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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 27 May 1999 16:33:11 -0700
From: Sid Shniad <shniad@sfu.ca>
To: ccpa@policyalternatives.ca
Subject: WHAT'S DEMOCRACY GOT TO DO WITH IT? Norman Solomon   


	By Norman Solomon   /   Creators Syndicate

	A few days ago, the president of the United States openly 
violated the War Powers Act -- and the national media yawned.
	The war powers law, enacted in 1973, requires congressional 
approval if the U.S. military is to engage in hostilities for more than 
60 days. As that deadline passed on May 25, some members of the 
House spoke up. "Today, the president is in violation of the law," 
California Republican Tom Campbell pointed out. "That is clear." 
And Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich added: "The war continues 
unauthorized, without the consent of the governed."
	But sophisticated journalists in the nation's capital just 
shrugged. To them -- and to the Clinton administration -- the law is 
irrelevant and immaterial, a dead letter undeserving of serious 
attention. In this dark time of push-button warfare, when more and 
more eyes are getting adjusted to shadowy maneuvers, it's possible 
to discern a pattern of contempt for basic democratic principles.
	Forget all that high-sounding stuff in the civics textbooks. 
Unable to get Congress to vote for the ongoing air war, the 
president insists on continuing to bomb Yugoslav cities and towns, 
destroying bridges and hospitals, electrical generators and water 
systems. Boasting of the Pentagon's might, he pursues a Pax 
Technocratica with remote-control assurance.
	Attorney Walter J. Rockler, a former prosecutor at the 
Nuremberg War Crimes Trials more than half a century ago, is 
among the Americans outraged at what is now being done in their 
names. On May 23, his essay in the Chicago Tribune denounced 
"our murderously destructive bombing campaign in Yugoslavia."
	"The notion that humanitarian violations can be redressed with 
random destruction and killing by advanced technological means is 
inherently suspect," he wrote. "This is mere pretext for our arrogant 
assertion of dominance and power in defiance of international law. 
We make the non-negotiable demands and rules, and implement 
them by military force."
	With enormous help from mass media, the White House has 
been able to marginalize the public on matters of war and peace. 
Reporters and pundits routinely portray top U.S. officials as 
beleaguered experts whose jobs are difficult enough without 
intrusive pressures from commoners. More than ever, the American 
people are serving as spectators while elites make crucial foreign-
policy decisions.
	When military action is on the agenda in Washington, public 
opinion can be troublesome, even obstructionist. That's one of the 
hazards of democracy -- or at least it should be. But the Clinton 
team has learned to mitigate the danger that the public will intrude 
on the process of deciding whether the United States should go to 
war. It's a trend that has been accelerating in recent years.
	In February 1998, key U.S. officials traveled to Ohio State 
University for a "town hall meeting" about a prospective American 
missile attack on Iraq. Airing live on CNN, the session went badly 
from the vantage point of Madeleine Albright, William Cohen and 
Samuel Berger, whose responses to tough questions seemed 
inadequate to many viewers. The trio left Columbus with egg on 
their faces.
	Evidently, the debacle made a big impression. Since then, leery 
of any high-profile forum that could get out of control, the White 
House has not even gone through the motions of consulting the 
public before launching a military attack -- on Sudan and 
Afghanistan last August, on Iraq last December, and on Yugoslavia 
this spring. With warfare on the horizon, President Clinton's 
attitude toward the American public seems to be: When I want your 
opinion, I'll ask for it.
	This approach has met with little challenge from news media. In 
fact, many journalists in Washington seem to share the view that the 
public is inclined to be too meddlesome -- and should not be 
allowed to tie the hands of foreign-policy specialists who may 
wisely wish to pursue the goals of U.S. diplomacy by military 
	While the decision to go to war is momentous, the public has 
found itself in the role of passive onlooker. Rather than submit to a 
process of national debate, the White House prefers to present 
Americans with a fait accompli. One of the effects of the missile 
attack launched against Yugoslavia on March 24 was to truncate 
the public debate before it had even begun.
	When U.S. military action is involved, Clinton's policy-makers 
seem to regard the public as a sort of unruly -- and perhaps rather 
dumb -- animal that must be tamed and herded for its own good. 
What we've seen is the implementation of a formula for bypassing 
genuine public discourse: Go to war first. The public can raise 
questions later, while the war escalates and the propaganda 
machinery spins into high gear.
	And they call it democracy. 

Norman Solomon's most recent book, "The Habits of Highly 
Deceptive Media," was published this spring.

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