THE WRONG WAY ON A ONE-WAY STREET
A few days ago, I got an email from a reader. He was responding to my column in this space last week, which questioned the constitutionality of a U.S.-led attack on Iraq. Along the way, the column also just might have implied that it would be for the best if George Bush were impeached. Anyway, this reader was unusually eloquent. He sent me a total of four words. Shut up, he wrote. Go away.
This week, Im seriously considering his kind advice.
Never in my lifetime--Im 57 years old--have I been this disaffected from my own country. Not even the Machiavellian Nixon or the hollow-headed Reagan made me feel this out of touch with the United States. The polls tell me that at least 65% of Americans approve of our going to war with Iraq. The polls also tell me that over 45% of Americans believe Saddam Hussein was personally responsible for the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The math suggests, then, that about two-thirds of Americans who support the war support it because they are simply ignorant.
No wonder the rest of the world thinks of Americans as parochial fools. We dont know whos done what. We let cynical speechwriters lead us by the nose into the darkness. (How many times did Bush use Saddam and 9/11 in the same prefabricated sentence at his press conference last week? By now he probably does believe Saddam hired the terrorists.) We make enemies of our most honest friends because they refuse to tell us what we want to hear and then take our resentments out on exactly the wrong people. (French restaurants in the U.S.--nearly all owned by American citizens--are experiencing a terrible drop in business.) We really like weapons of mass destruction--as long as theyre ours. We think bombing people will make us new friends to replace the ones weve alienated. We think labeling people as evil will encourage them to do our bidding, and we go cross-eyed with bewilderment when it doesnt. We treat one day of terrorism as jusification for years of paranoia. We happily trade real civil rights for hypothetical security. We accuse anyone who says peace of being unpatriotic.
So what are the rest of us to do now ? What are we, who believe the assault on Iraq is stupid, who think George Bush is dim, who think our Rumsfeld-Rice-Wolfowitz national strategy of preemptive warfare is wrong-headed to the point of real evil, and who think John Ashcroft is the most dangerous man in America--what do we do now? Were obviously out of touch with the rest of our fellow citizens. We seem to be driving the wrong way on a one-way street. And even if were still convinced its the right way, theres a good chance well get dented, smashed, flattened and left to lie ignored in the wreck on the macadam as we try to make our way to wherever we want to go.
I dont have a lot of hope for the U.S. right now. My hope is that the Iraq War goes quickly, that Iraqi troops lay down their weapons tomorrow, and that not too many people get hurt. But that, of course, will just encourage the Bush administration, no doubt more popular in the polls than ever, to try it again, somewhere else--Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya. And that will be very bad.
So what do I do? Shut up. Go away. Well, no. I wont shut up. Im too arrogant for that--not that I think anything I write will change anybodys mind. Besides, though Im preaching to the converted, I think the converted need to encourage each other.
But as for going away, well, I do plan to eat at a French restaurant next weekend. I hear theres a good one in New Zealand.
A READER RESPONSE
As an American, I don't think you should shut up. However, as a journalist I DO think you and your colleagues at the Flyer need to be fully aware of the threat that Saddam Hussein is - not only to the U.S., but to France, Germany, Russia and any other member of the free world. And over the last few weeks as I've read the Flyer's war-related coverage, I don't get the sense that any of you really do - and that's inexcusable in my opinion. Bottom line: the man is addicted to weapons of mass destruction. Ask any UN Inspector who has been to Iraq in the last 12 years and they'll tell you that not only is it almost a certainty that he has nuclear capabilities, he is fantasizing about the day when he'll be able unleash that power. Clearly, this is a person who has to be dealt with - now.
I highly recommend you carefully considering http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/. It's a fascinating series on recent history/dealings with Iraq and one that I'd hope would be an eye-opener for you. If you take the time to get the truest sense for the man that is Saddam Hussein, I think you'll gain a new respect for the leaders of our country and the difficult decisions they've faced leading up to this week.
Joel A. Frey