Bush's Ever Shifting Absolutes

Let Us Count the Lies on the Road to War

In the March 31 issue of The New Yorker, David Remnick, the magazine's editor, who has written in support of the war, though without enthusiasm, has an insightful piece on Bush's foreign policy, in particular about its absence of humility. He writes: "It [humility] is, however, a quality that will be indispensable in victory if we are to help rebuild Iraq after decades of tyrannical rule and to repair our own frayed relations with governments, peoples and institutions around the world." Of Bush's ideological, hawk advisers, Remnick says that they "seem oblivious, too, of the consequences of a unilateral, imperial-style occupation of Iraq. They welcome it. By embracing imperialism frankly—by proclaiming that the goal of their policy is the maintenance and expansion of unchallenged power—they congratulate themselves as honest and hardheaded."

The president and his roundtable of civilian advisers do not seem given to much self-examination or admissions of error. Rumsfeld, for example, does not fall on his sword voluntarily. When reporters raised questions about the adequacy of the battle plan, the Pentagon chief quickly disavowed primary authorship. "The war plan," Rumsfeld said, "is Tom Franks's war plan," referring to the general in charge of the Iraq operation.

Maybe, when victory over Iraq comes, a relieved public will look upon these civilian warriors as heroes and bold visionaries, rather than blinkered souls suffering from raging hubris. But we are all shaped differently and, after living for several years in the third world, I cannot see Edens being created by this war. It looks like just another application of weed-killer being poured over problems that are much too deeply rooted to die out so easily.

I also have no illusions about truth-telling suddenly taking hold as a guiding principle among nations. But minimum levels of candor and openness are critical to keeping democracies alive—even empires with democratic origins. And for my money the captain seems at the moment to be purposefully steering the ship to a place well below those minimums.

Research assistance: Jennifer Snow

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