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Bush, Rumsfeld, and Orwell

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It has long been clear that little of what government leaders say and do makes no sense unless you understand that they think we are idiots, uninformed, or both.

Could there be better evidence than recent remarks by President Bush and Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld?

Let’s start with the much-admired Secretary Rumsfeld. He was asked the other day whether a U.S. attack on Iraq would provoke terrorism against Americans. With his strong, set jaw, steely eyes, and slight, arrogant smile, he said something very close to this: We were attacked on 9/11 when we weren’t at war with Iraq.

One problem: Since 1991 there has not been a time when the U.S. government was not at war with Iraq.

John Laughland of the London Spectator reports from Baghdad that U.S. and British forces have flown 4,000 bombing missions in northern and southern Iraq since 1998. (That’s after “dropping … the equivalent of six or seven Hiroshimas-worth of ordnance” during the open war.) The official position is that these sorties enforce the “no-fly” zones, that is, the parts of Iraq that the United States, without anyone’s authorization, says the Iraqi government may not patrol from the sky. Are these surgical missions to strike military installations? That’s what the U.S. government says. In a fascinating piece of Orwell-speak, the government refers to the “provocative use” of Iraqi anti-aircraft weapons. If the United States flies offensive warplanes over Iraq, that’s not provocative. But if Iraq activates defensive anti-aircraft weapons, that is provocative.

Back to the surgical nature of the missions. We need a new surgeon. Laughland says he’s told by regular people on the ground that “half a dozen people or so are injured every week in these raids.” The Iraqi government is too secretive to say anything about this.

The upshot is that President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld are not planning to go to war with Iraq. They and their predecessors have been making war on Iraq for more than a decade without a break. All they are planning to do now is intensify the war and put it back in the headlines.

I’m waiting for one of the “fair and balanced” 24-hour cable news networks to give it to us straight. Maybe if they did that (more than once and not at 2 in the morning), Secretary Rumsfeld might choose his words more carefully.

Mr. Bush’s words, on the other hand, are apparently chosen most carefully. He seems to be using as his text George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. This book is revered for many reasons. But an underappreciated virtue of the novel is that it illustrates how foreign policy is effectively used to manipulate the domestic population. Readers recall how in that society, allies became enemies, and enemies allies, overnight, with nary a reference to their former status. Sound familiar? H.L. Mencken, the keen observer of the political scene understood the game: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

Mr. Bush is beginning to master the lingo. When he was asked whether Congress would approve his request for a resolution authorizing force, he said, “If you want to keep the peace, you’ve got to have the authorization to use force.” He’s more wordy than the ubiquitous slogan in Orwell’s dystopia: “War is Peace.”

If this sounds cynical, be reminded that the draft resolution Mr. Bush sent to Congress was not just about Iraq. It was a blank check to let him use force broadly. Here’s the relevant passage: “to use all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force, in order to enforce … United Nations Security Council resolutions … defend the national security interests of the United States against the threat posed by Iraq, and restore international peace and security to the region.”

Restore international peace and security to the region? Could the language be broader? This authorization would be Napoleonic in its dimensions.

It’s not what the Constitution’s Framers had in mind when they gave Congress the power to declare war.

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.