by Robert Herold

The Atlantic reports that Great Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office has released a report revealing that in 2000:

1. Saddam Hussein approved amputation of the tongue as a penalty for abusive remarks about him or his family;

2. That he maintains a torture chamber known as the "Red Room";

3. That in his army he retains "professional rapists";

4. That some prisoners are kept in what they term a "casket prison," steel boxes the size of caskets that are "opened only a half hour a day until the inmates either confess or die."

President George W. Bush added several more atrocities to this list in his State of the Union speech last week. No doubt about it, this is a dangerous, evil man.

So why does the public remain ambivalent about ridding the world of this monster? To find the cause, the president might want to look into a mirror, or better yet, listen to himself talk. He confuses doing a bad impression of Clint Eastwood for serious policy deliberation. Nor has he inspired confidence by changing his story line on a weekly basis.

As an example of the former, we take you to the State of the Union address. All was going okay, until he reported on progress against suspected terrorists. Then, as he has done so often over these past weeks, he went "Clint" on us:

"All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested."

Dramatic pause. Here comes the squint for effect.

"And many others have met a different fate."

Another pause. The squint is now complimented by the famous Bush smirk.

"Let's just put it this way."

Now, he leans into the microphone. His words come slowly.

"They are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies."


It all sounded kind of like the "Well do ya, punk?" speech in Dirty Harry. Such bravado makes theater audiences cheer, but in real life it seems to be driving our allies away and solidifying opposition to the war at home. There's a compelling case to be made against Hussein, but with an ever-changing script and way too much tough talk, Bush is not convincing enough people. As pundit Mark Shields said last week, "There's just no passion for this war."

It is now clear that Bush painted himself into a corner during the 2000 campaign when he expediently criticized Al Gore and, by extension, the Clinton Administration, for presuming to do "nation-building." Once elected, Bush immediately turned his back on the international community. America was on top, and we weren't going to be overly concerned about what all these second- and third-rate countries might think (i.e., all other countries).

After having dug himself into this political hole, 9/11 came along and George W's life changed. Confronted with the realities of Realpolitik, he and his administration began to dig their way out. To do this, they had to explain why all that bashing of nation-building doesn't apply any longer. Thus came the stories, one after another.

Just after the attack came the first tale -- vague accusations about Al Qaeda operatives being linked to Iraq. A dazed and angry America, ready to strike out at all possible perpetrators, supported any suspect that the president implicated. If Saddam made his list, then that was that! Now, months later, the public has had time to reflect back on events since 9/11 and has come to accept that the administration's story about Iraq and Al Qaeda was a guess, at best, at worst phony.

Then came story number two: regime change, which Clinton had first urged back in 1998, but which Bush had rejected out of hand in 2000. About this time, Bush channeled Eastwood again, and this one really threw a monkey wrench into the diplomatic engine. He announced that the U.S. would go it alone. Mano a mano. The Republican right wing was overjoyed. The rest of the human race was appalled.

Could our president be serious? Enter Colin Powell, who performed his own version of "Earth to George." Bush changed direction and asked for UN support. Powell got the resolution he wanted, and a unanimous vote for good measure.

But to win UN support, the White House had to come up with story number three: disarmament. No Al Qaeda, no regime change, just get rid of those weapons of mass destruction (and we know you have them -- after all we sold some to you).

In came the inspectors, and now, as Bush beats his war drums ever louder, the public wants to understand how it could be that Saddam and his thugs could go about developing or using these bad weapons with all those snoopy foreigners poking around.

To complicate things further, North Korea has emerged as a serious threat. Unlike Iraq, they are certainly developing nuclear weapons. They already have missiles that can deliver them over a scary distance. The president again talked tough for about a week. Then, out of the blue, the White House informed us that the president had offered a deal to North Korea -- no nukes in exchange for aid. What they didn't offer was any explanation for the radically different treatment of two of the three "Axis of Evil" club members.

Then, most recently, in the State of the Union address, we got story number four: Now we are going in to liberate the Iraqi people. To be sure, beating back oppression anywhere in the world is a noble goal. But this sure sounds like nation-building to me.

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Publication date: 02/06/03

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About The Author

Robert Herold

Robert Herold is a retired professor of public administration and political science at both Eastern Washington University and Gonzaga University. Robert Herold's collection of Inlander columns dating back to 1995, Robert's Rules, is available at Auntie's.