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Jewish World Review June 9, 2003 / 9 Sivan, 5763

James Lileks

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America's new mission was and remains: Extirpating the flaming nutballs and the societies that nurture them | It would be nice to find the weapons of mass destruction.

As many have pointed out, we haven't found Saddam Hussein either, but that doesn't mean he didn't exist. We haven't found his doubles -- although it's possible they're all concealed with masks, passing themselves off as understudies for the Baghdad production of "Phantom of the Opera."

Nor have we found the sons. Supposedly one of them is in the Baghdad suburbs, negotiating for his surrender, but that could be one of the son's doubles. We may open a sewer grate some day and a hundred Udays will pour forth like the myriad Agent Smiths in the recent "Matrix" movie.

Does the failure to find WMD mean we were handed a sack of lies?

Nope. The administration was clear from the get-go: Iraq was part of the Axis, and the Axis had to go down. Each part would be sundered as circumstances permitted. The destruction of the fascist regime in Baghdad would be the object lesson for the region, the proof that America had a new mission: Extirpating the flaming nutballs and the societies that nurture them.

Of course, that was not how the war was sold. Because the administration sought U.N. approval, the issue became enforcement of U.N. resolutions -- and those had to do with disarmament. Because the Bush team sought a greater moral legitimacy, it also phrased the war in terms of liberation, and removing a government with ties to terrorism.

Good reasons, all. But the invasion wouldn't have happened without Sept. 11. George W. Bush's Iraq policy would have been another round of sanctions, scowlings and pinprick reprisals. You want to blame the war on someone, blame Osama bin Laden.

Oh how nice, you say. Look, we were told that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Saddam was a threat, Paul Wolfowitz rescued Jessica Lynch using a Jedi-Knight lightsaber. Lies! All lies! Storm the White House with pitchfork and torches, friends -- it's impeachment time!

Calm down. Would the Republicans be harping on the WMD issue if Clinton had invaded Iraq -- and found nothing after six weeks? Probably.

In the '90s they had the same political tin ears as the Democrats have today. There was a time when Bill Clinton could have been photographed sacrificing goats in an Oval Office Black Mass, and he would have gotten a pass. The Republicans would have worked themselves into a goggle-eyed fury -- People! Don't you see? Goats! Upside-down cross! Brimstone all over the carpets!

Same thing here.

There is little political capital to be gained with the vast middle-of-the-road electorate. The Bush-haters would be convinced that secret Halliburton operatives planted any WMD the allies find. The pro-Bush side claims they really aren't bothered by the absence of large caches stamped SMALLPOX -- FOR EXPORT ONLY, but they are quietly rooting for the inspectors to find something besides the two Winnebagos of Death so far uncovered.

The middle of America, those who could vote either way, have moved on. Job well done; mission accomplished. The relatively low death toll, the subsequent discovery of mass graves, the horror stories now pouring forth, and the overhyping of all the postwar travails have left them in no mood to carp.

Press them on the issue, and they believe the WMD will turn up somewhere. Under the sofa, perhaps. Maybe they rolled under the fridge. Weapons of mass destruction, car keys -- they're always in the last place you look.

In the long run, it's not what we don't find in Iraq. It's what doesn't happen.

No more mass executions. No new prisons for children. No bonus checks for the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. No Terrorism 101 classes at Salman Pak. No electrodes applied to the daughter of a man who talked to CNN. No daily potshots at allied aircraft. No sudden sluice of fear in the hearts of the Kurds when the government trucks appear on the horizon. No miserable thuggish satrapy in the middle of the Middle East, thumbing its nose at the United Nations and the United States.

Come election time 2004, the Iraqi oil proceeds will not be going to secret Swiss accounts named Chick Daney and Ronald Dumsfeld. They'll be going to the people of Iraq. We won't be arguing about losing the peace in Iraq.

We'll be arguing about losing the peace in Iran. But that's another story. For another presidential term.

JWR contributor James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


06/03/03: The Constitution as gag order
05/23/03: Sometimes the theme of world events is chaos itself
05/16/03: Newspapers are only human, after all
05/13/03: What McCarthy messed up
05/06/03: Still think the International Criminal Court was a good idea?
04/03/03: The world is ending, the world is ending! Doesn't anybody care!? Why won't anybody listen!?
03/14/03: Kerry and the Dems are banking on American electorate's tendancy to forget history
02/28/03: Roadmap to peace?
02/13/03: We live in an age where the poet has been cast out from the halls of power --- sob, sob
02/10/03: Found: League for International Justice and Peace talking points
01/30/03: The US can go to war whenever it likes for its own reasons, and all the UN can do is pass more worthless paper
01/23/03: People who'd volunteer for the Iraqi army if they saw Saddam wearing a "Free Mumia" button
01/16/03: One of those head vs. heart things
12/27/02: Whistleblowers?
01/06/02: The second year of this jangled millennium
11/16/01: Attack of the 'Patriotism police' and other Hollywood fare
11/12/01: From the bleats of dismay
10/30/01: Osama and the Genie
10/08/01: "We can stop the Bush Death Juggernaut"
11/04/01: America, loathe or it leave it
09/25/01: Do the Europeans actually think that the war on murderous zealotry will be furthered by undercutting America?
08/27/01: If the economy is in a funk, why aren't we dancing?
08/14/01: Dubyah's embarrassing presidential vacation
08/10/01: Hail to our co-chiefs?
08/03/01: Constitution: George the Uniter picked a doozy to unify detractors
07/25/01: The real reason why we need missile defense (What those uppity policy wonks won't tell you!)
06/18/01: Paining the egalitarian soul
06/01/01: One of the stranger indexes you'll ever hear about
05/21/01: One man's toke is another man's snort
05/08/01: Republicans want poisoned water
04/23/01: We bleat as we're sheared
04/10/01: Boys will be boys. And that's the problem
04/06/01: Pity the anti-American Left, they're gonna have a hard time on this one
03/26/01: You've been warned
03/16/01: The GOP's inexplicable desire to fold
02/23/01: Will the Jeb Bush administration attack Saddam in 2011?
02/09/01: In search of the the first ashtray thrown by a member of the First Family
02/06/01: Can you say 'Ayatollah Bush'?
01/24/01: The new Executive Orders
01/22/01: Hey, Dubya: Wanna save Ashcroft? Teach him to rap!
01/09/01: Bubba gets his last licks
01/05/01: The low-down on the coming recession (What those snooty economists won't tell you)
12/23/00: Memo to Dubya: Wanna show who is boss? Nuke 'em!
12/06/00: The Count of Carthage
At the Sore/Loserman Transition HQ
12/01/00: The Count of Carthage
11/28/00: Clinton knows history isn't written by the victors anymore
11/17/00: Chad's the word
11/08/00: The strangest political night
11/07/00: Get ready to return to the Dark Ages

© 2003, James Lileks