The Fear Factor. (Editorials)

The Nation, October 28, 2002 | Go to article overview

The Fear Factor. (Editorials)


George Bush's speech from Cincinnati was calm, composed, reasonable--a studied performance calculated to win plaudits from the punditry and the consent of Congress to an Iraq resolution tailored to his specifications. Yet beneath the dulcet tones of reason was a jangling subtext of fear. Aware that Americans are increasingly ambivalent about the prospect of war, Bush played on public anxiety about terrorism to gin up support for a pre-emptive attack on Iraq.

Much of his war speech was a melange of half-truths (we know little about Saddam's nuclear programs--yes, because we pulled out inspectors in 1998), misleading claims (Iraq has ballistic missiles capable of hitting US personnel in Turkey and Saudi Arabia--but why then aren't those countries worried about an attack on their own citizens?), misleading intelligence data (a "very senior Al Qaeda leader" received medical treatment in Baghdad--how does that prove military cooperation?) and tired boilerplate from old briefing books ("We cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun, that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud").

What was new in Bush's message was the exaggerated stress on fear itself. Iraq, he claimed, is "exploring ways" of using drone planes to attack the United States with chemical or biological weapons. If Iraq obtained an amount of uranium the size of a softball, Saddam Hussein would "be in a position to threaten America" with nuclear destruction. The horrors of 9/11 were evoked. The future was seen through a glass, darkly: "We have every reason to assume the worst." Indeed, the worst-case scenario ruled: "I'm not willing to stake one American life on trusting Saddam Hussein." The line that drew the biggest applause from the crowd assembled in a World War II museum was: "And through its inaction, the United States would resign itself to a future of fear. …

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