Advice to Pres. Bush: "None Dare Call it Murder"
"The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." (William Butler Yeats, "The Second Coming")
"The horror, the horror." (from Conrad's Heart of Darkness)
Today, President Bush talked at the Pentagon about certain realities in Iraq. One point he noted was the nature of the enemy and their effect on Iraqi society, saying: “Scores of innocent men, women, and children are being killed by brutal murderers.”
In the past, one big problem with President Bush's rhetoric about the war was its reliance on abstractions. One famous phrase was to "stay the course," something that has about as much emotional force as "C'est la vie."
"Cut and run" is another problem usage. President Johnson used it often in talking about Viet Nam, and it didn't seem to help him much more than it has Bush.
A slogan that's on the ascendancy is one contained in the Baker-Hamilton Report. It notes the goal in Iraq should be to have an Iraq that can "govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself."
I've used that myself in this Blog. President Bush is using it a lot, and, if the past truly is prologue, he'll be over-using it in the future.
Abstractions don't have a lot of force. They don't move people. They just don't register with most Americans. They aren't the kind of things we will fight and die for.
However, in his Pentagon remarks today President Bush seemed to be saying something that would get people's attention. Consider that remark about “Scores of innocent men, women, and children are being bruttaly killed by ruthless murderers.”
The War in Iraq is about murder. It is about the slaughter of the innocent -- children on their way home from schools, men looking for work in order to feed their families, women shopping for food at a market, worshippers praying at a mosque, and police trying to direct traffice.
Why did the Nazis kill millions of Jews, or Stalin kill million of kulaks? Perhaps because it reflected the nature of who Hitler, Stalin, and their followers were. As one bloodthirsty maniac proclaimed, "Kill for the love of killing!"
In essence, the war is NOT about insurgents, or about sectarians, or about the distinctions between the various militias. Soldiers won't give their lives for Western civilization or even "our way of life." They will give them for mom, dad, and Sister Sue (or perhaps Brother Abdullah).
Again, the situation we face is about murder, cold-blooded, indiscriminate destruction of human beings. It's about taking the lives of people who have done nothing wrong.
Frankly, what the President should do is rub people's nose in the blood unleashed by Al Qaeda and its friends. Perhaps the smell of that blood would awaken some war opponents from their torpor and fecklessness. It can't hurt to try.
Al Qaeda is all about such murder, as we all discovered on 9/11. The people who died at the World Trade Center and in Pennsylvania were not the abstract "infidels" bin Laden despises. They were flesh-and-blood secretaries, maintenance workers, waiters at restaurants, businessmen and businesswomen, fire and police personnel. Dozens of them were Muslims.
The question for us, as for most Iraqis, isn't how we can avoiid or hide from such people. Rather, it's how we can stop them. Frankly, we need to determine how we can kill or capture and incarcerate them before they kill us, which they clearly intend to do.
Throughout history, mass murderers have a purpose. They kill as many people as they need to in order to frighten other into submission.
In the 1930s in Spain, there was a leader of the Spanish Foreign Legion named Millan Asray. His motto was "Viva la muerte," or "Long live death!" That makes about as much sense as one of bin Laden's homicidal and ignorant proclamations.
What we're dealing with in Iraq is the presence of many serial killers. If we have a serial killer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or Gainesville, Florida, we tell civilians to take necessary precautions.
However, we don't tell the police -- our domestic version of the military -- to "redeploy" to Philadelphia or Miami. We tell them to intensify their efforts to stop the murderer, to catch him or kill him.
We need to take the same philosophy when it comes to fighting terror. If we flee, as General Abizaid indicated, "they will follow us," and if we don't defend ourselves, they will kill us.
In short, we -- and President Bush -- need to speak clearly and concretely about the murderers we face. Unlike a famous American criminal, they don't post signs saying, "Stop me before I kill more."
In the future, President Bush's speeches should be models of simplicity, focusing precisely what bin Laden and others like him are up to: murdering innocent people, killing for the love of killing.
(My next column will deal with recent comments by Senator Gordon Smith, a Republican who says he can no longer support the war because of the continuing deaths of American servicemen and servicewomen. I like Senator Smith, but in this case I think he's defaulting on his key responsibilities as a Senator: always to face up to reality, always to take stands that don't endanger American soldiers, and always to support positions that defend the security of the USA.)