The anti-cowboy movement

Posted: Mar 18, 2003 12:00 AM

It's always darkest before the dawn? Last week, an email press release arrived with this scintillating lead: "His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi proclaimed that his global efforts to establish 3,000 Peace Palaces in the world's largest 3,000 cities will crown humanity with its rightful destiny -- to live in permanent peace."

Is that good news, or what? Construction is scheduled to begin on the Peace Palaces within a few months, and, "Each Peace Palace will be home to 100 to 200 peace-creating experts." The result, the Maharishi said, will be "a prevention-oriented, problem-free administration in every country. Then every government will be supremely successful, and no one will suffer in any way whatsoever. Life will be a blissful play."

Life was a blissful play at many Western European and coastal American media offices last week. Journalists love a villain, and "cowboy president" George W. Bush" was it. As of March 12, Lexis-Nexis showed 127 articles published within the previous 90 days that contained "Bush" and "High Noon." Almost 800 articles from the previous month alone included the words "Bush" and "cowboy." The New York Times was, as usual, larding its headlines with journalistic ventriloquism: "To Some in Europe, the Major Problem Is Bush the Cowboy."

Some journalists, like some demonstrators, haven't had this much fun since the Reagan administration, when another cowboy president obviously showed his ignorance by predicting that an evil empire soon would fall. Many columnists, remembering that President Reagan was proven right, preferred to equate Bush with movie characters. Leonard Pitts wrote, "You get the sense we're trapped in an old western. Bush seems to think he is channeling Gary Cooper in 'High Noon.'"

That was supposed to be a devastating critique, but those who have seen the half-century-old movie [buy movie] know that the Cooper character was not shooting from the hip. His opponents were known killers who swore further aggression. He explained the need for action to the town's antiwar movement (including his Quaker wife, played by Grace Kelly). He went it alone reluctantly. He planned carefully.

The details of the film show that the sheriff was largely fighting a "just war" within Augustinian theory. He had legitimate authority, just cause, right intentions, and a plan to use the amount of violence needed to stop known murderers and to minimize the danger to non-combatants. He was fighting as a last resort. What he did not have, since the odds were one against four, was a probability of success -- but movie magic took care of that.

Serious critics of U.S. policy say we have other options besides war, but after 12 years of Iraqi non-compliance that case is weak, and waiting further is likely to mean more killing, not less. Terrorists may attack, but they would do that regardless. The key question is probability of success: whether the United States will be able to liberate Iraq quickly. President Bush and our generals say we can, and here we have to trust them.

It would be better for journalists, instead of falling back on anti-cowboy imagery, to look at the debate emerging among Muslims both in countries they control -- the Middle East Media Research Institute is very helpful in this regard -- and in the United States.

Here's one note I received last week from an Austin Muslim who feels his view is not being heard: "I support the war on religious grounds, as my religion teaches that any ruler who does not rule by what Allah has ordained is not a Muslim. This is the case in Iraq (and most if not all of the rest of the Muslim world), and unfortunately the Iraqi people have not the will or means to resist such an unbelieving regime. If it takes an army of unbelievers to liberate the Muslims, then so be it."

And if it takes a sheriff to stand up against evil, then may God bless him.