To maintain vigilance at the end of the long lane that leads to my farm, I used to employ a watchdog named Murphy. He was an extremely elegant, well-manned border collie who never made a noise unless he was convinced there was trouble. He kept it simple: Neighbor’s pick-up truck? Not trouble, back to sleep. Stranger’s pick-up truck? Trouble, bark loudly. Then go back to sleep. After 12, 13 years, I really trusted what he had to say when he said it.
Then the dog died. So I got geese. When anyone’s pick-up came down the lane, they made much more noise than the dog, but they didn’t know why. Plus, they fouled the yard to a degree Murphy could only dream of.
Step carefully through that metaphor and you will begin to understand the enormous amount of racket that greeted George W. Bush when he pulled Pick-up One down the great gravel driveway of Europe. The geese have gone nuts and the noise is deafening.
For many weeks, those in the Press Sinister — see the Independent of April 20 — have been asking where the weapons of mass destruction are. They couldn’t quite make it an issue, but they were annoying, like kids in the backseat on an endless Interstate asking, “There yet?”
But the thin veil of accusation that always lurked beneath that question came off during last week’s ramp-up to the G8 meeting in Evian, home of expensive water. The excuse was the headline from the Paul Wolfowitz interview in the new issue of Vanity Fair. According to the BBC, Wolfowitz apparently said that the whole WMD argument was mounted for “bureaucratic reasons.” The threat of ugly weapons, he said, was the one argument for making war that everybody could get behind.
The notion that the whole quest for WMDs was a fiction was journalistically fluorescent. Instantly, virtually every European newspaper of every political stripe was barking like, uh, geese:
Were the intelligence services corrupted by politicians? asked The Guardian.
The whole thing was based on an intelligence scam, said Die Welt.
Lies led us into war, agreed the Independent.
Public opinion in the U.K. was spun by fraud, claimed the BBC.
The WMD dossier was doctored by Blair to gain support for the American plan, according to the Times.
American credibility is as rare as a WMD in May, said Le Monde.
The Americans better explain their failure to find terror weapons, warned the Berliner Zeitung.
Britain was stupid to trust America in the first place, said Max Hastings in The Sunday Telegraph. Never again!
The Guardian offered a summary of similar sentiments from the British press.
For the most part, these stories all appeared within hours of the G8 opening session. Coincidence? Well, yeah. I mean, I generally dismiss conspiracies that involve either the media or the government, since a successful conspiracy seems to suggest competency, and right away that leaves the press and the government out. And this one would have to involve France, so forget it. But sometimes things gel in such a way that conspiracy would be a comfort. The way every event seems to fuel the current wave of near-hysterical anti-Americanism in Europe was an example — until you stop and realize that the whole thing has been spun out of something Paul Wolfowitz said in an issue of Vanity Fair, something that was reported incompletely, as it happens. (I’d love to see the top edit on that piece!) Wolfowitz had been trying to explain that of the several good reasons for invading Iraq, the WMD argument was the most universally compelling. Hardly an admission of anything.
But the story spread like warm whipped butter on a hot dog (I know, but I like it and it’s okay with Atkins) because of two things: One, it nurtured the frustration of those who need strong and obvious vindication of the British-American cause, who can’t easily find it, and who, perhaps like Max Hastings, are fed up waiting for it. Two, it lent some badly needed encouragement to those who were invested in seeing the war as a gross act of American wrongdoing. For those people, an American victory just can’t happen because America is the world’s mad dog and must be tied the global porch. The French like this idea very beaucoup.
By the time Bush reached Evian, everything the French — and the European press — needed for one of their trademark diplomatic ambushes was in place. The victim this time, as reported in the Telegraph and in the Guardian: The American war on terrorism. Chirac’s multipolar ambition, as Liberation noted, requires making sure America is seen as a loose and loaded cannon, one the world must unite behind France to restrain. As John Vinocur’s excellent report in Monday’s IHT suggests, the Euro-elites, swooning to the French idea of multipolarity, would like to keep George Bush’s America as isolated from Europe as possible. To do that, they need to weaken Blair, seduce Britain, ridicule Poland and ignore Spain and Italy. It’s a formula that even Condoleezza Rice could appreciate.
The Wolfowitz interview, along with Bush’s offhand remarks about a couple of mobile labs when asked about WMDs at a press conference in St. Petersburg, and Blair’s feeble claim, noted in the Daily Telegraph, that the WMD proof is in the mail hardly helps. Neither does Bush’s obvious impatience with the whole Old Europe thing, as Suddeutsche Zeitung reported. Add to all that the remarkably inefficient way in which the Coalition has (not) governed Iraq since the fall of Baghdad. Another attempt at making some sort of indigenous government there collapsed again last week, according to the Telegraph. If you ever need proof that government planners are hopeless at anything other than winning wars, take a gander at Baghdad. You’ll get enough evidence of bureaucratic ineptitude to stuff a goose, which is not a bad idea.
Note to those (all Scottish, of course) who took umbrage at my seemingly reckless use last week of “England” as a synonym for “Britain.” I think I used the words I meant to use — some things really are more “English” than “British”, you know — but it requires explanation and I do recognize the difference, honest. For example, you know you’re English if you were one of the several hundred thousand Countryside Alliance supporters who marched in London in support of foxhunting last year. But you know you’re British if one of your country’s leading theologians compares foxhunting to rape, as reported in Sunday’s Observer. Have I got that right?
— Denis Boyles, an NRO contributor, is a journalist based in Europe.