Don't Succumb to this Culture of Fear

Culture of Fear, Gabriela Barbosa

After watching the Presidential debates and listening to the arguments presented by both parties, the rhetoric with respect to foreign policy and national security does not seem to change much over the years.  Much of the language that was used, particularly on the Republican side, called to mind the title track off of Thievery Corporation’s album “Culture of Fear.”  Below are some noteworthy lyrics as food for thought, illustrating the sense of fear that has been drilled into Americans by various administrations. Seems to me like they want us to be afraid, man Or maybe we just like being afraid Maybe we just so used to it at this point that it's just a part of us Part of our culture

Culture of fear It's up in your ear They're telling us terrorists about to strike May be tonight

Alone at night sweating with visions of Armageddon I never seen the threat Yet I feel threatened Parts of our society designed to smear Freedom don't succumb to this culture of fear

The lyrics in the track examine the culture that came out of former President George W. Bush’s policies in the wake of September 11.  Bush’s approach to the terrorist attacks drastically altered notions of “security,” “terrorism,” and other threats.  However, the “Culture of Fear” that is discussed in the song is not necessarily a phenomenon that arose as a result of September 11.

The United States held significant power and overall influence after the Cold War ended, which can largely be attributed to its military strength.  The pervasive use of weaponry and trajectory of increasing military power is virtually an extension of the Cold War.  The U.S. perception of omnipresent threats is highly characteristic of the post-Cold War period, but reached new heights after September 11.  Thus, U.S. administrations since the Cold War have consistently implemented highly technical military operations and policies in response to new national security threats such as terrorism, drug trafficking, and immigration.

After the September 11 attacks, the newly redefined foreign policy priorities outlined by the Bush administration put “the fight against terrorism and the defense of ‘the United States, the American People, and our interest at home and abroad by identifying and destroying the threat before it reaches our borders’ at the top of its agenda.”[1] As the U.S. redefined its national security policy after September 11, ethnic politics undoubtedly played a role in how Bush shaped his approach, especially because immigrants and terrorists become the natural scapegoats.

President Bush’s War on Terror is a perfect example of how U.S. foreign policy reflects the fears of Americans.  If there is anything that George W. Bush did well, it is that he capitalized on the fears of Americans during a time of insecurity and was virtually unstoppable as he continued to push his extreme policies.

With respect to present day issues in the Middle East, Romney’s rhetoric does not appear to be any different.  The perceived threat of future terrorist attacks, nuclear weapons, and other issues allow Republicans to defer to the classic tactic of playing on the fears and prejudices of their constituents in order to generate public support and make for easy politics. The excerpts from the third Presidential Debate (see below) identify the scapegoat (terrorists, jihadists), followed by hypothetical scenarios rife with “if…then” statements that are intended to instill fear in American voters.

“Now there are some 10,000 centrifuges spinning uranium, preparing to create a nuclear threat to the United States and to the world. That's unacceptable for us…Look, I look at what's happening around the world, and I see Iran four years closer to a bomb. I see the Middle East with a rising tide of violence, chaos, tumult. I see jihadists continuing to spread, whether they're rising or just about the same level, hard to precisely measure, but it's clear they're there. They're very strong.”[2]

On Pakistan:

“This is a nation, which, if it falls apart, if it -- if it becomes a failed state, there are nuclear weapons there and you've got -- you've got terrorists there who could grab their -- their hands onto those nuclear weapons.”[3]

This is not intended to be an endorsement of Obama or Democrats, nor is it meant to be a harsh criticism of Romney and Republicans.  It is merely an observation based on the issues at hand that have been debated ruthlessly by both sides, and a correlation to a song that could not be more relevant.  This is, however, an encouragement for Americans to separate themselves from the scare tactics of politicians, regardless of where they may fall on the political spectrum.  

[1] Chabat, Jorge. “The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy and Mexico: The Limits to Unilateralism” in Big Picture Realities: Canada and Mexico at the Crossroads, edited by Daniel Drache, 123-136.