Politics & Policy

Rooney Toons

The 60 Minutes commentator on Iraq.

Have you ever noticed that Andy Rooney is a chucklehead? Rooney, whose little bits of calculated folksiness have been appended to 60 Minutes for decades, deliberately invokes a simple-minded persona for his essays. He’s not like those other highfalutin TV journalists with their top hats and gold watches and big cigars. He’s a simple guy like you’d find sitting by a cracker barrel or whittling on a park bench in a cozy small town suitable for a lemonade commercial. Of course, Andy has got a couple of million in the bank, but he’s just like your old uncle, the one who likes hot dogs and apple pie and spotted puppies, who’s full of commonsense observations such as: “Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.” It’s supposed to be funny when he furrows his brow and with affected befuddlement asks his audience questions about the sensibleness of complicated product warning labels or about how his office is clogged with unwanted, oddball gifts from fans or about the various kinds of ties he owns and their virtues. He hasn’t yet done a piece on the lint in his pockets or the words spelled out by the noodles in his alphabet soup, but don’t count those topics out yet.

Sometimes, his thoughts are amusing in a there-goes-our-Andy way. It’s harmless fun to talk about silly things but Rooney doesn’t limit himself or his aw-shucks technique to just the ordinary. He feels compelled to address serious things but, unfortunately, he isn’t well equipped for the task. Consider his recent essay about the war in Iraq.

On the November 2, 2003 episode of 60 Minutes, Rooney avuncularly wished that George W. Bush would hire him as a speechwriter as, he claims, Richard Nixon once offered to do. This speechwriting device is used so good old commonsensical Rooney can put words into Bush’s mouth that have him admitting to what his critics, like Rooney, believe are his errors. What he compiles is, in fact, a perfect expression of the liberal take on the war in Iraq. Rooney starts his presidential speech with: “My fellow Americans. One of the reasons we invaded Iraq was because I suggested Saddam Hussein had something to do with the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. No evidence that’s so, I wish I hadn’t said it.”

The problem here is that there’s no evidence that Bush ever said Saddam was behind 9/11. Liberals, like Rooney, get around this by using the word “suggested.” Through some strange hypnotic process, Bush magically implanted the idea in the public mind without ever saying anything, at any time, anywhere, to anyone to promote the idea in any way. Liberals counter that polls show that the American public believes a connection between Saddam and 9/11 is possible. For liberals, this is proof that Bush “suggested” there was a connection because it’s impossible that the public might, on its own, conclude that Saddam, an enemy of America and a supporter of Islamic terrorism, might make common cause with Osama bin Laden, an enemy of America and an Islamic terrorist. Only time will tell whether the public’s belief is justified, but it certainly isn’t unreasonable for the people who answered the poll to suspect a link.

In his presidential speech, Rooney next has Bush say: “I probably shouldn’t have said Iraq had nuclear weapons. Our guys and the U.N. have looked under every bed in Iraq and can’t find one.”

Again, Bush didn’t say Iraq had nuclear weapons. He said Saddam was developing them and might soon have a bomb. Intelligence agencies from several governments agreed, as did the U.N. and even Bill Clinton. Postwar searching has turned up plenty of evidence supporting this contention. It’s true an active atomic bomb wasn’t under one of the many beds in Saddam’s many palaces, but it wasn’t from lack of trying by Iraqi scientists. The British believed those scientists were near success, and even German intelligence, hardly biased in favor of U.S. interests, estimated Saddam was about three years from a working bomb. Bush was faced with a desperate danger and chose not to wait and let the threat become greater and greater and possibly disastrous.

Rooney goes on:

“I told you Saddam Hussein tried to buy the makings of nuclear bombs from Africa. That was a mistake and I wish I hadn’t said that. I get bad information sometimes just like you do.”

The much-ballyhooed African connection wasn’t proclaimed as fact by Bush. In his State of the Union address, he cited it as a conclusion by the British, who continue to maintain that Saddam attempted to buy uranium ore from Niger. Saddam had tried to purchase ore there in the past and has been suspected of doing the same in other African nations. Because the CIA doesn’t have its own independent proof, they won’t label the British conclusion as proven. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true and, if Bush hadn’t informed the public about the British claim, he would have been denying them important information provided by a close ally.

After misstating the Niger incident, Rooney misstates the announcement of the end of major hostilities: “On May 1, I declared major combat was over and gave you the impression the war was over. I shouldn’t have declared that.”

Major combat–the clash of organized armies–is over. Strife and terrorism have followed and will no doubt continue for years, producing a steady level of casualties that the U.S. will have to endure. There will be deadly spikes in these casualties when the terrorists manage to score a coup. Bush has tried to prepare the American public for setbacks. In the very speech Rooney refers to, Bush stated “we have difficult work to do in Iraq” and “the transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time.” Only someone deliberately ignoring Bush’s many admonitions that the struggle against terrorism will be difficult and long could claim he gave the impression the war was all over.

Rooney next brings up the $87 billion for continuing the fight in Iraq and for rebuilding it. He thinks it could be better spent, invoking the favorite spending alternative of liberals, on “the children.” “I hope the kids aren’t going to have to pay for it,” Rooney writes for Bush to say.

Calculating how many schools a bomber or an aircraft carrier could pay for is a perennial liberal tactic for countering any military spending which they love to imagine is entirely wasteful. History shows us, however, that there have been plenty of times when our servicemen died and our nation was at risk for lack of a couple of bombers or a spare aircraft carrier. Schools are useful and necessary, but they will become useless and unnecessary if the children they are meant to educate are dead. An old hawk once asked: “What do you get if have one tank extra at the end of a war? Victory. What do you get if you have one tank too few? Defeat.” Skimping on defense is rather like the homeowner who stops paying his fire insurance so he can take a nice family vacation using the money he would have “wasted” on coverage. A secure, free nation will be a good thing for our children, and they will benefit from money spent to produce that result, just as Americans alive today have benefited from military spending in the past.

As for future generations having to pay for present spending, that has never been a block to liberals spending money on their pet programs. The “for the children” argument also assumes that the money “saved” will be spent on the kids and not on more mountains of government cheese or more miles of highway in West Virginia bearing the name of Senator Byrd.

Rooney’s speech next takes a swipe at the carrier landing Bush took part in as a tribute to and mark of his trust in the military.

“When I landed on the deck of the carrier, I wish they hadn’t put up the sign saying MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. It isn’t accomplished. Maybe it should have been MISSION IMPOSSIBLE.”

Claiming success in Iraq is impossible doesn’t do much for the morale of the men carrying out that mission. They know how difficult it has been and will be and stepping on their faces while they try to do their jobs isn’t helpful. It does, however, encourage our enemies, who hope that America will grow tired of the war, just as they did of the Vietnam War, and leave Iraq to them.

Rooney goes on to quote from The World Transformed, a book written by Brent Scowcroft and George H. W. Bush. In the book, Bush went to some length to justify his decision to not finish off Saddam at the end of the Gulf War. He wrote that he didn’t want to disturb our Arab allies and wanted to avoid tying down American troops in a difficult occupation that could become an “unwinnable urban guerrilla war.” Rooney, who never found much to admire in the earlier President Bush while he was in office, now finds him a fountain of wisdom when his words can be twisted to condemn a different situation. Rooney inserts “We should all take our father’s advice” into the speech he wants the younger Bush to deliver.

GHWB’s failure to finish off Saddam at the end of the Gulf War was a costly error. It was as if FDR had ended World War II with Hitler still in control of an unoccupied Germany because getting rid of Hitler might have upset pro-Fascists outside of Germany and because occupying Germany would have been difficult. The senior Bush thought to isolate and control Saddam through U.N. sanctions. Unfortunately, Saddam scornfully defied the U.N., which did nothing in return but pass resolutions it did little to enforce. Still in power, Saddam ruthlessly suppressed Shiite rebels and kept his prison camps humming with brutal activity. Iraq is peppered with mass graves filled with corpses produced after the decision was made to not go to Baghdad. It was a terrible mistake that Rooney seems to think was a good thing to do.

Aside from his insinuation that the U.S. shouldn’t have gone to war with Iraq, Rooney doesn’t bother to tell us what he would do if he were president. Does he want the U.S. to abandon Iraq? Is he proposing, like all the Democratic presidential hopefuls, that we somehow get “international support” from nations that have shown absolutely no interest in providing any help and have, in fact, hindered the American effort at every step? Does he want the U.N. to take over? Would American soldiers dying under a U.N. flag be better than their dying under an American flag? Many U.N. members were pro-Saddam or tried to block American efforts. Should we now place our soldiers under their command? Could we trust the U.N. to respect American interests? How about those countries that didn’t want their commerce with Iraq limited, even when it threatened America? Will they make decisions as to how American troops will be used? The answer is that we have to fight our own war. No one else, with the exception of Britain, is particularly interested in the safety of our citizens. Much of the world has always disliked us for doing too much or too little or just anything not in accordance with their whims.

Rooney concludes smugly, “That’s the speech I’d write for President Bush. No charge.”

Rooney’s screed is part of the standard pattern that liberals now use to criticize Bush. They insist he said things he didn’t say, then claim he was lying. Let’s copy Rooney’s example and put words in his mouth (but we won’t lie). Here’s a commentary–no charge–for him to use on 60 Minutes:

Have you ever noticed that liberal commentators don’t have to worry about the truth? I have. You know, it makes it a lot easier to win an argument when you lie about what your opponent has said. The president didn’t “suggest” or “give the impression” of any of the things I said he did. But my friends like it when those lies are told. They figure that the more times they’re repeated, the more people will believe them. It doesn’t matter whether that might be bad for the country. What’s important is who gets to run things after next November. And that should be folks who think like me. That is so much more important than the truth.

I have often claimed to admire the World War II war correspondent Ernie Pyle. I was a war reporter, too. Back then we all thought he was the best. Pyle actually had the common touch. Without a single eager intern to run down his facts, he managed to get the story right despite being shot at and he didn’t lie. I wonder if that’s how he got the common touch, by sticking to the truth that his readers–especially the infantrymen, sailors, airmen, and Marines–knew to be the truth. That’s not my style. Lincoln once said “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.” To that, I want to add, “Fooling some of them is usually more than enough.”

Ed Morrow is the author and illustrator of numerous books, including The Halloween Handbook.

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