Telling truth to power. Filmmaker Judy Jackson was on her way to Toronto, passing through Atlanta on September 11, and spent almost a week there, waiting. She says Americans she met all asked, Why do they hate us? She says it was great that they wanted to know. And dismaying that they had no idea.

This is one reason I think it is wrong to say, as some have, that we should not criticize U.S. foreign policy now. They want to know and they need to know. One effect of being the sole superpower is it tends to make you feel nobody else exists, at least not enough to concern yourself with how they feel about you.

There is another reason to maintain this criticism: to support recent attempts to change U.S. foreign policy, especially on the key issue of Palestine, so that, as British leader Tony Blair, in his role as Voice of America, recently said, “there are not generations of people who use the Palestinian cause as an excuse for terrorism.”

Since the day after September 11, Colin Powell and George W. Bush have pushed for a solution, as if it is central to their response. This week, Tony Blair received Yasser Arafat and called for a “viable Palestinian state,” implicitly admitting that previous offers were unviable — despite claims they represented great Israeli generosity.

It would have been a hodgepodge of a state, crisscrossed by Israeli roads, troops and checkpoints. But reversing U.S. policy on this won’t be easy, even for a country that first built up, then demonized, both Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Media attacks will be fierce. This week, The Washington Post argued Palestine is not central to a solution. The Bush-Powell-Blair initiative needs all the help it can get. Not to mention other holes U.S. policy has dug itself into, which will have to be filled in sometime.

How goes the “war”? A Globe and Mail editorial said yesterday it is so a war, even if you can’t see the enemy or sound the air-raid sirens. But surely the big difference is, it is not state to state. Calling it war and bombing the frail nation of Afghanistan merely conceals the problem. You think you’re dealing with it. But hundreds of agents are already in place in North America.

Perhaps they took a six-month course in Afghanistan or elsewhere, but once they came back they were largely on their own, lying low, making plans, even raising their own money. (Ahmed Ressam ran petty scams; Ziad Jarrah phoned his family in Lebanon about money two days before he flew that United flight into a Pennsylvania field.)

You gain almost nothing by bombing over there, even if you don’t hit the UN, the Red Cross or some village. You may hit the sites of training camps since the U.S. or Pakistan built most of them, but surely they’re empty by now. All you do is create new recruits to terror, and motivate those already involved.

Making it worse, once you take the normal military route, the military takes over. In this case, they want to fight not the last war, but the one before it, against Iraq: massive bombing followed by a land invasion. So they bomb and bomb, and won’t do anything unconventional, frustrating even their own politicians, according to reports in the media. U.S. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld called those training camps “fairly empty” when bombed. He sounded as if he was speaking through clenched teeth.

Taking liberties. Most polling and comment regarding new security measures have focused on how far we are willing to go, and what liberty we are willing to forgo. This puts the stress on us and takes it off the measures.

The question I’d like to ask about legislation introduced in the House this week is: Would it have made events such as September 11 less likely? If so, how? Give us some examples. If not, it’s like bombing Afghanistan: accomplishes nothing or little or makes things worse. I’m not saying, Do nothing. I’m saying, Do something that makes things better.

The home front. When Ontario Premier Mike Harris announced he was quitting, he said his gut told him to. That’s about the best thing I can think of to say for Mike Harris. He has a gut, he knows it, he listens to it, and other people can tell. That’s a great advantage in politics. What’s a voter to do? They all try to suck you in, they all change when they win.

At least Mike Harris looked like he knew who he was and meant what he said and intended to do it. His good luck was that no other leader in the two elections he won even looked that way. Does that sound cynical? It’s more a matter of the mysteries of political behaviour.

Tony Penikett, who was an NDP two-term leader of the Yukon government, says he was an elected member for 20 years and never knew why people voted for him. He’d stand on their porch listening to them harangue him and complain at length, then he’d try to back away graciously, as they said something like, “Of course we’ll be voting for you, we always do.”


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.