Mad as a Hatter

It’s official:
The hunt for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in Iraq has come to an end nearly two years after President Bush ordered U.S. troops to disarm Saddam Hussein. The top CIA weapons hunter is home, and analysts are back at Langley.

Four months after Charles A. Duelfer, who led the weapons hunt in 2004, submitted an interim report to Congress that contradicted nearly every prewar assertion about Iraq made by top Bush administration officials, a senior intelligence official said the findings will stand as the ISG's final conclusions and will be published this spring.

President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other top administration officials asserted before the U.S. invasion in March 2003 that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program, had chemical and biological weapons, and maintained links to al Qaeda affiliates to whom it might give such weapons to use against the United States.

Bush has expressed disappointment that no weapons or weapons programs were found, but the White House has been reluctant to call off the hunt, holding out the possibility that weapons were moved out of Iraq before the war or are well hidden somewhere inside the country. But the intelligence official said that possibility is very small.
Note that Bush has “expressed disappointment” that no WMD have been found, but has not expressed regret. Not to the people of Iraq, and not to those Americans who were marginalized and ridiculed for predicting this very outcome.

During the lead-up to the war, amidst the blood lust and desire for revenge (never remotely satiated by the more reasonable Afghanistan invasion, as Osama easily made his escape), arose a mob mentality—a furor, an excitement about the imminent Shock and Awe, a rally-‘round-the-flag patriotism. And as sick as it was infectious , it was certainly more appealing than the alternative—mobs of shaggy, French-loving college students marching through the streets and holding up traffic and shouting about no blood for oil, when this war is about democracy and protecting America, not oil. Such was the media representation of war opponents—ignorant, traitorous, unpatriotic trouble-makers. Who wanted to be one of them?

By the time the Shock and Awe had begun, I remember miserably writing to Mr. Shakes’ best friend in London, “Well, at least maybe I can support it as a humanitarian effort.” Resigned to the notion that war was inevitable, that was opponents’ last hope; maybe we’ll do some good for the Iraqi people. We all know how that went.

And so now that those who opposed the war have been definitively proven right, still there is no statement from our President, admitting he was wrong, admitting war opponents were right, and condemning the tactics used against war opponents. A great number of Americans, largely supporters of the President, have forgotten that each of us has the right, and indeed the obligation, to dissent. Disagreeing with, questioning, and even criticizing administration policy is not traitorous or unpatriotic, and those whose opinions differ are just as valuable citizens of this country as those who toe the governing party line. The President needs to remind of that fact anyone who may have forgotten it. It is his obligation to ensure that the freedom to disagree with him and his policies is still alive and well in America.

Of course, this will never happen. Bush & Co. recognize and appreciate the usefulness of sending their GOP and media operatives to denounce their opposition as traitors. What was at first simply seemed an annoying tic of Bush’s minions became a full-blown strategy leading up to the war, is now a dark and insidious course used to steamroll and denounce dissenters on every issue, its pervasiveness so evident that while promoting the Patriot Act during his tenure as a cabinet member, our former Attorney General eerily echoed Hitler’s right-hand man:

The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country. – Hermann Goering

To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. – Attorney General John Ashcroft

Should we fail to hold this administration accountable for not denouncing the patriotism of dissenters, they will continue to do so, and we will get ever closer to becoming a totalitarian regime, of which this tactic is a key hallmark. The undermining of democracy happens incrementally, by slow degrees. Its schemers trust that no one will notice, and that those who do will be labeled as mad, because, as Monty Python so aptly suggested, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

So call me mad, if you will, but I will not let my silence be misconstrued as capitulation. If this President wants us to trust him when he says he believes in Democracy, then let him start by acknowledging the treatment of war opponents as resolutely un-American. Or has he, like his supporters, lost all perspective on what Americanism really is?

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