Just less than a year from now, Americans will choose a new president. After years of debilitating public distrust, President Bush could assure a better atmosphere for his successor by adopting a rather singular idea, one that is an odd combination of radical thinking and good old American common sense.
President Bush (and, ideally, Vice President Dick Cheney, given his power) ought to promise not to accept any profit from war. In doing so, they would set a new, higher standard of White House ethics that might foster more rational public discourse on issues of war and peace.
The radical part of this idea is mainly its origin with Michael Masley, a colorful, bitingly humorous anti-war activist (he calls himself the nation's "artist general") who has been trying to get the media, Congress, anybody to ask Bush to promise never to accept any profits flowing from any military action he authorizes. But this left-wing, left-coast idea actually reaches into the heartland and history of the country. Americans have always had a healthy skepticism about unholy influence by money and power on military and foreign policy decisions. Indeed, great presidents have voiced the same concerns when they have warned about foreign entanglements (Washington), war profiteers (FDR) or the sway of the military-industrial complex (Eisenhower).
As much as we opposed the misguided Iraq war, we never much liked the "blood-for-oil" rhetoric. The administration could turn down some of the heat with a lifetime, no-war-profit promise. Bush's most ardent detractors (who actually might think the administration was deluded not just by neocon fantasies about promoting democracy but also by a desire to pump up profits of companies with which they have been connected) might find the chances laughably unrealistic. Perhaps, perhaps not.
Bush is said to believe history will look more kindly than contemporaries on the war, an idea that may not be entirely fanciful. Setting a new ethical course for himself and, by example, his successors might help clear the air for re-evaluation.
But even if this administration and Congress ignore the idea, the topic ought to draw discussion among 2008 presidential candidates, who have a lot of air time to fill in an overly long campaign. Forswearing profits from war is very little to ask of someone who would be president. More important, anything that can ease the painful levels of distrust among people for this or future administrations is worth consideration.
© 2007 The Seattle Post-Intelligencer