The Bush Administration has relied on an axis-of-clichés to stifle thought, inhibit debate, and generally mislead the American people. “The world is safer without Saddam Hussein.” “We are fighting the terrorists in Iraq so we don’t have to fight them here.” And “if we retreat from Iraq the terrorists will follow us home,” are just a few of the stale non-sequitars the Bush Administration has peddled to keep the public in a state of fear and prevent rational thought about the choices America faces. So long as these empty slogans frame the terms of the debate the United States will to continue make catastrophically poor decisions regarding Iraq and the War on Terror.
These bumper sticker sound bites may look like reasonable propositions, but on closer inspection they are so vacuous as to be meaningless. The key factor is that they are virtually immune from proof or disproof. Is the world really safer without Saddam? Who can possibly weigh and evaluate all the variables that bear on the safety of the world? One dictator has been deposed, but a chaotic Iraq threatens to fragment, which could lead to a regional conflagration. Ironically, one minute Bush claims the world is safer for having invaded Iraq, but in the next minute he asserts that the United States cannot leave Iraq without making the world a lot more dangerous. This kind of doublethink is dangerous because we cannot possibly gauge the progress of policies according to criteria that are entirely outside the empirical realm.
Bush’s assertion that “the world is safer without Saddam,” is disingenuous in another respect. At present, the decision to invade Iraq looks like the biggest strategic blunder in U.S. history (so Bush has taken to claiming that an objective historical judgment of his decision to invade Iraq won’t be possible for thirty or more years). How then can Bush know now that the world is safer for having invaded Iraq?
The Iraqis hate it when they hear Bush saying, “we are fighting the terrorists in Iraq so we don’t have to fight them at home.” Prior to the invasion Saddam’s secular state was a bulwark against the jihadism of religious fundamentalism, so it is more than a little insincere to make it sound like Iraq was the logical place to have it out with al-Qaeda. In fact, according to nearly every counter terrorism expert, invading Iraq has swelled the ranks of al-Qaeda, drawing a new generation of recruits from the ranks of poorly educated and disaffected Muslims who believe they are defending their faith against an Infidel superpower. In other words, invading Iraq has minted new enemies, not drawn a pre-existing anti-American army onto the battlefield of America’s choosing, as Bush’s deceptive formulation would have it.
“If we retreat from Iraq they will follow us home.” Many Middle Eastern experts find this statement preposterous. Does the president mean to suggest that commuters will be dodging IEDs? That Chicago will look like Baghdad? And that hordes of jihadists with rocket propelled grenade launchers will be roaming around the heartland? The statement is purposively vague. It’s intent is to conjure a vague fear and enlist support for the president’s course in Iraq, even if that course is self-defeating and irrational.
The truth, of course, is that al-Qaeda will seek to attack us whether we are successful in Iraq or not. So long as the U.S. is a presence in the Middle East and supports Israel we will engender enemies. Reducing our footprint in the region or resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would likely take a lot of the air out of al-Qaeda’s sails, but the Bush Administration’s slogans trend to cast every choice in purely military terms. So long as we shackled by Bush’s rhetoric we are likely to find ourselves trapped in a cycle of self-defeating violence.
If you know how to frame the question you can circumscribe the answer, or even obviate the need for an answer altogether. That’s the genius of Bush’s sloganeering. Unfortunately, torturing language won’t help win the war on terror. Especially when we need reason and truth as allies.