An Honest Mistake
February 3, 2004
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man
is king. Ive always loved that ancient saying, whose author
seems to be unknown.
But in the age of democracy, it
needs to be adapted: In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man
loses every election. Not quite as snappy, maybe, but it meets the
By now every blind American has
heard that arms inspector David Kay has exploded the Bush
administrations justification for preemptive war on, and regime
change in, Iraq: the dogmatic accusation that Iraq had weapons of
mass destruction. One-eyed Americans doubted it all along.
Of course the U.S. Government
and its chief allies have those weapons, which is why they arent
called by their right name: weapons of mass murder. And its a bit
odd for the one government that has actually dropped nuclear weapons on
cities to claim exclusive moral authority to decide who else is worthy to
But never mind all that. The Bush
administration and its supportive cadres of neoconservative war nerds
insisted that there was no doubt whatever that Saddam Hussein had such
weapons and was prepared to use them; Britains Prime Minister
Tony Blair said they could be deployed within 45 minutes. It was urgent to
act. The risks of inaction are greater than the risks of
action, said Vice President Dick Cheney, action meaning
Well, there appeared to be
virtually no risk for the administration; a quick U.S. military victory was
a foregone conclusion. Who knew that after the war, a U.S. arms inspector
would find that Saddam Hussein was telling the truth, while George W.
Bush was lying?
Lying? Well, Bushs
apologists are now trying to pass it off as an innocent error. He was
misled by the Central Intelligence Agency and other
intelligence services, and he made the only decision he could have made in
the circumstances. Bush himself still insists that the war was justified.
Pardon me, but when you pretend to have a certainty you
dont have about so serious a matter as war, you are lying. Bush left
no room for doubt. He didnt say, According to our best
intelligence, Iraq has weapons of mass murder and is prepared to use them
on us. Of course we cant be absolutely sure, but we cant
afford to take chances. He made the unqualified assertion that
there was no alternative to war.
Millions of people around the
world, without privileged knowledge of that best
intelligence, disputed this. They didnt believe that Saddam
Hussein had those weapons or would be lunatic enough to use them. And
they mistrusted Bush and Blair.
So are these great war leaders
apologizing for an unnecessary and aggressive war, the kind that once sent
German and Japanese dignitaries to the gallows? At this point we must
make a fine distinction: the Nuremberg principles were never meant to be
applied to the victors.
No. Hey, honest mistake! Bush has
now agreed to an official investigation to help him find out who was
pulling his leg about those alleged weapons. It wasnt
his idea. He only works here. He was just following his
advisors. Anyway, weve brought democracy to Iraq. Isnt
that the important thing?
But Bush cant afford to
blame, and ax, CIA chief George Tenet, the Man Who Knows Too Much. Maybe
well soon hear that Tenet too was only following his
Now even the most skeptical
opponent of the Iraq war must deal with the fact that Bush, Blair, and
their cabal were lying even more brazenly than anyone, except maybe Noam
Chomsky, dared suggest. We assumed that they must know
something we didnt, or why would they risk a raw
deception that would blow up in their faces if those weapons
Now we know there were no
weapons to find. Saddam Hussein didnt have enough materiel to
deter, or even impede, an American invasion. The sad sack dictator may be
shocked to learn how harmless he actually was. But thats why
hes the one who will be tried for crimes against humanity.
And what about little Ali Abbas, the
boy who lost his entire family and both arms when an American missile hit his
Baghdad home? Well, hell have the consolation of living in a
democracy. When hes a little older, hell be able to vote, if
he can hold a pencil in his teeth.