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France, Bush & Drunk Driving
By Robert Parry
September 25, 2003

A trendy theme among U.S. pundits and inside the Bush administration is that French opposition to the invasion of Iraq has turned France into America’s new enemy.

In the run-up to the Iraq invasion, George W. Bush showed his disdain for France by having Air Force One serve French toast as “freedom toast,” while Dick Cheney confronted French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte with the blunt question: “Is France an ally or an adversary of the United States?” [Washington Post, Sept. 23, 2003] New York Times foreign policy columnist Thomas Friedman penned a recent column entitled “Our War With France,” which stated “It’s time we Americans come to terms with something. … France is becoming our enemy.” [NYT, Sept. 18, 2003]

But the more relevant observation about France and other longtime allies that opposed Bush’s decision to invade and occupy Iraq may come from the slogan of the popular anti-drunk-driving commercial: “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.” The key question may not be whether traditional friends have turned into enemies but whether these U.S. friends were right to counsel Bush against a self-destructive action.

Following that analogy, Bush’s putative allies, the likes of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, may have played the role of enablers, the weak-willed friends who lack the courage to stand up to an inebriated pal who is staggering toward the driver’s side of the car. One could argue that France and Germany were giving Bush the kind of realistic advice that could have spared the United States the worsening debacle in Iraq and saved the lives of more than 300 U.S. soldiers.

Still, like the drunk driver who won’t admit that the accident was his fault, Bush continues to slur facts and logic, blaming anyone but himself for the geopolitical pile-up in the desert. Yet, as his excuses and deceptions become more apparent, the disconnect between Bush’s words and reality are also harder to conceal. To walk away from responsibility for the mess he's made, Bush needs even more enablers, especially inside the Washington news media.

In an interview with Fox News, for instance, Bush defended his decision to invade Iraq by still insisting that his pre-war claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were true. He also cited U.N. resolution 1441 as justification for his preemptive war even though a majority of the U.N. Security Council had opposed Bush's decision to enforce the resolution's disarmament demands through an invasion.

“That’s the resolution that said if you don’t disarm there will be serious consequences,” Bush told Fox News anchor Brit Hume. Then Bush added about himself that “at least somebody stood up and said this is a definition of serious consequences.” [Fox News transcript, Sept. 22, 2003]

Inconvenient Facts

But Bush leaves out inconvenient facts, like the Security Council's demand for more time for U.N. inspectors to determine whether Iraq had, in fact, disarmed. There’s also the fact that neither U.N. inspectors nor U.S. forces on the ground have found any of the alleged stockpiles of trigger-ready chemical and biological weapons that Bush keeps citing as a chief reason for war. But Hume and other news personalities know when not to contradict the notoriously thin-skinned Texan.

Still, even as Bush digs in his heels on his justifications for the death and destruction in Iraq, other pro-war advocates have begun to adjust their rationales. One new spin, popular with American pundits, blames Saddam Hussein for the invasion on the grounds that he confused the United States about whether Iraq did or didn't possess weapons of mass destruction. This new argument claims that Hussein refused to say that he had gotten rid of his WMD so he would look tough to his neighbors and that it was this Iraqi conceit that caused the war.

The problem with the argument, however, is that Iraq repeatedly did state that it had rid itself of its chemical and biological weapons. Indeed, Hussein and his government insisted for months that they were in compliance with U.N. disarmament demands and grudgingly agreed to give U.N. inspectors free rein to examine any suspected weapons site of their choosing. Hans Blix and other U.N. inspectors were reporting cooperation from the Iraqis when Bush cut that process short, claiming that war was necessary to ensure Iraq's disarmament.

Now, however, some pundits have rewritten this recent history to claim that Hussein was pretending right up to the start of the invasion that he still had chemical and biological weapons. Even supposedly smart U.S. commentators, it appears, have deadened their senses with the intoxication of Bush propaganda.

Bush also has continued to cling to his pre-war arguments about Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists as another justification for the invasion. In the Fox News interview, he was back linking Saddam Hussein with Ansar al-Islam, which Bush said was “very active during Saddam’s period – that’s the terrorist organization.”

But Bush appeared to understand some of the distinctions that intelligence experts have long noted, that Ansar al-Islam was actually backed by Hussein’s Islamic enemies in Iran and was based in Iraq’s north beyond Baghdad’s control. The Ansar al-Islam base was actually under the protection of the U.S. no-fly zone, guaranteeing that Iraqi forces couldn't have attacked it even if they wanted to.

“And their camp there in the north,” Fox News anchor Hume said about Ansar al-Islam.

“Yes, it is, northeast,” Bush replied.

Fuzzy Rhetoric

Still, for public consumption, the administration has continued to fuzz up the alleged relationships between Hussein’s secular government and these Islamic fundamentalist groups, all the better to gull the American people with.

Bush also continues to drop the time element on when Hussein used chemical weapons (in the 1980s when he was getting covert support from the Reagan-Bush administration) and when Hussein disposed of the unconventional weapons he had left (possibly in the 1990s, according to U.S. intelligence analysts who have interviewed former Iraqi officials).

“The regime of Saddam Hussein cultivated ties to terror while it built weapons of mass destruction,” Bush told the U.N. General Assembly in a coolly received speech on Sept. 23. “It used those weapons in acts of mass murder, and refused to account for them when confronted by the world.”

Then, glossing over how he spurned the U.N.’s repeated appeals to let the inspectors finish up their work in Iraq, Bush said, “because a coalition of nations acted to defend the peace, and the credibility of the United Nations, Iraq is free.”

Bush also baffled some listeners by wrapping his invasion in the cloak of humanitarianism.

“Events during the past two years have set before us the clearest of divides: Between those who seek order, and those who spread chaos; between those who work for peaceful change, and those who adopt the methods of gangsters; between those who honor the rights of man, and those who deliberately take the lives of men, and women, and children, without mercy or shame,” Bush said.

These arguments may continue to resonate with some of Bush's domestic supporters who tend to confuse gullibility with patriotism. But this rhetoric is widening the credibility gulf with the rest of the world, which sees Iraq as not free, but occupied, and Bush's invasion as not an act of peace, but of aggression. To much of the world, Bush is the one spreading chaos and adopting "the methods of gangsters."

Many U.N. delegates seemed perplexed by Bush’s strained justifications for an invasion that U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and many other world leaders have condemned. Immediately before Bush’s speech, Annan warned that preemptive war and unilateralism, two strategies that Bush has embraced, threatened to destroy more than half a century of international order and spread the “lawless use of force.”

French President Jacques Chirac made a similar point after Bush’s speech. “The war, which was started without the authorization of the Security Council, has shaken the multilateral system,” he said.

Bitter Irony

To many listening to Bush’s speech, there was bitter irony, too, in his denunciation of those who kill civilians “without mercy or shame,” given the thousands of Iraqis – including many children – who were killed in the U.S.-led invasion.

During the invasion, Bush even ordered bombing attacks on civilian targets, such as a restaurant in Baghdad, in failed attempts to assassinate Saddam Hussein. Instead of killing Hussein, the bombing of the restaurant slaughtered men, women and children who were having dinner. One mother collapsed when she found her daughters severed head in the rubble. But Bush has never expressed remorse for these civilian dead.

Nor has Bush apologized for any other Iraqi civilians killed by frightened American soldiers who often shoot first and ask questions later. In a recent case cited by the London Guardian newspaper, three farmers were killed and two boys, 10 and 12, were wounded when the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division descended on a farmhouse in central Iraq during the middle of the night.

"The U.S. military has chosen not to count the civilian casualties of the war in Iraq," the Guardian reported. "But while more than 300 U.S. soldiers have now been killed since the invasion to topple Saddam in March, thousands more Iraqis have died." [Guardian, Sept. 24, 2003] Bush has expressed remorse for none of the carnage.

Instead, Bush has surrounded himself with yes men who reinforce his self-justifying reality and never tell him no. Even the alleged moderates, like Secretary of State Colin Powell, put their careers before any responsibility to restrain Bush's impulses.

Though Bush may like these go-along pals, his truer friends may be the world leaders who tried to dissuade him from his rush to invade Iraq. Indeed, if France and other U.S. allies had succeeded in keeping the keys of war away from Bush in March, the American people and U.S. troops in Iraq might have been spared a costly adventure that may go on for years and drain the U.S. Treasury of hundreds of billions of dollars.

But Bush brushed past some of America's oldest friends and their warnings of danger. He had enough pals and enablers who helped him climb behind the wheel and roar off into the fog of war.

So, instead of pouring French wine into gutters and publishing diatribes about France as the new enemy, perhaps Americans should ask themselves if they would have been better off today if they had heeded the advice from France and other nations, if they had stopped Bush for his – and America’s – own good.

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