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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

Things We Don’t Know

(Reprinted from the issue of February 19, 2004)

Capitol BldgEven supporters of the Iraq war were disappointed by President Bush’s lame performance in his heralded interview with NBC’s Tim Russert. It wasn’t that Russert asked tough questions; he lobbed softballs and didn’t follow up on Bush’s inadequate replies.

In particular, Bush wasn’t asked to explain his repeated warnings that Iraq posed a nuclear threat to the United States, that “the smoking gun might take the form of a mushroom cloud.” That kind of talk, though it may now sound absurd, was well pitched to drive an already nervous country into war hysteria.

Neither Bush nor Russert raised the issue. Instead, Bush merely repeated his theme that Saddam Hussein was a “madman” without explaining why this made him a threat to America or justified an unprecedented pre-emptive war.

In his own speech a day before this interview was taped, CIA director George Tenet also avoided the topic of nuclear weapons. With calculated vagueness, he tried to exculpate himself and Bush at the same time. He stressed that gathering intelligence is always an iffy business, seldom “completely right or completely wrong.”

This left us to wonder how Bush and his spokesmen could claim such absolute certainty about Saddam’s arsenal and intentions. Every indication was that Iraq was weak and in no mood for even another invasion of tiny Kuwait. But we were asked to disregard this commonsense view precisely because the president “knows things that we don’t.”

This venerable cliché applies to every president. After all, Bill Clinton also knew things we didn’t. Important information is always withheld from us on grounds of “national security”; official secrets from World War II are still being kept from the American public. We are left to speculate on the honor and judgment of any given president. Is he dealing honestly with us? And even if he is, can we trust his judgment?

We are now being distracted from these questions by the question whether Bush himself was the victim of “faulty intelligence.” And even that question is being focused on the CIA, when he may also have been misled by British and neocon intelligence — or disinformation.

So totally is an automatic pro-war stance now equated with conservatism that I’ve grown accustomed to e-mail accusing me of being a “liberal” and “Democrat” for opposing the Iraq war. How could any conservative be against any war? Are “peace on earth” and “blessed are the peacemakers” now considered left-wing slogans?

Bush doesn’t comprehend that the statist revolution (as I say, nobody seems to have found an adequate term for it) is very far advanced, and it is driven by both “leftist” and “rightist” forces, among others, who favor the continued expansion of the state into every nook and cranny of our lives. Bush in his own way is helping advance it further; so will John Kerry, if he’s elected to replace Bush.

Kerry is currently riding high, winning one Democratic primary after another simply because he’s the anti-Bush. He’s tough, he’s articulate, and his record as a decorated Vietnam veteran makes Bush’s bravado shrivel into a silly pose, especially considering his dubious record in the National Guard. Even if Bush is telling the truth about what he did in the past, the National Guard was well known in those days as a safe alternative to going to Vietnam — not exactly credentials for a future war president.

Whether they realize it or not, conservatives will face a miserable choice in a Bush-Kerry race. They may choose to pretend that Kerry is so much worse that it’s imperative to re-elect Bush, but superficial differences on “issues” — even abortion or same-sex unions — won’t affect the deeper currents of the state’s momentum.

What we face, either way, is a continuation of what C.S. Lewis called “the abolition of man,” a process Lewis saw, even during World War II, as being promoted by “mild-mannered” democrats and Communists as well as by the Nazis. Today, even without Communists and Nazis, the process continues under Democratic and Republican, “liberal,” “moderate,” and “conservative,” auspices.

Even nominal conservatives now call for centralized state power to enforce their “values.” This has become a well-nigh universal reflex.

Bereft of his obsessive pre-war theme of “weapons of mass destruction,” Bush now keeps repeating that Saddam’s undoubted cruelty was sufficient reason for an allegedly defensive and “pre-emptive” war on a country that hadn’t attacked or threatened the United States. He won’t even admit that this was a radical new departure in foreign policy, or that it has cost this country dearly in the respect and admiration of people around the world, possibly making us new enemies and causing future wars. Will other governments, given the American example, now refrain from pre-emptive military action?

Conservatives who still don’t see the connection between war and the growth of state power should read Paul Fussell’s modern classic, Wartime, which, in rich and readable detail, shows the real everyday cost of World War II. Fifteen years after I first read it, it continues to shock me, not only in its vivid depiction of combat, but in its keen observations about how Americans willingly gave up daily freedoms and deeper traditions in the belief that they were merely being “patriotic.”

To this day, Franklin Roosevelt’s war measures are cited as models — admirable, not regrettable — for how the state should treat not only the enemy population but even its own citizens during wartime. Bush’s supporters actually praise him for emulating Roosevelt! Yet as Fussell shows, these wartime policies, not only German and Soviet totalitarianism, helped inspire George Orwell’s nightmare of 1984.

One of the most dreadful parts of that nightmare is the state’s rewriting of the past and the historical amnesia of its subjects, which makes them easy to whip into fury against the alleged enemy — even if he doesn’t really exist. Sound familiar? Big Brother always knows things we don’t, and he likes to keep it that way.
New Allies

The official “conservative” press has made the Iraq war such a high priority that it even welcomes the bitterly anti-Christian leftist Christopher Hitchens, best known for his obscene ridicule of Mother Teresa, to its pages simply because he favors the war. He tries to straddle the awkward ideological chasm by calling the enemy “Islamofascism,” whatever that means, and however it may apply to the notoriously impious Saddam Hussein.

In his mocking attack on Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ in the March issue of Vanity Fair, Hitchens charges that the film is “only pseudo-realistic” because its “heart-throb Jesus ... doesn’t shriek or beg or defecate during his martyrdom.” He also blames the Church for anti-Semitism and for torturing and murdering “millions and millions of non-Christians and heretical Christians.”

Hitchens doesn’t explain how he knows what “really” happened during the crucifixion, or where he gets his other historical “facts” and statistics. Presumably these are just things “everyone knows.” At any rate, his new Judeo-Christian allies don’t seem to mind his opinions on either Christianity or Judaism (which he also ridicules).

The war must be awfully important to them.

Speaking of C.S. Lewis, my monthly newsletter, SOBRANS traces the state’s constant attacks on Christianity itself, unnoticed by conventional journalism. If you have not seen it yet, give my office a call at 800-513-5053 and request a free sample, or better yet, subscribe for two years for just $85. New subscribers get two gifts with their subscription. More details can be found at the Subscription page of my website.

Already a subscriber? Consider a gift subscription for a priest, friend, or relative.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2004 by The Wanderer
Reprinted with permission.

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