Former Antiwar.com columnist Chad Nagle sends this special report from Washington.

October 7, 2002

House Panel Rushes to Join the (War) Party

"The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestoes, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker's spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity."

~ George Orwell, Politics and the English Language (1946)

THE BANALITY OF THE WAR PARTY

Hannah Arendt's immortal phrase about the banality of evil seems especially apt right now. Those lining up behind war with Iraq look so hackneyed and dull in their conformism that any dissent whatsoever from the halls of government, whatever the motive, almost seems like humanity at its finest. Early on Wednesday afternoon, when President Bush had appeared in public flanked not only by House and Senate leaders, but also by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT), a small group of senators that couldn't be relied on to function like good machines were conspicuously absent from the Party, including Robert Byrd (D-WV) and John Kerry (D-MA). Our head of state managed not to mangle his speech completely, pointing out that Saddam Hussein was a "student of Stalin" but naturally neglecting to mention that "Amerrca" was once the Soviet despot's staunch ally. Still, as embarrassing and divorced from reality as the speech was, it successfully set the tone for the Congressional farce to come.

By the end of the first day of the House International Relations Committee's mark-up on giving President Bush pre-emptive war powers, it was clear this was going to be a "slam-dunk" exercise. Based on their opening statements, a little over 20 members would definitely vote in favor, 13 would vote against (2 Republicans, 11 Democrats), and 2 were undecided (one of each). Although a division of such proportions in the committee still held out the hope that the administration wouldn't get the sort of overwhelming congressional stamp of approval it wanted in a final vote in the House, it would still be a landslide victory for the War Party.

Being in the committee room added a dimension to the spectacle that couldn't be captured by C-SPAN. It's often more interesting to watch not the dummies who are speaking, but their colleagues looking on, fidgeting, with eyes darting around. When most of the dissenters spoke, their voices and gestures contrasted starkly to the miserable droning of the War Party hacks who many reading from some excruciatingly dull staff-prepared script couldn't wait to get the whole business over with, put these faraway war unpleasantries behind them, and get on with more important matters.

Take Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) for instance, a man who sports a Marine-style haircut even though if Lt. Col. Kilgore gave him the choice between surfing and fighting he would almost certainly choose to surf. Mr. Rohrabacher asked that he be allowed to make his statement later than scheduled, and sat there listening to the speeches of the war's opponents, furrowing his brow and making facial expressions to show just how "totally gnarly" he thought they all were. As Ron Paul (R-TX) set forth cogent, well-thought-out arguments against adopting the war resolution not least that it would essentially amend the Constitution by transferring the authority to declare war from Congress to the President Mr. Rohrabacher sat almost directly behind Dr. Paul, making faces to show how misguided he knew these ideas to be.

Mr. Rohrabacher piped in soon after Dr. Paul, and went on to assail anyone who would dare engage in "unconstructive nitpicking" of President Bush. His chest thrust forward, he boomed that the "gangster regime in Iraq" had a "blood grudge against the people of the United States." It was "ridiculous" to "suggest we should wait." In fact, we should all "tip our hats to the President of the United States." This "nitpicking" was "definitely not appreciated on this side of the aisle," because Iraqis would be "dancing in the streets and waving American flags" when we came to "liberate them." "This is a liberation," he thundered. Whoa, tough guy. Then he sat back, content with his powerful arguments, before soon getting up and leaving the room to return to his surfboard.

The mood of hopelessness had already set in much earlier, very soon after Tom Lantos (D-CA), the first to speak, announced that no one's "patriotism" could be questioned regardless of how they voted, since everyone would be voting his or her "conscience." Surely if questioning whether "conscience" was dictating votes was banned when the issue at hand was as serious as whether or not to go to war there was little point in being a "people's representative." What if your constituents had serious questions about the motives of your colleague, Tom Lantos, for example? Wouldn't they want you to raise those questions in Congress? If everyone in the "club" was going to assume everyone else was completely honorable and above suspicion, then nothing separated this committee from any other elitist talking shop. And sure enough, no one questioned anyone else's purpose in voting the way they did.

After the usual gaggle of war protesters was ejected from the hearing room under threat of arrest for shouting during Benjamin Gilman's (R-NY) tedious pro-war monologue, it was almost all downhill. Among those expressing their misgivings before giving the resolution a thumbs-up, not once did I hear regrets based on the fact that innocent people would die as a result of US intervention. The pro-war faction members' doubts were exclusively based on things like how invading Iraq would hinder our effort to fight the "war on terrorism," or how unilateral war would be contrary to "national security." About the inherent evil of war itself: not a peep.

Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) calmly pointed out that if America "really cared" about "Iraq's neighbors," we wouldn't have given Saddam Hussein all those weapons during the period "when we allowed him to be our friend." "Now we claim to care," she said. The President was "manufacturing an international crisis to justify war," while American veterans of past wars were sleeping on grates in the sidewalk and opponents of war "suffered a tidal wave of recriminations."

Spectators were treated to varying displays of rage as well. On the one hand, Robert Menendez's (D-NJ) anger at least seemed somewhat genuine. There was supposed to be no graver decision a member of Congress could take than authorizing war. No "compelling case" had been made as to "why the United States right now has a clear and present danger," he said in a chilling tone, and there was "no sense" that Saddam Hussein now had a plan to "strike America or its allies or interests abroad." What would be the consequences for the government in Pakistan? What would be the cost of occupation? How would America get out?"

On the other hand, the fury of Robert Wexler (D-FL) had a rather more "faux" feel, as if designed to distract attention from his intention of giving the war resolution every bit as enthusiastic an "aye" vote as Joe Lieberman and Tom Lantos. So Wexler yelled his entire opening statement as a way of showing how "mad" he was. It was "painstakingly clear" that Iraq was "the epicenter of conflict throughout the Middle East." This must have been news to a lot of people, especially journalists covering the West Bank. The President had shown "poor leadership," said Wexler, but "I will vote in favor because I strongly support the policy of regime change." So what's not to like about Bush?

As for other dummies with blank disks for eyes, the last time I saw such impressive non-emotion as Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) displayed in her statement explaining how "proud" she was to support the resolution because "the British dossier detailed Iraq's activities" was in a video of Soviet prosecutor Andrei Vishinsky in court in the 1930s' Moscow show trials. Dan Burton (R-IN) must have felt he was highly compelling when he pointed out that "the Likud and Labor parties all agree that we have to do something now," which certainly reassured me as an American voter. Cass Ballenger (R-NC) attempted to put on a "good ol' boy" act by reminding everyone that he was one of the few people there who could "remember a fella named Adolf Hitler," and that many politicians wondered then "whether he was a threat." How amazing that no one has yet to express outrage at the regular comparison between tired old Saddam and one of the most dangerous men in history.

As far as I could see, most of the members of this ghastly, Soviet-esque committee didn't seem as if they were even "there" in any sense but the most unsavory physical one. The only notable exceptions, apart from Paul, McKinney and Menendez, were Barbara Lee (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jim Leach (R-IA), William Delahunt (D-MA), Jim Davis (D-FL) and Tom Tancredo (R-CO). Davis and Tancredo did a decent job of appearing flummoxed by their colleagues' treatment of the war resolution as a foregone conclusion, though in the end they both voted yes. Eliot Engel (D-NY) looked like he might be genuinely grappling with some sort of moral issue on a grade-B-actor level at first, speaking slowly and solemnly without the aid of notes but then he went right ahead and endorsed the resolution anyway. Apart from a few William Shatners like Tancredo and Engel, almost everyone who voted in favor just went through the familiar, revolting motions of Orwell's "machines" "bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder," etc. without showing the slightest emotion at all.

Opening the proceedings on the second day, Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-IL) told his fellow committeemen they could offer all the amendments to the resolution they wanted, just as long as it was understood that there would be no amending the resolution. The committee wasted an entire day hearing proposed amendments that would never be adopted. Presumably this was meant to be a kind of "group therapy" to make people feel as if they were playing some sort of important role in a democratic process. In response to Rep. Paul's concerns about violating the Constitution, Hyde had this to say: "There are things in the Constitution that have been overtaken by events." Indeed. When Paul suggested that Congress vote on a declaration of war instead of approving the war resolution, Hyde said that the problem with war declarations was that they were inconvenient because they affected existing contracts, insurance policies, etc. In other words, we can't allow such a trifling matter as the slaughter of thousands of people to get in the way of something as important as commerce. Tom Lantos, who had earlier said that no member's conscience was to be questioned, hypocritically turned and accused Paul of being "frivolous and mischievous" with his proposal. The final vote was 31 in favor, 11 against. Barbara Lee was right when she said that "it doesn't take leadership to go and drop bombs on people," but when it came time to vote neither she nor Diane Watson (D-CA) showed up. It was over. The Party had spoken.

If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twer well

If it were done quickly. If th' assassination

Could trammel up the consequence and catch

With his surcease success that but this blow

Might be the be-all and the end-all! here,

But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,

We'd jump the life to come. But in these cases

We still have judgement here, that we but teach

Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return

To plague th' inventor. This evenhanded justice

Commends the ingredience of our poisoned chalice

To our own lips...

~ Shakespeare, Macbeth (Act 1, Scene 7)

H.L. Mencken once said: "Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under." After watching the performance of the Committee, it was clearer than ever what he meant.

THE BIG LIE

Why is a policy position as obscene as advocating a pre-emptive war against a country that has never attacked the United States so resilient? It's very difficult to believe that polls showing a majority of Americans in favor of war reflect widespread enthusiasm. But even assuming the official polling data is correct, and the overwhelmingly antiwar mail coming into congressional offices from constituents just represents a few kooks out there whistling in the dark, why would Americans be so easily convinced that a policy of sending US forces to shoot their way into distant Iraq and topple its sovereign leadership is in the "national interest"?

The current situation in Germany may offer a clue. When a minister in German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's government compared President Bush's tactic of whipping up war fever to Hitler's technique of saber-rattling to distract attention from economic problems, the White House was outraged. The minister had to go. Condoleezza Rice said German-American relations were indefinitely "poisoned," and Richard Perle went so far as to recommend publicly that Schroeder the democratically elected head of a foreign sovereign state resign! So I'd like to take this opportunity to reiterate how Bush's attitude toward war on Iraq is reminiscent of Hitler. As Hitler famously wrote in Mein Kampf:

[I]n the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.

The Bush administration's Big Lie is that Iraq must be invaded because its leader, Saddam Hussein, poses a clear, present and imminent danger to America and its people. Some members of Congress, such as Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), actually detailed some of the smaller lies within the Big Lie, saying "we know that Saddam Hussein is a supporter and sponsor of international terrorism" and "we know that al-Qaeda operatives are hiding [in Iraq]." In fact, "we" (i.e., "the People") know nothing of the sort, and as Rep. Delahunt said on Wednesday, "Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda are natural enemies," because Islamists view Saddam's secular regime as having "corrupted Islam." Nor do we know that, as Rep. Edward Royce (R-CA) said, "Saddam Hussein could have his first nuclear weapon" as soon as he has "forty pounds of enriched uranium," or that "people in Africa" and "other shady characters" would "sell anything for five million dollars." We don't even know that the Iraqi regime attempted to assassinate President George H.W. Bush in 1993, as the perjurer Bill Clinton told us when he ordered a volley of cruise missiles fired at Baghdad. We only know that officials like War Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick "Secure, Undisclosed Location" Cheney say danger is imminent, people like Chabot and Royce accept this as fact, and very few Americans in high places have questioned the party line. Personally, I don't believe any of it, and I'd love to visit Iraq. People who have been there tell me the food is fabulous and the people are charming, and I see no reason to doubt them any more than government officials who have never been there but rely on information from the CIA and other un-elected "experts."

"But how do you know it's a lie?" the answer goes. Well, see, in a "democratic republic" you're supposed to question everything the government tells you. You're supposed to be suspicious of the government because "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance," remember the old saying? I'm not supposed to be burdened with proving the government's assertions are lies, because the government is supposed to prove what it says is true. Blair's flimsy "dossier" and Bush's stale, "magnificent speech" to the UN never proved a thing, and so far no single statement has sickened me as much as Rumsfeld's: "The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence." By Rumsfeld's reasoning, we ought to shoot our way into the Kremlin to make sure Vladimir Putin isn't hiding a doomsday weapon under the couch in his office. After all, where's the "evidence of absence"?

Yet, evidently, the Party is "always right," much as the "Führer" once claimed to be. On September 24th I attended an appearance at the University of Virginia by former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and ex-Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger. Neither of them was going to set the house on fire with brilliant oratory, but since they were elder statesmen coming out against the war (for whatever reason) I figured it was worth hearing what they had to say. Both made worthwhile points about the folly of attacking Iraq, and Scowcroft even explained why it was scientifically unlikely Saddam Hussein was anywhere near acquiring a nuclear weapon, to say nothing of the delivery system necessary for launching an ICBM. But then Scowcroft came to the heart of the matter by saying that "of course" if the President decided to go ahead with war, he would support him, and Eagleburger assented. At that rather sad moment, the hollowness in the eyes became especially pronounced, and Scowcroft even bowed his head and raised a hand when he said "I will support him," as if taking an oath. Why? Because, as Orwell wrote in 1984, "There will be no loyalty except loyalty towards the Party," and a lot of people are desperately afraid not only of being perceived as setting themselves up against the Party, but of simply being excluded from it. Herein lies the truth of what Lenin bequeathed to the world: the Party is forever. "Humanity is the Party. The others are outside, irrelevant." If you leave the Party, you are despicable, vile, beneath contempt.

ISRAEL: OUR 'LITTLE BUDDY'

Tom Lantos on Wednesday said that about twenty years ago "our ally Israel" had "spotted the danger" posed by Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor. Now, he said, Iraq was again "on the verge" of developing nuclear weapons, and "enough is enough." Well, the last time Israel "spotted the danger," the Israeli air force destroyed the reactor quickly and easily with a strike that killed one person. And, just like today, at the beginning of the 1980s America wasn't imminently threatened by Iraq. So why does Uncle Sam have to get involved now? If it's because Israel says it feels threatened, this makes little sense. Largely thanks to Uncle Sam, Israel now has the power to make sure any country that uses a "weapon of mass destruction" (please, God, make them stop using that expression) against it will be incinerated in nuclear fire columns. If the Israelis really believe they're in imminent danger of attack from Iraq (and I don't think they do), let them do the same thing they did then. It was simple then, and it would be a hell of a lot easier now that Iraq is a crippled basket case. Besides, exactly what use is Israel as an "ally," anyway?

National columnist George Will, in his utterly craven and contemptible slavishness toward Israel, has implied that it is somehow treasonable for three combat-veteran congressmen one of whom was awarded a Purple Heart to go to Iraq to try to avert war. What a shame Mr. Will won't suit up, pick up a pack and rifle, and jump out of an airplane into Baghdad. Surely Gen. Sharon would cheer him on from afar as the first paratrooper to wear a bow tie into action. The columnists like George Will who advocate this obscenity don't exactly personify Orwell's "boot stamping on a human face." They're more like the face that peers out from behind the boot, smirking from a position of safety and security while Iraqi civilians are being blown to bits by cluster bombs. They have brute force on their side, along with all the people who harass opponents of war for Israel by sending them hate mail and accusing them of anti-Semitism. It's much easier to put people down when you're on the "winning side." And you get to stay "happy" too. Here's an announcement circulated by some staff members of the International Relations Committee right after the war resolution was approved:

The HIRC Dem LAs [House International Relations Committee Democratic Legislative Assistants] have organized a post-Iraq resolution happy hour at Tortilla Coast tomorrow night and have cordially extended an invitation to the [Republican] Las  The festivities will begin at 6. 

See? All you have to do is sign up to join the Party, and in the period before you're granted full membership you get to "hang out" at the "festivities" with bright young congressional staffers in a neon-lit bar on the Hill, eat a few nachos, get smashed at "happy hour," and maybe go home with another someone for some sloppy, drunken sex between visits to the vomitorium, forgetting for a little while that you're just another little climber hoping to one day be a leader of the Party itself. You'll have all weekend for the nausea to recede, and by Sunday night you'll have recovered enough to look in the mirror again and prepare for another week of telling yourself you're one of the "beautiful people." Those ugly antiwar people, meanwhile, will have to continue living with their own nausea about the smug evil of the War Party, without the benefit of any "festivities."

– Chad Nagle

Write to Chad Nagle

Chad Nagle is a professional writer and lawyer. He has been published in the Wall Street Journal Europe, the Washington Times, and several other periodicals. Mr. Nagle traveled extensively throughout the ex-USSR from 1992-97 as a research consultant. Since mid-1999, he has traveled widely in the former Communist bloc on behalf of the British Helsinki Human Rights Group.

Previous articles by Chad Nagle

House Panel Rushes to Join the (War) Party
10/7/02

Will Congress Rubber-stamp an Unpopular War?
9/21/02

A Sensible China Policy For The American People
4/27/01

Hainan Dim-Sum: Feeding a Bully's Sinister Agenda
4/17/01

The Revolution Comes to Ukraine
3/30/01

Red Dawn in Moldova?
3/16/01

Musings On The New Imperialism and Post-Western World Government
2/23/01

Soros: False Prophet-At-Large
2/9/01

Belarus: Oasis In The Heart Of Europe
1/26/01

Serbia Joins the West
1/12/01

Death of a Patriot
8/31/00

The Twilight of Sovereignty in Azerbaijan
7/14/00

The Ukrainian Model of Democracy
5/5/00

The Slow Strangulation of Democracy in Slovakia
3/28/00

Patrick Buchanan and the American Reformation
1/25/00

The Betrayal of Democracy in Post-Soviet Georgia
11/30/99

Please Support Antiwar.com

Send contributions to

Antiwar.com
520 S. Murphy Avenue, #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086

or Contribute Via our Secure Server
Credit Card Donation Form

Back to Antiwar.com Home Page | Contact Us