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Taking Care of Peewee

October 15, 2002

Who can forget Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz? Frustrated in his attack on the other characters, he threatens Dorothy’s little dog, Toto: “I’ll take care of you anyway, Peewee!”

President Bush reminds one of the Cowardly Lion. Unable to make headway against the al- Qaeda terrorists, he figures he can at least take care of a Peewee, Saddam Hussein — that supposed “threat” whose military forces are at a fraction of their strength in 1991, when they were badly mauled.

The perverse genius of al-Qaeda is that it doesn’t depend on any single state for support. Even if it has some ties to states, including Iraq, that doesn’t mean that destroying those states will seriously hamper its operations.

Millions of people in and around Washington, D.C., have just learned how much panic and disruption a single murderous sniper can create, baffling the combined forces of the District, Virginia, and Maryland.

If one lone terrorist, without support from Iraq, can wreak such havoc locally, imagine the difficulty of defeating terrorism globally.

Even if the task is impossible, we can count on our rulers to pretend they’re winning the War on Terrorism. Writing in the London magazine The Spectator, Matthew Parris offers some shrewd tips on how to tell when the government and the media are bluffing us.

First, look for imputations of guilt by association. “Watch for the use of terms like ‘linked,’ ‘possible links to,’ to beef up a thin story. Slyly employed, such words suggest a hard link where only a soft association exists.”

Second, beware of reports of “front” associations, again suggesting concrete links where there are none.

Third, look for “the slither from sympathy to ‘sympathizer.’” Parris notes: “I once wrote that we should try to understand the grievances motivating terrorists, so I may find myself called ‘an al-Qaeda sympathizer.’” Or “supporter,” or “apologist.”

[Breaker quote: The Iraqi "threat"]Fourth, watch out for news reports trumpeting the capture of “key” figures — or “ringleaders,” “henchmen,” “organizers,” who usually turn out to be nobodies.

Fifth, notice “big-sounding stories which mysteriously vanish.” Again, we are often told that the government has made a “breakthrough” in the War on Terrorism, but the other shoe never seems to fall. The initial impression is that the government is succeeding, yet nothing comes of it.

Sixth, be alert for “‘security’ as a justification for the apparent death of a story.” Has anything really been learned from all those “crack troops” being held in cages in Cuba? We’ll never know. But the Pentagon can always claim the information gleaned from captives, however meager, is too “sensitive” to publish.

Maybe neither we nor the government has any real idea of how well the War on Terrorism is going, but the persistent official use of slippery, evasive, even meaningless language isn’t encouraging. We aren’t being informed with the respect due to mature people who deserve the unvarnished truth. Instead, we’re being treated like the dupes of advertising hype — like kids being sold on the latest sugared and dyed breakfast cereal.

Bush keeps insisting that the stakes in his prospective Iraq war are very high, but neither he nor anyone else acts as if this were true. If Saddam Hussein really poses an “imminent threat” to the United States, why isn’t the president urging us to take precautions to protect ourselves?

During the Cold War, when Americans truly feared a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union, schoolchildren were taught to take civil-defense measures, radio stations broadcast practice alerts several times daily, and people built bomb shelters in their yards. No such preparations are being made now against Iraq.

Of course we don’t have to go back to the Fifties for pertinent precedents. Immediately after the events of 9/11, we became obsessed with security and took countless steps, at a cost of billions, to frustrate or avert more terrorist attacks. We still do.

So why aren’t we also bracing ourselves for an Iraqi attack? Why isn’t the government requiring or even advising us to do so? The answer is all too obvious: because nobody believes an Iraqi attack is coming — least of all Bush.

That tells you how seriously the president himself takes the “threat” which, he insists, justifies his “preemptive” war.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2002 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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of Griffin Internet Syndicate

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