Joe Conason's Journal

A conservative columnist compares Bush to Hitler. Plus: Neocons herald the next phase of the war -- Down with the U.N.!

Published March 21, 2003 4:49PM (EST)

Strange days for the thought police
Who truly supports our troops? And what kind of criticism of the President is appropriate in time of war? This is a big, still (mostly) free and diverse country, and the answers are rarely as simple or predictable as our self-styled thought police would claim. Win Without War, the mainstream anti-war organization, is urging Americans who oppose Bush policy to send letters to the service men and women now in Iraq, Kuwait and the surrounding region. On their site, Erik Gustafson of Veterans for Common Sense says, "As a veteran of the Gulf War, I can tell you what it means to receive letters from concerned Americans when you are far from home and uncertain about what tomorrow will bring." VCS sent its own letter to Bush on Thursday, asking him to "support the troops" and their families by reversing Republican cutbacks in aid to the VA health system and education for soldiers' children.

Win Without War promotes "Operation Dear Abby" as the best means to express support to soldiers, sailors and Marines deployed in the Gulf region: "It is recommended that you remain positive in your correspondences with the troops. While no one should feel discouraged from expressing their views, it is important to have in mind the welfare of the soldiers you correspond with. Let them know how much you support their safe return." There is no contradiction between love of country and free dissent -- just as there is none between concern for the well-being of soldiers and opposition to war.

Meanwhile, the Washington Times published a curious essay by Paul Craig Roberts yesterday that may define the outer limits of conservative criticism of Bush. A former assistant Treasury Secretary who has held every right-wing sinecure from the Wall Street Journal to the Hoover Institution, Roberts warns that in its drive to war, this White House may be plausibly likened to the Third Reich:

"The administration's use of forged evidence opens Mr. Bush to unflattering comparisons that his enemies will not hesitate to make. They will point out that it was Adolf Hitler's strategy to fabricate evidence in order to justify his invasion of a helpless country. He used S.S. troops dressed in Polish uniforms to fake an attack on the German radio station at Gleiwitz on Aug. 31, 1939. Following the faked attack, Hitler announced: 'This night for the first time Polish regular soldiers fired on our own territory.' As German troops poured into Poland, Hitler declared: 'The Polish state has refused the peaceful settlement of relations which I desired, and has appealed to arms.' The German High Command called the German invasion of Poland a 'counterattack.'

"Thanks to his neoconservative cadre, outside the U.S. Mr. Bush is now a disliked and distrusted politician." Maybe his Washington Times colleague, Andrew Sullivan, will find time to comment on those remarks.
[11:08 a.m. PST, March 21, 2003]

The only way to save the U.N.
Today the neoconservatives announced their real battle plan: strike first at Baghdad, then Turtle Bay. In the same sort of parrot chorus that used to bring much-deserved mockery down on the Stalinist left, pundits of the neocon right are demanding that the Bush administration pull out of the United Nations because the U.S.'s will was rejected by the Security Council. In the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer advises Bush that "the American people are now with you in leaving the United Nations behind." (There the Post columnist extrapolates a bit extravagantly from disapproval numbers registered by the U.N. in recent polls.) He thinks the U.S. should sponsor "a new structure [to] be born out of the Iraq coalition. Maybe it will acquire a name, maybe it won't. But it is this coalition of freedom -- led by the United States and Britain and about 30 other nations, including such moderate Arab states as Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar -- that should set and institutionalize the terms for postwar Iraq."

I've never thought of Arab monarchies as synonymous with "freedom," but Krauthammer's new coalition would be much cheaper to operate, and compact enough to fit in a much smaller building, such as a diner. But I don't think anyone should expect Tony Blair to show up for their first meeting. He's still trying to preserve the U.N., NATO and the European Union.

The neo-conventional wisdom also and predictably shows up this morning on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which bids "Au Revoir, Security Council." Why should the U.S. continue to pursue its policies through an organization that includes the world's largest nations, ask the Journal's sages, when we can so easily work our will among such potent allies as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Bulgaria, not to mention Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Georgia and the Philippines?

Depending on the crisis, we can just organize a new group that agrees with U.S. policy, so we'll never lose another vote again! In keeping with current White House policy, perhaps certain members of whatever organization replaces the U.N. will be allowed to remain anonymous and "private" -- like a dozen or so of the countries now said to belong to the "coalition of the willing." (For further reading and historical interest, I personally recommend the John Birch Society's hottest publication, "Inside the United Nations," which explains for the bargain price of $4.95 how the U.N. was founded "mostly by American Communists, including some who were later revealed as spies and traitors.")

And of course the mastermind of the moment speaks likewise in a Guardian essay titled "Thank God for the Death of the UN." Richard Perle laments the fact that the U.N. Security Council debates must involve "the likes of Syria, Cameroon, Angola, Russia, China and France," and asks how a policy can be deemed "just because communist China or Russia or France or a gaggle of minor dictatorships withhold their assent." (Those Guardian editors have a wonderful sense of mischief. Today's edition also carries a story examining Perle's role as director of the British data-mining firm Autonomy and its U.S. government contracts, which I mentioned here last week.)

I haven't heard anyone say "communist China" since Bill Clinton left office, and I doubt Perle uses such opprobrious language when he lobbies on behalf of Global Crossing -- which is trying to gain approval for its sale to Hong Kong's Hutchison Whampoa. As the New York Times reports today, Perle is using his status as chairman of the Defense Policy Board to assist Global Crossing in that endeavor, against national security objections from the FBI and the Defense Department. His reported compensation for helping a Chinese company gain control of the company's worldwide fiber-optic network is $725,000. The funniest part of the story tells how Perle called reporter Stephen Labaton three times to explain the appearance of his signature on a Global Crossing bankruptcy affidavit that touts his government clout.

Anyway, here's my own simple plan for saving the United Nations: give Perle a nicely lucrative contract to lobby on behalf of the U.N., perhaps including stock options in a Pentagon contractor that provides humanitarian supplies. I'm sure something can be worked out.
[8:54 a.m. PST, March 21, 2003]

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