There’s a lot of hullabaloo right now over whether President George W. Bush and his administration lied to the American people about the evidence that Saddam Hussein had or was actively trying to obtain weapons of mass destruction, specifically ABC (Atomic, Biological, or Chemical) weaponry.
To this I can only say, "Read his lips: he's a Republican."
That is not to say that all Republicans are liars. Probably no more Republicans are liars than Democrats; probably pretty close to 100%, but that's just not what I'm talking about.
Threat or Menace?
The thing is, in recent history, GOP foreign policy has been all about brinksmanship. Or at least that's what they claim. Let's review the case of one President Ronald Reagan. On the surface, it seemed like he was just insane and out of touch with anything approaching reality. From all appearances, his greatest joy was to roll the dice with the safety of the American people. But after the fact, as we all know, he was hailed as a genius for bringing down the Soviet Union. Most of us thought that the corruption and oppression of the Soviet regime created a complete economic collapse, but no! The genius Ronald Reagan actually masterminded it all. By ramping up defense spending, in particular spending on technology he knew would never work (Strategic Defense Initiative, remember?) Reagan forced our arch-enemy to try to keep up with our spending and all the time knew that even if they outspent us, they'd never get close to a solution because it wasn't gonna work anyway. Brilliant! Especially because it involved massive pork-barrel spending which keeps the economy strong.
But how well would this brilliant plan have worked if Reagan had clued the American people in to the details? It would have failed, because the American people by definition cannot keep secrets. We're an open society with a free press and our nuclear secrets are published in Jack Anderson's column in the Washington Post. The best poker face in the world won't help you when you keep showing your cards.
Of course, this has some disturbing ramifications. If Communism was not inherently unstable, then the U.S. destroyed what would have otherwise been a valuable experiment. It's like Cuba. What better evidence is there that Communism works than the continued survival of a people whose livlihood has been compromised by a trade embargo by their biggest, closest, richest neighbor? If you want to prove how bad Communism is, why not give them enough rope to hang themselves with, and let the free market kick their commie asses?
But I digress. You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, right? Similarly you can't keep America secure without telling the American people bald-faced lies. It's just poker, nothing more.
Today's problem is America's perceived loss of influence in the world. We don't control everything anymore, and everyone is scared about what might happen if things don't go our way. It goes without saying that this is silly, but it is the direct result of our status as a world superpower. The more power and influence we have, the more threatening the things that we cannot control become.
Enemies have influence that friends do not. This is simple. When your buddy asks for a twenty dollar loan, you might say no even if you have the Jackson note in your pocket. When someone pulls a gun on you and demands all your money, you hand it over. America's problem is that we have too many friends. They take our money because we like them and we like to be humanitarian and helpful, and also because we think it might buy us some influence. However, it's soft influence. When the U.S. says "jump" France and Germany say, "well, is it really in our best interests to jump?" not "how high?" Gratitude is a terrible motivator. Fear, however, is a damn good one.
If you want everyone to think you're an insane motherfucker, sometimes you have to actually behave like an insane motherfucker. Kind decent people like Jimmy Carter just don't get anywhere, because they have respect without fear. I mean, really. Who would be scared of Jimmy? He's the sort of guy you'd invite to your house and not hide the good silver before he showed up.
If we want to influence the world, we don't want the world's respect. We want the world to fear us. It's one thing to have power, but if we have a reputation for not using it, that influence shrivels up and blows away.
Look at the progress that's been made in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the last few weeks. No one is resting easy about this yet, but it's clear that something has changed, and that something is the reaction both sides have had to U.S. pressure. A year ago when Bush outlined a set of requests for the Israelis and Palestinians, with things like ceasing building new Israeli settlements and finding new leadership for Palestine with a willingness to build coalitions and strike truces, it was very clear that no one cared what Bush said. And why would they? Bush's hands are tied by silly things like democratic process and the Constitution, filled with ideals and do-gooder stuff.
Since then, Bush has acted like a crazed maniac. He's shown total disregard for all that do-gooder stuff that's in out Constitution. It's clear that he's willing to destroy our 280 million person village in order to save it. he thinks he can get away with it, and because of September 11th, he can. The U.S. has broken out of the shackles of International Law, is unbound by any treaty, is free of the constraints imposed by morality or respect for democracy, truth, or freedom. George W. Bush embodies the American values I myself described years ago, so much more true today:
As Americans, we reserve the right to mispronounce, misspell, fuck, or kill anything that crosses our path. This is why the French can't stand us.
We have become a rogue nation.
And, might I add, we're not just any rogue nation. We're the rogue nation with hellfire in our arsenal. We've got WMDs and thank you George W. Bush for declaring our willingness to use them in a first strike.
So what's changed now that we've shown this attitude? Well, the nations we don't really want much from are lecturing us, but nothing is really changing there. With all the posturing and squabbling, our relationships with the French, the Germans, and the Russians have not really changed. But notice how fast the Israelis and Palestinians are running to follow George's "roadmap to peace." Again, I have no illusions that a real solution is in sight, but here are two groups famous for not giving a hoot what we think about them who are bending over backwards to follow what Mr. Bush suggests.
Ariel Sharon has always know that the U.S. is on his side. After we've invaded a neighboring country which was Sharon's biggest military threat, he knows it even more, but today he's glad that Bush is on his side, and he can't ignore the consequences of Bush switching sides. He's gotten the carrot—Saddam won't be lobbing any Scuds over Jordan at Israel anytime soon—and the stick—the U.S. has proven itself ready to put its troops down and kill people to get its way.
Is it absurd to think that the U.S. would invade Israel? Oh of course it is. But it's not quite so farfetched to think that we'd put "peacekeeping" troops down. And what would happen if some settler, enraged that the War of 1948 is taking so long to get resolved, kills some boy from Topeka? In the pre-9/11 world of course nothing would happen. There would be some mumblings about "a tragic accident" and nothing would actually change. But at some time in the future? Well, Sharon now thinks that Bush must be handled very carefully.
Thanks to George W. Bush, the U.S. now has respect in the world's eyes. Not the kind of respect that includes admiration—the kind that includes fear. The kind that actually motivates others to do what we want them to do.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether it's a calculated poker face or not. The Bush supporters will recognize that lying to the American people was just necessary to reestablish the U.S. as a force to be reckoned with. This deceit will be seen in history's eyes as "decisive leadership" by someone "willing to make the tough choices."
So get ready for George W. Bush to go down in history as "brilliant." The electorate has to care about having an honest President if we want to stop hearing more "Big Lies." What we have is a country scared and angry about 9/11. It will be a long time before we think we want the luxury of honest leadership.