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Fighting for Tolerance

June 24th, 2005 by dk


Intergenerational grudge match and incompetent military strategy aside, what we know now is that this was and is a war against —. No need to finish that sentence. We don’t do well in wars against anything. Against tyrants, against genocide, against communism — we lose our will when we’re fighting against something. On the other hand, when we’re fighting FOR something, we can be more unified and determined than any nation the globe has ever seen.


Why Downing Street Memos Matter

In one of those accidents of history, Deep Throat revealed his identity and reminded us of the last attempt at an imperial presidency at the same time that a bunch of Brits are publishing secret memos about the current imperial presidency. The Downing Street Memos and how the press has reacted tells us much about the man behind the curtain.

For those who have been not paying attention, a single memo appeared in the Sunday Times of London just before Tony Blair waltzed to victory a couple months ago. Since then, the drip-drip-drip of revelations have continued. At last count, the revealed documents number eight.

The documents don’t incriminate Tony Blair or his government of anything much worse than being President Bush’s poodle, hardly a shocking revelation. What they do show is a level of intentionality on the part of U.S. officials about militarily deposing Saddam Hussein that doesn’t square with what those same administration officials were saying in public at the time.

The reaction to these revelations by the nation’s largest newspapers has been portrayed as a scandal-inside-the-scandal. How can front-page news about our government in Britain merit hardly a mention here? Why have the most powerful newspapers in our nation insisted that this is either old news or not news?

At the risk of posing a scandal-inside-the-scandal-inside-the-scandal, let me offer a possible explanation. United States Presidents lie. All of them do, all the time. Most of what a White House occupant is allowed to utter is either a test-balloon or a broadcast push-poll or a bromide to calm some sector of the civilization. What’s worse, the real inside newspapers know this and agree to ignore it.

If you wonder why major newspapers would roll over in this way, I can explain it in one word: access. Two words? Job security.

It’s no coincidence that Watergate was broken by two cub reporters. When sources they trusted advised them to look the other way, they didn’t understand that as code for “if I help you on this, I’ll never take your call again.” Veteran journalists learn that big stories are just like commuter busses. You can run after it, but there’ll always be another.

A source burned is a source lost. This explains why the further you get from the inner circle of American media, the sharper the outrage when they learn that the president wasn’t telling the truth to the American people, to Congress, to the United Nations. Bloggers are more outraged than anyone. It stands to reason.

Beside all this, I think there’s another revelation that is more damning and can readily explain our current difficulties in Iraq. The memos reveal that toppling Saddam was the mission from Day One and that precious little preparation was done for what would follow. Intergenerational grudge match and incompetent military strategy aside, what we know now is that this was and is a war against —.

No need to finish that sentence. We don’t do well in wars against anything. Against tyrants, against genocide, against communism — we lose our will when we’re fighting against something. On the other hand, when we’re fighting FOR something, we can be more unified and determined than any nation the globe has ever seen.

When we fight for freedom, or for Europe, or for democracy, we always win. Every time we try to fight against something, we flag halfway through the bout. We’re an aspirational people. We want everything improved, all the time. Ourselves, our prospects, the planet, whatever. Bigger has recently been better, but better has always been better. This is our unique contribution to human history and our best presidents have understood the treasure trove of public passion in that vein.

When President Bush is overseas, he describes the current conflict as “freedom on the march” — never mind that freedom is more a dance than a march. But when he’s talking to Americans, it’s usually the “war against terror.” Molly Ivins famously declared early on: “Great. We’ve declared war on a noun.” But the people on the other side had already declared war on a different noun that we represented to them: tolerance.

If we knew we were fighting a war for tolerance or for freedom or for wide-mindedness instead of a war against terror, I believe the American people would be more insistent about sacrificing to ensure victory. And we would spare ourselves the nonsense about airport checks and library records and flag burning.

We can be a fierce people, but we require a cause worth fighting for. Fighting against terror ain’t it.

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