At the White House, nostalgia for last month Remember when every televised wise man (and woman) told us that the American people supported the war in Iraq, and therefore Bush was electorally invulnerable? Remember when those same exponents of the conventional idiocy assured us that -- unlike the querulous British -- Americans just didn't care whether the White House had deceived them about the reasons for war? It shouldn't be too difficult to recall, since it was only a couple of weeks ago.
Suddenly, everything looks different -- and everyone learns again that confident predictions by overconfident commentators are often utterly wrong.
That triumphal photo op aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln now seems to have been somewhat premature. The lack of postwar planning costs American lives every day. The unilateralist approach to policy is discredited, while the dubious rationale for the war looks less and less plausible. In fact, as Walter Pincus reveals in his latest scoop, the CIA believes that the war may have placed us in greater potential danger, not less, if Saddam really does have chemical and biological weapons hidden somewhere.
So Bush's approval numbers are sinking again, while doubts about the war, the economy and the wisdom of returning this administration to power next year are rising. Predictably, as if on call from Karl Rove, pro-war pundits are hastening to the president's rescue. But beneath the usual bluster can be heard a bleat of fear.
William Safire's theme today is that reporters investigating administration lies about Saddam's forbidden arsenal are doing the dictator's dirty work -- and that he anticipated their assistance! This is as crazy as anything the Times columnist wrote during Whitewater, which means it's wacky indeed. His argument stinks of Nixonian attempts to blame dissenting journalists for military failure in Vietnam. Stop asking questions about those missing weapons, warns the sage, or the evil one will return to power in Baghdad. (Josh Marshall ably disposes of the rest of Safire's pap at Talking Points Memo -- scroll down, or better yet enjoy his dismantling of William Kristol, too.)
Explicitly refighting Vietnam in Iraq is Robert Bartley, who explains how the liberal media was responsible for the American defeat there. (Blaming the press for the Vietnam debacle is quite typical among the neoconservatives now in power, a stupid idea that bodes ill for their misadventure in Iraq.) "Foolish caterwauling about obscure intelligence disputes can only undermine" Bush, frets Bartley. In other words, don't ask questions about those phantom Iraqi nuclear weapons, or the domino theory, or any other assertion that justifies war. Just send a billion dollars a day -- and a son or daughter if you have one.
Taking a more original approach is Paul Gigot, the successor to Bartley as editorial page editor. Visiting Iraq, Gigot skips over the missing weapons to provide a refreshingly different rationale: Saddam had to be overthrown because he was an environmental criminal. After the first Gulf War, he drained the wetlands around Basra, "with their centuries-old ecosystem of reeds, countless species and water buffalo ..." Actually, the marshlands are probably many thousands of years old, but Gigot is new to environmental advocacy and his concern is much appreciated. Certainly he's right about the opportunity to rescue the ruined marshes and their inhabitants, human and otherwise, all of which is undoubtedly another benefit of deposing Saddam. But if we're going to wage war over ecological crimes, shouldn't we immediately drop the 101st Airborne on the White House and the Capitol?
[1:30 p.m. PDT, July 21, 2003]