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"America's favorite conspiracy theory: the moral argument"

by C/O Diogenes Thursday, May. 22, 2003 at 7:49 AM

It's later in the article when Kinsley gets into the conspiracies: "Why did Bush want this war? His ostensible reasons were unconvincing. Whatever we may find now in the rubble of Baghdad, he never offered any good evidence of a close link between Iraq and al-Qaeda or of weapons of mass destruction that could threaten the U.S.

"America's favorite conspiracy theory: the moral argument"

Date: Wednesday, May 21, 2003 @ 08:56:08 CDT

Topic: Matthew Riemer

By Matthew Riemer Columnist (United States)

( -- Putting aside the usual lengthy and semi-philosophical discussions that attempt to accurately explain the term "conspiracy theory," let's turn to a brief summation much more useful for the purposes of this essay: A "conspiracy theory" is simply any explanation, reason, or cause that strongly offends or contradicts others' ideologies or historically-sensitive political systems and models. And, more generally, an explanation for events that seems wildly improbable and elaborate.

So to some, the idea that the United States fought a war in Iraq over issues other than weapons of mass destruction -- even though the expert global consensus was that Iraq had either none or very small quantities of WMD and Colin Powell presented forged documents to the United Nations when making his case -- is a "conspiracy theory" because of how they view U.S. foreign policy (this is the first definition). These individuals see the U.S. as a benign, almost naively bumbling, superpower guided only by altruism. Ulterior motives are spirited away by associating them with some kind of exaggerated and paranoid realpolitik. And it is this historical theory, filled with a kind of de facto racism and condescension, which is quickly becoming America's favorite conspiracy theory: the moral argument (this is the second definition).

This popular conception's basic assumptions are embodied perfectly in a recent essay by Michael Kinsley in the April 21 issue of Time entitled "The Power of One." In this curious piece, Kinsley, at times, both praises and criticizes Bush rhetorically while offering little of substance in his criticisms. He states that Bush lacks "a certain largeness of character or presence on the stage," but also that he is a "great man." Though Kinsley immediately qualifies this by indicating that "great" doesn't "necessarily mean good or wise."

The author then combines the praise and criticism in a single, equivocal sentence: "Bush's decision to make war on Iraq may have been visionary and courageous or reckless and tragic or anything in between, but one thing it wasn't was urgently necessary." This seems to be a trend among journalists and critics: be just equivocating enough so as not to "take sides" or really say anything substantive while getting in your pot shots and simultaneously calling the butt of your pot shots a "great man."

It's later in the article when Kinsley gets into the conspiracies: "Why did Bush want this war? His ostensible reasons were unconvincing. Whatever we may find now in the rubble of Baghdad, he never offered any good evidence of a close link between Iraq and al-Qaeda or of weapons of mass destruction that could threaten the U.S. His desire to liberate a nation from tyranny undoubtedly was sincere, but there are other tyrants in the world. Why this one? On the other hand, the ulterior motives attributed to Bush by critics are even more implausible. He didn't start a war to serve his re-election campaign or avenge his father or enrich his oil buddies or help Israel. The mystery of Bush's true motives adds to the impression of a wizard arbitrarily waving his wand over history."

Here Kinsley lays things out fairly clearly. Since the "ostensible reasons" for the need for war were "unconvincing" and those offered by Bush's critics "even more implausible" (he doesn't say why) it must be Bush's (and by association America's, since Kinsley never uses the labels "Washington" or the "U.S." but only "Bush") sincere "desire to liberate a nation from tyranny." Moreover, this is the only possible conclusion one could have as the author likens Bush to a "wizard arbitrarily waving his wand over history" whose "true motives" are mysterious.

Such observations are interesting for their notable lack of analysis. As mentioned above, Kinsley gives no explanations as to why theories of why the war was fought advanced by Bush's critics are "implausible," only that they are. So he discredits both lines of thinking -- those of the administration itself and then those of its critics. And in the final analysis, the President is abstractly portrayed as a mysterious wizard, albeit a sincere and morally guided one. Thus we have America's favorite explanation for world events. It's also known as the "bumbling bear theory," which, to reiterate, places the United States in the role of the benevolent benefactor of the global community whose guiding principles are Christian morals and who only unintentionally and accidentally does bad things. Some will even blame Washington's unquenchable desire and exuberance to do good as the reason that things sometimes go wrong.

Kinsley's historical construction is finally topped off by a healthy dose of cynicism when he says: "Bush is not the only one who decided rather suddenly that disempowering Saddam had to be the world's top priority. When Bush decided this, so did almost every congressional Republican, conservative TV pundit and British Prime Minister. In polls, a large majority of Americans agreed with Bush that Saddam was a terrible threat and had to go, even though there had been no popular passion for this idea before Bush brought it up. You could call this many things, but one of them is leadership."

Either the author is employing some incredibly dry sarcasm or he's very naive when it comes to politics and war in the 21st century.

First, the decision was not Bush's. He was simply the man who was president when influential, life-time politicos such as Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's long-time geopolitical aims came to fruition spearheaded by the increasingly well-known neoconservative ideology given great stock in Washington these days. These men were calling for the overthrow of the Ba'athist regime in Baghdad when Bush was still Governor of Texas and didn't even know what the Ba'ath Party was.

Second, and more importantly, Kinsley attributes the Congress's and public's sudden decision to view the overthrow of Saddam Hussein as a top priority to Bush's leadership as well as his "spiritual power over so many minds." There's no mention of a pervasive and propaganda filled media that reached new heights of manipulation even by American corporate media standards. That the BBC openly questioned and even complained about stories coming out of the Pentagon, calling them "disinformation," and said American news agencies were too patriotic is immaterial when it comes to Kinsley's "great man" who is neither wise nor good theory. Implicit in the author's words is the sense that the media is of little influence over what the historically unaware American public thinks and that Republicans in Congress "during a time of war" feel no need to parrot what a Republican president thinks.

Michael Kinsley, as well as a host of others, would well benefit from a viewing of the documentary The Trials of Henry Kissinger in which the former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor explains that it is impossible for states to interact in the way individual human beings do. Kissinger observes that people are typically guided by some kind of moral system when interacting with one another, but that this is impractical, if not undesirable, for state-to-state relations. The overvaluation of individual's rights and the need to protect the innocent can impede political objectives that have more pragmatic issues as their focus, such as resource security and regional hegemony.

But it is critical that this is not how the Bush administration (U.S. administrations for decades have feared this as well) is seen by the general public, so -- to counteract this reality of geopolitics -- the American public is sold the mother of all conspiracy theories: the moral argument. Why delve into obscure and often difficult to understand historical and political topics -- that most don't even have the time for -- when world events can be summed up much more neatly with an us-good/them-bad, altruistically based explanation?

[Matthew Riemer has written for years about a myriad of topics, such as: philosophy, religion, psychology, culture, and politics. He studied Russian language and culture for five years and traveled in the former Soviet Union in 1990. In the midst of a larger autobiographical/cultural work, Matthew is the Director of Operations at He lives in the United States.]

Matthew Riemer encourages your comments: is an international news and opinion publication. encourages its material to be reproduced, reprinted, or broadcast provided that any such reproduction identifies the original source, Internet web links to are appreciated.

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Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 17 posted about this article.
These comments are anonymously submitted by the website visitors.
The Morality of War... Diogenes Thursday, May. 22, 2003 at 7:50 AM
lies lies and more lies systemfailure Friday, May. 23, 2003 at 12:26 AM
WMD's brigg Friday, May. 23, 2003 at 3:39 AM
Ever see a small... Diogenes Friday, May. 23, 2003 at 6:58 AM
No WMD's, really?? brigg Friday, May. 23, 2003 at 7:01 AM
Your point is irrelevant. Diogenes Friday, May. 23, 2003 at 7:11 AM
WMD's brigg Friday, May. 23, 2003 at 7:22 AM
hey brigg ace Friday, May. 23, 2003 at 10:17 AM
KOBE KOBE SBM Friday, May. 23, 2003 at 11:20 AM
what would the US do? TFBayonet Friday, May. 23, 2003 at 12:53 PM
Exactly systemfailure Friday, May. 23, 2003 at 1:06 PM
for sale said damascan Friday, May. 23, 2003 at 4:55 PM
said damascan George W. Bush Saturday, May. 24, 2003 at 6:54 AM
thanx dvy Saturday, May. 24, 2003 at 6:57 AM
KOBE KOBE SBM Saturday, May. 24, 2003 at 10:16 AM
Buy your next computer from a white guy. Ned Lee Lyle Saturday, May. 24, 2003 at 12:49 PM

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