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One better think twice before supporting Bush’s initiative to launch an attack on Iraq if only because war, as Martin Luther King pointed out, is a poor chisel to carve out tomorrows.
A good way to grasp the logic underlying Bush’s plan is by examining the intricate mechanisms his Administration is using to shape public opinion, the most conspicuous of which are distraction, fear, and self-adulation.
DISTRACTION. The Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro film Wag the Dog was a comical expression of this strategy, which is currently being put to use in ways more cynical than the movie producers imagined.
Considering that Saddam Hussein’s modus operandi has not changed in the past few years, the urgency with which the Bush administration is pushing the war against Iraq at this particular moment in history requires an explanation. Not surprisingly, the answer lies very close to home.
Bush’s war cry succeeded in sidelining widespread corporate corruption, which made headlines right before his combative designs were revealed. Enron, Worldcom and the like are no longer under the limelight.
The call to arms has also been used to suppress figures pointing to the rising number of poor Americans, which reached 32.9 million, an increase of 1.3 million from the year before. The Census Bureau’s annual report on income and poverty provided evidence that the weakening economy is beginning to a have detrimental affect on large segments of society, regardless of race, region and class. I, for one, don’t see CNN spending much time covering poverty and its threat to American society.
Along the same lines, civil liberties, worker’s rights, and the environment have all been under attack by this Administration, and only recently have citizen groups managed to mobilize and fight back. What could be more effective than a war to deflect mounting domestic criticism?
FEAR. In order to convince the public that the Iraqi campaign is not simply being used to distract the public from pressing issues at home, a real and present danger must be created.
Just two years before the Gulf War, President Bush — the father — stood by without a murmur of protest as Saddam Hussein massacred 100,000 Kurds. The relation to Iraq’s premier changed dramatically when he invaded Kuwait, thus threatening U.S. interests in the Middle East, which come down to one thing: access and control of oil. Overnight Hussein was transformed from a Third World ally into an evil monster, a modern day Hitler. It worked then, and it is working now.
We are currently being told that Hussein is dangerous because he has access to weapons of mass destruction. Considering, however, that most countries in the Middle East possess chemical weapons, including Israel, Egypt, Syria and probably Saudi Arabia, the "preemptive" elimination of Iraq’s weapons program is, to say the least, peculiar. It’s really about whose a friend and whose a foe, not about weapons.
The Administration is not taking any risks, however, and recently decided to spread its eggs among a few baskets. Suddenly Saddam Hussein is not merely a recalcitrant tyrant who has weapons of mass destruction, but, in Bush’s words, a man who hates America, loves to link up with Al Qaeda, and is a true threat to America.
Ironically, Israel’s Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon, who is not known for his dovish opinions, recently averred, "Iraq’s capabilities are shallow compared to what they were in the Gulf War. They are not capabilities that give me sleepless nights."
If Israel isn’t worried, why, one might ask, is Bush?
SELF-ADULATION. The Bush Administration justifies its actions by engendering a sense that Uncle Sam not only knows better, but is also more responsible and righteous than any other country. This tactic produces a certain type of patriotism used to avert all forms of criticism, as can be seen by how the Administration’s seemingly omnipresent knowledge and moral high ground is employed to counter the claims made by an overwhelming number of countries that adamantly reject Bush’s war plans.
Just envision the good that could be done if an extra 100 or 200 billion dollars — the war’s estimated cost! — were allocated to education, training programs and creating new jobs. The public education system would receive a vital injection and millions of people could finally exit the vicious cycle of poverty and deprivation. Wouldn’t that be a more worthy endeavor than the one Bush is pursuing?
"To be a patriot," Mark Twain once wrote, "one had to say, and keep on saying, ‘Our country, right or wrong,’ and urge on the little war." And then Twain added, "Have you not perceived that that phrase is an insult to the nation?"
NEVE GORDON teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University, Israel and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Some of his articles recently appeared in The Other Israel: Voices of Refusal and Dissent edited by Roane Carey and Jonathan Shainin (The New Press 2002).