Tacitus Wept

Auferre trucidare rapere falsis nominibus imperium, atque ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant. Raptores orbis, postquam cuncta vastantibus defuere terrae, iam mare scrutantur: si locuples hostis est, avari, si pauper, ambitiosi, quos non Oriens, non Occidens satiaverit1.

-British Chieftain Calgacus, as reported to Agricola

Tacitus once said that “crime, once exposed, has no refuge but in audacity.” This appears to be the operating theory behind George W. Bush’s address of 7 September 2003. Beset by long-known, but recently-reported, evidence that his administration purposely and knowingly deceived the public in order to attack, he spoke not to apologise or to set the record straight, but to repeat the same falsehoods that have led for many, including some in Congress, to call for an investigation.

Perhaps in order to get his viewers into the right mood, he begins with some revisionist history about the attack on and occupation of Afghanistan. This is clearly the gradual approach, as his lies with regard to Afghanistan are lies of omission. The chaos into which Afghanistan has been thrown since the warring factions previously known as the Northern Alliance were returned to power over their respective fiefdoms finds no mention in his discussion of the first battle of the re-declared War on Terror.

Having set the stage, he moves on to some real whoppers:
And we acted in Iraq, where the former regime sponsored terror, possessed and used weapons of mass destruction, and for 12 years defied the clear demands of the United Nations Security Council. Our coalition enforced these international demands in one of the swiftest and most humane military campaigns in history.
Of course, the lack of any evidence of weapons of mass destruction, and the use of falsified evidence to deceive the public, is one of the main reasons the Bush administration has come under fire. Nor need we tarry on Saddam Hussein’s alleged connections with the terrorist organisation that called him a “socialist infidel.”

After trotting out these canards, Bush returns to another familiar refrain, shameless as it is vacuous: “They hate our freedom.”
They know that as democracy rises in Iraq, all of their hateful ambitions will fall like the statues of the former dictator. And that is why, five months after we liberated Iraq, a collection of killers is desperately trying to undermine Iraq's progress and throw the country into chaos.
This has been the administration’s feel-good answer to the question of “Why do they hate us?” since September 11, although the idea has long been present. Our official enemies are, by definition, “evildoers.” And like any good comic book villain, they hate all that is Good. Since “we” – and “our” actions – are Good by definition, the only reason anyone could possibly hate us is because they are Evil, and they hate us because we’re wonderful. Of course, you really have to be scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of reasons people hate you to come up with “wonderfulness” as the most likely cause. Before considering such an unlikely reason, one would do well to consider whether the hatred might be rooted in such things as one’s tendency to replace democratic governments with genocidal military juntas, to attack defenceless people whose only sin is disobedience, or to flout the rule of law by which others are expected to live.

Similarly amazing is Bush’s ability to call the attack on Iraq, in which between 8,000 and 10,000 civilians have been killed as a direct result of U.S. actions, and many more will likely die in the years to come due to unexploded ordnance and depleted uranium munitions, “one of the […] most humane military campaigns in history.”

Perhaps the true audacity of this speech is not the regurgitation of assertions so extensively discredited that his own administration has had to claim they were irrelevant to the decision to go to war. It is truly difficult to conceive of a greater audacity than Bush’s claim that he was “enforcing international demands” in patent defiance of international law and the demands of most of the world. Indeed, we learn that the attack on Iraq, which in itself would have been a hanging offence at Nuremberg, is the “will of the civilised world,” and that Iraqis who defend their country against armed attack and unlawful occupation are “terrorists and Saddam loyalists,” by definition, one might add. Of course, terrorism is by definition an attack on the civilian population, not a military organisation engaged in hostilities against one’s country, and one does not have to be a friend of the U.S.-sponsored dictator of Iraq to defend one’s country from armed invaders.

Similarly, Bush glosses the international outrage at his defiance of international law as follows:
I recognize that not all of our friends agreed with our decision to enforce the Security Council resolutions and remove Saddam Hussein from power. Yet we cannot let past differences interfere with present duties. Terrorists in Iraq have attacked representatives of the civilized world, and opposing them must be the cause of the civilized world. Members of the United Nations now have an opportunity -- and the responsibility -- to assume a broader role in assuring that Iraq becomes a free and democratic nation.
Here, Bush encapsulates the role into which the UN has been forced time and again. It is, of course, a familiar pattern. As Arundhati Roy has put it:
But that old U.N. girl - it turns out that she just ain't what she was cracked up to be. She has been demoted (although she retains her high salary). Now she's the world's janitor. She's the Philippino cleaning lady, the Indian jamadarni, the postal bride from Thailand, the Mexican household help, the Jamaican au pair. She's employed to clean other peoples' shit. She's used and abused at will.
Listening to this speech, one cannot help but wonder what has become of that good, healthy human emotion: shame. Gone are the days when the man who presided over an administration rife with corruption and lies was forced to resign in disgrace. We are now in an era in which one can be convicted of a felony for one’s work with one administration only to be returned to essentially the same post in a later administration. In the United Kingdom, where a slightly less cowed populace does not take its government at its word, the war on Iraq – with its “sexed-up” plagiarised term papers masquerading as “dossiers,” its doctored satellite photographs, and all its other “bullshit” (to use Colin Powell’s word) – has become a major scandal. Tony Blair may have taken the road of audacity in the face of his deceptions, but it’s unlikely that he expected a warm reception. Here, George W. Bush can give a speech so replete with misstatements and lies and expect that few will call him on it, many will ignore it, and even more will applaud him.

1 "To plunder, butcher, and steal, these things they misname Empire; where they make a desolation, they call it peace. Brigands of the world, now that Earth fails their devastating hands, they probe even the sea: if their enemy have wealth, they are greedy; if he be poor, they are ambitious; neither East nor West has glutted them. . ." (thanks to mirv for finding the original)