Crossing the Credibility Line
Bangor Broadside
September 2002
About a dozen years ago, a friend of mine asked me to go with her to a talk in the basement of the Blue Hill Congregational Church. The speaker was from Deer Isle, and the topic was alien abductions.

Sure, I said. It sounded intriguing.

We sat in the back of the room filled with reasonable-looking people. Drawing from my many prior years as a reporter, I observed not only the speaker, but the reaction of the crowd.

The speaker was good, persuasive, credible - up to a point. As I watched the crowd, I realized that different people, at different stages of the talk, found themselves at the point where the speaker crossed the line from credible to incredible.

Some turned away and shook their heads at his explanation of his own abduction on Route 46 in North Orland. Others hung on until his explanation of the later physical ramifications of that abduction. I peeled away at his recounting of the underground nuclear wars in the Southwestern United States in the 1960s.

My friend and I stayed until he finished, but by the end of his talk, only a few die-hard believers were still with him.

I have watched that same peeling-away phenomenon the past few weeks as our appointed president George W. Bush has pushed his case for an attack on Iraq.

Some of those who were gung-ho at the beginning dropped by the wayside as soon as it became clear that Bush had no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The powerful Republican Senator Trent Lott, who at least knows how to keep his eye on the prize, is uncomfortable in that category, but is in it nonetheless.

Others peeled away at the Administration's insistence that Saddam's recent acquiescence to readmit weapons inspectors unconditionally is a "stalling tactic," with Bush's disdainful statement that "He's not going to fool anybody."

A "stalling tactic" is the delay of something that is inevitable. What exactly is inevitable about an invasion of Iraq by the United States of America?

Scott Ritter, a former Iraqi weapons inspector, was eloquent on CNN recently, when he said if Vice President Dick Cheney actually has intelligence information detailing where "weapons of mass destruction" are being constructed or concocted, he should immediately turn that information over to the incoming inspection team so they can go to those specific sites first.

Ritter, who has visited Bagdad as a private citizen in recent weeks, is of the opinion that such weapons do not exist. But, he said on CNN, if Saddam balks at allowing inspectors in to those targeted sites, or any other sites, he will jump back to the other side and support U.N. military action.

Another credibility point was crossed when U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stated to a Congressional committee on September 18 that "The goal is not inspections, the goal is disarmament."

Since clearly the goal of the weapons inspections team is in and of itself the disarmament of Iraq - either confirming it as the current reality as Saddam claims, or guaranteeing it as soon as the uncovered weapons, labs and equipment are found and destroyed - Rumsfeld's statement was illogical on its face.

Irrationality is not a good personality trait for a defense secretary.

And then there are the recent estimates of what a war on Iraq would cost. Those estimates are finally including the taxpayer dollars it would take to rebuild over many years the Iraq that we destroyed with our military might. The number is many billions of dollars. The huge multi-year tax cut Congress passed the summer of 2001 might well be at risk. In fact, some prized domestic programs might have to be cut - or taxes raised - to cover the on-going cost.

Guns and a quick "show of force" are fine, some alpha males say, but giving taxpayer-funded foreign-aid butter to our enemies? That crosses the line.

As I watch this drama play out, I am also painfully reminded of one of those dumb but telling surveys conducted many years ago and published in some popular magazine. People were asked what they feared most from the opposite sex in a close relationship. Most women surveyed replied that they feared being killed. Most men in that survey said they feared being humiliated. Their answers put into clear focus the dynamic behind the too-frequent phenomenon of men killing their current or ex-wives or girlfriends when they leave or reveal an affair.

Over the past few weeks as I watched Bush box himself in with his tough talk, and his administration began dismissing out of hand all mention of negotiations or even straight-up acquiescence to demands, I've worried about this dynamic. Were these not signs that the need not to be humiliated was now the guiding force behind Bush's deadly strategy?

Obliquely addressing this, Bush was guided to a possible smooth exit by an unlikely advisor - Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts. Frank, on CNN's Crossfire, said that with the reintroduction of the U.N. weapons inspection team, Bush clearly could, and should, declare a victory. He could claim that his tough talk worked, the detested dictator was forced into submission, the world was saved from his destructive goals. He could claim that he won.

Will Bush do that? All indications are he will not. After all, it was Bush who said, "Reasonable people understand this man is unreasonable."

From where I sit, Bush could have been referring to himself.