The Manichaean charge comes partly from Bush's use of religious language but mostly from a line in his speech to the American people 10 days after 9/11: "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists." But Bush wasn't announcing a ban on dissent. In context, he was warning nations that harbor terrorists that we would hold them responsible, as we soon did in Afghanistan. At any rate, the warning to other nations that "you're either with us or you're not" originated with Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sept. 12, 2001. So far, though, she has not been accused of having a Manichaean philosophy.
Complaints about religious references are predictable. Naturally enough, they make some secular folks uncomfortable. (What they would have made of Lincoln, God knows.) Complaints about Bush's lack of ambivalence are far more curious. He is accused in various journals of "a questionable certainty" and of failing to realize that "moral certainty, for the most part, is a luxury of a closed mind." David Brooks of The Weekly Standard sardonically calls this America's "certainty crisis."
Presumably, Bush could end this dread crisis by leaning in several directions at once and changing his mind and his principles often. Perhaps the French could help him here. But ambivalence isn't a virtue, and resolve isn't a character flaw. Bush has an admirable grasp of what is at stake when terrorists organize and rogue states reach for nuclear weapons. He means to meet these threats, and that's why many find his certainty annoying.
The heavier emphasis on Bush's religiosity, his supposed Manichaeism and his allegedly simple-minded analysis of world affairs may all be signs that the anti-war movement is being shaped to fit the contours of the culture war. We hear little these days about Saddam Hussein's butchery or the relative ease of developing weapons of mass destruction, even with inspectors around. There is little discussion of the 5,000 Iraqi children who die each month because the oil revenue that could save them is diverted to Saddam's military. That's what Walter Russell Mead of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote last week in The Washington Post, citing UNICEF figures.
Instead of concentrating on the reality of Iraq and its threat, the anti-war movement offers a content-free politics of gesture and good intentions: "Peace" is good and "war" is bad. "Books, Not Bombs," "Give Peace a Chance" and "Bush Is a Terrorist" signs abound, but there's not much in the way of argument.
It's dangerous to invade but more dangerous not to. Be glad Bush isn't out there wavering with all the ambivalent folks.
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