One of my husband’s favorite movies is the 1980 Somewhere in Time, starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. The movie isn’t all that memorable, but with lovely music, settings and costume, it managed to combine desire and fantasy and time travel into solid entertainment.
I don’t know whether Somewhere in Time is one of George W. Bush’s favorite movies. The Bush Administration does, however, appear to know something about the idea of writing scripts that mix passionate desire, fantasy and time travel, entangling truth and fiction and emotion in a way inviting mass suspension of disbelief for a shared, if short-term, national thrill. While Reeve and Seymour didn’t get an Oscar, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld certainly deserve one.
Passionate desire was there. We have the Project for a New American Century’s letter to Bill Clinton in 1998, demanding a completion of what we started in 1991, and Richard Perle’s 1996 vision of a different Middle East, one where an "effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions." (He forgot to mention all that democracy and self-determination we wanted to bring to the long suffering and oppressed Iraqi people. A simple oversight, I’m sure.) After the signers of these missives were emplaced via political appointment into positions at the Pentagon and State and in the office of the Vice President, the desire was excited and inflamed by the very real and imminent possibility of the act itself.
Never mind that the invasion of Iraq reminded some of our Vietnam experience, the last big American adventure in overseas guerilla warfare and domestic political puppetry. Today’s comparisons of our future in Iraq to our Vietnam experience miss the point — we have already exceeded Vietnam in many ways. U.S. and British military enforcement of the no-fly zone and bombs over Iraq since 1991 have cost at least a billion a year, and at twelve sustained years, exceeds the duration of our primary military involvement in Vietnam. Today, routine costs (after the spike in American expenditures required for invasion and occupation) are running at $4 billion a month, according to recent congressional testimony by senior Pentagon officials. For comparison, by 1966, the taxpayers were spending about $2 billion a month on the Vietnam war. The debates over the lack of an exit plan and the use of napalm in Vietnam versus fire-bombs in Iraq are more decorative, but ultimately less substantial commonalities.
As for fantasy, we’ve had plenty provided by the mouthpieces of neo-conservative imperialism in the media and the administration, folks who haven’t known war, never wore military uniforms nor allowed their children to serve, yet seem to believe waging war using other people’s children for narrow political purposes is part of our collective American destiny. We’ve had presidential and vice presidential speeches filled with the imagery of imminent U.S. destruction at the hands of the evil Saddam, via mushroom clouds courtesy of Iraqi UAVs. We’ve even had a few Gulf of Tonkin-style fables broadcast, then retracted, to help motivate the public and Congress at key times. While Iraq was on a watch list of poorly led countries with potential to do harm (and had been for decades), it had never been the most serious or most imminent threat to the United States, and had limited potential to become that threat until we decided we needed to occupy it.
This is old news to those who follow the news. Passion and fantasy make good entertainment. But what strikes me today is the Bush administration’s discovery of the power of time travel. This goes beyond the Oscars, and is indeed Nobel Prize material! And to think our down-home president, who promised a foreign policy of humility during his campaign and in his early speeches as President, has taken a quiet vacation from Washington instead of taking full credit for his discovery!
I came across the discovery while reading in the Washington Post the updated summary of last autumn’s National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq’s real status as a nuclear, biological and chemical threat to the United States. George Tenet tells us that "We [in the intelligence community] encourage dissent and reflect it in alternative views." He even lists those views for our reading pleasure.
Earlier this week, I heard a hint of the discovery in what Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said to Laura Ingraham on national radio. In response to her question, "And when did you start to think that perhaps Iraq had something to do with it [9-11]?" Wolfowitz says disarmingly "I’m not sure even now that I would say Iraq had something to do with it." Laura herself should have flipped out, and expressed the kind of insightful incredulity she is known for, given that she was a major purveyor of neo-conservative talking points pushing for war in Iraq all last year.
Further evidence of this momentous discovery is seen daily as the NSC, CIA and other policy and intelligence bureaucracies frantically stumble over each other to take credit for the infamous "16 words" regarding yellowcake, and other out-of-context or dead wrong statements that filled presidential and vice presidential speeches last autumn in the run up to invasion and occupation of Iraq’s oil fields and major cities.
Where in the world were these qualifiers, these long-held opinions, these people who are happy to admit they made a mistake and allowed lies to be loudly and proudly uttered from the lips of our straight shooting Texan in the White House?
All I can think of to explain this sudden appearance of objective intelligence, reasoned and reasonable deputy secretaries of defense, and love of honesty is the Bush administration’s discovery of a mechanism for political time travel. Suddenly, the world that actually existed in the autumn and winter of 2002 has been projected forward to August 2003! It is bright, it is honest, it is rational.
What were we all doing ten months ago? It seems as if we, like Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour in Somewhere in Time, were as a nation falling in love with a beautiful lie. A lovely vision of a world made safer for Americans if we could only stop — as soon as possible via decapitation of Baghdad and occupation of Iraq — the evil Saddam Hussein before he delivered his vast stockpiles of WMD to St. Louis and Chicago directly or via his treasured and rich alliance with Osama bin Laden.
As with other types of time travel, the vision we had before is now confusing to us as we see the reality of our current moment. It is even more confusing when the same people, the narrators of the story as it were, who pushed and justified a pre-emptive war in Iraq now say "Really, I never believed it, not at all."
I think a congressional investigation into the political time travel discoveries of the Bush Administration is overdue and worthwhile. A scientific breakthrough this spectacular should be shared with the rest of the country, and indeed the world.
[send her mail] is a recently
retired USAF lieutenant colonel, who spent her final four and a half
years in uniform working at the Pentagon. She now lives with her freedom-loving
family in the Shenandoah Valley.