It would be so much easier if the Bush administration just dropped the confusing pretension of an earnest campaign for truth, international cooperation and the rule of law. The reality is and has been that the United States is determined to invade Iraq whether or not it has weapons of mass destruction and no matter the findings of the weapons inspectors or the judgment of the Security Council.
The troops are in place, the special ops expeditions and bombing runs have intensified, and Secretary of State Colin Powell is now a full-time hawk blasting away at and cynically distorting the inspectors' reports before they can finish reading them to the United Nations.
Here's the problem, though: Americans don't want it to go down this way. Though most of us wouldn't mind seeing Saddam Hussein thrown off the island, a healthy majority of Americans polled last week by the New York Times and CBS about going to war with Iraq say the president should give the U.N. inspectors more time, should wait for U.N. approval and should not act without the support of our allies.
None of this should be surprising.
The essential wisdom and appeal of this nation were captured eloquently in George Washington's warning about the dangers of illogical foreign entanglements. "The nation which indulges toward another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest," Washington wrote in 1796. "The nation, prompted by ill will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy."
Lately, it's hard to tell which we have more "habitual hatred" toward -- Iraq, Osama bin Laden, the U.N. or our allies Germany and France. George Bush arrogantly orders the United Nations to "show some backbone," meaning bend to his will, or become "irrelevant," while European objections to the rationale and timetable for war are characterized as nearly treasonous attacks on NATO. Pax Americana -- take it or leave it.
By acting like a man trying to fight his way out of a bar, Bush has squandered his post-Sept. 11 credibility -- his approval rating dropped 10 points in the last month alone -- and has backed the United States into a corner, strategically. Not surprising, then, that less than half of us believe he has a coherent plan to fight terrorism and only a third think we are winning that fight. Nevertheless, apparently believing that questionable ends justify questionable means, our leaders now daily produce claims of Hussein's perfidy with a wanton contempt for the public's ability to sort fact from fiction.
This past week, for example, Powell seized on the fact that Iraqi missiles might be able to fly a couple dozen more miles than are allowed under U.N. terms. The problem is, the specs on these missiles were there in the 1,200-page report released by Iraq two months ago, which was dismissed by Bush as containing nothing new or relevant. Pity poor Hans Blix. On Friday, the U.N. chief weapons inspector again emerged with a balanced, noninflammatory report that was immediately politicized beyond recognition by the White House spin doctors.
In fact, from the beginning of the administration's mockery of fact and logic, our damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't stance toward Iraq has been consistent: If they come forth with weapons we blast them for having them, and if they don't reveal enough we blast them for holding back.
Amazingly, the Bush administration seems most alarmed at the prospect that if inspectors were allowed to do their job, they might find that Iraq doesn't have any weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately, all of this is, as George Washington put it, "contrary to the best calculations of policy."
Our stance as the world's bully is strengthening the hand of protectionists and anti-American elements in Europe, hawks in China and Russia, and Islamic extremists throughout the Middle East and Asia.
Worst of all, we're giving al-Qaida exactly what it wants: the overthrow of Hussein's government, what Osama bin Laden called in his latest tape an "infidel regime" run by apostates, and the best recruiting poster he could hope for. Imagine it: a photo of a U.S. general, likely a Christian, who the Bush administration now says will run mostly Muslim Iraq for at least two years. In Arabic, the words are in big, red letters: "Oust the crusaders."