May 2, 2003
George W. Bush's macho performance aboard the U.S. aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln was something straight out of a Michael Deaver fantasy production for Ronald Reagan.
There was Bush flying a naval bomber right onto the deck.
There was Bush emerging from the cockpit with a grin and a swagger.
There was Bush giving his speech as the sun cast a shine on his head, and the soldiers cheered with every triumphant boast.
Never mind that he was up to his old rhetorical tricks.
He claimed that war was "our last resort," when, in fact, he refused to allow U.N. weapons inspectors to continue their work.
He claimed without evidence that Saddam was somehow "an ally of Al Qaeda" and that this war against Iraq somehow avenges the nefarious attacks of September 11. Three times in his speech, Bush explicitly cited that date, and he used lurid rhetoric to remind us of those attacks, saying terrorists tried "to turn our cities into killing fields," and conjuring up "the last phone calls, the cold murder of children, the searches in the rubble."
This is Bush's trump card. And even though it's getting worn out because Bush pulls it out at every opportunity, it seems to work for him: He has managed to hoodwink the American people into believing September 11 justifies any military action.
And he promised more wars to come: "Any outlaw regime that has ties to terrorist groups, and seeks or possesses weapons of mass destruction, is a grave danger to the civilized world, and will be confronted."
This is the Bush Doctrine, and it authorizes him to go to war against Iran, Syria, North Korea, or Libya, and many other countries, since "seeks" is a wide-open verb.
It's a doctrine of permanent war, which at some point may end in disaster. North Korea is the most likely place for this doctrine to crash and burn, as the Pentagon has estimated that a million people would lose their lives in the first few days of a new war on the Korean peninsula.
Bush's rhetoric was telling in many ways. For years, he has yearned for the glory of "the greatest generation," and so in his speech he said that "the daring of Normandy, the fierce courage of Iwo Jima . . . is fully present in this generation." Not to detract at all from the bravery of U.S. soldiers today, I only want to point out that the battles of World War II were much bloodier and more dangerous than today's, when the United States military maintains such overwhelming superiority.
Bush also managed to skip over the ambivalent reaction (to put it mildly) of Iraqi civilians to the presence of U.S. soldiers. Just days after U.S. troops killed at least fifteen Iraqi demonstrators in Falluja, Bush said in his speech: "When Iraqi civilians looked into the faces of our servicemen and women, they saw strength, and kindness, and good will."
Bush lauded the "precision weapons" of the U.S. military, and said, "It is a great advance when the guilty have far more to fear from war than the innocent." But were more guilty people killed in this war than innocent people? According to the Iraq Body Count (see iraqbodycount.net), the U.S. war killed between 2,197 and 2,670 Iraqi civilians. Then there are the tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers who lost their lives. Most of these soldiers were poor conscripts compelled to fight. Were they all guilty, too?
One particularly obnoxious Bush tic is to use the term "American justice" to refer not to our vaunted system of jurisprudence but to frontier justice--extrajudicial killing. He did so in his State of the Union address, and again aboard the Abraham Lincoln, where he mentioned "the patient justice of the United States" in capturing or killing Al Qaeda operatives. Any terrorist against the United States, he warned, becomes "a target of American justice." (This concept of justice has religious overtones, suggesting God's "terrible swift sword," and that may be one of its attractions to Bush, who believes he is carrying out God's will.)
Finally, Bush said, "Other nations in history have fought in foreign lands and remained to occupy and exploit. Americans, following a battle, want nothing more than to return home." Why, then, is General Jay Garner running Iraq right now? Why, then, is Philip Carroll, the former head of Shell Oil in the United States, running Iraq's oil industry?
From a propaganda standpoint, Bush's speech, I suppose, was a great success. But it was so full of dissembling and so stuffed with bellicosity that I fear for our republic.