The Better Rhetor

Thursday, March 06, 2003
The Bleak and Harsh God:
Bush’s God

Here at the Better Rhetor, we freely acknowledge our ignorance when it comes to questions of the Higher Power. But we worry (read: we are damn scared) by those who believe their God justifies their decisions to condemn others, to invade foreign lands, to slaughter innocent civilians. This is not a God we understand.

In a great piece, Mary at The Watch considers the "bleak and harsh God" summoned by Mr. Bush in his campaign for war.

The President is openly using religion to justify his decisions. He tells people, "... he is at peace with his plans for a potential war with Iraq - he has thought long and hard of the risk to U.S. troops and is sustained by the Bible and prayers of the public." In February, Bush spoke to a prayer meeting and indicated that he thought that he had been chosen by God for this time:

At the recent prayer breakfast, Mr. Bush indicated again that he sees himself as an instrument of a higher authority. "Events aren't moved by blind change and chance," he said. "Behind all of life and all of history, there's a dedication and purpose, set by the hand of a just and faithful God.'"

Of course, the problem is, Bush sees himself as an arm of a vengeful, triumphal God, the God of the Old Testament.

But Bush and the conservative right do not have sole proprietary claim to religion any more than they do to what it means to be a patriot. The world's most recognized religious leader, the Pope, is actively combating the drive to war with a compelling drive to peace. Along with the Anglican bishop in Great Britain, he has called the faithful to an Ash Wednesday dedicated to fasting and praying for peace.

Go here for the whole essay. It’s worth it.

Dare to Imagine
A Different Media

Media Whores Online nails it down:

Why is this on AOL's Welcome screen:

But not this?:

Why indeed?

Bait and Switch:
The Rhetoric of Make Believe

Here’s the latest nifty bit of rhetorical Three Card Monty from the Bushies, who cannot win the debate on Iraq and so have given up trying:

From The New York Times (reg. req.):

Bush Is Undeterred by Opposition to Using Force Against Iraq

WASHINGTON, March 2 — The political and logistical obstacles to realizing President Bush's goal of ousting Saddam Hussein within weeks seem to keep mounting.

Billions of dollars in promised aid have not yet persuaded Turkey to open its bases to American troops. Most members of the Security Council are still demanding both more time for inspections and better evidence that Mr. Hussein cannot be contained except by war. And Mr. Hussein himself — just as the White House predicted — has begun blowing up a few Al Samoud missiles in hopes of averting an American invasion.

And yet Mr. Bush not only sounds more certain than ever that he is about to lead the United States into war — he also talks almost as if Mr. Hussein has already been deposed.

In a deliberate and risky strategy, Mr. Bush appears to be dropping out of the public debate over whether there is value in further inspections or any alternative to ousting Mr. Hussein, or sending him into exile.

"The United States has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq's new government," Mr. Bush said in his Saturday radio address, skipping past the question of how he plans to remove the current one.

It was one of many phrases, one of his senior aides said this weekend, that "reflect the leapfrog strategy," an effort to jump over French, German and Russian objections, Turkish intransigence, North Korean provocations, anxiety from the Arab League, and hand-wringing by Americans who are nervous about a go-it-alone approach.

"In his mind, the old debate about whether Saddam will disarm is over," one of Mr. Bush's senior aides said late last week. "We're on to the next phase, even if everyone else isn't there yet."

This is clever. Faced with the reality that the majority of Americans oppose war without U.N. support, that millions of people are marching for peace worldwide, that Turkey cannot be bribed, that the Vatican is calling for peace, and that governments around the world oppose U.S. military action, the Bush people have decided to declare victory and go home.

It’s a bait and switch. Rather than continuing to argue for the merits of their position—an argument they have concluded they cannot win—they now want to shift the terms of the debate. They don’t want to talk anymore, in other words, about whether we should invade Iraq. We are supposed to accept the fiction that this has been already settled, and we are now in the "next phase" of discussing what to do in post-war Iraq. That way they can shift the discussion, aided by our feckless media, away from their losing hand and onto another topic—one that presumes the Bushies won the original debate.

We saw the same strategy during the election debacle in Florida. As the debate was raging in the courts and on the streets, Karl Rove and Karen Hughes went about staging a series of events designed to create the perception that the issue had already been settled and that Bush had already won. And so there was a "transition team" created, leaks about who would be the next secretary of state, photo-ops designed to make Bush look "presidential." (He looked like a deer in the headlights, but that’s another issue.)

The strategy is the same here. The Bush people are losing the argument about Iraq. Indeed, it's been a fiasco for the administration. One the one side, you have the Pope, Nelson Mandela, and millions of people in the streets calling for peace. On the other side, you have, well, Richard Perle and an increasingly discredited Colin Powell. So how do the Bush people respond?

By shifting the terms of the debate from whether to after; by pretending that the question was settled, and that they won. And by counting on the rest of us to believe it. Call it The Rhetoric of Make Believe.

It’s vital we remind ourselves:

The argument has NOT been settled.
The case has not been made
And war is not inevitable.

Bush is losing this debate. Let's not let him walk away from the table pretending that he won.

Don’t Blame Me:
It Was that Other Bush!

From the ongoing vaudeville act, Ari & I, by Russell Mokhiber

Mokhiber: Ari, you have said in the past that every step will be taken to protect innocent and civilian life in Iraq. During the first Gulf War, the United States intentionally bombed water storage facilities and sewage treatment plants. This led to the deaths of an estimated half million civilian Iraqis from cholera, hepatitis, and typhoid. In what sense is that protecting civilian and innocent life?

Ari Fleischer: In the event force is used, the United States military takes particular care to make certain that targets that are attacked are only military targets. There can never be an absolute guarantee in war, of course, but every care is taken by our military to make certain that every target is a military target with a military objective.

Mokhiber: Then why did we intentionally bomb the water treatment facilities?

Ari Fleischer: I don't know about your facts. I'm not certain in what you are saying. I didn't work here in 1991. You may want to talk to the Pentagon about anything that took place then.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003
Dear Friend

From the Better Rhetors at :

Dear friend,

I'm hoping you can join me on an emergency petition from citizens around the world to the U.N. Security Council. The petition's going to be delivered to the 15 member states of the Security Council on THURSDAY, MARCH 6.

If hundreds of thousands of us sign, it could be an enormously important and powerful message -- people from all over the world joining in a single call for a peaceful solution. But we really need everyone who agrees to sign up today. You can do so easily and quickly at:

The stakes couldn't really be much higher. A war with Iraq could kill tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and inflame the Middle East. According to current plans, it would require an American occupation of the country for years to come. And it could escalate in ways that are horrifying to imagine.

We can stop this tragedy from unfolding. But we need to speak together, and we need to do so now. Let's show the Security Council what world citizens think.

Thank you.

They Report. They Decide.
Prepping us for War II

A tour of our major media's Special Reports:

America at War: Target Iraq
Fox News

Target Saddam

Showdown with Iraq
ABC News

Showdown Iraq

Showdown with Saddam

Countdown Iraq

Confronting Iraq
Gannett Online

War on Terror
Washington Post

Fortunately, they're all objective. (Is this what was meant by "manufacturing consent"?)

Monday, March 03, 2003
U.S. Diplomat's Letter of Resignation

by John Brady Kiesling

The following is the text of John Brady Kiesling's letter of resignation to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. Mr. Kiesling is a career diplomat who has served in United States embassies from Tel Aviv to Casablanca to Yerevan.

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I am writing you to submit my resignation from the Foreign Service of the United States and from my position as Political Counselor in U.S. Embassy Athens, effective March 7. I do so with a heavy heart. The baggage of my upbringing included a felt obligation to give something back to my country. Service as a U.S. diplomat was a dream job. I was paid to understand foreign languages and cultures, to seek out diplomats, politicians, scholars and journalists, and to persuade them that U.S. interests and theirs fundamentally coincided. My faith in my country and its values was the most powerful weapon in my diplomatic arsenal.

It is inevitable that during twenty years with the State Department I would become more sophisticated and cynical about the narrow and selfish bureaucratic motives that sometimes shaped our policies. Human nature is what it is, and I was rewarded and promoted for understanding human nature. But until this Administration it had been possible to believe that by upholding the policies of my president I was also upholding the interests of the American people and the world. I believe it no longer.

For the rest, go to Common Dreams.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

From the ongoing Washington Noh play, Ari & I, by Russell Mokhiber

Mokhiber: Ari, you said yesterday that if we go to war with Iraq, the Iraqi leadership, including Saddam Hussein, would be a legitimate target under international law. Does this mean that if we go to war with Iraq, our leadership would be a legitimate target under international law?

Ari Fleischer: I think you should address that to an international lawyer. But the point remains the same -- our nation is threatened, all people in our nation are threatened by Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction. We know that terrorists desire to strike the United States. We know terrorists desire to strike the leadership of the United States. We don't know definitively if that fourth airplane was heading toward the White House or the Congress. So we do know that we are at war with people who want to seek maximum damage on our country and its leadership.

Mokhiber: But you made a judgment yesterday under international law, that Saddam would be legitimate target. So does that mean our leadership would be a legitimate target?

Ari Fleischer: Russell, I have no intention of becoming Saddam Hussein's international lawyer. You can find another one.

Mokhiber: Okay. Second question -- can I take from what you said earlier that the reason Lawrence Lindsey was fired was because he made an estimate about the cost of war with Iraq?

Ari Fleischer: No, I was having fun with Dick. That's why I said that. And I wanted to get myself out of having to dodge the question again.

[Here's the back and forth with the other reporter, Dick:

Question: Ari, you said many times -- whether in reference to foreign protests, domestic protests, questions from the Hill, wherever, that the President welcomes an honest and open debate about how we move forward on Iraq. But given the concerns over the deficit, given the concerns over the economy, isn't it fair to include in that debate, even with all the caveats he wanted to attach to it, some preliminary figures on what this might cost -- best case scenario, worst case scenario -- so that people around the country and people on Capitol Hill can make up their minds about how we move forward?

Ari Fleischer: You're asking the same questions over and over again -- my answer is exactly the same. Nothing has changed.

Question: The reason we're asking over and over again is it doesn't seem unreasonable to get at least a cost range, with all the appropriate caveats. You know everybody in this room is careful about reporting those. What's the harm in putting that out? I mean, it's --

Ari Fleischer: For the exact reasons I gave earlier. As soon as something is knowable, we will have additional information to share on it. I'd think you would also not want the White House to engage in any speculation about numbers that could fluctuate or be dramatically different. So it's too soon to say.

Question: A recently departed Larry Lindsey put forward an estimate back in December based on a percentage of GDP which was in line with the spending --

Ari Fleischer: Are you asking me to follow the example and be recently departed? (Laughter).

Question: That's a decision you can make --

Ari Fleischer: Thank you.

Hello & Goodbye

So many touching tributes in our media, diverted momentarily from their breathless cheerleading for war, to the gentle soul who was Mr. Rogers. If he died every day, we might have a more decent public discourse.

Let us honour if we can
The vertical man
Though we value none
But the horizontal one.
—WH Auden