November 20, 2005
American Crack-Up

By David Warren

I begin to understand why the Bush administration so hesitated to defend itself, from the wild charges being made against its Iraq policy. Commentators, at least on the Right, were pulling their hair in frustration. And even on the pro-Bush Left: Christopher Hitchens told me, the other evening, that the reason he goes to such provocative lengths to defend the U.S. President and his foreign policy is that the guy "doesn't seem to do it himself".

Mr. Hitchens, and Salman Rushdie, though the most famous, are incidentally far from the only supporters the Bush Doctrine has had on the Left. Nor, as Mr. Hitchens is also wont to explain, is President Bush short of enemies on the Old Right, from the Brent Scowcroft Beltway school of "realpolitik", to the isolationist heartland. The view that Americans had better leave tar-babies alone, and that "stability" is the only value they should pursue in the oil-bearing Middle East, is rife not only outside the government, but throughout State Department and CIA. Whereas Mr. Hitchens, who describes himself as "not necessarily not still a Marxist", applauds Bush and Blair for being "on the right side of history", carrying the torch of democracy and secular modernity to the world's most intransigent states.

Neither a Marxist, nor a neoconservative (whatever that means), but still a militant Tory, I don't believe in sides of history. It's just one gigantic palpitating mess beyond the possibility of human comprehension, but we try to make the best of it as we go along. Principles there are, and none are relative, but there is the frequent embarrassment of competing principles, and sorting through their hierarchy of the moment requires something like prudence or tact. From the beginning, a major and sometimes necessarily military effort to eliminate radical Islamism from the available pool of the world's ideological resources, has struck me as both prudent and wise. (It was ditto with Nazism and Communism.)

What I'm getting at here, is that the Bush Doctrine of physical intervention against the worst evils, while seeding democracy on Mesopotamia's irrigated plain, can be defended or attacked from several points of view. The doctrine's principal defence has lain with its author, however, and over the last few years, he has done a good job of keeping it to himself.

In the last week, both Mr. Bush and his vice president have, suddenly, counter-attacked their domestic opponents. They have called the Democrats on the floor of Congress for using facts and arguments against the U.S. intervention in Iraq which are neither true nor, strictly speaking, sane. Their idea that Mr. Bush dragged his unwilling country into war, by means of some fraudulent intelligence data, is absurd. He in fact made good on a Clinton administration policy (get rid of Saddam), and on the basis of pretty much the same murky intelligence we all had. Moreover, many of the same Democrats (and now, a couple of unhinging Republicans) who supported him every step of the way, now claim either they didn't, or they were fooled. Take your pick, either claim is false.

There are other issues clouding the political field; but in the main, the administration's current effort to call the Democrats' bluff has not caused the latter to crawl back into their holes. It has instead driven them further into cloud cuckooland, with the mainstream media chasing behind. It has resulted in a level of shrieking the like of which I cannot recall in the august Senate chamber. And this, perhaps, was the reason Messrs Bush and Cheney hesitated to try it on before. They thought, perhaps, that just "being presidential" might finally carry the day. Better, anyway, than provoking a kind of bipartisan nervous breakdown.

I look at this business from abroad. I note that polls now show the American isolationist impulse being triggered. On both Right and Left, something approaching half the electorate want to take their marbles and go home. For some unaccountable reason, Americans sometimes respond to being abused and slandered all over the world by turning in on themselves. And this, in the present unsettled state of the world in question, would be nearly the worst thing that could happen. It would leave all of America's allies -- corresponding very roughly to the side of the angels -- up a certain creek without a propulsive device.

The world has left the United States to do too much heavy lifting. It is an urgent matter for countries like Canada to stop mouthing off and heave ho.

Copyright 2005 Ottawa Citizen

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