Bush's Orwellian case for war.

Bush's Orwellian case for war.

Bush's Orwellian case for war.

Politics and policy.
Feb. 27 2003 2:32 PM

Dubyathink

Bush's Orwellian case for war.

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

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In George Orwell's 1984, those were the three lies chiseled into the facade of the Ministry of Truth. In George W. Bush's 2003, they're the paradoxes at the heart of American war plans. Run a search for the three phrases on the Internet, and you'll find plenty of Web sites applying them to Bush. It's a favorite form of argument: reductio ad Orwell. Compare your opponent's logic to Big Brother's, and you win.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

In his speech Wednesday night to the American Enterprise Institute, Bush sketched a vision of Arab democracy after war in Iraq. His plan is a wager that there's some truth in Orwell's lies. Of course war isn't peace, freedom isn't slavery, and ignorance isn't strength. But sometimes peace requires war. Sometimes freedom requires force. And sometimes strength requires turning away from the past.

"I've listened carefully as people and leaders around the world have made known their desire for peace," Bush said Wednesday. "All of us want peace. The threat to peace does not come from those who seek to enforce the just demands of the civilized world; the threat to peace comes from those who flout those demands. If we have to act, we will act to restrain the violent and defend the cause of peace."

Maybe Bush is lying. Or maybe he's on to something. Maybe war against those who make war is sometimes necessary to preserve peace. Maybe the lie of 2003 isn't that war is peace but that pacifism is peace—that the United Nations, by shunning violence, can avoid bloodshed in the Persian Gulf. Maybe if nobody polices the world, killers rule.

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"The United States has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq's new government," said Bush. "Yet, we will ensure that one brutal dictator is not replaced by another. … America has made and kept this kind of commitment before—in the peace that followed a world war. After defeating enemies, we did not leave behind occupying armies, we left constitutions and parliaments. We established an atmosphere of safety, in which responsible, reform-minded local leaders could build lasting institutions of freedom."

Maybe Bush is rationalizing American occupation. Or maybe he understands that liberty depends on a measure of constraint. Maybe the lie of 2003 isn't that freedom is slavery but that noninterference is freedom—that the United States, by withdrawing its troops quickly after victory, would leave Iraqis free to create a government of their choice. Maybe if nobody polices Iraq, a new Saddam replaces the old one.

"It will be difficult to help freedom take hold in a country that has known three decades of dictatorship, secret police, internal divisions, and war," Bush conceded. "It will be difficult to cultivate liberty and peace in the Middle East, after so many generations of strife. Yet … Americans do not turn away from duties because they are hard."

Maybe Bush is a fool. Maybe he suffers from the naiveté that, in the view of many Europeans, makes the United States a dangerous, blundering giant. Or maybe he breathes the idealism that rescued Europe, liberated Kuwait, and saved the Muslims of Kosovo. Maybe the lie of 2003 isn't that strength comes from ignorance but that it comes from a preoccupation with history, with the ethnic hatreds of Europe and the autocracies of the Middle East. Maybe with care and perseverance, flowers can bloom in the desert.

Maybe Bush's worldview is a little bit Orwellian. And maybe he's right.