Significance for the Long Run: Developments Last Week

Books about the government's actions from 2001 till 2004 are now pouring from the presses and most of them appear to carry the message that it was worse than we thought. They might help us recall a bedrock principle of history: It's always worse than we think at the time. One of the latest in this series is Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine, the title referring to Dick Cheney's notion that we should take aggressive action against any unfriendly group or nation if there's a one percent chance that it possesses those famous weapons of mass destruction. The relation between Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush is one of the more fascinating subjects of these recent accounts. Suskind says, for example, that in the CIA, Mr. Cheney's nickname was "Edgar," a reference to Edgar Bergen. Those of you who are more than thirty years old can figure out the full implication. How bad it was is one thing. How bad the American people understand it to be is another. At the moment, we don't have an information system that can convey the message widely enough to give it the political force it deserves. The internet is moving in that direction, but the internet has the disadvantage of spreading nonsense just as efficiently as it spreads substantive commentary. Whether the people of the United States can be brought to understand what their government is doing remains the most vital question in the world today.

How do we know it's true that if the United States withdrew its military forces from Iraq the country would descend into bloody chaos? That's the hypothesis which in Washington has become so unchallengeable no one can inquire seriously what might actually happen. No one can ask whether the bloody chaos is being caused by the American presence rather than being damped down by it. At the very least, we ought to be ready to admit that the future is not perfectly predictable. So when a costly policy is based on the perfection of prediction, as the continuing American occupation now is, it's worthwhile to entertain some doubt about it. We know what continues to happen with the occupation. And it's not pretty. So why is it not acceptable to discuss other options? But, then, I suppose we all know the answer to that.

Writing in the Washington Post,  Ruth Marcus bewails the difficulty of keeping indecent material out of the sight and hearing of children. It's amusing that critics of popular culture continue to assume that vulgarity and raw sexuality are somehow divorced from the rest of modern culture and can  be addressed on their own without relating them to politics, education, or intellectual health. It seems beyond the critics' grasp that cheapness  in one aspect of public life begets cheapness in all others. If Ms. Marcus really wants to know why children are besieged with so much nasty stuff, all she has to do is turn on C-Span and listen to the speeches in the U.S. House of Representatives. She'll discover more obscenity there in a week than she can find on Jerry Springer in a year. There's a unity of mind and taste which runs through all areas of life. When it's low, it's low everywhere. If someone wants to know why entertainment is mired in a swamp, he or she should ask why we have political leaders so ill-read they couldn't carry on a conversation even if they could grasp what a conversation is. Ms. Marcus should set George Bush beside Thomas Jefferson in her own mind if she actually wants to think through how we might begin to protect the minds of the nation's youth.

So now the current Republican argument is that even though it may have been wrong to send an army to invade Iraq, and even though the army seems unable to quell the violence and misery in the country, we have to keep it there because to remove it would be to "cut and run." This is to say that no matter how foolish a past action may have been, the United States has to persist in it, spending lives and billions of dollars in the process, because not to persist would be to .... what? If the American people swallow this argument it's hard to imagine what they won't swallow. The issue before the nation is whether the good that the occupation is doing is worth vast treasure and many lives. We hear no convincing argument that it's doing any good at all. Every day it continues it increases the contempt felt for our country all around the world. The American people need to ask themselves this question: why would the forces that are trying to eject the American military from Iraq ever stop fighting? As long as the occupiers are there, they remind young men every day of their own humiliation. The invaders go into any house they want, knock down any door they want, at any hour of the day or night. There is no place the people can bring their grievances and have a chance of being heard fairly. Why would the so-called insurgents ever give up the resistance? I suppose one could argue that if peace came the Americans would leave. But who in Iraq believes that?

We can now all breathe a sigh of relief. The FBI has arrested a gang of clowns who got together in a Miami warehouse and talked about blowing up buildings, led on by an FBI agent who posed as an al Qaeda agent. It's wonderful that such stupendous police work is made known to us by seizing the lead spot on all the evening network news shows. Bob Schieffer, to give him the slight credit he deserves, did show by his facial expressions that he was a bit incredulous. But otherwise, CBS went along with the journalistic mania. Jon Stewart has been saying for years that openly fake news, like the fare of his comedy show, is less fake than the so-called real news is. Polls show that more and more people are believing him, and last night's performance shows us why.

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