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Why Bush Wants This War


“Why does a dog lick its own balls?” the joke goes. “Because he can.” And so the justification for the Iraq war has drifted from urgency to necessity to facility, and now simple gratification.

The new selling point for the invasion is that it will be easy and painless. That $200 billion isn’t real money–it’s just government budget numbers. And the thousands of dead aren’t real lives–guaranteed 99% foreigners. And it’s good for the economy. It is hard to take Bush’s war seriously as retribution against the murderers of 9/11, or an episode in an eternal crusade against terrorism, or even as a struggle to protect us against disgruntled Arab dictators. It’s just business as usual for the world’s only superpower.

In fact, in the uneasy calm after Bush’s U.N. speech as U.S. diplomats worked the phones and criss-crossed the globe to twist arms and grease palms for America’s assault, there was a depressing realization that nothing mattered, that Bush’s decision to attack Iraq was a private affair, made long before 9/11, and that the real world, the people in it, logic, and a sense of decency are simply irrelevancies to be contemptuously bulldozed by Washington’s money, arms, and mulish intransigence.

To understand the war fetish, perhaps we have to look beyond 9/11, beyond the Middle East, even beyond the precious black crude, to behavior that seems to be genetically coded into Republican administrations since Ronald Reagan’s time. You might remember Reagan invaded Grenada on rather dubious grounds, sending a message to the Russkies (and anybody else who might stand in the way of America’s imperial prerogatives) that the U.S. had shaken off its Vietnam malaise and was back, taking names and kicking ass. Bush I continued the tradition, invading Panama to put the kibosh on our proxy-turned-whipping-boy, Manuel Noriega, and putting Nicaragua and the rest of Central America on notice that the gringos were back in their backyard heavy with armament and attitude.

From this perspective, Bush II is simply working from the same playbook. In this case, the marginalized, militarily impotent, nuisance strongman to be brutalized by U.S. forces is Saddam Hussein. The only difference is, the country’s a little bigger and the stakes are a little higher (all that oil). And in place of the Monroe Doctrine (which, we might remember, has justified pre-emptive military assaults against our little amigos in the Western Hemisphere for 200 years), we have the Bush Doctrine (pre-emptive military assaults everywhere).

It’s now abundantly clear that war with Iraq was on the agenda from the moment Bush was elevated to office. The war fit very well with the new administration’s knee-jerk repudiation of all things Clinton (peace process in the Middle East, globalization, diplomatic yack-yack, treaties, the U.N., touchy-feely bullshit in general) and would show the world that the only superpower was back in the war business big-time. Putting the Middle East oil fields in play with a chance to seize Iraq’s reserves (and wash away any opposition and the consequences of the inevitable errors or miscalculations with a tidal wave of crude) was no doubt a strong, additional incentive.

Sept. 11 was seized upon by the warhawks as a great opportunity to accelerate the Iraq agenda. Ironically, while the world granted America unlimited license to bomb, arrest, detain, and mislead in the name of justice, reconciling the facts of Sept. 11 with the White House’s pre-existing, brutishly simplistic desire to give Iraq a good ass-kicking proved to be an intellectual burden too heavy to bear. And so the justifications of the war have grown more extravagant and unrealistic, and the rebuttals to reasoned concerns more flippant and unpersuasive.

It is almost amusing to hear the escalating frustration in George W. Bush’s voice as he is compelled to come up with complex rationalizations and forced to schmooze with Democrats and foreigners in order to do something that should be as simple and natural as shooting holes in roadsigns from a pickup–pounding the daylights out of some designated-victim regime so the world remembers to crap its pants in fright anytime it sees the American flag.

There are reasons for invading Iraq. And pretty much all of them under Bush’s bomb-happy scenario are bad ones. But that’s just the point. The White House is demonstrating that facts, logic, domestic and world opinion, and international organizations offer no protection against American violence. Bush wants to show the world, war on Iraq may be mean, it may be stupid, it may be dangerous, it might be deadly, it might even be catastrophic to our security and interests, but even so, he wants to say, interrupting his genital lavage on the Oval Office carpet and favoring us with an angry snarl, I’m doing it BECAUSE I CAN!

Even those of us who don’t get our foreign policy from bumper stickers and Harley-Davidson t-shirts don’t remember losing lots of sleep after Grenada and Panama. So it’s tempting to look the other way and just grumble in the kitchen a little bit about the human, civil, and diplomatic risks of dropping the hammer on Hussein. We might even feel a guilty frisson of pleasure basking in our government’s badass aura of reckless, pitbull invincibility.

But this time it is different. September 11 did change things, proving that the our no-cost empire is a delusion promoted by bloodthirsty and greedy bureaucrats. There is a tremendous human and social cost to America’s unilateral projection of power across the globe, and it is borne both by the people of the world and the citizens and residents of the United States. It is not borne, or even acknowledged, by vicious and cynical leaders who look at the problems of the world and see only the opportunity for another war.

It is sobering to consider that, on the anniversary of September 11, George W. Bush’s eyes brimmed with tears for the victims of 9/11, his mouth was filled with the obligatory platitudes of his speechwriters, but his heart and mind were filled with thoughts of war on Iraq. It is time for the nation to pull this feckless leader, and the world, back from the abyss, stop the war with Iraq, and turn the efforts and resources of this country from the manufactured threat of Saddam Hussein to the real challenges of justice, security, and prosperity facing our world.

PETER LEE writes for Halcyon Days. He can be reached at:

copyright 2002 PETER LEE


Peter Lee edits China Matters and writes about Asia for CounterPunch.  

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