“We must make clear to the Germans that the wrong for which their fallen leaders are on trial is not that they lost the war, but that they started it. And we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into a trial of the causes of the war for our position is that no grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy.”
— U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, U.S. representative to the International Conference on Military Trials, Aug. 12, 1945.
Will Bush be impeached? Will he be called a war criminal? These are not hyperbolic questions. Mr. Bush has permitted a small cadre of neoconservatives to isolate him from world opinion, putting him at odds with the United Nations and America’s allies.
What better illustrates Mr. Bush’s isolation than the fact that he delivered his March 16 ultimatum to the U.N. concerning Iraq from an air base in the Azores, where there was no prospect for massive demonstrations against his policy. Standing with Mr. Bush against the world were Britain and Spain.
The U.S., once a guarantor of peace, is now perceived in the rest of the world as an aggressor. Its victim is a small Muslim nation unable to defend its own air space, much less to project power beyond its borders. If Iraqis attempt to resist invasion, they will be slaughtered.
On the eve of Mr. Bush’s ultimatum, it came to light that a key piece of evidence used by the Bush administration to link Iraq to a nuclear weapons program is a forgery. Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has asked the FBI to investigate the origin of the forged documents that the Bush administration used to make its case that Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction.
Secretary of State Colin Powell denies that the Bush administration created the phony documents. “It came from other sources,” Mr. Powell told Congress, but he could not identify the source.
As George Santayana said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it.” The administration’s use of forged evidence opens Mr. Bush to unflattering comparisons that his enemies will not hesitate to make. They will point out that it was Adolf Hitler’s strategy to fabricate evidence in order to justify his invasion of a helpless country. He used S.S. troops dressed in Polish uniforms to fake an attack on the German radio station at Gleiwitz on Aug. 31, 1939. Following the faked attack, Hitler announced: “This night for the first time Polish regular soldiers fired on our own territory.” As German troops poured into Poland, Hitler declared: “The Polish state has refused the peaceful settlement of relations which I desired, and has appealed to arms.” The German High Command called the German invasion of Poland a “counterattack.”
Thanks to his neoconservative cadre, outside the U.S. Mr. Bush is now a disliked and distrusted politician. Mr. Bush’s enemies will exploit parallels to “naked aggression.” After many decades of U.S. leadership in building an “international order,” Mr. Bush’s enemies will hold him accountable for his defiance of this order.
As much as those of us who prefer national sovereignty to world government lament the fact, the many decades of appealing to “world opinion” and enlisting it in behalf of our foreign policies has resulted in considerable authority being poured into that nebulous concept. In setting Mr. Bush in opposition to this American creation, neoconservatives have exposed him to serious charges. Democrats, who intended to use allegations about the 2000 Florida vote to destroy Mr. Bush’s presidency as illegitimate, now have more deadly ammunition.
Mr. Rockefeller will not be the only one to ask if the forged nuclear documents are part of a Bush administration campaign to deceive the public. Polls show that 50 percent of Americans believe it was Iraqis who hijacked the airplanes and crashed them into the World Trade Towers and Pentagon. Inattention or media incompetence are the likely explanations for this extraordinary misinformation, but some will now blame deception.
Others are already thinking the forged documents are part of a neoconservative campaign to deceive President Bush and win his support for their Middle Eastern policy.
Many perceive Mr. Bush as following a reckless path, one that politicians normally try to avoid at all costs. If Iraq resists and devastating new explosives, which our military has been testing at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, are dropped on Baghdad, there will be massive civilian deaths and charges of war crimes fueled by anger at American arrogance.
Mr. Bush and his advisers have forgotten that the power of an American president is temporary and relative. The U.S. is supposed to be the world’s leader. For the Bush administration to pursue a policy that sets the U.S. government at odds with the world is to invite comparisons with recklessness that we have not seen in international politics since Nikita Khrushchev tried to install nuclear missiles in Cuba. Is Saddam Hussein worth this much grief?