As a commentary on how quickly the original rationale for this war has been abandoned, Maureen Dowd dubs the Evil One "Osama bin Later," or, alternatively, "the One Formerly Known as Evil," as the President declares: "I am truly not that concerned about him." Yesterday bin Laden was the epitome of Pure Evil – today he's an irrelevant "parasite," says Bush, a has-been who barely merits mention. Oh well: one day you're a star, the next you're a nobody, forgotten by all and put out to pasture like an old mule. That's showbiz. SOME 'VICTORY'! As the Pentagon declared victory in Afghanistan – yet again – and announced that Operation Whatchmacallit (how come every US military maneuver has have its own name?) was a great success, the President claimed that Al Qaeda had been essentially defeated, and its leader "shoved more and more on the margins." Bin Laden is "a man on the run," if he's alive at all. Meanwhile, reports of Al Qaeda regrouping are breaking out all over, and, just the other day, the Evil One's brother triumphantly confided that, as of three weeks ago, the formerly most wanted man in the world was in excellent health. FAMILY SECRETS First the Al Qaeda nutballs blew up the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing thousands – then their relatives thumb their noses at us, mocking the impotence of the world's only superpower. In an interview with CNN, Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed, one of bin Laden's multitude of half-brothers, said his family has its "own information" as to the condition and whereabouts of the black sheep of the family. He did not elaborate, but instead went on to argue that pure pious Osama "couldn't have" been behind 9/11 because he "fears God" and loves his mother. Instead of sending the Special Forces to grab this joker by the hair and string him up until he talks, Bush and the Wolf Pack, along with Rummy and the gang, have their sights fixed on Baghdad. It's enough to make your blood boil. HEAR THAT JUNGLE BEAT The propagandists of the War Party certainly are prolific. It's amazing how many different pretexts have been handed out to justify Gulf War II, in little more than a few weeks. First it was the reclassification of Scott Speicher, the first casualty of the last Gulf War, from "missing in action" to a possible prisoner of war. The War Party began beating their tom-toms furiously at the news, along with various Iraqi "defectors" with ties to the US-funded Iraqi National Congress, and the US government began to make inquiries about him – more than a decade after his plane went down over Iraq. WHO'RE YOU CALLING A LIAR? The irony here is that it was Dick Cheney, then defense secretary, who stood there with Colin Powell on the first night of first Gulf War, hailed the great success of the American attack, and announced: "There's been a single American aircraft lost. It involves a single casualty. I don't know that we want to identify the aircraft, do we?'' Powell took his cue: "It was an F-18." A reporter asked: "Was that a wounding or a death?" "A death," Cheney replied. Is the Vice President a liar – or, worse, an incompetent? If we take seriously the current campaign to make Speicher the Mumia Abu-Jamal of the neoconservative movement – and hardly anyone does – then the answer must be 'yes.' DELAYED REACTION You have to wonder, though, aside from the sheer convenience of an alleged "hostage crisis" involving Iraq at this particular moment, why it took the US government so long to raise the issue. As Lon Wagner and Amy Waters Yarsinske put it in the last installment of an excellent 6-part series on the Speicher case in the Virginian Pilot: "To Speicher's fellow pilots and others steeped in military culture, the one thing they can't understand is why the government took so long to react. When it signed a treaty to end the war, the United States didn't put Speicher's name on a list of POWs. The government didn't officially ask Iraq for information on Speicher until January 2001. Nor did the military search for him when he went down. And they waited two years to look after finding his jet." WOOLSEY – A THIRD-RATE ACT Having failed to pin the anthrax mail on Saddam, and after the tall tale about Mohammed Atta meeting Iraqi intelligence in Prague fell through, the latest story to surface is a piece in the New Yorker linking Saddam to the Ansar Al-Islam group operating in Northern Iraq – a region largely outside of Baghdad's control. At first the CIA wasn't buying it: in an unusual turnabout, however, they suddenly reversed their position – an indication that, perhaps, the internal debate is over, and the decision has been made. However, their Clinton-appointed ex-director, James Woolsey, is not only buying it, he's peddling it as cheaply as he can, to anyone who will listen to his sales pitch. Woolsey, you'll remember, is a founding member of Americans for Victory Over Terrorism, a group of intellectual vigilantes whose aim is to smear all war critics into silence. He has made Gulf War II his life's work, and, if he succeeds, it will be the apotheosis of a spectacularly undistinguished career. Forced to resign as CIA director because of his disastrous mishandling of the Aldrich Ames espionage case, Woolsey left amid charges that the agency under his tutelage had funded and supported a Guatemalan military junta responsible for the death of an American and the spouse of another. He didn't know what was going on under his own nose, in his own agency, but now we are expected to believe he knows Saddam's best-kept secrets. Woolsey's is the kind of third-rate act that fills in the empty space between the opening act and the strippers, a clown whose antics provide, at most, a few moments of merriment. COLLISION COURSE Like a car veering out of control after an initial collision, hurtling down a steep grade and toward an oncoming train, our announced war aims have veered radically and with alarming speed – from capturing and/or killing the perpetrators of the 9/11 atrocity to achieving a "regime change" in Iraq. We are supposed to forget about bin Laden, and Al Qaeda is consigned to an afterthought, at best. So, what're we fighting for, now, anyway? CONSERVATIVES SAY THE DARNEDEST THINGS It's amazing what you can find on the web. National Review's "weblog" is an informal literary-political salon, where Rich Lowry feels free to consider the virtues of nuking Mecca and much of the Arab world, Rod Dreher dwells obsessively on tales of violated altar boys, and Jonah Goldberg relentlessly plugs himself: it is, in short, full of goodies. In "The Corner," as they call it, Kathyrn Jean Lopez notes: "SAY IT AIN'T SO! – Sure, it was International Women's Day in Afghanistan, too on March 8 there, but some women were…wearing burkas. Whatever have we been fighting for?" Well, you see, Kathy, there were these two really big buildings in downtown Manhattan … REMEMBER THEN This war, if it ever had any justification, was supposed to be about bringing bin Laden and his cohorts to justice. Congress voted to send out the posse in hot pursuit – not to conquer Iraq, shore up the government of former Soviet apparatchik Eduard Shevardnadze in Georgia, or launch an open-ended war of conquest. Now we are told that bin Laden is "irelevant," a "marginal figure" whose continued existence or non-existence is a non-issue. What's really important is that the Afghan dress-code for women must be rewritten by Gloria Steinem. GEET READY This war is so far off-course that the distance can only be measured in light-years. Lost at sea, American policymakers are entering some potentially dangerous waters. Do we really want to declare war on over 1 billion Muslim-Arabs? Are we prepared to insert an army of occupation into conquered Iraq in order to effect and maintain a "regime change"? If so, we had better be prepared to take over Iran, and Saudi Arabia, too, as well as sending US troops in to defend Israel. In short, we had better be prepared to single-handedly wage World War IV – and ditch our traditional conception of what it means to live in a constitutional system of limited government. THE AMERICAN REPUBLIC, R. I. P. The horrific crime of 9/11 is being used as a launching pad for an even greater crime – a brazen act of aggression that will result in many thousands of deaths, far more than even the earlier inflated estimates of 9/11 casualties. The most tragic death of all will no doubt be that of the American republic, and its reincarnation as a swaggering and staggeringly corrupt Imperial colossus. From the republic of Jefferson to an Empire that decadent Rome, for all its hubris and greed, could only dream of – and the great tragedy will be that it might have been prevented. World War IV can still be prevented. But the time-frame in which an alternative scenario can take shape is rapidly shrinking, and the crisis is almost upon us. There are differing versions of who's winning the internal White House debate, and I'm not in the business of reading tea-leaves. My job is to point out the possible consequences of a given policy, and then to stand back and watch them play out. But not, I hope, this time…. BY THE GRACE OF GOD God willing, we will beat the warmongers, whose agenda has nothing to do with protecting legitimate American interests, and represents a radical departure from the principles upon which this nation was founded. We must convince the American majority that World War IV has to mean the obliteration of everything that makes life worth living: our liberty, our livelihood, our distinctively American character. We must make this war a referendum on the Empire, and, in that way, defeat the Imperium before it is allowed to formalize itself and shake off the restraints imposed by the old constitutional order. I'm not announcing my conversion to Christianity, but if there is a God – that is, a supreme being of ultimate benevolence – who is also the guardian of mankind, then now is the time for Him to show His divine beneficence, if not His face, and intervene on the side of peace. The US, like some pagan deity gone on a demonic rampage, stands astride the world, nuclear thunderbolts grasped in its giant hand, vowing to annihilate "evil" from Baghdad to Pyongyang and beyond. Against this false god, the True God is bound to hold a grudge: for He, we are told, is "a jealous God," and doesn't take competitors lightly. (Remember what happened to the Golden Calf!) Sooner or later – and, given the state of the antiwar movement right now, this could be our only hope – He is bound to come out fighting. And when He does, the real Axis of Evil in this world – the War Party and its allies, both foreign and domestic – will be brought to judgement. I hope they show it on Court TV, because that's one trial I sure don't want to miss.
Several years ago, a prominent Indonesian businessman who now resides in Canada, insisted on meeting me in a back room of one of Jakarta's posh restaurants. An avid reader of mine, he 'had something urgent to tell me', after finding out that our paths were going to be crossing in this destroyed and hopelessly polluted Indonesian capital.