growing death toll" during the second half of 2005. In August, "AP-Ipsos poll showed [that] public support of Bush's handling of the war [in Iraq] had dropped to 38%," the lowest registered up to that point (Pickler, "We will stay the course" A1). War protestors challenged the President, although he remained consistent in his message and delivered a speech before military families in Idaho at the end of August, stating that "we will stay course; we will complete the job in Iraq" (Pickler, "We will stay the course" A1).

<24> The President further remarked that "terrorists 'want us to retreat'" but vowed that "he will never retreat" (Coates and Allen A4). This statement is key, for while the President acknowledges Sheehan and her request to bring the troops home, he also sends the message that those demanding retreat (or to bring the troops home) are - in a sense - aligned with the terrorists [5]. War protestor bodies, in the form of Sheehan and others, are positioned as un-American, much as lesbian/gay bodies had been positioned during the two previous years. For instance, in 2003, a member of a coalition of conservative Christian groups (Sandy Rios) remarked, "They [gays and lesbians] really truly want to equate homosexual marriage with heterosexual marriage.... [I]t's never going to be the same. The American people know marriage is not something to be messed with" (Bloodsworth-Lugo and Lugo-Lugo 479-480). If "the American people" know that marriage should not be "messed with," then gays, lesbians, and others in support of same-sex marriage are placed outside the category "American". "American" becomes defined via its protective stance towards [heterosexual] marriage. Likewise, this rendering of who qualifies as "American" parallels the attribution of the term to those favoring "the War on Terror" or the War in Iraq where one becomes "un-American" by maintaining opposition to such war(s). Consequently, to be in favor of same-sex marriage and to be opposed to war in Iraq are linked in their exclusion from the category "American". In turn, the construction of the "un-American" body itself provides the justification for efforts at containment.

<25> By September 2005, a CBS News Poll revealed that 63% of Americans felt uneasy about President Bush's ability to make the right decisions on the War in Iraq. And, although they cited the economy as the most important problem facing the country, the War in Iraq was listed second, followed by Hurricane Katrina, the gas and oil crisis, and terrorism. The President's overall approval rating was still down to 41% (a Gallup Poll showed the same results), and his lowest marks were on the economy, where he garnered 35% approval, followed by Iraq, with a close 36%. More startlingly, 44% of Americans expressed "not much confidence" or "no confidence at all" in the way the federal government was handling international problems, while 46% expressed the same concerns about domestic troubles.

<26> The President was swift in attempting not only to gain support for the ongoing war but to secure obedience from the public by diverting attention from the concreteness of the War in Iraq to the more ethereal "War on Terror". For instance, at the end of November, the White House posted a document on its web page with a declassified version of its "Strategy for Victory in the War on Terror" (White House). The strategy offered five components: 1) preventing attacks; 2) denying weapons of mass destruction to outlaw regimes and allies; 3) denying radical groups sanctuary; 4) denying militants control of any nation; and 5) denying militants future recruits by advancing democracy in the Middle East (White House). Trying to construct a more tangible enemy, the document discussed militants seeking to build a radical Islamic empire and likened Islamic radicalism to communism, for the document conveys that both are "led by an elitist self-appointed vanguard that presumes to speak for the [...] masses" (White House). With this report, the White House reminded the public of the threat posed by the "enemy" in the "War on Terror" - a struggle that the President had previously described as a "war against a scattered network of killers" (Bloodsworth-Lugo and Lugo-Lugo 476). In fact, speaking of Iraq's imminent threat to Americans in 2003, President Bush had stated, "Before September 11 th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses, and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained" (476). While Saddam Hussein had been captured by the time of this White House posting in 2005, the document suggests that the threat posed by the "scattered network of killers" and "shadowy terrorist networks" was in need of rehearsal with the public. That is, the public was in need of a reminder of their role as "obedient herd" to be contained through techniques of fear.

<27> In addition, on the last day of November 2005, in a speech delivered to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, President Bush dubbed "the War on Terror" as the "first war of the 21 st century" (Bush, "President Outlines Strategy"). Again conflating "the War on Terror" with the War in Iraq, the President countered critics by insisting that there was a clear strategy for victory in Iraq. He argued that setting an artificial deadline for the withdrawal of troops would "vindicate the terrorists' tactics of beheadings and suicide bombings and mass murder, and invite new attacks on America". The President pledged that as long as he is Commander in Chief, " America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins". The move to promote this strategy for "winning the war" was met with swift criticism from Democrats, who saw it as a "public-relations gambit" (Silva A10). The speech came amid "sagging support for the war" and "Americans' declining confidence in" the President's leadership (Keen and Benedetto 8A). In fact, in a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll taken from November 11-13, 63% of respondents disapproved of President Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq and 54% stated that the U.S. had made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq (Keen and Benedetto 8A). Moreover, 60% of Americans polled said that it was not worth going to war in Iraq (Keen and Benedetto 8A). Finally, 71% of those polled thought that the removal of troops should either start immediately or within 12 months.

<28> At this time, The New York Times ran an editorial in response to the President's speech titled, "Plan: We Win," which opened with the line, "We've seen it before: an embattled president so swathed in his inner circle that he completely loses touch with the public and wanders around among small knots of people who agree with him" (Editorial, "Plan: We Win"). The editorial continued, "Americans didn't need to be convinced of Mr. Bush's commitment to his idealized version of the war. They needed to be reassured that he recognized the reality of the war" (Editorial, "Plan: We Win"). The relatively short article concluded by stating, "a President who seems less in touch with reality than Richard Nixon needs to get out more" (Editorial, "Plan: We Win"). At this point, the sector of the public represented by the media was not only resisting containment, it was also fighting back. This stance on the part of the media is significant in that prior to 2005 mainstream media outlets had not publicly questioned war as U.S. policy in relation to Iraq. The fact that the President, in this editorial, is set in contrast to Americans [who needed reassurance] serves to reinforce the split between the Bush administration and much of the public by this time in 2005.

 

Invoking September 11 as a Means of Containment

<29> Invoking September 11 th has proven an effective strategy for the President in securing obedience from the public. In June 2005, when support for the War in Iraq had reached a low point, President Bush again tried to contain the public by delivering a speech, broadcast on primetime television, at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The President opened the speech by stating that it is his greatest responsibility as President "to protect the American people". He praised the efforts of the troops and their families and commented, "[t]he troops here and across the world are fighting a war on terror," a war that "reached our shores on September 11, 2001" (Gill). Employing much of the rhetoric and emotive language that fueled high approval ratings in the past, the President stressed the need to defend the homeland from the threat of terrorists who "murder in the name of a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects intolerance and despises all dissent" (Gill). Reminding "the American people" that terrorists can strike "at home," because - after all - they did strike on September 11 th, President Bush attempted to regain control of a public disillusioned with war in Iraq.

<30> In a significant move, the President made it clear that he was aware of questions being asked by the public: "Is the war worth the bloodshed and loss of American lives in Iraq? Is Iraq an important part of the war on terror? And, why are we not sending more troops, if the completion of this operation is so important?" Although he answered the third question in a straightforward manner (i.e., "[i]f our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them"), his responses to the first two questions were less clear. To the first question, he answered, "yes it is," while warning the country of the danger of terrorism and terrorists and connecting Iraq to the September 11, 2001 attacks. As journalist Jennifer Loven remarks: "[r]eferencing the September 11, 2001 attacks a half dozen times, Bush said the United States faces an enemy that has made Iraq the central front in the war on terror" (A6). According to Dan Balz, "September 11 remains Bush's most reliable argument with the public when he faces political headwinds" (A6). It is important to remember that according to a Gallup Poll at this time, 50% of Americans saw the War in Iraq as an "entirely separate military action" from the war on terrorism.

<31> The political headwinds Balz cites above, or public uncontainability, as we would call it, caused the President to refer to September 11, 2001 numerous times during 2005. For instance, at the end of August, President Bush publicly acknowledged the death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan at a Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in Salt Lake City while invoking September 11th as the reason for these deaths. He repeated his words from the State of the Union Address, "The war came to our shores on the morning of September 11, 2001" ( Chicago Tribune A3). A few months later, in November, after a Hemispheric Summit of Heads of State in Argentina, President Bush arrived at the Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska where he delivered a lengthy speech, once again using the events of September 11, 2001 as a framework. In his words, this was a time when "Americans witnessed the violence and the hatred of a new enemy" ("President Delivers Remarks"). The President also reiterated his decision to stay in Iraq by equating the withdrawal of troops with running away (as noted above in response to war protestors). As he put it, " America will never run. We will stand, we will fight, and we will win the war on terror" ("President Delivers Remarks"). Re-deploying the rhetoric of good vs. evil that he had employed for months after September 11, 2001, the President stated that "Evil men obsessed with ambition and unburdened by conscience, must be taken very seriously. Against such an enemy, there is only one effective response: We will never back down, we will never give in, and we will never accept anything else than complete victory" ("President Delivers Remarks").

 

Concluding Thoughts

<32> Through considering events from 2005, we can see new dynamics unfolding between the first and the second superpowers. Unlike previous years when much of the public was aligned with the Bush administration, in 2005, we see the public directly engaging with, and distinctly challenging, the United States of America as a system of government. Emblematic of the second superpower's striking back were legislative and individual challenges to constitutional amendments barring same-sex couples from definitions of marriage, public demonstrations in support of same-sex marriage (or in opposition to the Bush administration), and a systematic sagging of support for presidential efforts vis-à-vis the War in Iraq. These were all indications that domestic and international issues were still interwoven in 2005, especially when one considers the coupling of an increase in support for same-sex couples with a decrease in support for the War in Iraq. This relationship, while the opposite of that found in 2003 and 2004 when a decrease in support for same-sex marriage was paired with an increase in support for the War in Iraq, nonetheless demonstrates that the merging of two forms of "terrorism" - both domestic and international - were central to the relationship between the first and the second superpowers. However, within the context of 2005, the second superpower actively challenged its containment. As Chomsky observes, "[t]he bewildered herd never gets properly tamed" ( Media Control 32). Thus, the manufacturing of consent, while necessary to contain the public, is not absolute.

<33> Thus, as predicted by Chomsky, the U.S. responded to challenges posed by the second superpower by unleashing "intensive propaganda with strategic efforts to control and subdue the public" ( Hegemony or Survival 8). Mostly rhetorical, these efforts relied on a consistent justification of the War in Iraq by conflating it with "the War on Terror" and by framing an appeal to "stay the course" with abundant references to the events of September 11, 2001. Rhetoric concerning the valiant, courageous United States was also employed to counter requests by the public to stop the war. War protestors, represented by the body of Cindy Sheehan, were feminized and/or rendered as threatening to the security of the nation. War critics were positioned as "un-American," much as same-sex couples had been in 2003 and 2004. The rhetorical strategies unfolding in 2005 were designed not only to invoke unity and national pride via September 11, 2001, they were also used to enforce a continuum encompassing September 11, "the War on Terror," and the War in Iraq with an aim to evoke fear (and thus compliance) from the public. Although President Bush had been employing comparable tactics since September 11, 2001, his efforts in 2005 were new given responses from the public - including mainstream media - that, until this point, had participated "in the parade". Moreover, the harsh remarks made by Vice President Cheney in November, which could be categorized as a verbal attack on war dissenters, were telling of a new approach being used by the U.S. government to manufacture consent by intimidation.

<34> It is important to emphasize that during 2005 the logic of containment occupied a less rhetorical space as well. For instance, the use of enemy combatants as a substantive tool of fear was witnessed in the case of José Padilla. "Enemy combatants" were employed as a reminder of what could happen to those who resist containment and served to discipline the public through the message that not even their U.S. citizenship would protect them. In the case of Padilla, his Puerto Ricanness and Muslim affiliation may have actually "weakened" his U.S. citizenship. This point is reinforced when considering the treatment of John Lindh. In the case of Lindh, it can be argued, his "whiteness" was deployed to distance him from the perceived threat posed by terrorist ("other") bodies and to simultaneously grant him access to the court system. A further reminder that the first superpower was fighting with more than rhetoric was seen with the arrest of war protestors outside of the President's ranch in November. In the case of war protestors, dissenting bodies were arrested and removed from the vicinity of the ranch given laws precisely instituted to afford this outcome. However, 2005 challenges to holding Padilla without charges and to enacting local bans aimed at suppressing protestors revealed that, in the end, the g eographical area encompassed by the U.S. was the battleground for an ideological struggle between the two superpowers. The year 2005 marked the beginning of a fight, on multiple fronts, through which the public pressed, in Chomsky's words, to "escape the containment to which it is subjected" (Hegemony or Survival 10). Consequently, 2005 can be said to have witnessed a public willing to engage with and to "take seriously the ideals of justice and freedom" (10).

 

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Notes

[1] In this paper, we use the term "terrorist" to mean a perceived violent threat to an established ideology or institution. Thus, in the case of lesbian and gay bodies, the perceived threat is to the ideology surrounding the sanctity of marriage and to marriage as a social institution. In this case, the perceived threat posed by same-sex couples is similar to that posed by war protestors and enemy combatants which are thought to undermine the State and U.S. ideology regarding Americanness. [^]

[2] The measure was finally approved by the Washington Legislature in early 2006 and withstood an effort by a number of citizens to bring the measure to a statewide voter referendum. [^]

[3] More specifically, and according to CNN.com, "Padilla was charged with three counts - conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals, conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and providing material support to terrorists" (CNN, "Terror Suspect Padilla Charged"). [^]

[4] It is important to note that 2005 also issued regulation of the American public through domestic surveillance and a renewed focus on "illegal" immigration. In response, Congressmen from both parties expressed outrage at the secret surveillance program "leaked" to the public calling it a violation of U.S. law (Hutcheson A1). Likewise, protestors marched against appeals for greater border control as well as rhetoric linking immigrants to drug dealers and terrorists (Bush, "State of the Union Address"). [^]

[5] For more detail concerning Cindy Sheehan's requests and experiences, see her 2005 book, Not One More Mother's Child. [^]

 

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