Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Gene Lyons: (Arkansas readers don't look!)

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

I'll move myself and my family aside
If we happen to be left half alive
I'll get all my papers and smile at the sky
Though I know that the hypnotized never lie...

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again.

--"Won't Get Fooled Again," The Who

Now let me get this straight: Saddam Hussein is a deadly threat to American security, the worst since Hitler or Stalin. Why, it may take as long as two weeks to conquer Iraq. So now that President Junior's returned from a month-long vacation at his Texas ranch, which he apparently spent rounding up and branding golf carts, the sky is falling and there's not a moment to spare.

A Democrat-Gazette headline last week actually quoted Bush stating "If you want peace, it's necessary to use force."

War is Peace. Where have I heard that before?

"Regime change," the man calls it. Translation: assuming Junior doesn't get diplomatically outmaneuvered by the Iraqi strongman (and especially if he DOES), the administration is determined to invade a sovereign nation that hasn't attacked or threatened us, kill thousands of its citizens and install a dictator more to our liking. Preferably one who sells cheap oil and buys mass quantities of American-made weapons to replace the ones we're fixing to blow to smithereens.

Meanwhile, it's everybody's patriotic duty to keep a straight face. That's why the serious news broadcasts and the heavyweight pundits ignored Junior's unintentionally hilarious performance in Nashville last week. Speaking to one of his preferred audiences of schoolchildren, Bush told them Saddam can't be trusted.

"There's an old saying in Tennessee," he began. "I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee--it says 'fool me once..." A long pause ensued. A befuddled, then somewhat panicky expression appeared on Bush's face. "Shame on...shame" Second pause. "Fool me...can't get fooled again," he finally blurted out.

The irony of Bush's channeling The Who's caustic anthem was almost paralyzing. Written to satirize Sixties-style hippie utopianism, "Won't Get Fooled Again" all but took the roof off Madison Square Garden when they performed it with a backdrop of British and American flags before cheering cops and firemen at the 2001 "Concert for New York." Thirty years on, the song's acid pessimism, fierce anger and anarchic joy somehow made it the perfect 9/11 elegy.

Meanwhile, studio audiences watching Bush's fumbling recitation on the Comedy Channel's "The Daily Show" and NBC's "Tonight Show" hooted derisively. Republicans counting on this stage-managed "crisis" to carry them through November's congressional elections should take heed. The Washington Post reports that even conservative Republicans say constituent mail is running heavily against a U.S.-only first strike against Iraq. CNN reports polls showing 51% oppose it.

Do voters remember that when Saddam actually used "weapons of mass destruction," spraying nerve gas on Iranian soldiers and Kurdish rebels 15 years ago, the Reagan-Bush administration reacted by selling him more helicopters? Probably not. Are they aware that as CEO of Halliburton until 2000, Dick Cheney used offshore subsidiaries to evade sanctions and sell $24 million worth of oilfield equipment to Iraq? The press hasn't exactly emphasized it.

But everybody knows Pete Townshend's song: "Meet the new boss/ Same as the old boss." Only perfervid ideologues like those Bush has surrounded himself with are convinced that democracy will flourish around the Persian Gulf after Saddam. To paraphrase Orwell, only a Washington chickenhawk (hardly anybody pimping for this war has ever fought one) could believe something so absurd. Civil war and chaos loom.

Should Democrats oppose a resolution giving Bush authority to use force if Saddam fails to heed the U.N. Security Council? The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Cynthia Tucker thinks so. Warning that "a further destabilized Middle East could become the stage for World War III," Tucker says that even if "any Democrat who questions the president's insistence on invading Iraq will be defeated come November. I'm still naive enough to believe that there are issues worth losing an election over."

But this is no time for quixotic gestures. By taking the issue to the U.N., Bush did what Democrats asked. Hence a vote authorizing force if Saddam defies the Security Council signals American resolve. It's tactically a vote against war. Unless Saddam's the megalomaniac Bush claims, of which there's surprisingly little evidence, he'll fold. Moving against Iraq with U.N. allies is a far less dangerous proposition.

Six weeks before an election leaves no time to teach the influential Moron-American community the distinction between patriotism and flag-waving bombast. Stealing the presidency gave the GOP the ability to set the agenda. Handing them Congress would give Bush virtually unlimited power to finish wrecking the economy, shredding the social safety net, and gutting civil liberties. And the bitter truth is that Junior's apt to get his war either way.