“Some folks in the rest of the world seem to think we’re the madmen now.”
By Steve Lopez, oft-read columnist for the Los Angeles Times
Polls tell us there’s a national passion for the United States to take Iraq, and having been there once, I thought I might review the highlights of my trip.
I went in from the north in May of 1991. The Iraqi army was supposed to have withdrawn from the area, or so I was told. Traveling with two photographers, I kept driving deeper into the northern hills, which reminded me of California wine country. We were in search of Saddam Hussein’s summer palace because a crazy editor thought it would be a good idea to see what the vacation home of a madman looks like.
Hussein’s army had just been destroyed in the south, ending the Gulf War. And now the coalition forces were ordering the Iraqis out of the north, so the Kurdish refugees could return home. Two hours into the drive, we came around a bend and there it was–a hilltop villa surrounded by a concrete wall. We parked at the entrance, got out and discovered that some Iraqi soldiers had not gotten the word to head south.
They came at us slowly, with machine guns, and their leader asked in English if we were with the CIA. Then he wanted to know what we thought of Saddam Hussein and George Bush. I saw a bullet-pocked wall behind us and empty shell casings at our feet, so I gave the answers the Iraqis wanted to hear: Saddam good. Bush bad.
They led us into a trailer and offered tea. One soldier took a photo of Saddam off the wall, kissed it and passed it around for others to do the same. They talked of all the Iraqis killed by Americans and of how much they hated the Kurds. I thought, for a moment, that we might never leave the trailer.
But then the encounter turned surreal. Saddam’s army wanted to talk about Madonna and Michael Jackson. They were torn between Saddam’s party line and their natural curiosity about America.
“I want to go to Hollywood,” said one soldier before they all finally led us outside and waved goodbye, as if we were tourists who’d taken a wrong turn.
If the experience helped clarify anything for me, it was the idea of war as puppetry. I would later find much the same in Bosnia, where Muslims and Serbs who’d lived in peace were turned against each other to advance the political survival of despots trading in hatred and caricature. <italics added>
This is not to say war isn’t sometimes necessary, but that we ought to, with every fiber of our humanity and every democratic right, challenge the motives and claims of saber-rattling puppeteers before sending our sons and sisters off to die.
And yet, 11 years after America’s first tour of Iraq, The Times Poll finds a nation eager to go to war, if not kiss a photo of the commander-in-chief.
Why? Because we’re having our strings pulled by the White House in a propaganda campaign that would impress Saddam. He is evil, we are told, and we’ve got to take him out now. If not for our own safety, then for the sake of a free and democratic Iraq.
Let me say without hesitation that if President Bush could prove Hussein had any connection to Al Qaeda and Sept. 11, war would make perfect sense.
If we had the vaguest notion who might take over when Saddam is gone, sure.
If we knew for sure he is capable of blowing up the world, let’s go get him.
If there were any reason to believe war on Iraq might stabilize the Middle East and diminish, rather than increase, the threat of terrorist attacks on the U.S., sign me up.
But guess what, folks. There is none of that.
And still, nearly two-thirds of the 1,372 adults polled nationwide say they would support a ground attack on Iraq.
Who are you people?
Are you the same ones I see going into the Olive Garden? Are you the audience CBS and Fox had in mind when they dreamed up reality TV shows based on “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Green Acres”?
Until we can figure out a way to conduct polls that make us look smarter, we ought to ban them altogether. I don’t know about you, but I’m always dying to ask follow-up questions to the ones you see in polls.
For instance: You seem to really have it in for Iraq.
Do you have any idea that Saudi Arabia, not Iraq, is where most of the Sept. 11 terrorists came from?
Does it concern you even a little that the two biggest cheerleaders for war–President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney–didn’t fight themselves when they had the chance?
Are you willing to lose a loved one to free Iraq?
Maybe not. I did notice that while 64% want a ground attack, only 45% would stick to their guns if a lot of blood was spilled. We want what we want, but not if it involves sacrifice.
One saving grace is that 61% of those who want a war said we should only start one if other countries back us up. But there is no backup, and some folks in the rest of the world seem to think we’re the madmen now.
Steve Lopez writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at email@example.com.