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Issue Date:  September 17, 2004

Fear-mongering instead of facts

No matter how many times President Bush thumps the podium and insists that his only choice was between tolerating a madman bent on destroying the United States or “defending America,” the war in Iraq is a tragic, ill-conceived adventure that grows worse by the day.

A preemptive invasion that has turned into a bloody and tedious battle with determined urban guerrillas, the war in Iraq was grounded in deception from the start. The administration’s determination to stay the course, whatever that may be, is dependent on increasingly ambitious deceptions.

The president, without regard for the indisputable record of the very recent past, has simply collapsed the war on terror and the invasion of Iraq into a single, seamless event.

The marketing of that significant distortion of reality has been masterfully done. In recent weeks mainstream commentators have been heard describing the separation of those two events -- the war on terror and the invasion of Iraq -- as a Democratic Party position.

Rationale for the invasion rested on cooked intelligence and a conviction born more of wishes than data that Saddam Hussein not only possessed weapons of mass destruction, including biological and chemical agents, but also that he had the will and the means to use them.

It was a stretch from the beginning to believe that a country we had boasted about bombing back to the Stone Age and on which we had clamped, in our own words, the most stringent sanctions in human history, and which had been subjected to years of weapons inspections, could reasonably pose a threat.

Saddam Hussein may be a madman, but in that he is not alone among the world’s dictators. The U.S. determination to topple him arose, of course, only after the United States had amply armed him and spurred him on in his war with Iran at the very time, and we knew it, that he was using weapons of mass destruction on his own people.

It’s a complicated tale but one that has yielded rather easily to President Bush’s straight-line narrative of good and evil.

And so we were told that this easy mission would end with U.S. troops welcomed with flowers and candy as conquering heroes. They weren’t.

President Bush declared Mission Accomplished, though it wasn’t.

We receive constant reports of “making progress” even though there is very little.

The insistent talk is of Iraqi liberation, though, at best, it is an occupied country whose newly minted democratic institutions are window dressing -- style and patterns chosen by the United States.

Administration officials continue to link Iraq with al-Qaeda and with Osama Bin Laden, although there were no links.

The facts simply don’t matter.

Now, a thousand U.S. deaths into this quagmire, with Pentagon officials conceding that significant areas of the country are under the control of insurgents, all the president has to say as justification is that we are still at war and “we mourn every loss of life.”

Perhaps there’s a glint of reality in the tacit admission that the mission is not accomplished.

In a meeting with congressional leaders Sept. 8, the president continued in his revisionist rationale with the line, “We’ve got to do everything we can to protect the homeland” as if Iraq ever posed a threat.

That injection of fear was boosted Sept. 8 by Vice President Dick Cheney’s irresponsible and ugly assertion that if John Kerry wins, “the danger is that we’ll get hit again” by terrorists.

A thousand U.S. deaths and countless thousands of dead Iraqi citizens and soldiers, and the administration is defining the struggle with platitudes, cowboy-isms and good old-fashioned fear mongering.

The sad part is that, as political polling goes, it seems to be working.

For his part, Bush’s Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry, has risen to the bait, making the campaign for too long a contest between a former warrior and a warrior wannabe over just how warrior-like each would be as president.

Kerry as a young man apparently came to an understanding of the horrors of war that none of the non-warrior neo-cons of the Bush administration – those who most ardently wanted this war in Iraq -- could ever achieve. The tragedy is that Kerry apparently has decided to leave that wisdom on the cutting room floor, opting instead to join battle with the straight-line narrative that can only survive in a distorted reality.

The worst deception of all is that the Bush administration’s actions have not protected America or made the homeland safe. To the contrary, the war in Iraq exposes the United States as vulnerable amid its unprecedented power; as isolated in a world increasingly interconnected; and as deeply divided and uncertain even as its leaders continue to speak with naive bravado.

National Catholic Reporter, September 17, 2004

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