Wanderer Logo

Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

The War President

(Reprinted from the issue of October 2, 2003)

Capitol BldgConservatives have long put a premium on defense and national security, especially since the Soviet Union acquired nuclear weapons shortly after World War II. The American nuclear monopoly proved unnervingly short-lived. To make matters worse, the U.S. government had been penetrated by Soviet agents and spies, thanks in large part to Franklin Roosevelt’s strange affection for Joseph Stalin; and the Soviets managed to acquire the awful weapons partly by espionage.

This gave rise to the so-called McCarthy Era, which liberals recall as a period of national hysteria and paranoia — as if there had been nothing for Americans to worry about. That was a wild distortion, but it’s true that fear of the Soviets and their little helpers bred some bad habits that have outlasted the Soviet Union itself.

When it came to defense issues, conservatives forgot their old reservations about big government. They tended to be as reflexively supportive of anything the federal government did in the name of “the common defense” as liberals were about anything it did in the name of “the general welfare.” The result was the fantastic growth of a welfare-warfare state, as both sides got what they wanted.

As the Cold War faded into the past, military spending began to dwindle, while “social” spending kept expanding. That trend changed suddenly with the astonishing and appalling terrorist attacks of 9/11. The new Republican administration became as hawkish as any of its predecessors in order to wage a vaguely defined war on terrorism. Old militaristic habits and poses seemed urgent again.

Just as John Kennedy — a hawkish Democrat — had pledged to “pay any price, bear any burden” in the “twilight struggle” for freedom, so George W. Bush set aside any sense of measure about the cost of defeating the new enemy. Once again, the purported stake was freedom itself, even if it wasn’t clear how stateless terrorists could imperil the freedom of Americans. The enemy was all the more frightening for being hard to identify with any precision.

Guided by a few neoconservative intellectuals (there were no neoconservative masses), President Bush soon found a sitting target: Iraq. The regime of Saddam Hussein was said to pose a terrible threat to the free world, possibly a nuclear threat; it was said to be a terrible tyranny (like the Soviet Union) and to possess “weapons of mass destruction” (also like the Soviet Union). Bush also implied that Iraq was harboring and abetting terrorists and had something to do with the events of 9/11. Destroying the hateful regime was an imperative of both national survival and morality.

Bush never wavered on the evil and the acute danger of Saddam’s reign. For many months he, his spokesmen, and his supporters in the media stressed the urgency of making war and effecting regime change. Only good could come of the proposed war; it would bring democracy not only to Iraq, but to other Arab and Muslim states in the Mideast. Costs? They were hardly considered. The United States must pay any price, bear any burden. And though the administration was prepared to make war with or without the approval of the United Nations, it repeatedly offered as a reason and justification for war Saddam’s defiance of UN resolutions.

The lasting horror of 9/11 and the administration’s headlong insistence on war disarmed skepticism. Republicans were nearly unanimously pro-war; Democrats were afraid to oppose it, fearing the stigma of being unpatriotic or even anti-American. France, Germany, and other old Cold War allies were reviled and derided for anti-Americanism, appeasement, and other sins for their refusal to back the war. Neoconservative partisans of Israel were even more vociferous and uninhibited on these themes than the administration was. But to mention Israel’s interest in having the U.S. knock off its chief enemy — an interest that was hardly concealed — was to court the usual charges of anti-Semitism.

Finally, in March of this year, the war began. The U.S. victory was swift and easy — even the “cakewalk” the hawks had predicted. Saddam Hussein fled, believed dead for weeks (though he was apparently only in hiding). He used no weapons of mass destruction; if he had ever had any, they weren’t found. But Bush insisted they would turn up eventually; and in the meantime he basked in victory, making a triumphal appearance on an aircraft carrier wearing a flight suit. Cheering crowds welcomed American troops into Baghdad.

Throughout all this, the terrorists — specifically Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda — were nearly forgotten. They played no visible part in the war. Most Americans who favored the war believed that Saddam had been behind the 9/11 attacks in some way; the administration never quite alleged that he had, but it never denied it, thereby allowing people to think so. (One poll found that many Americans were unsure of the difference between Saddam Hussein and bin Laden.)

But it turned out that the Bush administration had no clear plan for the postwar occupation of Iraq. Contrary to its optimistic predictions, seized Iraqi oil assets haven’t begun to cover the costs of ruling the defeated country; Bush has already been forced to ask Congress for an additional $87 billion for the purpose. Guerrilla resistance, suicide bombings, sabotage, and killings of American troops, UN personnel, and native collaborators have turned the occupation into a headache of daily frustration. Power has not yet been transferred to the American-installed Iraqi Governing Council and won’t be soon. The promised democracy remains remote.

It now appears that Iraq was never a threat to the United States, and it’s hard to understand why anyone could ever have believed that it was. Any connection between war on Iraq and war on terrorism seems extremely tenuous.

The whole operation is turning out to be extremely expensive, and it’s hard to see what, if anything, has been gained. “Liberation” is hardly an apt description for what the restive Iraqis are feeling; even the Bush “victory” is far from complete. The projected total cost of the war and occupation are staggering, bringing the prospect of colossal federal deficits for years to come. Bush is trying to win international cooperation for the occupation, but he has alienated too many foreign governments.
Change of Fortune

Most striking of all, Bush’s own popularity is diving. New polls find him trailing several of the Democrats who seek to run against him in 2004. Only a few weeks ago his supporters giddily believed his military victory would make him politically invincible next year. Now the Democrats are pretending they opposed the war all along. Even the Clintons are players again, fanning the candidacy of Gen. Wesley Clark, who is unlikely to win but could pave the way for Hillary to step into the race.

Even loyal Republicans are finally having qualms. They are discovering that military boondoggles can be every bit as costly and ruinous as domestic social programs. And as it sinks in that American national security and survival were never at risk, the thrill of seeming victory has worn off and the public is finding the aftertaste very bitter.

It’s a startling change of fortune for a president who so recently had the country united behind him. George Bush may yet join his father as a successful war president whose greatest triumph couldn’t guarantee him a second term.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by The Wanderer
Reprinted with permission.

Washington Watch
Archive Table of Contents

Return to the SOBRANS home page
Send this article to a friend.

Recipient’s e-mail address:
(You may have multiple e-mail addresses; separate them by spaces.)

Your e-mail address

Enter a subject for your e-mail:

Mailarticle © 2001 by Gavin Spomer


The Wanderer is available by subscription. Write for details.

SOBRANS and Joe Sobran’s columns are available by subscription. Details are available on-line; or call 800-513-5053; or write Fran Griffin.

FGF E-Package columns by Joe Sobran, Sam Francis, Paul Gottfried, and others are available in a special e-mail subscription provided by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. Click here for more information.

Search This Site

Search the Web     Search SOBRANS

What’s New?

Articles and Columns by Joe Sobran
 FGF E-Package “Reactionary Utopian” Columns 
  Wanderer column (“Washington Watch”) 
 Essays and Articles | Biography of Joe Sobran | Sobran’s Cynosure 
 The Shakespeare Library | The Hive
 WebLinks | Books by Joe 
 Subscribe to Joe Sobran’s Columns 

Other FGF E-Package Columns and Articles
 Sam Francis Classics | Paul Gottfried, “The Ornery Observer” 
 Mark Wegierski, “View from the North” 
 Chilton Williamson Jr., “At a Distance” 
 Kevin Lamb, “Lamb amongst Wolves” 
 Subscribe to the FGF E-Package 

Products and Gift Ideas
Back to the home page 

This page is copyright © 2003 by The Vere Company
and may not be reprinted in print or
Internet publications without express permission
of The Vere Company.