by Robert Herold & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & "P & lt;/span & atriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." So said Samuel Johnson back in 1775. Johnson's warning, never in doubt and often proved, needs to be heeded once again.
The disgraced Bush-Cheney administration, its rationale for invading Iraq having evaporated in a boiling pot of evidence, seeks just this last refuge. Otherwise it will be left with trying to explain the residue that layers the bottom of the pot like so much political sludge, emitting the stench of blithering incompetence, malfeasance, misfeasance and duplicity.
Democrats and those few Republicans who support a phased troop withdrawal are not just wrong, this last line of defense goes, they are unpatriotic. What's worse, since we now know for certain that al Qaeda is now in Iraq, who but a traitor would not want America to get them before they get us?
Once again, we hear the ugly sounds of demagoguery.
A Republican congressman, during the floor debate on the Democratic-sponsored Defense Appropriation Bill, takes up the scoundrel's cause. He asserts that if we get hit by another terrorist attack, it will be because Democrats tried to attach a withdrawal measure to the money needed "to support the troops." An even more melodramatic Republican congressman as much as says that if we don't take care of al Qaeda in Anbar Province, the next battleground could be New York's Central Park.
Even presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani has begun playing the patriot-as-scoundrel part. Elect a Democrat at your own peril, he warns. Do you want another 9/11? Re-deploy the troops in Iraq? Just another unpatriotic Democratic gambit to ruin America, he says.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & F & lt;/span & ormer Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet, when asked on 60 Minutes about al Qaeda in America, expressed concern. He said it was his "operational instinct" that bin Laden has one or maybe two sleeper cells in America, and has had for several years now. It is entirely possible that these cells are filled by would-be terrorists who came to al Qaeda in reaction to the Bush invasion of Iraq. We know that America's occupation of Iraq has become bin Laden's prime recruiting reference. Al Qaeda had been beaten down after the CIA took out the Taliban in 2002, but because of Bush's botched invasion and occupation, al Qaeda is back. If Tenet is right, what happens in Anbar Province only serves to exacerbate the long-term problem. In any case, sleeper cells were here, Tenet says, long before Bush rolled out his most recent "new strategy," or, as it should be termed, his new non-strategy strategy. (As Jon Stewart pointed out to Bill Moyers last week, 350,000 troops and the reinstatement of the draft would be a new strategy; another 10,000 troops in Baghdad hardly qualifies.)
Left without WMD and until recently also left without the slightest evidence that al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were at all connected, Bush was running out of ways to wrap himself in patriotism and cast all those who oppose him as lacking the same. But now, likely because we took out Saddam Hussein, General Petraeus believes that there likely are al Qaeda operatives in Iraq, so the scoundrels, led by Bush, are off to the races.
Not to worry though. Bush's propaganda ministry and his fellow patriots -- including the ever-so-tedious Joe Lieberman -- will be exposed by our vigilant media. Surely the press will sift through all the chaff, call out the demagoguery and do their job by exposing all the half-truths, inconsistencies and lies.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & ell, don't hold your breath. On the PBS program Bill Moyers Journal last week, the outlook was bleak. In the run-up to invasion, not only did the press accept almost all the propaganda that the Bush administration threw out -- all in the name of patriotism -- it also became an unwitting accomplice. It amplified all the noise. It ran with the herd. It did the administration's dirty work by suppressing alternative explanations and points of view. The Fourth Estate simply bought into the official line.
What's worse, it was the establishment media, most particularly the New York Times and Washington Post, that most failed the thinking public. The thinking public depends on the Times to print "all the news that's fit to print." And when we think of the Washington Post, we recall the Watergate scandal and how a courageous paper refused to go away despite threats from the White House. Oh, how the mighty have fallen -- and taken us down with them.
Back in late 2002 and early 2003, editorial after editorial from these two giants of journalism parroted the administration's orchestrated presentation of reality. Only the Knight-Ridder reporters got it right, Moyers pointed out. And they couldn't understand why their brethren in the upper reaches of journalism could miss so much. Dick Cheney's proof that the threat from Saddam was real -- that "mushroom cloud over Manhattan" -- was that it appeared on the front page of the Times, under Judith Miller's byline. He didn't mention that his office had leaked the bogus information to her. We know this now, but why couldn't the Times and Post figure out then that the Pentagon and other agencies were leaking lies -- off the record, of course, and on deep background -- then confirming them for the same reporters? Herd mentality? Timidity? Groupthink? Or did our Fourth Estate just want to appear patriotic? Maybe just get invited to the scoundrels' parties?
With the latest al Qaeda threat about to become the scoundrels' last best hope to silence war critics, we can only hope that the media does a better job than it did the first time around.