On a day when Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (insert your own joke here), both houses of Congress voted overwhelmingly to give President Bush the authority to launch military action against Iraq. Their resolution came after a week of deep soul-searching and passionate, soaring debate — or so our elected officials would have us believe. In fact, as The New Republic's Michael Crowley points out, the Senate debate was generally little more than "a showcase for banality and self-importance," filled with droning, belabor-the-obvious speeches often delivered to an empty chamber. The highlights, Crowley reports, included Ted Kennedy claiming that North Korea has nuclear weapons, John Warner strategizing loudly with aides while other senators were attempting to speak, and "excruciating" turns of phrase, like this gem from Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska: "[This] is an endeavor that the United States should not undertake alone which, in my opinion, strengthens the need for any use of force to be multilateral." (You don't say . . .)
Still, there were a few gems amid the verbiage, even if they didn't quite rise to the level of Webster and Clay. Here, of instance, is Senator Phil Gramm, Republican of Texas:
[Imagine] there's this rattlesnake nesting in your rock garden. And our colleagues are saying, Well, look, if you go in there and you try to find that rattlesnake and try to kill him, he's liable to bite you. And the probability of being bitten is lower if you leave him alone.
And for a short period of time, they're right. There's no doubt about the fact that if you put on your snake boots and you get rat-shot in your pistol and you go out there with a stick, you start poking around trying to find him, the probability during that period of time that you're going to get bitten does go up.
But I think most rational people get their pistol and get that stick and go out there because that rattlesnake's going to be out there for a long time. Your dog might go through there and get bitten. Your grandchild might be playing out there. And the good thing about going in to find the rattlesnake is you know that he's there, and you're alert to the threat.
We couldn't have put it better ourselves.
Meanwhile, the New York Times offers this reassuring headline: "U.S. Has a Plan to Occupy Iraq, Officials Report." Well, heavens, they had better, hadn't they? The article reports that "the White House is developing a detailed plan, modeled on the postwar occupation of Japan, to install an American-led military government in Iraq if the United States topples Saddam Hussein, senior administration officials said today . . . The plan also calls for war-crime trials of Iraqi leaders and a transition to an elected civilian government that could take months or years." Until then, the Times reports, "Iraq would be governed by an American military commander — perhaps Gen. Tommy R. Franks, commander of United States forces in the Persian Gulf, or one of his subordinates — who would assume the role that Gen. Douglas MacArthur served in Japan after its surrender in 1945."
At least nobody is suggesting that Jimmy Carter take over.
And what about the ex-prez? Was it just a coincidence that he picked up his long-desired Nobel on the very day when a U.S. president somewhat less beloved in Oslo and sundry other smugly pacifist quarters was taking another step toward war with Iraq? Well, the Nobel judges denied that there was any connection . . . oh wait, no, they actually didn't. In fact, in a shockingly brazen admission, the chairman of the Nobel committee, on Gunnar Berge, told the press that Carter's victory "should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current administration has taken," and added that it's "It's a kick in the leg to all that follow the same line as the United States."
Ah, those Nobel judges — so neutral, so unbiased, so apolitical! Still, at least Berge got the metaphor right. There's nothing quite so petulant, so childish, so harmless and so worth ignoring as a "kick in the leg."
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