Louis Armstrong had a big hit, one of many, with "A Kiss To Build A Dream On." He presents it (along with Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, and Barney Bigard) in the movie The Strip. The lyrics bring to light one thread in the thought pattern of neoconservatives, a thread of imaginative fancy that led to Iraq:
Give me a kiss to build a dream on
And my imagination will thrive upon that kiss
Sweetheart, I ask no more than this
A kiss to build a dream on
Give me a kiss before you leave me
And my imagination will feed my hungry heart
Leave me one thing before we part
A kiss to build a dream on
When I’m alone with my fancies…I’ll be with you
Weaving romances…making believe they’re true
Give me your lips for just a moment
And my imagination will make that moment live
Give me what you alone can give
A kiss to build a dream on
Folly is a compound of many elements. Dreams are one. Misconceptions are another. They are a kind of dream too, a running away from reality, a failure to see what is there before our eyes. Instead: "Weaving romances…making believe they’re true."
I don’t know how the Democrats will end up dealing with the Iraq War and with the President’s up-and-coming request for more troops. I do know that the Democratic Party contains plenty of pro-war members in Congress. They try to get wiggle room. They try to be against the war while voting more funds for it. They try to rationalize their support while being against it. To accomplish this impossible feat, they have to express faulty ideas and cover up the truth. Their misconceptions are shared by many other Americans. That’s what makes them interesting and worthwhile to write about.
It happens that I ran across a forthright interview with Congressman Brian Higgins who represents most of Buffalo. His interview is a very convenient source. His lyrics express clearly some of the misconceptions that no doubt are shared by other Democrats, Republicans, and many Americans.
Experiment in democracy
Misconception #1: Creating a democracy in Iraq is an experiment.
Congressman Brian Higgins: "And this is an experiment — trying to create a state of democracy in the Middle East…" See also, for example, Prime Minister Maliki: "…in order to protect these experiments, particularly the democratic experiments that should be protected by those who are trying to oppose it." Or see Victor Davis Hanson: "Who knows what might happen should the Iraq experiment succeed…"
Translation: The U.S. invaded Iraq to conduct a scientific test. We wanted to see if we could rebuild a state after destroying it. The President gave us this assignment as part of his education programs. This experiment hasn’t worked out too well, so we will have to try it again somewhere else.
Experiments are carefully controlled tests. No one can control all the human beings in a clan, a tribe, an ethnic group, a society, a community, a nation, or a country. These are not the stuff of which controlled experiments are made.
A scientist who charges into a laboratory and proceeds to smash instruments, vials, flasks, equipment, and the lab workers is not experimenting. When he mixes chemicals at random producing noxious fumes and corrosive liquids, he is not experimenting. When he fails to control temperature, pressure, amount, force, pressure, or anything else, he is not experimenting.
The U.S. government has conducted abominable experiments on human beings, but Iraq is not one of them. The Iraq War is an abomination. The Iraq War is a large-scale crime. It is a blunder. It is a man-made catastrophe. It is an evil. It is many things, but it is not an experiment. Calling the Iraq War an experiment in creating democracy covers up the evil by alluding to a supposedly noble aim.
Democracy is a kiss to build a dream on. An experiment in democracy is a kiss to build a dream on.
It wasn’t our fault
Misconception #2: "The United States invaded Iraq based on bad information…"
Translation: The billions spent on spy satellites and intelligence agencies were all wasted. We got perverse information. Our diplomats talking to their diplomats and other diplomats in the region and elsewhere provided us with misdirection. Our reading of all their statements and sources gave us misinformation. Our tracking of arms sales gave us bad information. Our bombing runs for ten years told us nothing. The U.N. inspection teams gave us no useful information; they misled us. Our communications with foreign intelligence agencies gave us bad information. We went into Iraq worse than blind. All our sources actually gave us misinformation.
The Congress and the Executive branch had more than enough information to make a rational decision to go to war or not. They did not go to war because of bad information about weapons of mass destruction or bad information that Saddam Hussein was a severe threat. They did not go to war because they mistakenly thought he was behind 9/11.
Congress and the Executive surely do not want to affirm that they launched a major war based on bad information. It is their responsibility to act prudently, especially in such an important matter. That implies making sure of one’s information. They surely cannot say that they acted on bad information without asserting their own culpability and irresponsible behavior.
If they are saying they acted on bad information, it is an excuse. It is an attempt to shift blame to others. It is an attempt to deny that they simply used poor judgment.
Former President Gerald R. Ford knew that there was no threat to national security from Iraq. He knew that the U.S. made a misjudgment, not based on bad information, but because of other personal factors, such as the "pugnacious" attitude of Vice-President Cheney. The administration’s early record reveals numerous statements correctly assessing the Iraq situation. Everyone in Washington who was anybody either knew enough to assess accurately what Saddam Hussein could and could not do or else could find out. They didn’t know everything. They never do, but they knew enough. Some of them simply didn’t seek out or use the information. Others had the information and let other considerations override it. They used bad judgment.
The President and his appointees decided early on to take out Saddam Hussein for their own reasons, not based on bad information. Their decision was based upon their own overconfidence, stupidity, and ignorance of a wealth of available and good information. They kissed myths, tasted power, and built dreams.
To say that the invasion was based on bad information is to weasel out from the responsibility and shift blame. It is to cover up the actual reasons for the invasion.
We can’t show weakness
Misconception #3: "What we have demonstrated to other potential threats throughout the region — not only to us but to moderate Arab countries — is a vulnerability that has never been demonstrated before."
Translation: Vietnam never happened. Somalia never happened. Pearl Harbor never happened. The U.S. whipped North Korea in nothing flat and brought peace to the Korean peninsula. The U.S. emerged victorious in Afghanistan and accomplished its objective of tracking down bin Laden.
Never before? What U.S. intervention has not resulted in calamity? Where has the U.S. gotten in trying to distinguish between a moderate and an immoderate Arab state? Where has it gotten by nightmares of potential threats?
We need higher oil prices
Misconception #4: "It’s oil. It’s our addiction to oil…Because our addiction to oil, and the price we’re willing to pay for it, slows political and economic reform there."
Let’s see now. The U.S. should tax oil even more heavily than it already does. The overseas price will drop as the supply meets a restricted demand. Manufacturing and other costs will drop overseas and rise in the U.S. The U.S. economy will suffer while the rest of the world gains. This will make the U.S. better off. We will be more free. We’ll be free of our addiction. Washington shall set us free by taxing us.
Let’s see now. U.S. citizens should suffer on the theory that the money they’re spending for oil is not being used to reform overseas nations. It’s our responsibility that whomever we buy from should use the receipts as we see fit. And this should be decided in Washington. We will be made free to suffer.
Let’s see now. Greedy Americans who want oil are to blame for the insufficiencies of foreign regimes and foreign economies.
Escalation and the domino theory
Misconception #5: Increasing U.S. troop levels in Iraq is "the best of nothing but bad choices."
The U.S. has no choice, according to this idea, but to double and redouble even though it’s losing the bridge game. If there is a rational idea behind escalation, what is it? Does anyone in Washington actually know? Isn’t this a repeat performance? No one knew for sure why the first invasion occurred, and no one knows now why a new force should be sent in. Can anyone provide any explanation that will hold up under even limited scrutiny?
Congressman Higgins will not be pressured into timetables nor will he tolerate citizens who display emotion over Iraq: "In early spring, a group of folks from the Western New York Peace Center came in, very sincere folks for the most part — there were some folks there that were less respectful and rational — and they came in with a folder of resolutions, and they had one question: u2018Why aren’t you on these resolutions?’"
Like Alphonso Bedoya in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Congressman Higgins doesn’t need no stinkin’ resolutions. "Well, first of all I can speak for myself. I don’t need to affix my name to a meaningless resolution that will have no effect in law…Most of the resolutions that folks want people to get behind, they had nothing more than political timetables associated with them."
Why is escalation the best choice? "Now the question is, do you just pull out?…Do you just pull everyone out and let Iraq and the greater Middle East fall?"
The answer given here, one must read between the lines, is Iran. Escalation is a way to show Iran that we mean business. Does the U.S. really mean business, or is this a great big bluff? Is the U.S. willing to commit 500,000 troops or more, which it does not have, to bring down Iran?
The answer given here is the domino theory. The domino theory never dies. According to this theory, no country can ever defend itself without a U.S. presence. No important region like the Middle East should ever settle its own problems. No important region should be under the influence of a local or regional hegemon or two. The U.S. must be the dominant hegemon. According to this theory, matters are always worse if the U.S. withdraws from a nation or region; they never get better. All the states in the region fall under the influence of some hostile power that then threatens the U.S. And matters are always better if the U.S. stays there indefinitely.
We need to increase troop levels in Iraq because the people there, like many peoples of the planet, are children. They can’t run their affairs without Americans. They will always fall into bad hands. Better they should be in our hands. We are good and wise.
Besides, if we pull out, "It’s going to create a lot of problems for the United States relative to oil prices, which will cause further economic distress relative to our addiction to oil."
Wait a minute. I thought we wanted higher oil prices.
Dreams need not have a foolish consistency.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York.