On Oct. 19, 2005, the American secretary of state, AKA the Tea Lady, did something extraordinary for the Bush administration. She told the truth. According to the Oct. 20 Washington Times, in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ms. Rice said “that it was always the Bush administration’s intent to redesign the Middle East after the September 11 attacks, which exposed a ‘deep malignancy growing’ in the region, and that the Iraq was part of that plan.”
Well. There we have it. It’s now official: Saddam’s eternally elusive weapons of mass destruction were just eyewash. The decision to invade Iraq came first, and the various contrived justifications came after. Those Iraqi WMD were as real as Polish attacks on Germany in 1939, and as cynical. The cynicism is, if anything, ever more brazen: Herr Ribbentrop never testified to the Reichstag that “Polish aggression” was just a setup, even if everyone knew.
Does it matter? To the American press and people, apparently not. Miss Rice’s official confirmation of everyone’s suspicions got virtually no coverage. After all, the NFL season has started.
But in other respects, I think it does matter. It matters, first, because it reveals this administration’s utter cynicism, a cynicism born of the neocons, who seldom met a lie they didn’t like. In effect, Ms. Rice testified, “Yeah, we lied. So what?”
Well, beyond 2,000 dead and 15,000 wounded, so cavalier an attitude toward the truth suggests the lies have probably continued. As they have: the administration routinely engages in (illegal) domestic propaganda, puffing anything it can call a “success” in Iraq while classifying or otherwise burying the bad news. The latest example is the spin on the Iraqi constitutional referendum. The Bushies are hailing it an “another victory of democracy,” when in fact the outcome could not have been worse. The Sunnis pulled out all their stops and still lost, telling them the system is stacked so heavily against them that they have no political future. Where ballots fail, bullets still offer promise.
Another reason the WMD lie matters is that the real reason the administration invaded Iraq, “to redesign the Middle East,” reveals (officially) a truly breathtaking hubris, coupled to a monumental ignorance of the region in question. Redesign the Middle East? What do the Bushies think it is, a Chevrolet?
At it happens, the war in Iraq is redesigning the Middle East, but not exactly in a planned fashion. Just as the calling of the Estates General in 1789 opened the door to the French Revolution, so the American destruction of the Iraqi state has opened the door to a broader collapse of the state system in that region, an outcome the administration is now pushing in Syria as well. Osama, sitting in his cave, no doubt continues to thank Allah for President George W. Bush.
Finally, the official revelation, in congressional testimony no less, that the Bush administration’s motto is “Lies ‘R’ Us” will matter politically, as the American people begin to come to grips with the fact of a lost war. That may happen by the elections of 2006; it will certainly happen by 2008. It is safe to say that the public will not be happy, and the realization that they were lied into the lost war won’t make them any happier. As Republican members of Congress are beginning to realize, the blowback may be of historic proportions. Anyone seen any Whigs lately? (The fact that the Democrats continue to offer a profile in cowardice on the war might even open the door to a serious third party, God willing. There have to be some real, small-R republicans out there still.)
And so Wilsonianism will come full circle. Wilson lied America into World War I, with fables of German soldiers bayoneting Belgian babies. The result was Lenin, Hitler, and World War II. But the experience did give America a lesson in minding her own business and, for a time, a foreign policy for Americans (first). This time, Wilsonianism will give us a vastly disordered Middle East, the greatest Islamic victory since the fall of Constantinople, and oil prices that might make the Trabant America’s best-selling car. Will it also give us, again, a foreign policy for Americans, as Senator Robert A. Taft put it? We can hope, we can hope.