There is joy in Mudville this week, to be sure, as University of Memphis basketball fans -- more than 20,000 of whom packed The Pyramid Saturday afternoon, watching the Tigers wax Cincinnati -- celebrate their team's now-certain return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996.
By this time next week, "March Madness" will be in full swing in these parts. Sadly, it seems painfully replicated on the world stage, where the Bush administration appears determined to pursue its strategy of waging preemptive war against Saddam Hussein, whatever obstacles might pop up in its path.
Last Saturday, the "Coalition of the Willing" apparently lost one of its key members when the Turkish Parliament refused to ratify the multi-billion-dollar American gift/loan package designed to allow the U.S. to station troops in that country. As we go to press, the Bush administration is pressuring Ankara, using its mulligan, so to speak, in hopes of getting that country's parliament to re-vote and deliver a more favorable "result" by week's end.
And so the U.S. government finds itself strong-arming the Turks -- whose democratic process delivered a blow to our war plans -- so that it can proceed with overthrowing Saddam Hussein, so that it can bring democratic government to Iraq. Are we missing something here? Are we the only ones reminded of the Vietnam-era strategy of destroying villages in order to save them?
Perhaps we can get a straight answer from Colin Powell, our secretary of state, who now argues so forcefully for our marching on Baghdad immediately, if not sooner. Then again, maybe we can't. After all, this is the same General Powell who in 1991 successfully liberated Kuwait in pursuit of a "limited objective" war in Iraq. "If it had not been that," he observed in 1993, "we would be ruling Baghdad today -- at unpardonable expense in terms of money,lives lost, and ruined relationships."
Evidently, the "unpardonable expense" has become pardonable. Perhaps because the Bush administration has proven that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction? Well, as they say in the Hertz commercials, "not exactly." So far, Dr. Hans Blix has failed to find any WMDs, while the current issue of Newsweek is reporting that a former Iraqi weapons chief (now deceased) told U.N. inspectors after defecting in 1995 that his country had indeed destroyed its entire banned-weapons stockpile after the Gulf War.
So who and what does one believe, and why exactly do we find ourselves in this mad March mess? We as Americans have few allies whose support we haven't purchased, no discernible program for governing Iraq once we conquer it, and no reason whatsoever for going to war with Iraq that a majority of the population of the civilized world can remotely understand. One way or another, though, we're on course for some kind of interesting rendezvous with destiny.
As we embark on this voyage, money, apparently, will be no object. We're poised to blow through the all-time record annual U.S. budgetary deficit ($290 billion in 1992) even before any potential Iraqi war costs are factored in. Meanwhile, our president keeps pushing ahead with his beloved tax cuts, ignoring altogether the fact that 43 of 50 states have crippling budgetary deficits. Ignored as well is the fact that these state governments can do little more than our own Governor Bredesen is doing: Cut to the bone, and then start cutting bone.
What's next for Bush 43? Perhaps a tea party with the Axis of Evil-er he most wishes would go away: Kim Sung Il? Let's hope so. A table for four has been set already: George W. Bush, Kim, the Mad Hatter, and, appropriately enough, the March Hare.
Compared to the Bush White House, Alice's Wonderland is starting to look like a terribly sane place.