War, the excuse for everything

As the transcript of Tim Russert's interview with Bush shows, it's not clear that even the war president knows what war we're fighting.

Topics: 2004 Elections, Iraq war,

Is it just me, or is President Bush’s demeanor a bit Napoleonic these days?

The enemies of the republic are everywhere, he says over and over, and only he stands between them and our utter ruin. Sunday on “Meet the Press,” he could say nothing without also referring to military battles he is apparently fit to fight — presumably based on his stealthy stint in the National Guard.

I am a “war president … with war on my mind,” he insisted to Tim Russert, dodging the newsman’s every question, as if his trainers had assured him that the phrase was a talisman that would ward off all charges of ineptitude and bad-faith leadership. Yet it was hardly clear from his filibustering responses exactly what war it was that Bush thought he was fighting.

Surely he wasn’t coming clean on his war against the 90 percent of Americans who will pay the price in starved government services and, ultimately, higher tax burdens as they pay off Bush’s outrageous tax cuts for the super-rich and the corollary soaring budget deficits.

“It’s important for people who watch the expenditure side of the equation to understand that we are at war,” Bush responded when Russert questioned him about the deficit. That was presumably a reference to the war on terror, the president’s handy explanation for every untoward event. But how can he justify spending much of the $400 billion military budget on things like Cold War-era high-tech aircraft and other defense boondoggles to counter the $1.89 box cutters used by the 9/11 terrorists?

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And if the war is against al-Qaida, why haven’t we moved decisively against that shadowy movement’s sponsors in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia? Although Osama bin Laden, 15 of the hijackers, and most of the money for the religious schools that fed recruits to al-Qaida and the Taliban came from Saudi Arabia, the president again perversely insisted on linking Iraq with the attack on this nation — despite having previously admitted that there is no evidence of such a connection.

There is, however, much evidence that Pakistan helped arm and train the Taliban. Yet Bush inexplicably rewarded Pakistan after 9/11, by lifting the sanctions that had been in place to punish Pakistan for its nuclear program and sales. Only last week, Pakistan’s dictator admitted that his nation was responsible for nurturing the nuclear threat posed by North Korea, Iran and Libya — conveniently blaming the country’s leading scientist, whom he then quickly pardoned.

Furthermore, in apparent deference to Pakistan’s admitted role in supplying North Korea with the wherewithal for nuclear weapons, Bush has suddenly warmed to that member of his “axis of evil.” Whereas the president had referred to Saddam Hussein as a “madman” and a theoretical nuclear threat who could be dealt with only through preemptive invasion, Bush says North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il and his actual nuclear threat haven’t earned a military response because “the diplomacy is only beginning.”

So, if we are not at war with North Korea, Libya or Iran now that we know they got their WMD know-how from our friends in Pakistan, then whom are we at war with? Certainly not Iraq, which the president pronounced as vanquished some nine months ago from the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. Sadly, as the transcript of the Russert interview with our 43rd president shows, it is not entirely clear that even he knows for sure what is what anymore.

“I made a decision to go to the United Nations. By the way, quoting a lot of their data — in other words — this is unaccounted-for stockpiles that you thought he had because I don’t think America can stand by and hope for the best from a madman… ” Bush said. Evidently the president has forgotten that the U.N. Security Council turned down his request to go to war because U.N. inspectors were crawling all over Iraq and were finding nothing.

Now that top weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei — who both told the world before the invasion that Saddam Hussein was a defanged viper — have been vindicated by Bush’s handpicked arms inspectors, it is embarrassing to witness the president prattling on in defense of the indefensible. Perhaps it would be less painful for all of us if the CIA could plant some WMD, of which the U.S. possesses a glorious excess, in Iraq as a kindly, face-saving afterthought for the baffled leader of the free world.

Robert Scheer is a syndicated columnist.

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