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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

From Cakewalk to Quagmire

(Reprinted from the issue of March 30, 2006)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for From Cakewalk to QuagmireAs we enter the fourth year of the Iraq war, President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld continue to insist that it has been a success so far, hinting broadly that we must try this again some time soon in Iran.

The neoconservatives can hardly wait, and they may not have to wait long. Given what an attack on Iran would do to the world oil market, you may want to think about purchasing a new mode of transportation. A horse, perhaps.

Amazing. At least during the Vietnam War, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, even at their most stubborn, never told us we needed an even wider war to go with it. One quagmire at a time was more than enough. Few people would now quarrel with the word “quagmire” to describe the current war. Bush, though, still denies that what is happening in Iraq is a “civil war.”

Nearly everyone else, at this point, is discussing the best way to get out of Iraq and cut our losses, instantly or gradually. Like Social Security and Medicare, this war is turning out to be more costly than even the pessimists predicted. But once again, nobody — nobody in national politics, that is — seems to want to admit its whole premise was wrong and start over. The warfare-welfare state is here to stay for a while longer, until it collapses of its own weight. Bush, even more than Johnson, has seen to that.

I once asked how Bush’s successor will clean up after the mess he is leaving. It seems I was premature. Bush is going to have to cope with his own mess before he leaves office. So far, he is denying that there is any mess. He refuses either to reduce troop levels or to raise taxes to pay for his huge additions to Medicare. Not that taxes should be raised, but he should face the fact that he has committed us to the impossible.

Congress has responded by raising the national debt limit to $8 trillion, thereby passing the cost along to future generations; this is the Republican version of socialism, redistributing wealth from the unborn to the living.

Republicans mocked the licentious Bill Clinton as a child of the sixties, and so he was, but the jeer also suits their spendthrift president, who wants to put everything on the future’s charge card. Most observers have quit asking what Bush’s political philosophy is, since he obviously has none.

When I saw a picture of Bush in New Orleans, using hammer and nails to repair a damaged house, my sense of unreality peaked. I realized it was only a photo-op, as we now say; but the idea of a wartime president pitching in with manual labor.... Perhaps we should take another look at that Constitution.
The Parties

The Democrats would love to capitalize on Bush’s floundering, foundering presidency, but they are still having trouble getting their act together. When Sen. Russ Feingold introduced a motion to censure Bush for his illegal domestic surveillance, but not his conduct of the war itself, they panicked and repudiated the measure; just as Hillary Clinton has criticized the Iraq war while suggesting that something must be done about Iran.

The Republicans are similarly confused. Bush’s approval ratings are just above 30%, his lowest ever, so they want to keep a prudent distance from him, especially on domestic spending; but they also know that his hard core of support is also their base, so repudiating him outright is another matter. November’s midterm elections are coming up.

Lines between — and within — the Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he writes them!two parties have been further confused by the ports deal, illegal immigration, and other issues that stir unpredictable passions but fall outside traditional ideological guidelines.

Then, once again, there are figures like Bill Buckley, who had no sooner enraged neoconservatives by pronouncing the Iraq war a “defeat” than he sought to redeem himself by calling for a military strike against Iran.

But at least Buckley had raised a serious question. Even if you think a war is justified, you have to face the consequences. Buckley thinks the war on Iraq was justified, but says the results have turned out to be more than we can bear. This is a mature distinction, a recognition that optimism has its limits.

Bush and the hawks, on the other hand, argue that because the war is justified, the results can only be good, as long as we “stay the course.” In John Kennedy’s now-hackneyed words, “we will bear any burden, pay any price.”

So Bush sees it as his mission to keep up morale until victory is achieved. Unfortunately, he is not cut out for leadership. That is becoming clearer every week.

Faith in War

Every so often, I get an abusive letter from a reader, who is sometimes a patriot first, a Catholic second, and a logician a distant third, along these lines: “Our brave soldier are fighting in [wherever] to protect the very freedoms, such as freedom of speech, you cowardly peaceniks are abusing.”

Ignore the accusation and examine the premise. This assumes that we owe our freedoms to war, and that our wars, no matter where, defend those freedoms. It is an odd assumption, but it has the status of an American dogma, which we are all expected to accept as an unquestioned article of faith.

Never mind that our freedoms are actually won at home (as in common law and the Bill of Rights), that wars are waged for other reasons, and that the enemy seldom if ever aims to destroy our domestic freedoms. Was Jefferson Davis trying to enslave the North? Was the Kaiser aiming to abolish free speech? Was Manuel Noriega intent on preventing us from worshiping freely? Was Saddam Hussein (or Osama bin Laden) hoping to repeal the Bill of Rights? These questions answer themselves.

And never mind that our freedoms have been most seriously abridged by our own presidents during wartime: Lincoln, Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and now Bush.

Nor can I think of a notable philosopher or theologian who has held that war has any inherent tendency to promote personal liberty. The idea is absurd. Yes, now and then invaders are repelled or occupiers expelled by violence, but these are exceptional cases.

Did our Lord ever celebrate a war? This question answers itself too.

“The measure of the state’s success is that the word anarchy frightens people, while the word state does not” — SOBRANS. If you have not seen my monthly newsletter 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.

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Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2006 by The Wanderer,
the National Catholic Weekly founded in 1867
Reprinted with permission

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