Blink. That's what I do sometimes, when I read the latest news about what "my" government is up to. It's a subconscious, a mental double-take--my very own personal attempt to correct for incongruous sensory input. You know, that feeling of "I know I didn't just read what I think I just read." It's happening more frequently now, and I can't stop it. It's as ubiquitous as bad TV.
The most recent episode occurred when I read that our congress had time on their hands to change the name of french fries and french toast in their cafeteria to "freedom" fries and "freedom" toast, in protest of France's staunch opposition to our latest war.
"OK ... ," I thought to myself, double-checking to ensure that I was in fact reading the news section of the paper, and not The Boondocks comic strip. Things are officially out of hand now. But then again, I've said that to myself a few dozen times over the last year or so.
I try to make sense of things. I watch CNN like a good American. But, while attempting, in vain to sit through a presidential speech or press conference without blinking, I find myself wondering, "Is there even a need for political analysis anymore?" I mean, it used to take some work to expose the injustice and outright hypocrisy of our national policy. But it's like they're not even trying hard these days. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer is a poor man's (excuse me, rich man's) version of John Lovitz's pathological liar character from Saturday Night Live. You remember him? The guy who'd make everything up as he went along, with no shame, no seeming comprehension that whomever he was speaking to knew he was lying. Yeah, that's the ticket.
The "normally credulous" White House press corps literally laughed Fleischer out of a press conference recently, after his deadpanned objection to a reporter's suggestion that the United States was attempting to buy off the votes (for a war resolution on Iraq) of some undecided members of the U.N. Security Council. The reporter had heard from sources at the State Department that certain trade benefits were being offered to Mexico, among other nations, as quid pro quo for a position in support of U.S. aims in Iraq. Fleischer huffily responded: "You're saying that the leaders of other nations are buyable. And that is not an acceptable proposition," prompting the hilarity. Despite our recession, continuing unemployment and looming trillion-dollar budget deficits, we'd recently seen fit to offer a $15 billion aid package to Turkey, that bastion of democracy, which, coincidentally, we need as a base for launching an attack on Iraq. Blink.
Let's take a quick tally of what's going on:
In dissing the U.N., we are destroying diplomatic "capital" we've acquired over 50 years. We're also trashing the coalition of nations that we built to fight al-Qaeda, an enemy who attacked us, to fight a pre-emptive war against a nation that has never attacked us, and lacks the capability to do so in the future. Iraq is not off doing its thing in the darkness. Since the end of the first Gulf War, the United States and Britain have maintained "no-fly zones" over portions of northern and southern Iraq, effectively partitioning that country. Far from being absentee landlords, we maintain an active presence in Iraq, finding a reason to bomb something over there every few weeks or so. With a straight face, key administration officials will allege or insinuate that Iraq is in league with al-Qaeda because there is a possibility that operatives may be hiding in the Kurdish controlled northern areas, within the no-fly zone, which is not under Hussein's direct control. Those same Kurds, though, would undoubtedly receive a role in the country's post-war government, allowing for the dubious post-war potentiality of placing terrorists closer to Iraq's government.
We say that this war is necessary to enforce U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441. The president has said, repeatedly, that the United States doesn't need the permission or participation of the U.N. to enforce, er, umm, their own resolution.
The freedom fries nonsense erupted over the fact that France has stated publicly that it would use its U.N. veto power, as a permanent member of the Security Council to prevent a resolution authorizing a U.S.-led war on Iraq. According to an analysis by the BBC, France has used its veto power 18 times, 13 of which were in concert with the U.S. or United Kingdom. The "most vetoes" record is held by the former Soviet Union and present-day Russia, which have used the "nyet" vote a combined 120 times. They've chilled out somewhat though, recently, only having issued two vetoes in the post USSR-era. The United States, by the way, weighs in at the No. 2 spot with 76, and is currently on a Kobe Bryant-like veto spree, having issued seven of the last nine vetoes. Our most recent use of this power was exercised to shoot down a draft resolution in December criticizing Israel's defense forces for killing U.N. aid workers, and destroying a warehouse containing food aid intended for Palestinian refugees. Some 35 of the United States' vetoes have been used to block draft resolutions against the Israeli government. For good measure, 10 were to block resolutions critical of the apartheid-era South African government. Did I mention that one of President Bush's more recent justifications for an Iraq War was to help improve the Middle East peace process?
The U.S. prides itself on bringing democracy and freedom to the world. Apparently, at gunpoint. Where I'm from, democracy usually has something to do with voting, the will of the people, and stuff like that. In that sense, it's a bit unsettling that the U.S. has adopted a "do what we say or else" stance within the United Nations, which is, ostensibly, a quasi-democratic institution through which nations can represent their people's interests in the international community. Even among the handful of nations "with" the United States on the Iraq war issue (see: Britain, Spain, Turkey), public opinion is greater than 80 percent against the war. In this nation, the president has repeatedly indicated that no level of public disapproval with his Iraq policy objectives or tactics will sway him from his course.
We will liberate the Iraqi people from the evil dictator who gases his own people, and tortures dissidents. Of course. We must liberate them, by the way, to make up for the fact that the gassings took place while Hussein was fighting Iran with American money, weapons, and in some instances, tactical battlefield intelligence. Certainly, we can't abide torture (unless its conducted in Central and South America by graduates of our acclaimed and accredited "School Of The Americas" program in Fort Benning, Ga.). We will assuredly leave Iraq in as good shape as we left Afghanistan, which is currently prospering under the fractious rule of the motley assortment of warlords we assembled to liberate that country. And we will do our best to aim the thousands of bombs we will drop so that they only kill Sadaam Hussein, and not destroy the complete civil infrastructure, or result in the unneeded deaths of a half million innocent Iraqi children, like, uh, the last time (as reported by the United Nations). Blink.
We will uphold our many freedoms, including freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Some zealous, patriotic citizens will likely take it too far, such as the owner of the mall in upstate New York, near Albany, whose security guards detained and then forcibly removed a man for wearing a T-shirt that said "Give Peace A Chance." Our vaunted press will provide better war coverage than ever, thanks to a new practice of "embedding," in which selected media representatives will function as parts of military units. To round out the coverage, our soldiers will be fitted with helmet cams and broadcast footage that will be spliced at home and shown as newsreels during movies back in the states. Independent journalists, however, who attempt to transmit their stories and pictures via satellite uplinks from within Iraq will be subject to targeting and potential "accidental elimination" by our bomber pilots. That's what they get for not being embedded. (I'm NOT making this up.)
The rationale provided for ending the weapons inspections that we requested (and which have yet to turn up any trace of renewed nuclear activity) is that Iraq is not credible, and can't be trusted to tell the truth to the UNSCOM inspection team. If Hussein is lying, this still remains a classic case of the pot and the kettle. In our open society, the Office Of Strategic Information (derisively dubbed the Office Of Strategic Mendacity by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd), enjoyed only a short above-the-board life last year prior to being scrapped by the Department of Defense. It seems that even for the post-millenial United States, the idea of a public government agency with the stated mission of manufacturing fake news items for foreign media (friend and foe alike) was too much to swallow. Soon after its debut, the O.S.I. was scrapped amid a hail of ensuing public criticism. Nonetheless, it lives on in spirit, as part of this nation's thousand points of lies, which invariably garner headlines, while their inevitable retractions warrant page 86 burial in fine print.
Some recent whoppers, as told by Colin Powell, include reports of a deadly drone capable of spraying chemical and biological weapons, which turned out to be a balsa wood plane with a 24-foot wingspan, literally held together with duct tape. The infamous "uranium enrichment" aluminum tubes that Iraq had ordered turned out to be run-of-the-mill artillery rocket parts. Alleged correspondence between Iraq and Niger turned out to be fakes, and are now being investigated by the FBI. Blink.
Once the shooting finally does start, of course, we will all be pressured to cease any and all criticism of the president and his policy, out of respect for and in support of the troops. Our government will ask that, despite the fact that there are veterans from the last Iraq adventure suffering debilitating symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome, whose pain and anguish goes unrecognized and untreated by the government whom they fought for. Their affliction may have been caused by the destruction of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons, by breathing air polluted by burning oil, by anthrax vaccine, or by exposure to residue from our depleted uranium artillery shells. The government may know. The soldiers do not. And what they don't know may kill them (in contrast to the Iraqis, who inflicted less casualties upon our soldiers than the numerous incidences of "friendly fire" and accidents).
Blink. Maybe it's just me, but current events have the feel of a brand new, massively marketed unreality show called American Idolatry. I'm trying to change the channel. But I can't find the remote.