Bush Apologistas

Joel Bleifuss

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In the past couple of months, as the Bush administration flogs its plans for war against Saddam Hussein, a flurry of commentators, most notably Christopher Hitchens of Vanity Fair and David Brooks of The Weekly Standard, have taken the left to task for its opposition to the war. 

Hitchens smothers peaceniks,” peace-mongers” and Ramadanistas” with rhetorical meringue, sweet but insubstantial blather about how the war’s opponents are plagued by either a masochistic refusal to admit that our own civil society has any merit” or a nostalgia for Stalinism.” 

Brooks, letting Stalin lie, accuses peaceniks” of repeating the hatreds they cultivated in the 1960s, and during the Reagan years, and during the Florida imbroglio.” 

Brooks has a point. Doubts about the nobility of the current administration’s intentions are based on the history of past performance. 

In 1975, Henry Kissinger, in congressional testimony, dismissed the abrupt cutoff in U.S. aid to Kurdish rebels who were fighting Saddam’s regime with the words, Covert action should not be confused with missionary work.” No one has ever mistaken the Bush team for missionaries. 

Except perhaps Brooks and Hitchens, who would have us accept that Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Prince of Darkness” Perle have suddenly reached the moral high ground after the mire of the 80s when they, variably, aided and abetted Central American death squads or armed and protected Saddam Hussein’s war machine in his war against Iran. 

After all, it was Rumsfeld who, as Reagan’s Middle East envoy, was in Iraq shoring up U.S. relations with Saddam on March 24, 1984, the very day U.N. weapons experts had charged Iraq with using mustard gas laced with a nerve agent” against Iranian soldiers, further corroborating a State Department finding two weeks earlier that available evidence indicates that Iraq has used lethal chemical weapons.” No matter, on March 29, the New York Times reported that unnamed American diplomats pronounced themselves satisfied with relations between Iraq and the United States and suggest that normal diplomatic ties have been restored in all but name.” 

Brooks accuses peaceniks” of filling the air with evasions, distractions and gestures, a miasma of insults and verbiage that distract from the core issue” that Hussein is a fundamental problem for the world.” 

Brooks and Hitchens’ evident strategy is to dismiss the opponents of war in the crudest of caricatures and sweep aside the objections to Bush’s war plans — as a midterm election diversion, as a way to ignite an already volatile Middle East, as an adventure that could cost untold thousands of Iraqi lives, as a recruiting bonanza for al-Qaeda — in favor of the unproven supposition that President Bush is right, and Saddam poses a dire threat to the world. 

Does it? On this question, opposition to the war has little to do with left and right and everything to do with what is a sane, sensible policy given the facts on the ground. So far the Bush administration has provided no proof that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or that it is actively engaged in acquiring them. For this reason, leaders in the rest of the world, with one or two exceptions, are very nervous about Bush’s plans for regime change.” 

Intelligence operatives are likewise nonplussed. Vincent Cannistraro, the former head of counterintelligence at the CIA and peacenik,” put it this way: Basically, cooked information is working its way into high-level pronouncements, and there’s a lot of unhappiness about it in intelligence, especially among analysts at the CIA.” 

Nor are top generals gung ho for this war. Anthony Zinni, the former Marine Corps general who was Bush’s special envoy to the Middle East, claims that retired generals Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft and Norman Schwarzkopf are, like him, opposed to a war against Iraq. It’s pretty interesting that all the generals see it the same way,” he said, and all the others who have never fired a shot and are hot to go to war see it another way.” 

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Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.

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