In a speech yesterday before the annual convention of the American Legion, President Bush launched yet another premptive strike against anyone who dares to question the strategic logic and moral worth of his failed policies in the Middle East. Near the end of his self-congratulatory talk, patriotic fervor was appealed to with a reference to Thomas Jefferson: “In the early years of our republic, Thomas Jefferson said that we cannot expect to move ‘from despotism to liberty in a featherbed.’ That’s been true in every time and place.” Jefferson was a prolific author, and there are a number of other quotes that Bush’s speech writer chose judiciously not to cite. For example, “Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” The problem with the President’s speech is that it confuses the tyranny of his self-righteous refusal to admit mistakes with the diversity of opinions liberty necessitates. Of course despots do not get replaced easily. But the reason “liberty” is no featherbed is precisely because it can never be forced. The United States will never be able to liberate Iraq, just side with the victors after the bombs stop getting thrown on a daily basis.Reading Bush’s speech is like watching a blind man crossing a busy street corner. The pith of his argument can be found in the following paragraph:

“The war we fight today is more than a military conflict; it is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century. (Applause.) On one side are those who believe in the values of freedom and moderation — the right of all people to speak, and worship, and live in liberty. And on the other side are those driven by the values of tyranny and extremism — the right of a self-appointed few to impose their fanatical views on all the rest. As veterans, you have seen this kind of enemy before. They’re successors to Fascists, to Nazis, to Communists, and other totalitarians of the 20th century. And history shows what the outcome will be: This war will be difficult; this war will be long; and this war will end in the defeat of the terrorists and totalitarians, and a victory for the cause of freedom and liberty. (Applause.)”

There are a number of presumptions here that bear unveiling. First, all war is more than military conflict; those who wage war do so from ideological bully pulpits. Even if the bottom line is “I want what you have” (more applicable to the U.S. occupation of Iraq than anything Bin Laden or his like have advocated), there is always some nobler sentiment paraded to motivate men to risk their lives and put the lives of others at risk. To say that the September 11 bombing, despicable as it was, is iconic of the “decisive ideological struggle” of this century is sheer partisan hubris. There are no Muslim hordes thirsting to charge out of Third World steppes and ravage the dens of Western iniquity. Even Bin Laden, if his words are read for what they actually say, is fundamentally concerned about Western interference in the heartland of the Islamic Middle East.

Second, the simplistic division of the entire world into those (the good guys in Cowboy white hats) who tout freedom and moderation vs. those (with Muslim names only it would seem) that value tyranny and extremism has no basis in reality. The Saudi regime does not value freedom (certainly not for women) and is anything but moderate about non-Muslims, yet the Bush administration views their oilarchy as a stuanch ally. Saddam Hussein was indeed a tyrant, a brutal dictator, but not in the least an “extremist” in the sense of those now strapping suicide bombs around their waists or setting off car bombs in Baghdad. Unlike the old Western serials in which the good guys were always distinguishable from the bad guys, such a black-and-white mentality is the wrong ending to a bad movie scenario.

Third, the Bush speech lets slip the mantra that has led our country down the wrong path in his there-but-for-the-grace-of-a-recount presidency. Fascists to Nazis to Commies to Muslim fanatics: as though this was a linear evolution beginning and ending with apes. If anyone is a fascist, it has been Saddam Hussein; the major Nazi sympathizers I see today are white supremicists in our country; the Commies have ceased being “evil” except in nuclear-familiar Korea. The battle currently raging in Iraq is not a resurgence of Ba’ath totalitarian rule (which no doubt would be a relief to this administration, if it did happen), but the anarchic theater of groups long suppressed. Many of the so-called extremists are little more than hooligans, not an unlikely scenario for a country in which five years have passed with no significant security for the bulk of the population.

The crowning error in the speech is one that garnered applause, but has so little merit that the author of the speech must have checked his conscience in his baggage before writing it. It is worth repeating only so it will not go on being repeated:

“Still, there are some in our country who insist that the best option in Iraq is to pull out, regardless of the situation on the ground. Many of these folks are sincere and they’re patriotic, but they could be — they could not be more wrong. If America were to pull out before Iraq can defend itself, the consequences would be absolutely predictable — and absolutely disastrous. We would be handing Iraq over to our worst enemies — Saddam’s former henchmen, armed groups with ties to Iran, and al Qaeda terrorists from all over the world who would suddenly have a base of operations far more valuable than Afghanistan under the Taliban. They would have a new sanctuary to recruit and train terrorists at the heart of the Middle East, with huge oil riches to fund their ambitions. And we know exactly where those ambitions lead. If we give up the fight in the streets of Baghdad, we will face the terrorists in the streets of our own cities.”

This paragraph falls out of the featherbed and applies a logic I can best describe as feather-headed. The results thus far in Iraq are already absolutely disastrous, as they will continue to be for the thousands yet to die in this conflict as it grinds on with no enforceable end in sight. Surely the speech writer is not citing intelligence reports if he believes that the enemy is a formidable coalition of “Saddam’s former henchmen, armed groups with ties to Iran, and al Qaeda terrorists from all over the world.” If this is the enemy then the best strategy is to get out tomorrow, because they are on record hating each other to such an extent that the individual power of any one group will be destroyed by the others. If these constitute a single enemy, it is one unified by the presence of American and British troops. And it is silly in the extreme to suggest that leaving Baghdad for the Iraqis to duke (rather than nuke) it out would lead to these victors bringing their terror to our streets. “They” (meaning just about everyone except those who have cast their lot with the coalition forces) want “us” out because we are the occupiers. This is why Hamas and Hizbillah have attacked Israel, which to their minds is an occupying force oppressing the indigenous people. We are not dealing with world-conquering facist or Nazi ideology, but groups who define themselves (rightly or wrongly) as liberators.

Yet in all of this President Bush still insists that Iraq must become an American-style democracy (albeit one that would probably not have a confusing electoral college to match our own). In this perhaps it is worth quoting Thomas Jefferson one more time, especially given the domineering swagger of the Republicans in control of our government:

“A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.”

Welcome to mob rule on a featherbed.

Daniel Martin Varisco