Having lost the war of modern diplomacy, President Bush is now poised to launch the United States backward into the dark old world of policy by military conquest. The America of principle, honor and moral strength yields now to a new America of paranoia, unilateralism and reckless belligerence, an America that attacks those who have not attacked it.
Even more dismaying is the profound sense that we're willfully deluding ourselves to justify what we are doing and why. We've buttressed our self-righteousness with a latticework of myths designed to help us rationalize our government's actions:
Myth 1: Those who oppose war against Iraq are engaging in appeasement of Saddam Hussein, reminiscent of Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Adolf Hitler.
This is a false parallel. No one is negotiating with Hussein, or talking about how to make him happy.
Chamberlain's mistake in 1938 was attempting to appease Hitler after Hitler already had built a powerful military and demonstrated his aggression by reoccupying the Rhineland and annexing Austria. By contrast, Hussein's aggression against Kuwait was thwarted by the 1991 Gulf War. Hussein has been all but inert since then.
Myth 2: Those who oppose war against Iraq are pacifists. Being against this war doesn't mean you're against war under any circumstances. I supported the Afghanistan war because that nation's leaders chose to protect the al Qaeda criminals who had attacked us.
Hawks use the pacifist tag to imply that opponents of the Iraq campaign can't distinguish between a justifiable and an unjustifiable war -- in the hope that no one else will be able to, either.
Myth 3: Hussein is dividing America and its European allies. It is Bush, not Hussein, who frittered away the worldwide sympathy America garnered from Sept. 11. Hussein would never cooperate willingly with world pressure to disarm, but he could have been pinned down indefinitely, without war, by a determined world alliance. Bush waited too long to seek that alliance, and then fumbled away that chance with his ''You're either with us or against us'' rhetoric.
Bush's open scorn for antiwar protests -- dismissing them as ''focus groups'' -- also has widened the chasm between this country and our traditional allies.
Myth 4: France has breached a moral obligation to support America. What irony: First we crow about having liberated France from the Nazis in World War II. Then we scorn the French for using their free will as they see fit, and not following in deferential lockstep behind the United States.
The French have just as much right to determine their national self-interest as we do. The insults Americans have directed at the French are childish, embarrassing and unbecoming of a nation of honorable people.
Myth 5: The Iraq war is justified because Hussein gassed his own people. No one questions Hussein's record of domestic brutality. Such practices could well justify war -- if they were occurring now.
In fact, Hussein's oft-cited chemical attacks on the Kurdish people took place 15 years ago. Most Iraqi Kurds today live safely in the north, already outside of Hussein's control. War isn't needed to rescue them.
And though it is only a semantic point, it bears noting that the Kurds are not Hussein's ''own people.'' They are a rival ethnic faction. While this doesn't mitigate the horror of Hussein's attack on them, it clarifies his motivation as something other than some demented form of fratricide.
Myth 6: The U.N. would lose credibility if it doesn't go to war to enforce Resolution 1441. In fact, the U.N. would lose its credibility as a sober and deliberative forum for peaceful change if it failed first to exhaust all possible courses of action short of war. If the United States launches war without U.N. sanction, it will be America's reputation, not that of the U.N., that will suffer.
Copyright 2003 Miami Herald