Richard Cheney's speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars wasn't only about promoting the warfare state. Cheney was also careful to note how warm he is to the welfare state: "the president has asked Congress for an 8 percent increase for veterans' health care and a 7 percent increase for veterans' programs overall." [Loud applause.]
With the audience warmed up with your money, Cheney got on to the business at hand, which is killing. If you don't want war with Iraq, says the vice president, you are engaging in "wishful thinking or willful blindness."
Actually, there is a third option: some people don't like unrelenting war mongering that seeks the wholesale demolition of Iraq, a once-liberal, once-wealthy country that has been painfully impoverished in eleven years of US bombings and sanctions, a war which will only incite more anger in the Moslem world, inspire more terror attacks, and provide an excuse for a further expansion of the police state at home.
Cheney said that Iraq and its government have to go because there is evidence those folks don't like us. Well, you know, that kind of thing happens when your stated goal is the annihilation of somebody else's country. People who live there, and in particular the government in charge, can become agitated.
What about the newest claims that Iraq will have nuclear weapons "very soon"? Well, it is hard to know what to make of them because such claims are, by now, so inevitable. Is there any country, no matter how poor, any group, no matter how disorganized and low tech, that the US would not claim is developing nuclear weapons should the US decide to attack it?
The Bush administration is capable of making false claims about anything, and no one doubts it. In fact, should it become public that the US has made up this nuclear weapons thing out of whole cloth, it can count on the neoconservative pundits to defend the right of the government to lie.
As for specifics concerning the regime's brutality, Cheney cited the case of Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamel, son-in-law to Saddam, who defected in 1995, told all to the CIA, and, on his return to Iraq as a CIA agent, was killed in a gun battle.
Imagine that: a government that doesn't take kindly to a high-ranking military defector who cooperates with the enemy. For doing far less, the Justice Department pursued Taliban John as a traitor, and wanted to execute him. Are we to conclude that the Bush administration thereby loses its right to govern?
As for James A. Baker III's remark that Saddam is "very skilled in the art of denial and deception," one can conjure up many regimes that fit that description.
Some commentators have noted how odd this Bush administration-fomented debate is. The New York Times calls the entire process "uncharacteristically public." If you think war is necessary, why engage in this very public cat-and-mouse game?
The answer is that the game has become something of a consumption good for our own rulers. Day in, day out, the debate rages: should we kill Saddam and replace him with something else and meanwhile bomb the country until the rocks bounce? Or should we wait until we can get our "allies" to go along, or until evidence appears that actually indicts the Iraqis?
In the end, regardless of the outcome, this game of on-again-off-again war produces the desired result. It broadcasts to the world that the US has the desire and the ability to hold any population anywhere hostage to the US war machine.
For the US, it is not a matter of war-making capacity; it is only a matter of will, and that decision, as Cheney has also made clear, will be decided not by Congress, as the Constitution requires, but by a junta of unelected civilian bureaucrats. It is their will, and not anyone else's, that will determine whether or not we are at war.
And what's the downside to all this bomb rattling? In part, higher oil prices for American consumers — who in government cares? — which is also likely to generate higher profits for large oil companies. After all, we've long known that Cheney is strongly against low oil prices.
As for precedents for holding an entire country hostage this way, Cheney cited the Congressional resolution against Iraq from eleven years ago, as if these resolutions have some sort of eternally binding authority. Clearly, these people think they can say just about anything, a privilege that comes with believing that you have the right to destroy anything and everything at will.
There are two major factors at work here. One is entirely personal. Cheney, Bush, and Baker are nursing a serious grudge against Saddam that dates to the term of Bush's father as president. They all have regrets that they didn't use the excuse of war the last time around to string up Saddam. There are oil interests at work too, of course.
Second, the Bush administration believes that it has found its groove in the war-making mode. Bush's own popularity ratings were their highest when he bombed Afghanistan, while at home the people were compliant and deferential. This is the dream of every government. In mundane policy matters, in contrast, Bush has experienced nothing but frustration.
A president with a grudge in love with his war-making persona, and a population largely convinced that the only path to security is amassing and using ever-more weapons of mass destruction: this is the dangerous situation in which we find ourselves. Never has it been more important for the friends of freedom to reassert the moral urgency of peace.
Beati pacifici quoniam filii Dei vocabuntur.
August 28, 2002
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