The Breakfast Table

Bush’s Use of the Word “Evil,’ and More on the State of the Union

Dear Joe,

I say that any man who is against overheated and inaccurate chest-pounding is a lily-livered coward, an effete, unpatriotic nattering nabob of negativism and probably not very well endowed in the vital bodily organ department.

OK, I’m kidding. But just for the record, as this discussion proceeds, I reserve the right to sink to repulsive demagogic rhetorical ploys. If we hawks couldn’t question the patriotism and manhood of those who see the evidence differently than we do, we’d be unilaterally disarming, which is something we hate. (Plus if you’re going to raise the Hearstian, war-mongering charge, I need to keep my quiver full.)

On a higher level, if Saddam is effectively deterred from ever using weapons of mass destruction, why on earth is he building them? Why is he forgoing hundreds of billions of dollars in possible oil revenue so he can keep his nuclear and germ warfare programs? One of the reasons I like Bush’s use of the word “evil” is that it encapsulates human potentialities undreamed of by rational-choice game theorists. I think Saddam is evil and is capable of self-destructive acts that he thinks will make him appear glorious.

But don’t take my word on it. Take first the Bush Cabinet’s. The Washington Post series by Dan Balz and Bob Woodward continues to dazzle me. I’d say it should win a Pulitzer, except I don’t think very highly of the Pulitzers. From it we have learned that in the early days of the war, the War Cabinet was against immediately targeting Saddam. Paul Wolfowitz was getting on their nerves by repeatedly making the case. But now they have looked at the evidence and concluded that the war will not be complete if Saddam is in power. Finally, if you want a longer treatment of the argument against Saddam, take a look at this piece by my colleagues, Bob Kagan and the aforementioned Kristol.

Another nice thing about the State of the Union speech was the way it contradicted the polls—which indicated that Bush should focus on the economy. But if Bush wasn’t speaking softly and carrying a big stick, he was doing something more appropriate for the moment. He was behaving in a Churchillian manner. He was jolting the country out of a creeping illusion of normalcy. He was giving a blood, sweat, and tears booster shot. He was galvanizing the public because in times of conflict, national morale is the resource the nation must depend on. Actually, by the bloodthirsty standards of most war speeches, I thought his speech was restrained.

A few other things. Today’s papers confirm the point I made yesterday, that the days of foreign policy consensus are coming to an end. We are about to have a highly charged political fight over the war on terror. It will cut across party lines, with Joe Lieberman Democrats on the hawkish side and libertarian-tinged Republicans on the restraint side. See thisNew York Times editorial as early fraying.

Also, did you notice this, that the University of California is going to suggest abandoning the SATs? Those morons have it exactly backward. Colleges should abandon the idea that students have to get straight-A grades, or nearly that, to get into top colleges. All we reward with that is mindless drudgery, kids who can regurgitate well before teachers, regardless of whether they have any passion for a subject, sense of creativity, or any drive to say or do something interesting.

You can guess what my high-school grades were like.