What's Left

October 10, 2002

Hitmen for Uncle Sam

By Stephen Gowans

I learned long ago that pointing out the inconsistencies of the powerful can earn you the verbal equivalent of a good swipe across the head. "Consistency is the hobgoblin of puny minds," thundered a women I once knew, who has since parlayed her knack of holding inconsistent positions into a large income, a summer house in the country, dozens of directorships, and the fawning admiration of those who would like to follow in her footsteps.

Orwell called it double-think-- the ability to hold two conflicting beliefs simultaneously without perceiving the contradiction. Except he was thinking of dupes, not those who do the duping. The latter know their positions are contradictory; they just don't really care.

Take, for example, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. Fleischer denies there's any contradiction between a CIA report that says there's little chance Iraq will attack the United States unless provoked, and President George W. Bush's portraying Iraq as an imminent threat.  The contradiction, of course, is plain, but Fleischer's denying it is just part of the unprincipled bafflegab that any White House spokesperson must have honed to a high degree to have had any chance of being considered for the job of the country's top bullshitter.

You can imagine the exchange at Fleischer's job interview.

Interviewer: Ari, have you a puny mind?

Fleischer: Do you mean, Am I troubled by inconsistency?

Interviewer: Yes.

Fleischer: Well, yesterday two plus two was four. Today it's five. I have no problem with that.

Inconsistency doesn't trouble Lisa Schmidt either. Schmidt is the wife of Major Harry Schmidt, an Illinois National Guardsmen who killed four Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, after dropping a bomb on a training exercise, ignoring standard protocols. "He would never, ever, have intentionally hurt or killed anyone," Schmidt's wife says. And I'm sure the former Top Gun instructor had no intention of killing the Canadians, and deeply regrets he did. But saying Schmidt would never intentionally hurt or kill anyone is like saying a Mafia hitman would never intentionally hurt or kill another person. What does Mrs. Schmidt think her husband does for a living? He flies over foreign lands, dropping bombs to hurt and kill, and that means hurting and killing kids as young as his own two children, when he's not accidentally taking out soldiers on his own side. In other words, he's a hitman, in the pay of Uncle Sam, which makes him a whole lot more dangerous than your garden variety Mafia murderer. But, as they say, only a puny mind could see a contradiction in a loving family man who would never intentionally hurt or kill anyone, flying over foreign lands raining weapons of mass destruction on the people below.

If those rude enough to point out inconsistencies can't be silenced with the "puny minds" remark (which, when you think of it, is an elevated, hoity-toity version of the street remark, Shut up, you fucking idiot!) there's always the "no moral equivalence" argument, to be pressed into service whenever the United States mounts its high horse to punish another country (usually one with more than a few oil wells or a kickass geostrategic position) for doing what the US does itself, and usually with greater vigor; little things, like invading other countries, ignoring international law, bankrolling and harboring terrorists, assassinating foreign leaders, and working on its collection of weapons of mass destruction. So it is that Washington can propose a program of pressing Major Harry Schmidt's fellow hitmen into service to take out tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of Iraqis, to quash a weapons of mass destruction program Saddam may or may not (and probably doesn't) have, while the Pentagon sits atop the largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction ever assembled. If it seems the US is the pot calling the kettle black,  we're assured, "There's no moral equivalence." This, as far as I can tell, is like non-Euclidean geometry. As long as you're logically consistent within the bounds of your starting assumptions, you can come with up with all kinds of weird conclusions. And the starting assumption is key: The actions of the United States are, by, definition, honorable, admirable, and above all else, moral. Therefore, anyone who says the United States is no different than countries the State Department castigates for immorality, have made the logical error of assuming "moral equivalence." Using the same approach, I could declare that all crime is crime, unless committed by myself, in which case it's not crime, but a deeply moral and honorable act designed to make the world a better place. I could then rob banks, defraud credit card companies, and flash women in elevators, while shouting down critics who say I'm nothing more than a common criminal with the offended cry, "There's no moral equivalence!" Only the puny minds of reflexive anti-Gowansists would perceive any hypocrisy. Of course, the problem is I don't have hitmen like Major Harry Schmidt to see to it that the barrel of the gun speaks louder than law, morality and principles.

This recalls reflexive anti-Americans poking Uncle Sam in the eye. That's how Jerry Grafstein, sinecure-holder in the Canadian Senate, describes Canadians who have criticized the Bush administration's war-mongering. "I don't think we can keep sticking our finger in the eye of America and somehow feel they won't react," says Grafstein. So the political appointee is proposing Sept. 11 be set aside as "America Day in Canada," an annual salute to Canada's "exuberant and irreplaceable neighbor to the south." Of course, Grafstein doesn't care a fig about whether Canadians' criticisms of Bush's foreign policy are warranted, or whether Washington can keep sticking a hulking huge gun barrel up the snouts of those parts of the world it doesn't yet control and somehow feel someone isn't going to react. He's worried the behemoth to the south will decide Canada--which the US Conference of Defense Associations calls, "a militarily weak socialist nation of little importance"--needs a little economic punishment to discipline its reluctant government and the renitent parts of its population. So, as a sop, Graftstein's proposing America Day as a day of "reflection" for Canadians, along with a change in the spelling of Vichy to C-A-N-A-D-A. Grafstein's so far up Uncle Sam's butt he's become a permanent part of the old man's colon, all the better to pursue his new hobbies of editing the American Journal of Epicurean Coprophagia, while conducting tourists on gondola trips through  Sam's alimentary canal. ("It might smell like shit in here," Grafstein tells his charges, "but it's exuberant and irreplaceable shit.")

As to the description of Canada as militarily weak, this too must surely be an instance of  inconsistency that bedevils puny minds. For while by American standards Canada is decidedly militarily weak--as is every other country in the world, including combinations thereof--by the shifting standards of the US government, Canada may or may not be militarily weak, depending on whether it becomes a prized target for military take-over. If so, then Canada, like Iraq, could become an imminent military threat, just months away from acquiring the worst weapons of mass destruction known to man, and able to hold the world to ransom (kind of the way the United States does today.) If so, Washington won't have to worry long. I'm sure Jerry would accept another sinecure, this time as the US-installed King of Canada, whose reign would be dedicated to making over the country in the image of its "exuberant and irreplaceable neighbor to the south" while rooting out unhelpful anti-American elements that have been infected by the worst of diseases: principled opposition to the tyranny of an exuberant and irreplaceable bully.

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