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What happens next?

12/26/01 12:00AM By Bill Seamans

I guess the debris of Christmas wrappings in the households of breadwinners who have not been downsized out of their jobs has just about been cleared away. While the terrorism war in Afganistan overshadows a nation clad in Christmas lights, it appears that most of us followed President Bush's urging that we try to live as normally as possible under the circumstances---except for those families who in the past couple of weeks buried their war dead or were informed that their sons or husbands had been wounded.

And as we hear reports about how the Christmas sales went I can not help but reflect on one pundit's comment that---"in our society, the one-track momentum of commercialism has so much velocity that even horrific events don't slow it down for very long."

After Christmas comes the New Year and we will be asking. "What happens next?" We've heard President Bush declare what he called a "global war against terrorism" and that "we will not be secure as a nation until all of the threats are defeated." He said it could take years.

Then vice president Dick Cheney gave us a closer look at "What happens next!!" He said September eleven, now colloquially called 9/11, projected us into a new normalcy. Cheney said all those travel disruptions and other security steps taken to make it tougher for the terrorists to get at us "will become permanent features in our way of life." In other words, Cheney was saying that abnormal will become normal so we better get used to it.

For twenty years I witnessed the growth of terrorism in the Middle East from kids throwing rocks up to the deadly international groups with their training camps and sophisticated support from what Washington has called rogue states. I was told by the highest anti-terrorism officials in Israel that while there may be victories, the war against terrorism never ends because no matter how many we kill or capture there will always remain somewhere a handful of loose cannonball fanatics ready to lead another upcoming generation of would-be martyrs. So we can expect to be living in the "new normalcy" mentioned by Mr. Cheney for the foreseeable future.

So what else happens next? If, indeed, our global war against terrorism lasts for years it has been proposed that our National Guard be held back for homeland security. It doesn't take a brainiac to foresee the possibility of a "mission creep" need for more troops than volunteers can provide and that we will need a new military draft. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been non-committal on the hot potato subject of the draft.

What more happens next? Surely the national debate will grow to historic proportions over whether President Bush is assuming extraordinary executive powers under the guise of fighting terrorism. He is seen as bypassing Congress and subverting the system of checks and balances established by our founding fathers. Bush faces legal challenges from groups ranging across the political spectrum that, according to the New York Times, could last many years.

And the media uproar over Attorney General John Ashcroft's controversial and, to some, shocking contention that criticism of his assault on civil liberties in a time of national crisis is unpatriotic. In the thunder of reaction Ashcroft was called among other things arrogant, ideologically stressed, and unbalanced. There was even a call for him to resign alleging he was hurting Bush's image.

It was Ted Koppel who said,"There's a tendency at times like this to wave the flag. There is a tendency to equate external expressions of patriotism with genuine patriotism. And sometimes," Koppel said, "I think you will agree, the expression of dissent is the highest form of patriotism."

This is Bill Seamans.

--Bill Seamans is an award-winning journalist and a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East.
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