The people versus George Bush

One of the most typical means of quashing debate in a hierarchically ordered power structure – be it a classroom with a teacher or a corporation with a CEO – is some variation on the theme, ‘Sorry, this isn’t a democracy.’ Strangely, though, this very attitude seems prevalent in the current U.S. administration.

Perhaps the most surreal property of the entire debate surrounding the war on Iraq has been the role of the U.S. government. Normally, one expects the government to serve as a sort of arbiter between various groups – negotiating square deals and so forth. At least, one hopes the government would aspire to achieve a semblance of that.

Yet the current U.S. administration occupies a much different role: one of barely leashed aggressor. I think everyone, pro- and anti-war alike, would be shocked if Rumsfeld came out tomorrow and said, ‘You know, Mr. Blix has presented an interesting new position. We’re going to hold off on thinking about war for a few days to consider it. While we still think Saddam is a threat, it seems necessary to evaluate this new information.’

Instead, a new dynamic seems to have emerged – an ardent anti-war faction of grassroots protestors allied with various nations against the U.S. government. Yes, there are those who are pro-war, but I don’t see thousands of them marching on Washington to demand Saddam’s head on a spike. It’s quite strange, really; the U.S. government, rather than representing the people, has become one pole of a conflict. And I would hope this would make people very, very nervous.

For all the talk of WMDs and Saddam’s ballistic missiles, it is not at all clear that war with Iraq is justified. For God’s sake, we have weapons inspectors in the country. The logic of this is stunning: the administration desires to disarm nations, so we are going to go dismantle the one regime that has permitted us to poke around and see if they actually have any.

But that is not the point of this article. The very fact that the U.S. government does not seem to be engaging both sides of the issues, but rather is the primary instigator of conflict – indeed, that it seems to be the most bellicose of the bellicose – truly, that is suspicious. This is a government designed to represent us, U.S. citizens. Yes, designed to protect our interests, and one can argue that to protect our interests sometimes you have to go over our heads. But this is not a situation where it appears that the U.S. is immediately in danger, or that Saddam remaining in power for a few more rounds of inspections would cause the collapse of Western civilization.

The vigor with which the administration is advocating war, then, must strike one as alarming. Here are all these forces – the United Nations, other nations, the citizens of other nations and most significantly (perhaps of the only force of significance) the very constituency of this nation – striving against war. On the other side stands a group of politicians, supposed to represent that very constituency.

The process of going to war itself, then, has become grossly distorted. Rather than acting as a collective of all the interests that influence the situation, the U.S. government has become a bastion for one of those interests against which the others must strive.

While this makes more convenient the means of protesting the war, it also reflects a potentially terrifying development in the role of government – as an entity with its own specific interests, derived from the desires of those in the administration, and completely detached from the desires or apparent interests of its citizens. There was no talk of war with Iraq before Bush entered power or before 9/11. Indeed, if anything, there was more cause to go to war then, as Saddam had not yet readmitted inspectors.

The Bush administration seems to be moving with its own momentum, driven by its own internal interests. It has shown a virtual obsession with fulfilling its own wishes and acting on its own intentions. The wills of individuals in the administration – Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush – seem to have supplanted popular opinion, justice and consensus as the vehicle for making decisions.

This is a democracy; those should be the forces of change. Yet there is no implicit flexibility in the Bush administration; indeed, there is only aggression.