Sobran's -- The Real News of the Month

 Two Monsters 

August 10, 2004 
President Bush is criticizing John Kerry, and for once he has a good point. Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.Kerry has said he’d have voted for war on Iraq even if he’d known no weapons of mass destruction would be found. This is an even more radical position than Bush has taken: it claims the right of preemptive attack against a country that poses no threat to the United States.

Bush at least held that such a threat existed. Many of us didn’t believe that, but supposing it was true, it was a plausible reason for war. Kerry now asserts a more arbitrary right to make war — only days after telling the Democratic convention, in a great applause line, that the United States must never make war because it wants to, but only because it has to. Now we are left to wonder why he thinks we had to make war on a country that couldn’t attack us.

So, less than three months before the election, we still don’t know where Kerry stands on the most urgent issue before us. All the Democrats’ convention really told us is that several of his fellow Vietnam vets and one hamster owe him their lives.

We don’t really know where Bush stands either. Does he think he already has Congress’s authority to make war on Iran, another member of his “axis of evil,” if he should deem this necessary to his “war on terror”? Probably so; but even if not, he can be confident that in any case the Republican Congress wouldn’t oppose him, let alone impeach him, if he enlarged the war. But would he dare to do it?

In laying the groundwork for the Iraq war, Bush stipulated impossible conditions for Iraq to prove it was no threat to the United States. He made it clear that there would be war even if arms inspectors, given complete access, should find nothing. The mere absence of evidence of a threat would be interpreted as proof that Saddam Hussein had somehow hidden his arsenal. It was “Heads we win, tails you lose.” Now Kerry is saying, in effect, “You didn’t even have to flip the coin.”

[Breaker quote: Kerry adds to the confusion.]In reckoning the costs of war, both candidates look at only one side of the ledger: the possible costs to the United States in blood and treasure. The costs to the “enemy” — in innocent lives, for example — don’t count. Both candidates should be forced to say clearly, before the election, whether they favor war on Iran. Of course, given the political risks of saying yes, both can be expected to say no. But at least they should have to say it for the record.

The American public now accepts these amoral calculations. An unjustified war is mass murder, but few politicians think of it that way. Most care only whether it will be popular by the time of the next election. Bush says he never lets the polls influence his decisions, which, if true, would make him unique among politicians; and of course it isn’t true. It’s ludicrously false. Both parties do their own polling, which they have refined to a science. Every public statement the candidates make reflects what their pollsters are telling them.

There are some politicians who are guided not by the polls, but by their consciences and unalterable principles. They are called “third-party candidates.” The media ignore them and it goes without saying that they will lose. They merit attention only when they get enough support to affect the outcome of the two-party struggle, as Ralph Nader did in 2000 and may do again this year.

It’s one of the amusing features of our system that a really principled candidate always causes outrage when he threatens to make a real difference through sheer democratic appeal. This system has no room for principle. That’s why Bush and Kerry are the two big parties’ anointed candidates.

A forthcoming movie pits two great film monsters against each other: Alien vs. Predator, I believe it’s called, in the great screen tradition of King Kong vs. Godzilla. The ear-splitting trailer promises apocalyptic excitement, but as I watched it the other day I couldn’t help feeling that, as the old saying goes, I don’t have a dog in this fight.

That’s also pretty much the way I feel about the Bush-Kerry race, especially as Fay Wray has passed on without endorsing either candidate.

Joseph Sobran

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