AUSTIN, Texas -- President Bush has once more undertaken to explain to us "Why We Fight," which is also the title of an excellent new documentary on Iraq. According to the president, "Our goal in Iraq is victory." I personally did not find that a helpful clarification.
According to the president, we are doomed to stay in Iraq until we "leave behind a democracy that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself." That's not exactly getting closer every day. But, the Prez sez, "A free Iraq in the heart of the Middle East will make the American people more secure for generations to come."
So far, no good. After three years, tens of thousands of lives and $200 billion, we have achieved chaos. As Rep. John Murtha put it, "The only people who want us in Iraq are Iran and al-Qaida." Since the revisionist myth that we went to war to promote democracy keeps seeping into rational discussion, it is worth reminding ourselves that there never were any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
We are inarguably facing more terrorists now than there were when we started, so the Pentagon has decided to fight what it is now calling "the Long War." Has anyone asked you about this? Me, neither. Nor has anyone asked Congress. The administration -- mostly Donald Rumsfeld -- just decided we would have a long war and declared it, and is now committing us to fight against a fuzzy ideology no one seems to be able to define.
Our problem now is that we're not fighting the people who attacked us -- they're still running around on the Afghan-Pakistan border while we battle Iraqis who don't like us occupying their country.
As of Sept. 11, 2001, there were a few hundred people identified with al-Qaida's ideology. Even then, it was unclear the American military was the right tool for the job. Now, Rumsfeld is apparently prepared to put the full might of the U.S. military into this fight indefinitely, backed by the full panoply of ever-more expensive weapons and the whole hoorah. I don't think the people who got us into Iraq should be allowed to do this because, based on the evidence of Iraq, I don't think they have the sense God gave a duck.
On top of everything else, Rumsfeld is now circulating a grand strategy for the Long War written by Newt Gingrich. Am I the only person covering politics who ever noticed that Newt Gingrich is actually a nincompoop? When Newt bestrode the political world like a colossus (Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1995), many people took him seriously -- but he was a fool then, too. The Republicans were so thrilled to have someone on their side who had ideas, they never seemed to notice Newt's were drivel.
From orphanages to space colonies, it was all shallow but endearingly enthusiastic futurism. Gingrich was the kind of person who read a book or two on something and would then be quite afire as to how this was going to fit into some shining future. Republicans are so amnesiac, they didn't even snicker when Newt turned up recently posing as a respected party elder to give them advice on ethics. Ethics. Next, family values.
I have no idea whom this administration plans to talk into its Long War, but I'm sure they won't roll out the new campaign in August. In order to sell this, they'll have to scare us, assuming some obliging terrorists don't do it for them.
I came across this quote in a recent obituary for George Gerbner, who headed the Annenberg School for Communication for 25 years: "Fearful people are more dependent, more easily manipulated and controlled, more susceptible to deceptively simple, strong, tough measures and hard-line postures. ... They may accept and even welcome repression if it promises to relieve their insecurities."