On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan launched a sneak attack that devastated a U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. And the United States rose in righteous fury, immediately declaring war on Thailand. Because, you know, it was in the same part of the world as Japan and the people kind of looked alike and besides, those Thais had been getting a little uppity and were due for a smackdown.
Which is not the way it happened, of course, but if Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wants to use World War II allusions to describe the War on Terror, I submit that my fantasy comes a lot closer to the truth than his. Rumsfeld's fantasy, if you missed it, was shared in a recent speech before the American Legion in Salt Lake City. There, the Sec Def said that critics of the war in Iraq - a designation that now includes most Americans - are like those who thought they could avoid fighting by negotiating with, or "appeasing," the Nazis in the days before World War II.
The war's critics - again, that's the majority of us - need to crack a history book, he thinks. "Once again, we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism. But some seem not to have learned history's lessons."
Rumsfeld's rant was but the shrillest of several recent statements by members of the federal regime - Cheney, Rice and the great and powerful Bush himself - in defense of the war in Iraq. Which must mean - hold on, let me check my calendar - yep, there's an election coming.
The War on Terror has, after all, been this gang's get-out-of-jail-free card for years. High gas prices, a hurricane fiasco, red ink, an overall patina of ineptness overtopped by arrogance, and it's all forgotten the moment they say 9-11. Small wonder they say it loudly now with midterm elections looming and polls suggesting more Americans are seeing through the president like Saran Wrap.
Indeed, there was an interesting exchange between Bush and a reporter at a news conference last week. In the process of answering a question about Iraq, Bush reflexively invoked Sept. 11, leading the reporter to interrupt him.
"What did Iraq have to do with that?" the reporter asked.
"Nothing," Bush said irritably. The reporter somehow resisted saying, "Then why did you bring it up?"
Or maybe that's self-evident. After Sept. 11, the nation needed some Muslims to hit. And the Bush administration, already looking for a pretext to attack Iraq - which once plotted the assassination of Bush's father - gave us some.
Since then, the White House missed no opportunity to falsely conflate Iraq with the terror war. The most recent example came last month when anti-war candidate Ned Lamont defeated Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman in the Democratic primary. Vice President Cheney said this rebuke of the war would embolden "al-Qaida types."
For the record: On Sept. 11, 2001, we were attacked by men directed from a terrorist base in Afghanistan. We quickly knocked over Afghanistan and just as quickly forgot about it, turning instead to the troublesome dictatorship the president just knew in his gut was behind the carnage. Now we find ourselves mired in a poorly defined, poorly designed mission in a nation that, with all due respect to the presidential gut, had NO known connection to Sept. 11.
And with more than 22,000 U.S. casualties - meaning dead AND injured - and thousands more dead Iraqis, the nation finally begins to question this pig and poke it has been sold. We're all for killing the terrorists. Heck, after you kill them, dig them up and kill them some more. But people are beginning to see that the only terrorism in Iraq is that which we, by our presence, have helped create.
Donald Rumsfeld calls that kind of talk appeasement. I call it understanding.
And the bad news for the secretary is, it's spreading.