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Friday, July 18, 2003
While listening to U.S. President George W. Bush speak yesterday, I was struck by how good he was at speaking in broad terms. In the decontextualized manner that serves him well, Bush touched on all of the major justifications for the latest stages of the war that U.S. is waging with and/or in Iraq and also connected these actions to the ever present good vs. evil structure known as the “war on terror.”
This outlook will likely prove as popular in the coming months and years as it has throughout history, including immediately after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which is another way of saying I suspect it will prove very popular. The root of this appeal is quite simply that this vision allows people to feel good about themselves and ignore complications. It doesn't hurt that Bush's formulation of a binary world -with the U.S. and, to a lesser extent, the lesser allies on the side of good and the loosely defined "other" or "others" representing the side of evil battling over whether "progress and success" will succeed- isn't empirically false. It is horribly simplistic on numerous levels, but there is a element of truth to it, or at least there are enough real examples that support this mindset so as to be credible in the minds of many.
If the Iraq/Niger/Uranium scandal has revealed anything, it is that the Bush Administration is open to criticism that they are dishonest or misleading on factual manners. While this is good so far as it goes, the other side of the message is that the season is still closed on broader critiques of the assumptions that from the basis for the "war on terror." Yesterday Bush talked about the "threat" that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein posed to the U.S. and the broader world but there was not clarification of what this "threat" constituted and, just as was the case in March, no reporter asked a question on this matter. I keep waiting for a reporter to snap, think "fuck it, I'm going to ask a real question" and proceed to say something like, "Mr. President, you once again failed to qualify how Saddam posed a threat to the U.S. when he was in power. He used chemical weapons well over a decade ago and only in a situation where he faced no risk of retaliation, in part because your predecessor Ronald Reagan wasn't about to do anything. In the time since then he never used chemical or biological weapons against anybody and the most you can say about his attacks on the U.S. is that he may have been involved with a failed assassination attempt on former President George H.W. Bush. In light of these facts, how did Saddam pose a threat to the U.S. and, if he did post a threat, why did you wait so long to go after him?"
Or maybe pounce on this disturbing passage from Bush:
We're seeing movement toward reform and freedom in other parts of the Middle East. The leadership and courage of Prime Minister Abbas and Prime Minister Sharon are giving their peoples new hope for progress. Other nations can add to the momentum of peace by fighting terror in all its forms. A Palestinian state will be built upon hope and reform, not built upon violence.Lots of states have been founded by violence that could be defined as "terrorism" so these words are absurd, except when understood as a statement that the U.S. -the world's greatest military power- runs the show and that the Palestinians and everyone else have no hope if they cross Uncle Sam. Such a message gives lie to the idea that the U.S. is "promoting freedom and democracy" in the "war on terror" and is another element of this imperial statement that should be pointed out.
Of course merely pointing out these issues isn't enough. And neither would asking questions of Bush be, since he would just ignore the matter if he didn't want to answer it. To a critical mind this makes Bush look weak but I suspect many of the people who want to believe Bush have a much different reaction that does a lot to bolster Bush's broad message. By focusing on individual points or even a collection of points, Bush's critics look like they are missing the bigger picture -a belief that the U.S. is in a war against evil, which really doesn't exist as a collection of smaller points so much as it is justified by these points. Conversely, critique the war as a whole and the response is a concern about the "threat" -one of the smaller points. Create a broad critique that covers all of these issues and the general outline, and it will probably be widely ignored even by many, probably even most, political opponents of the Bush Administration who aren't as attracted to broad and serious critiques as they are political accusations like "Bush lied."
Until some way out of this situation is discovered or the "war on terror" turns disastrous for the U.S., I believe Team Bush and their successors will continue to have widespread popular support.