No Honor Among Thieves
Published on Monday, May 24, 2004 by
No Honor Among Thieves
by Rosa Maria Pegueros

I never thought I would find myself quoting Ronald Reagan but as I read the account of the invasion of Ahmad Chalabi's home, and his angry distancing from the Bush administration, I remembered Ronnie’s frequent quotation of the Russian proverb, “doveryay, no proveryay,” trust but verify. Of course, he was referring to the Soviets and nuclear missiles at the height of the Cold War but President George W. Bush would have done well to heed this advice before trusting the likes of Chalabi.

It may be that W was duped, although if that is the case and since he is the leader of the free world, it wouldn’t be something he’d want to advertise. It appears that he is laying out his matrix of relative evils: Better to look hapless than to admit that you got caught doing something wrong, especially in an election year. As a college professor, this just doesn’t fly with me. How many times have I seen an undergraduate looking dumb, when I know that s/he is perfectly capable, trying to dupe me into believing that the dog ate his/her homework, or gee, was that paper due today?

I often hear people insulting W’s intelligence; they used to say that about Reagan, too. Even if he was a legacy (that is, admitted to college because his father went there), the man graduated from Yale and Harvard. He was the governor of the largest state in the union. He may be playing dumb but he isn’t. He is intellectually incurious, a condition that makes those in the top 2% of IQs in the population shudder, but that doesn’t mean he’s stupid. Apparently he has gotten this far allowing others to underestimate him. And he has honed his down-home, good ol’ boy persona right down to the Texas accent. Have you noticed that he is the only Bush who talks like that? The man on the street that feels comfortable with him; he doesn’t trust smarty-pants intellectuals and he can sit down for a cup of coffee with W and shoot the breeze

If W isn’t as dull-witted as academics assume he is, then what’s with Chalabi? Could it be that he provided Bush and company with the excuse they urgently sought to invade Iraq, and they gave him the means to attain the power that he lusted after?

The deep distrust for government that the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal spawned in America had softened in recent years. The heroism of so many police officers, firefighters, and rescue workers on 9-11 seemed to bring that dark period in our history to an end. The sad result of all of this chicanery is that the people’s distrust is deeper than ever.

The Bush administration has reneged on treaties made by his predecessors; alienated our long-standing allies in “old Europe”; betrayed the honor of our military services by signaling that it’s okay to abuse our enemies, from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, because they’re evil; and has made us wary of every pronouncement made by a government official. It is naïve, perhaps, to want to trust one’s government. A wise cynic of my acquaintance once told me that no government should ever be trusted.

Furthermore, the function of a free press is to question, question, question; to illuminate the dark corners and expose the dirt under the rugs of our society, so that the knaves in government can’t hide anything and the people can make informed decisions.

Sad to say, our civil liberties, including freedom of the press, have been under siege by W and Attorney General John Ashcroft. The mainstream media has rolled over, exposing its tender soft belly to be rubbed by the president instead of baring its mighty teeth and forcing the government to be accountable.

And the people? 42% continue to approve of W’s performance on the job but the numbers are dropping. It is a pity that 801 American soldiers have died in Iraq, and at least 790 have died in Afghanistan while Bush botches everything he touches. As John F. Kerry asked thirty years ago when speaking against the war in Vietnam, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Journalist Bill Moyers, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s press secretary well into the Vietnam war, said that President Johnson was so haunted by the American casualties that he forced himself to review the figures every night, and that sometimes he would take to his bed, pull the pillows over his head and refuse to get up. I only wish that W would demonstrate as much humanity. I seriously doubt that Ari Fleischer or Scott McClellan, W’s press secretaries, will report such mental anguish on the president’s part when they write their White House memoirs.

Retired General Anthony Zinni was the first to criticize the war in Iraq. Recently, conservatives have started to raise their voices in condemnation of the president’s conduct of the war. As the president’s poll numbers drop, the rats see the ship sinking and they’re abandoning it as fast as their little feet can take them. Frankly, I don’t care what their reasons are; whatever brings our soldiers home is fine with me.

After Richard Nixon had bombed Cambodia nearly to kingdom come, and it was clear that Vietnam was a lost cause, Nixon declared victory and withdrew our troops. Thirty-two years later, many Americans believe that we won the war. We didn’t. We lost 58,000 American troops. South Vietnam lost almost 158,000 soldiers and almost half a million civilians. “The enemy” lost 900,000 troops. Nobody is counting the numbers of Iraqi troops or civilians dying. We would all benefit if Bush just declared victory and got out. Nobody wants their son or daughter to be the last to die for a mistake.

Rosa Maria Pegueros is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Rhode Island. To contact her, write to