在1979电影中 The In-Laws, Peter Falk plays a dotty former CIA man who awes his sidekick, Alan Arkin, a timid dentist whose daughter is married to Falk’s son. “Were you involved in the Bay of Pigs operation?” asks the fascinated Arkin. Falk replies proudly, “Involved in it? It was my idea!”
“Success has a hundred fathers,” John Kennedy quipped; “failure is an orphan.” True, as a rule; but the Iraq war has a hundred fathers who still think it’s a success, President Bush chief among them. It was his idea!
Now, heaven help us, he has another idea: Let’s extend the war to Iran. No, he doesn’t want to send U.S. troops into Iran; even he isn’t quite that goofy.
But Bush and his sidekicks keep talking about the threat from Iran the way they used to talk about the threat from Iraq. Something’s up. I look for air strikes on Iran soon, maybe just a good night’s bombing, as proposed by Edward G. Luttwak in the “华尔街日报” recently. You know, another preemptive strike. Unannounced, but not unexpected. A predictable sneak attack.
History repeats itself as farce, Karl Marx observed. That would be a good epitaph for this administration. As a connoisseur of political farce, I’m anticipating an inept sneak attack, a combination of Pearl Harbor and the Bay of Pigs.
Then what? As the Iranian people rally behind their government, the whole Muslim world and everyone else rally against the United States, the world oil market goes berserk, and Americans start riding horses to work, Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld will claim another success, complaining that the media are showing only the downside of the operation.
According to Bush’s interpretation of the Constitution, the president, in time of war, is empowered to do whatever he’s in the mood to do. And Bush is now in the mood to teach the Iranians a lesson they won’t forget, no matter what the cost.
A quick air strike wouldn’t require a congressional resolution and wouldn’t give the opposition time to organize. At this point, Bush must turn every faux pas into a fait accompli, as our French friends — well, former friends — might say.
Meanwhile, Bush’s hairy-chested neocon friends are coping with cowardice on the home front. They question the manliness of liberals and Democrats, except for Hillary Clinton, and I myself have felt the sting of their lash.
Here I must mention the most familiar, yet most baffling, argument for war. It runs roughly like this: “Our brave men and women are dying in [fill in name of relevant country] to protect the very freedoms you yellow-bellied peaceniks abuse.”
On this view, we owe all our freedoms to wars, and all our wars are wars for freedom. Is that so? Well, which wars gave us freedom of speech, trial by jury, property rights, the right to remain silent, and the right to abortion? Are these the rights our enemies were trying to take away? And just how did, say, Kaiser Wilhelm II or Manuel Noriega plan to achieve that?
Obviously, as many libertarians have pointed out, it’s precisely during wartime that government grows and our rights shrink. Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and George W. Bush should have taught us this by now.
This isn’t the only country that believes freedom depends on war. Unless Brittania rules the waves, says the old anthem, Britons may all wind up as slaves. Well, Brittania no longer rules the waves, and Britons, happily, aren’t slaves, but they’re still singing that anthem.
Faith in war is the closest thing America has to a national religion. It is closely allied to our faith in Great Presidents. As for those who didn’t trust our Great Presidents, such as Copperheads and isolationists, their name is mud.
So trying to talk Americans out of going to war is a fool’s errand, like trying to persuade Yosemite Sam to hold his fire for just a minute. If you get any reply at all, it will be a truism: “The only thing these varmints understand is hot lead.”
As the old rabbis used to ask, “Have your ears heard what your lips have just uttered?” It’s no use trying to make people listen to you when they won’t even listen to themselves.