Summer Before the War

July 19, 2002

KUNM, 89.9 fm, Albuquerque, NM

It is summer and baseball time, beach time, and America is preoccupied with corporate betrayal. Still, Alan Greenspan says that the economy is improving. The Twin Towers will be rebuilt, somehow. Trust the market, urges President Bush. One can almost hear the drone of flies and mosquitoes in Washington’s foggy bottom. No one seems to notice that this administration is cart wheeling America down the road to war.

Two newspapers, one in Lebanon and one in Turkey, last week reported that US reconnaissance troops have already crossed Iraq's borders in small numbers, checking out the terrain. This follows the president’s statement three weeks ago that he will decide for himself, unilaterally, when and whether he will declare Iraq an enemy and when and where he will go to war.

In response to the president’s call, weapons makers have added a work shift to speed production of laser guided bombs. Production at one factory is reported by the Associated Press to be at its highest levels in 15 years. Analysts say the planned use is in Iraq. The idea is to find precise bombs that can be used against Saddam Hussein’s military infrastructure. The dream is that only soldiers will be killed, civilians spared. It is a kind of hubris.

The president, in a similar mind, has told the Palestinians that they need a new leader. He will not tolerate the one they have. He is telling the Iraqis the same thing. India, seeing its chance, now asks him to tell that to the Pakistanis. Instruct them to get a new leader, too. George Bush is comfortable being asked. He likes being in charge. He has a propensity to speak in the first person, saying “I” expect Israelis to do this or that, or “I” expect Palestinians to find a replacement for Arafat, as if the American president were in charge of the world.

This tendency to personalize his power is not a sign of maturity in a president, but rather a sign of grandiosity. Bush clearly does not mean evil. He means well. But he seems to lack the depth to see when he crosses the line from democratic leader to imperialist. It is the kind of mentality that Kaiser Wilhelm had in the early part of the last century when he declared certain parts of Africa to be his alone to influence or control. That arrogance led the way to the First World War. George Bush is not a bad man. But he is limited. And now, like the Kaiser, because of a desperate lack of perspective, he is dangerous.

It is perhaps too much to expect Washington to react. It may be too much to expect the mass media to hem him in. They are dependent to a high degree on a president’s favor and do not want to alienate the sources that give them the news. But peacemakers all across this land should be alert. This summer is shaping up as an emergency. The president is using troops in reconnaissance in the area of the target, he is stockpiling weapons for an offensive, he has announced an intention to usurp the powers of the Congress to declare war and to do so at a time and place of his sole choosing.

A war upon an Islamic nation which is unprovoked will give generations of Muslims excuse for righteous anger and retaliation against the United States. And how will we say that this is a war to protect democracy when it is militarism, as in ancient Rome, unprovoked, without the rule of law? President Bush is therefore likely to unleash an historical wave that he has never contemplated because history is not his thing. But for some of the rest of us, it is our thing, and if we are to have a long run, we had better start seeking out and giving courage to voices of restraint.