Uncivil Discourse

Because civility is overrated.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Nixon's Ghost

It's fairly clear that the Downing Street Memo is the Iraq War's version of the Pentagon Papers. Recall that the Pentagon Papers revealed that the US went to war in Vietnam with no fucking clue how to get out while Johnson was lying to the public about wanting to go to war. Gee, now doesn't this look familiar:

C [Sir Richard Dearlove, head of SIS] reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.
Of course, beyond a few blogs (and Fox News, who in a beautifully layered display of metacommentary talked about Downing Street without actually mentioning it), nobody's really talking about the damned thing. In light of the flaying of Dan Rather for his carelessness and in general, the nature of the corporate media, this makes complete sense. Investigative journalism rocks the boat, and there's no left-wing equivalent of the right-wing machine that fed the media every aspect of the Clinton "scandals" (I feel embarassed calling any of those scandals in light of both Nixon and Bush). But you know what? It might not really be that important, despite the fact that the job the administration did on Iraq intelligence makes the job a bookie does on a low-level boxing match look like it leaves something to chance.

In June of 1971, Nixon's approval ratings were hovering around 50%. The publication of the Pentagon Papers only dropped that number to around 48% before they rebounded towards the end of the month. By that point, it had become perfectly clear to most people that Nixon, and Johnson before him, had been completely full of shit, that Vietnam was built on a big series of lies. Nixon never had a plan to get out in 1968, back when public support was in a freefall after Tet, and then he went and invaded Cambodia as a part of his re-escalation of the war. So while the Pentagon Papers confirmed just what a massive fuckup Vietnam was, it wasn't anything especially new.

In October 2004, Gallup found that 47% of Americans thought Bush "intentionally misled" (or in other words, lied) us into war. That number's up to 50% now, post-Memo. The effect of the memo I'm sure is muted by the general press silence on it, but just as the Pentagon Papers didn't fuck Nixon by themselves (after all, he ended up winning a massive re-election in 1972), neither should we expect the Downing Street Memo to. Most people who are willing to believe President Golden Boy lied to us already did. But let's realize, just for a second, amid the cacophany of voices brought on by Deep Throat's revelation, that Watergate was, at its heart, about Vietnam. If there's one thing Richard Nixon was good at it, it was reading the worst in the public. He knew we'd respond well to the politics of polarization, to fearmongering about the Black Power movement and student groups like the Weather Underground. Nixon, evil bastard he was, was fully in touch with the basest aspects of our nature. And he knew quite well that most people didn't especially care about Watergate.

But Watergate opened the flood. The fear Nixon unleashed, the fear he was a master at bringing out, couldn't be controlled. After what he did in Vietnam, Nixon had to go down. Watergate, the actual event, was about government corruption. That's something we'll bring a president down for. We'll impeach him for a coverup and for dirty money scandals. If we bring him down for war crimes and if we fully internalize the idea that we were conned by Nixon over Vietnam, what would it reveal about us, who elected and supported him? No, it's much easier for that just to be a footnote. After all, officially, Nixon's real wrongdoing didn't have to do with Vietnam, it had to do with Watergate, but as we've heard Buchanan and Noonan and Limbaugh say, everyone does it, so it's unfair to criticize Nixon for it, and since we aren't pinning the hellhole Southeast Asia was just about to become thanks to the Khmer Rouge on Nixon, and we aren't blaming Nixon for at least a good chunk of the Vietnam debacle, hell, Nixon's a-ok. For a perfect case in point, take this complete denial by some hack who was involved in the whole shitfest.

I truly think and hope, beyond possibly all reason (though the Gallup numbers help) that most people know Bush lied and that soldiers and civilians are dying for those lies, that in the ethical sense, this war is Vietnam redux. And so I'm not expecting any broader discussion of Downing Street to do much, though again, it says something very strong about the state of the major media outlets that they won't touch it, especially after the Times and Post took such a stand on the Pentagon Papers. What we need now is the spark, the Watergate, that will take the whole deck of cards crashing down. It won't be impeachment, no, because Republicans control the Congress and one thing we can be sure of is that the majority of Republicans in Congress (and a damned large number of Democrats there) are cocksuckers through and through. But being as this administration of the direct spawn of Richard Nixon's rotting corpse, there have been plenty of corruption scandals that are coming out or have come out about these fuckers. One might catch yet. For the love of god, one just has to. I sure as hell can't wait for history to judge George W. Bush.

Oh, and for all those nitwits who kept going on about how we had to support Bush because he's the president, and how they were oh so very fucking sure he'd seen intelligence to back up his claims even though we hadn't seen jack? For the future, let's remember a quote by H.R. Haldeman:
"But out of the gobbledygook, comes a very clear thing: [unclear] you can’t trust the government; you can’t believe what they say; and you can’t rely on their judgment; and the – the implicit infallibility of presidents, which has been an accepted thing in America, is badly hurt by this, because it shows that people do things the President wants to do even though it’s wrong, and the President can be wrong."