In a more rational world, a mass delusion that gripped millions of citizens of the strongest, richest, and most technologically advanced nation would set off alarm bells in the citadels of culture. The guardians —— thinkers, teachers, writers, print and electronic media —— would recognize their duty and rise to meet the crisis. Here, in Twenty—First Century America, a sizable segment of the voting population believes that the President promoted a ruinous war through a deliberate policy of lies and deception, and the loudest cries of 'Burn the witch!' are coming from the intelligentsia.
Confronting irrationality is an unrewarding business. People believe strange things because they want to. A quirky notion is a security blanket, a battered recliner —— an object fraught with so much emotional baggage that the gentlest suggestion to throw it out provokes snarling resistance. Children often cling to a belief in Santa after they have matured past the innocent embrace of magic and logical impossibilities. Embarrassingly, many Democrats are willing to maintain a similar belief that George Bush misled the nation, even though five minutes' reflection should suffice to reveal the almost surreal implausibility of it all.
This goes beyond audacity —— this is delusional. Everywhere, liberals and leftists are inhaling deeply, inflating their lungs in preparation for the salutary roar, 'BUSH LIED!' I will therefore assert again, very clearly, that nobody is actually prepared to defend the proposition that George Bush took this nation to war knowing that there were no WMDs in Iraq.
Zoom in on a typical right/ left confrontation. For example, Sean Hannity's televised smackdown with far—left comic actress Janeane Garofalo. Note the World Wrestling Federation choreography: Hannity trots out the objective data—the opinions of Bill Clinton and Vladimir Putin, the findings of the intelligence services of France, Germany, Great Britain, and Russia, the report of the 9—11 Commission. Garofalo improvises a zany conspiracy theory. A whitewash —— a very convenient whitewash, she stridently charges (she probably sleeps stridently).
Hannity's rejoinder occurs simultaneously to roughly three million people, but it is a good one: how likely is it that Richard Ben—Veniste would be a party to a whitewash to get George Bush off the hook? Garofalo mumbles something incoherent about Ben—Veniste, which is not necessarily to her discredit: try sounding coherent while advancing the theory that Ben—Veniste has masqueraded for over thirty years as a super—partisan Democrat attack dog, just waiting for the opportunity to play white knight to a Republican President's damsel—in—distress. Now, that's a vast right—wing conspiracy!
Still, she's tough and slippery. Pulling one shoulder off the mat to avoid the pin, she insists that all sorts of CIA types have been showing up on talk shows to confirm what 'we' all know about how intelligence was massaged.
The bad thing about people hitting each other over the head with folding chairs is that it gets boring: discriminating fans want a new script. During the run—up to the war, Garofalo insisted that Saddam's WMDs were going to inflict thousands of casualties, but never mind. We will refrain from sputtering and demanding to know how she can cavalierly dismiss so much evidence. She can do it: she's a lefty. We won't ask her to speculate on why, exactly, Bush would want intelligence bent to his presumed liking: that would collapse the house of cards right off.
We are going for a fresh approach here: we will proceed on the assumption that Garofalo's imaginary playmates knew something no one else knew, and they delivered that information to the President and his inner circle.
Imagine: it's 2002, you're George Bush and you're sitting on a personal approval rating of eighty percent, having liberated Afghanistan from a particularly savage form of Islamic fundamentalism. The economy hasn't yet reaped the full benefits of your tax cuts, but nothing has dampened your implacable determination to invade Iraq, come Hell or Jim Hightower, a move sure to be damned by uncreative party operatives as a reckless expenditure of political capital (at eighty percent, you're risking more than you stand to gain, barring a miracle). By definition, you can't have the national interest in mind: your motives can only be so utterly base and despicable (insert some Halliburton—related fantasy here) that the people must never suspect the truth.
To sell this adventure, four rationales are available:
1) The Legalistic, based on Iraq's violation of the Gulf War cease—fire agreement and its flouting of seventeen subsequent U.N. Resolutions. This one would play well with the internationalist crowd. How can the U.N. command respect (a funny thought, that) if its resolutions are never enforced? Although technically irreproachable, this rationale lacks immediacy, i.e., why now? More important, there's no emotional payoff (Bush couldn't be expected to use the word 'catharsis') for the voters in watching American boys die to supply backbone for a corrupt and reflexively anti—American organization.
2) The Strategic, the geopolitical vision of the dreaded 'neocons.' Certainly, America and the rest of the world can only benefit from 'draining the swamp.' A successful outcome to a war against Mideast terrorism in all its guises is inconceivable without removing Saddam Hussein from the scene. He funds Hamas suicide bombers and winks at that Ansar—al—Islam group (an al Qaeda offshoot?) operating in the Kurdish area, not to mention Abu Nidal's somehow winding up in Baghdad. Imagine fumigating this pesthole and midwifing some sort of working democracy. The first time a Saudi looks across his border at free and prosperous Iraqis and wonders why he can't live like that, well, that's Osama's worst nightmare. Still, the voters would have to be patient and accept some rough patches; they'd have to appreciate how the dynamics of the whole region would gradually change for the better. We're talking about Americans —— who want to fix problems today, and can't find Canada on a map. No, this one won't fly. Of course, it underpins every other rationale, but it can't be the selling point.
3) The Humanitarian, surely the most attractive from the standpoint of its appeal to our better natures. Back in 1991, we encouraged the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam Hussein, after we prematurely ended hostilities and permitted him to retain enough firepower to crush any such rebellions. Most leftists can recite on cue a bogus litany of American atrocities, but our abandonment of the Kurds and Shiites to Saddam's tender mercies was the genuine article. An ugly, shameful stain on our honor, it is one that could be erased while significantly promoting our interests. (Even the libertarian non—aggression axiom permits the use of retaliatory force 'to punish those who have violated the rights of others,' according to David Boaz of the Cato Institute.) So, we get all the benefits of the first two rationales, and in the eyes of the Arab world, we are acting selflessly, benevolently. And the really beautiful part is that we aren't committed to a costly reconstruction if the transition to a self—governing Iraq proves messy. If we are spilling our blood to liberate Iraqis, then they treat us as liberators or we walk. If we barge in and cause a lot of damage, for motives that strike everyone else as arrogant, we obligate ourselves to years of costly repairs for which we will receive no gratitude. The polls show strong sentiment right now for getting rid of Saddam. The public would go along with this one: there is no downside.
4) The Defensive, in light of the events of 9—11, self—explanatory. The presence in Iraq of weapons that might be handed off to terrorist groups provides the most urgent reason to go in, neutralize them, and depose Saddam. Of course, we need to be positive those weapons are there. Nothing could be worse than failing to find the stuff we placed front and center as a justification for the invasion. The other side would have a field day. The Democrats and their media shills, totally disregarding the fact that we obtained most of the benefits of the other three rationales, would hammer away relentlessly, their subversive goal of undercutting the entire effort having been legitimized. We can, of course, point to the weapons the U.N. catalogued back in the nineties and ask what happened to them: the onus, after all, is on Saddam to account for them. We can stress the probability of finding evidence for illegal programs. But, we can lead with this one only if the intelligence is specific and very accurate.
Returning to the real world, we acknowledge that the perspective of the present day limits our capacity for making sweeping assessments of the Iraq War. One tentative conclusion is that the Bush team unnecessarily gambled too much and diversified its portfolio too little. By making the Defensive rationale the centerpiece of his case for war, slighting the Humanitarian one, Bush unbalanced a compelling argument, with all four rationales neatly dovetailing into one another, and ended up throwing away almost all of the potential rewards. He relied too heavily on the intelligence he received, overrating it, but even a more trustworthy and efficient CIA would not have justified the narrowness of his approach. Near—certainty was required and it is never attainable. So, Bush was left with egg on his face and one of the most brilliant campaigns in military history was sullied by the carping of the critics—the disingenuous, partisan carping of blinkered critics.
Of course, the Michael Moores and the Janeane Garofalos don't see it that way. We will accommodate them by returning to 2002, to a sinister George Bush contemplating his next conquest, and conjure up a scenario that indulges their Weltanschauung:
'Mr. President, May I have a word with you?'
'Sure, Colin, come on in.'
'Sir, I worked very hard on that presentation at the U.N. and now I'm being told that all of the CIA stuff is wrong—— superseded by info produced by some secret group. I hope I'm not out of line here, but who are these people?'
'You don't want to know.'
'With all due respect, it would be nice if we were all on the same page.'
'Well, does Roswell, New Mexico mean anything to you?'
'Sir? Roswell, New Mex...Oh, no! You've got to be...'
'I said you didn't want to know.'
'Can I get a couple of aspirin?'
'No problema. Look, we're going to go in looking for weapons and they're not going to be there—get it?'
'Frankly, no: I don't get it. What am I supposed to get?'
'Calm down. That business at the U.N.——I was having some fun with you. All those charts and photos—I was fooling with you.'
'Jesus, how am I going to face that smug Frog?'
'Forget about him. Now, what you got to get is that there are no WMDs in Iraq.'
'What we're going to get is our lungs ripped out. They'll crucify us—pardon the expression. It'll look like the Mongol hordes sweeping across the steppes—Teddy Kennedy, the crazy old windbag from West Virginia, Weird Al Gore: Dracula rises from his coffin! Hillary sniping from the sidelines, all of your media pals piling on, every airhead lefty in Hollywood—— talk about overwhelming force! You've got to postpone this thing. Or, if nothing can change your mind, at least change the emphasis. The public wants Saddam out. Make a plausible case and they'll listen'
'Whee, dowgie! I already had this conversation today. My brain trust was in here—you never saw anything like it. They was crying real tears and hollering, saying as how we could liberate all those poor people and nobody really knows where Saddam hid the germs and chemicals and the yellow—cupcake, anyway...'
'And you don't appreciate those arguments—those extremely reasonable arguments?'
'Hell, no. You should have seen the look on Karl's face when I slapped his knee real hard and told him that I can't steal no election that I'm winning by fifteen points. He looked fit to bust. And Dick's going on and on about his damn palpitations—the man was sweating like a hog.'
'I don't want to rule out the possibility that I'm hallucinating, but humor me, sir. Why on earth would you voluntarily present a club to all of your enemies, flush almost two years of historic achievements down the toilet, and with your own hands, trash your re—election prospects?'
'I'm a wild man.'
'What can I say? I always been one.'
There's a related scenario in the fantasies of the fever swamp inhabitants, this one starring Rove and Cheney. They apprise the President of their plan to shave thirty points off his approval ratings and he wants to know if fifty is bigger than eighty. You get the idea.
I think we can all agree that the dialogue just presented was extremely silly: puerile, preposterous, nonsensical, farcical—pick an adjective. Yet, before you dismiss it and begrudge the time spent reading it, do bear in mind that it is precisely what the Bush—bashers profess to believe. Bush duped Congress and the rest of the nation! Absolutely, and he did it in order to cast doubt on all of his policies and take a plunge in the polls. The CIA was told to produce intelligence that the President wanted to hear! Sure, he wanted faulty intelligence so that he could act on it and be held responsible for it. He knew that the loyal opposition and the fair and balanced media would consider only the good of the nation and give him a pass for any errors in judgment.
The assault on the President is based on an utterly ludicrous premise —— a phony premise, but nothing seems capable of containing its berserker fury. Many years ago, an economics professor at Queens College offered these words of wisdom to his undergraduate students: During the course of your lives, you will meet clever people who will regale you with theories, some of them greatly ingenious, explaining how the universe operates; when they get to the part that requires water to run uphill, you need to stop them.
Today, a professional politician and his evil genius adviser are constantly accused of carefully, methodically selecting an option calculated to maximize the damage to him and minimize his gains. Few voices can be heard observing that water does not run uphill.
When you next visit a bookstore, gaze at the shelves groaning under the weight of dozens of interchangeable screeds vilifying George Bush: those authors know they're lying. When you listen to a liberal pundit mouth the DNC talking points of the day, understand that he knows that the President didn't mislead the nation. And when you contemplate the disgraceful spectacle of nationally prominent Democrats echoing the mindless charges of the lunatic—left, recognize that our political discourse, never elevated, has descended to a level of vileness and stupidity heretofore undreamed of.