Competing in prime time with a docudrama celebrating his heroics after the attacks of September 11, 2001, George W. Bush delivered a Sunday-night speech to his fellow Americans on the situation in Iraq. In the Showtime docudrama, DC 9/11, conservative scriptwriter Lionel Chetwynd has the President saying things like, “If some tinhorn terrorist wants me, tell him to come and get me. I’ll be at home.” In the September 7 address, White House speechwriters have Bush saying things like, “We are rolling back the terrorist threat to civilization, not on the fringes of its influence but at the heart of its power.”
As in the docudrama, Bush’s speech confused propaganda with truth, fiction with history. He omitted the failure to find weapons of mass destruction. He did say that Iraq “possessed and used” these weapons, which was true in the 1980s but not in 2003. He claimed that the United States had “enforced” the “clear demands” of the United Nations Security Council “in one of the swiftest and most humane military campaigns in history.” He did not mention that the Security Council had opposed the war or that civilian deaths are estimated at between 6,000 and 10,000.
Bush presented only the latest bill for the war–$87 billion. He did not say that in constant dollars, according to USA Today, the military effort is costing as much per month ($5 billion) as the Vietnam War. Or that the government will spend more in Iraq next year than on education–just one example of the price Americans will pay for Bush’s folly.
Bush did not mention that Saddam Hussein’s ouster, rather than dealing a blow to Al Qaeda, was followed by a rise in terrorism in Iraq and an influx of jihadists primed to strike at the United States, or that the war may have succeeded in uniting Baathist secularists and Islamic fundamentalists, something even Saddam couldn’t do. Bush claimed terrorist attacks “are invited by the perception of weakness.” To avoid them we must uphold US “credibility”–a clear road map to Iraqmire.
To help pay the bill he’s run up, Bush had the nerve to ask UN members to live up to their “responsibility,” i.e., send money and troops. This is the same UN that he deemed so useless that the United States was compelled to invade Iraq, in effect, unilaterally.
Right now Iraq badly needs the UN’s expertise in nation-building and humanitarian work. We favor placing these projects under UN control, with the United States and Britain shouldering the financial costs, as occupying powers are obligated to do under international law. The UN is also experienced in peacekeeping, again badly needed in Iraq. We favor the creation of a peacekeeping force in which US troops serve under a UN commander, thereby assuring Iraqis that their interests, not ours, are paramount. In both cases it is crucial that such efforts are not perceived as providing a UN fig leaf for a US political and economic agenda in Iraq. As we’ve said before, true internationalization would require turning the governing of Iraq over to the UN and a multilateral force, and then to the Iraqi people, in a timely manner.
Bush must be held accountable. Instead of claiming, as Defense Secretary Rumsfeld did the day after Bush’s speech, that those who criticize US policy on Iraq are causing the terrorists to “take heart,” the Administration’s architects of war must level with us about their objectives and the associated costs. America cannot afford both a war and tax cuts for the rich. Indeed, in addition to repealing the tax cuts already enacted, the Administration should propose an excess-profits tax on corporations reaping benefits from the war and its aftermath.
The prospect of these things happening may seem remote. But pressure by those opposed to the war and the occupation, Bush’s eroding popularity as he faces re-election, and growing questions about whether America is any safer have already forced a tactical shift that acknowledges that a go-it-alone policy won’t get us out of the current mess. The pressure and questions must continue.