There was a time when the sickness of the political far left could best be defined by the rationale that the ends justified the means. Happily, support for revolutionary regimes claiming to advance the interests of their people through atrocious acts is now seen as an evil dead end by most on the left. Immoral and undemocratic means lead inevitably to immoral and undemocratic ends.
Unfortunately, junior Machiavellis claiming to wear the white hat still are running amok among us. This time, however, they are on the right, apologists for the Bush administration arguing that noble ends justify deceitful means.
With the administration's core rationale for invading Iraq -- saving the world from Saddam Hussein's deadly arsenal -- almost wholly discredited, the Republicans now want us to believe that any distortions of the truth should have been forgotten once we took Baghdad.
As Newt Gingrich put it last week: "Does even the most left-wing Democrat want to defend the proposition that the world would be better off with Saddam in power?"
The quick answer is that we don't know what the future holds for Iraq. Our track record of military interventions in the Middle East and elsewhere would lead any competent historian or Vegas bookie to conclude that a stable secular dictatorship is about the best outcome we can predict. But the larger, more frightening meaning of Gingrich's statement is that in order to rid the world of a tinhorn dictator who posed no credible threat to the United States, it was just dandy to lie to the people.
It was OK to lie about the nonexistent evidence of ties between Hussein and al-Qaida. It was OK to lie about the U.N. weapons inspectors, claiming they were suckered by Hussein. It was OK to lie, not only to Americans but to our allies in this war, about "intelligence" alleging that Iraq's military had chemical and biological weapons deployed in the field. Only it's not OK. Washington's verbal attack on the U.N. inspectors, for example, is of no small consequence, undermining global efforts to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation.
Meanwhile, to justify a political faction's blunder we ignore core values upon which this country was built. The New York Times on Friday blithely referred to the use of "coercive" measures in interrogating former Iraqi scientists and officials. Apparently, protections in international treaties for political prisoners do not apply to us.
Similarly, the indefensible gambit of preemptive war has seriously damaged two of this nation's most precious commodities -- our democracy and the reputation of our form of government. By giving Congress distorted and incomplete intelligence on Iraq, the Bush administration mocks what is most significant in the U.S. model: the notion of separation of powers and the spirit of the Constitution's mandate that only Congress has the power to declare war.
Is this an exaggeration? Consider that on Oct. 7, 2002, four days before Congress authorized the Iraq war, President Bush asserted that intelligence data proved Iraq had trained al-Qaida "in bomb making and poisons and deadly gases." Yet no such proof existed. Never in modern times have we beheld a Congress so easily manipulated by the executive branch. Last week, the Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee caved in and dropped their opposition to closed hearings on whether Congress was lied to. How can they not be open to the public, which is expected under our system to hold the president and Congress accountable?
To be sure, many Americans were never fooled, and many more have become upset at seeing continuing casualties and chaos in Iraq after Bush's pricey aircraft carrier photo op signaled that the war was over. But much of our public has been too easily conned. For contrast, consider that in Britain the citizens, Parliament and media have been far more seriously engaged in questioning the premises of their government's participation in the invasion of Iraq.
This administration's behavior is an affront to the nation's founders and the system of governance they crafted. It is sad that we now have a president who acts like a king and a Congress that is his pawn.