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Culture War With B-2's
22 September 2002
Don't feel bad if you have the uneasy feeling that you're being steamrolled. You are not alone.
As my girlfriend Dana said: "Bush is like the guy who reserves a hotel room and then asks you to the prom."
As the Pentagon moves troops, carriers, covert agents and B-2 bombers into the Persian Gulf, the president, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld continue their pantomime of consultation. When Senator Mark Dayton of Minnesota asked the defense chief on Thursday, "What is compelling us to now make a precipitous decision and take precipitous actions?" an exasperated Mr. Rumsfeld sputtered: "What's different? What's different is 3,000 people were killed."
The casus belli is casuistry belli: We can't cuff Saddam to 9/11, but we'll clip Saddam because of 9/11.
Mr. Rumsfeld offered sophistry instead of a smoking gun: "I suggest that any who insist on perfect evidence are back in the 20th century and still thinking in pre-9/11 terms."
Ah, Rummy. Evidence, civil liberties, debating before we go to war . . . it's all sooo 20th century.
Anyway, how can we have evidence when we learned last week that our evidence-gathering snoozy spooks are even more aggressively awful than we thought?
The administration isn't targeting Iraq because of 9/11. It's exploiting 9/11 to target Iraq. This new fight isn't logical it's cultural. It is the latest chapter in the culture wars, the conservative dream of restoring America's sense of Manifest Destiny.
The Bush hawks don't simply want to go back in a time machine and make Desert Storm end with a turkey shoot. They want to travel back even farther to the Vietnam War and write a more muscular coda to that as well.
Extirpating Saddam is about proving how tough we are to a world that thinks we got soft when that last helicopter left the roof of the American embassy in Saigon in 1975.
We can't prove it with al Qaeda. That's like grabbing smoke.
So former Nixon officials Cheney and Rummy are playing out their own "Four Feathers," rescuing the lost honor of the American empire in the sands of Arabia. They want to stomp on Saddam to exorcise the specters of Vietnam and Watergate the ethical relativism, the lack of patriotism, the postmodern angst, the loss of moral authority, the feeling that America is in decline or in the wrong, the do-whatever-feels-good Clintonesque ethos.
Dick Cheney fought multinationalism and Lynne Cheney fought multiculturalism, defending the dead white males who made the republic great. She has written a children's book, "America: A Patriotic Primer," and urged that 9/11 be a day to remember the nation's glories rather than its "faults and failings."
The Cheneys, who have been known to invite dinner guests at the vice presidential mansion to sing along to "Home on the Range," think they can restore a sunnier, more can-do mood to our society. Even if it takes incinerating Baghdad to do it.
Rummy is equally impatient with the post-Vietnam focus on imperfections and limitations. He wants to yank the boomers by their collars and make them, if not the Greatest Generation, at least a bit Greater.
This is fine with W., who stayed 50's through the 60's and stopped liking the Beatles when they got into their "weird psychedelic period." He arrived at Yale and Harvard Business School just as the white male WASP ascendancy was slipping. He was in that small coterie of bewildered guys in wide-wale corduroy trousers, Izod polo shirts and Sperry Topsiders, surrounded by wild and crazy hippies protesting the war and smoking roaches.
The Bushies want to bring back the imperial, imperious presidency. The pre-emption proclamation had the tone of Cheney Caesar and Condi Ben Her. And the resolution sent to Congress seeking authority to go after Iraq was the broadest request for executive military authority since L.B.J. got the Gulf of Tonkin resolution rubber-stamped in 1964. At least L.B.J. had to phony up the Tonkin Gulf provocation. Mr. Bush can't be bothered. "I cannot believe the gall and the arrogance of the White House," Sen. Robert Byrd bellowed.
Things are getting dangerouser and dangerouser. Karl Rove's gunning for the Democrats. Ariel Sharon's gunning for Arafat. W.'s gunning for Saddam. And Al Qaeda's still gunning for us.
Maureen Dowd, Washington