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Political apathy and frustration go hand in hand
Published in St Louis Post Dispatch
By Edmund Fruchter, supporter of AfterDowningStreet.org
Friday, Jun. 10 2005
It might help if young people saw politicians, including the president, being held accountable for their actions.
While the Downing Street Memo - the "secret and strictly personal" minutes of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's July 23, 2002, staff meeting on Iraq - has enjoyed wide circulation in the British press, it remains virtually unknown to most Americans. Is this a matter of ignorance or choice?
As an undergraduate at Washington University, I do a lot of reading. Having studied the student rebellion in France of May, 1968, the accounts of young Americans pouring blood on Vietnam draft records and the overwhelming activism of my parent's generation, what I wonder is: Who hit the reset button?
Since April 4, the first day of the Student Worker Alliance's sit-in here, St.
Louisans seem to have the impression that Washington University is a "radical" school. I disagree. In the rare absence of political apathy, there is something else: ambiguity. Students, when not parroting inherited political biases, seem confused. Potential activists lacking outlets for their frustration grow cynical and removed.
So why is an 18-year-old writing about the Downing Street Memo? I'd turn the question around: Why aren't all 18-year-olds raising a stink about it?
There may be some connection between this and the poor turnout among young voters in the 2004 presidential election: No draft, no problem. In other words, if the issues don't hit us where we live, why bother? Truth is, there seems to be a shortage of easy answers. Here's a complex one.
Written in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the Downing Street Memo includes accounts of earlier meetings between British and U.S. officials and raises longstanding questions about pre-war intelligence, especially whether diplomacy was seriously considered or merely used as a smokescreen.
In his minutes, Matthew Rycroft, a British foreign policy aide, writes of those earlier meetings: "Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action."
Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, has emerged as a vocal proponent of looking more closely into the memo's contents. "These minutes," Conyers wrote in a letter to President George W. Bush, "indicate that the United States and Great Britain agreed, by the summer of 2002, to attack Iraq, well before the invasion and before you even sought Congressional authority to engage in military action, and that U.S. officials were deliberately manipulating intelligence to justify the war."
What message does this send to American youth - indeed, to Americans of all ages? That adultery is worse than an unjustified invasion of a sovereign nation supported by fixed intelligence?
This answer is simpler, given two prerequisites:
First and most obviously, the memo must be genuine. In the month since it first appeared in the British press, its legitimacy has not been challenged. Second, and more subtly, the word "fix" must be used in its more informal American sense of improperly rigging the outcome of something, rather than in, say, the navigational sense of fixing one's location.
If these two conditions are met, then President Bush must be held accountable and, as I see it, impeached.
Let us see the same moral piety displayed by congressional Republicans during President Clinton's impeachment applied to one of their own. If justice is not swift, the apathy my generation knows all too well is likely to spread even further.
Edmund Fruchter of St. Peters is a junior at Washington University and a
staff writer for the Washington University Political Review, a student