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 A Quagmire of Ideas 

March 16, 2006 
President Bush says we are not only in a war of arms, but “a war of ideas.” And, as I understand it, he figures he’s just Today's column is "A Quagmire of Ideas" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.the man to lead the free world into intellectual combat.

Apart from “democracy,” the president’s idée du jour is that our biggest challenge comes from Iran, whose current leader, a Mr. Ahmadinejad, has his own arsenal of ideas. He says that the state of Israel should be wiped off the map and that the Holocaust didn’t happen, for example. Of course politicians will say anything to get elected, but Bush won’t stand idly by while Ahmadinejad slips dangerous ideas to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The danger to the world is that the War of Ideas will escalate and spread beyond the Middle East.

In wartime, the president, under our Constitution, is not only our chief executive but the commander in chief of our ideas. In this respect, I have to wonder if Bush is quite up to the job. At one time, I thought he might be at least approximately conservative, in a practical sense. No longer.

Frankly, I’ve been disappointed in Bush. It’s always somewhat disappointing when a guy you took for a reasonably functional numbskull turns out to be, in fact, an utterly hapless imbecile. If this is a war of ideas, we’re in for a real quagmire.

Now Bush is reaffirming one of his pet ideas, the idea of preemptive warfare, which he believes has been a stunning success in Iraq. Since he is fond of World War II analogies, he ought to ponder one of its obvious lessons: unintended consequences.

The Japanese preemptive strike on Pearl Harbor, however well-intentioned, failed to prevent Franklin D. Roosevelt from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. On the contrary, he developed them anyway — and he and his successor used them on Tokyo and Hiroshima. If Bush is contemplating a sneak attack on Iran, he might bear this precedent in mind.

[Breaker quote for A Quagmire of Ideas: The endless conflict]Americans have notoriously short attention spans, but other nations have long memories. This week the Ides of March passed unnoticed in this country, but in Ireland it revived, as always, an ancient grudge: Irishmen bitterly remember it as the date on which Brutus and his ilk completely spoiled all Julius Caesar’s plans for St. Patrick’s Day. Brutus later lamely explained that the hit on Caesar was a preemptive strike to save the Republic, but it backfired and resulted in civil war, then in the Roman Empire, headed by rulers every bit as goofy as Bush.

It can’t be repeated often enough: War always brings unintended consequences. Nobody foresaw that the Iraq war would lead to Bush’s claim of intellectual leadership. If we had, there might have been more resistance at the beginning, even from conservatives.

This war has taken a terrible toll on journalists. Some have been killed, and those who survived have had to learn to spell a lot of weird names, such as Ahmadinejad. Many of us — and I think I speak for everyone — have a hard enough time spelling Condoleezza.

Miss Rice, the mushroom cloud lady, is now being touted as a possible successor to Bush in 2008. Though she says she has no plans to seek the presidency, some Republicans think she would be the ideal candidate to counter the Democrats’ favorite at the moment, Hillary Clinton. No doubt this would make for an extremely exciting campaign, and whoever won we would have a historic first: a woman president.

Nobody could complain that there wasn’t “a dime’s worth of difference” between the two candidates. The alternatives would be dramatic. The voters would have to choose between a black spinster and an old white woman married to Bill Clinton. The head spins. Both, of course, would continue the war in Iraq and, probably, Iran.

If elected, Rice could be expected to continue Bush’s other policies, programs, and aspirations, such as putting a man on Mars, weather permitting (the post-Katrina proviso). But it wouldn’t necessarily have to be a man; it could be a minority woman.

As for the War of Ideas, meanwhile, we may never know when we have won it. There would seem to be no middle ground between Bush and Ahmadinejad, and both are very determined men. Maybe the best we can hope for is a costly stalemate.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2006 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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