I respect good use of the written or spoken word, and I admire people who effectively utilize both. So I have nothing but contempt for people like pollster Frank Luntz who manipulate words to produce a desired emotion in targeted voters — and why I loathe Newsweek and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, to the point where there’s no guarantee I won’t pull a Sprewell if I see him.
Gerson was the Bush speechwriter who gave us the “Axis of Evil” in the 2002 State Of The Union address (making three countries who never attacked us our mortal enemies) and the “16 words” in the 2003 SOTU that falsely connected Saddam Hussein and nuclear weapons. The invasion of Iraq — and the misery and death that followed — was based on that lie, and Gerson is the man who finessed the language to get the C.I.A. to approve President Bush to represent it as fact. The worst part is Michael Gerson is either too proud or too cowardly to admit he (and the administration he served) was wrong.
Post-White House Gerson had the task of analyzing the impact of his work as a speechwriter on Friday’s “Newshour with Jim Lehrer” in a segment that usually features conservative David Brooks’ and liberal Mark Shields’ take on the week’s events. Brooks was off, Gerson filled in and, coincidentally, the big story last week was directly related to his immaculate deception because last Wednesday was the deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraqi cities.
It was our former president who agreed to this timetable — very much against his will. In the Bush/Gerson White House (where speechwriters explained policy because nobody spoke to the press), the word “withdrawal” had been replaced by “surrender.” If the Republicans hung on to Congress in ‘06 and John “I will never surrender” McCain won in ‘08, we’d be staying in Iraq forever, and it would only be a matter of time before we approached the tragic number, 58,000 dead, that brings the word “Vietnam” into any conversation about war.
Shields’ analysis was, “Six-and-a-half years ago the United States went to war against a nation that had never threatened us on the fraudulent charge that that nation had weapons of mass destruction and was going to represent a threat to the United States. It was neither a just or a justified war and the country violated one of its great principles in that war — and that is that war demands equality of sacrifice. In this war, all the sacrifice has been borne by less than 1 percent of Americans: those who wear the uniform and their loved ones. The rest of us pay no price, bear no burden … the one we’ve been asked is to take a tax cut so we didn’t have to pay for the war.”
Gerson tried a bait-and-switch. “One of the comparisons you can make is not necessarily to six-and-a-half years ago, but to two-to-three years ago when it looked like the strategy of standing up Iraqi forces as we stand down was doomed. It looked like a total failure,” he said. “Barack Obama had proposed … an almost immediate withdrawal … If we had withdrawn at that point, it would have been a failure of American military and American will. Now we’re withdrawing, two-to-three years later, and it’s no longer a failure of American military … it’s no longer a failure of American will. They have a decent chance at success and that’s a genuine accomplishment.”
Shields recalled the original lie saying, “That is not why we went to war. Six years ago, the president of the United States said ‘mission accomplished.’ Five years ago, we said Iraq is a sovereign country — we’ve remained there as an occupying power. Four years ago, the VP … said we’re in the last throes of the insurgency.” Gerson should have dropped it, but childishly wanted credit for the “surge” tactic that finally put enough troops into Iraq to secure the country — something Gen. Eric Shinseki and Army Sec. Thomas White were fired for suggesting pre-invasion.
My Fourth of July was book-ended by Michael Gerson’s unapologetic cowardice and the passing of Robert McNamara, secretary of defense during the Vietnam War. Like Gerson, he advanced policies that resulted in our dropping hot death on innocent brown people based on a lie. But at least McNamara had the decency to admit he was wrong. His 11 lessons learned from the war he called a “mistake” should have been required reading in the Bush/Gerson White House. Luckily, people are much better informed now than they were in the McNamara ‘60s. When this generation realized there was no military victory to be had, we voted the warmongers out. We learned the lesson of Vietnam, even if Gerson and the rest of the best and the brightest in the Bush White House didn’t.
Kenny Mack is a multi-platform content provider with four-quadrant crossover appeal. (Can you tell I need an agent?) His past columns are archived at www.ifyoumissedit.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.