Scott Ritter's "unofficial" response to both the text of the State of the Union and meanings that he felt were "lurking" in that text (and in the audience response to the text) may not, strictly speaking, be a response to Webb's response in the spirit of my own reading of Webb; but it is still directed at Webb's punch line by lining out things that the Democratically-controlled Congress will need to know if they are serious about showing the way. Hopefully, I am not the only one who remembers Ritter's efforts to expose as dangerous fictions those claims that the White House had tried to pass off as justified motives for going to war with Iraq. His language was always direct and clear, reflecting an intuitive, if not actually studied, understanding to how to persuade through rhetoric. Unfortunately, his goal of persuasion was not achieved.
He now seems to have adopted the strategy that what does not work on Republican ideologues may have more success with Democrats. Whether or not he is being realistic about the workings of politics, we have to hope that the Democrats remember that they managed to regain their Congressional power by listing to what the American public was saying. Therefore, at the very least, we, as the American public, should digest and consider with Ritter has to say, because we may end up being that conduit that brings it to the attention of our legislators! In other words we should read Ritter's text as if it were directed at us, regardless of whether in receives any attention from members of Congress.
So what is the text saying? It is warning us that the White House has not learned from its experiences in Iraq. Instead, Ritter sees in the text of the State of the Union an explicit warning signs of a war with Iran; and he sees in the audience response a sign that Congress will be just as complicit the second time around as it was the first. Here is the crux of his argument, including his own selection of text from the State of the Union:
This is not an idle statement on my part. One needs only to read the words of President Bush during his recent State of the Union address:
Osama bin Laden declared: "Death is better than living on this earth with the unbelievers among us." These men are not given to idle words, and they are just one camp in the Islamist radical movement.
In recent times, it has also become clear that we face an escalating danger from Shia extremists who are just as hostile to America, and are also determined to dominate the Middle East.
Many are known to take direction from the regime in Iran, which is funding and arming terrorists like Hezbollah, a group second only to Al Qaeda in the American lives it has taken.
The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat. But whatever slogans they chant, when they slaughter the innocent, they have the same wicked purposes: They want to kill Americans, kill democracy in the Middle East and gain the weapons to kill on an even more horrific scale. In the sixth year since our nation was attacked, I wish I could report to you that the dangers have ended. They have not.
And so it remains the policy of this government to use every lawful and proper tool of intelligence, diplomacy, law enforcement and military action to do our duty, to find these enemies and to protect the American people. [Author's emphasis]
What is unrealized in this passage is the loud applause given by members of Congress to the President's words.
Now, in all fairness to the Democrats, I felt there were plenty of times when I could not tell just who was doing the applauding. There were enough of those Republican cheerleaders who bolstered Bush in the past to make it unclear how much enthusiasm was coming from whom. There certainly was one telling moment on the television screen when Cheney stood to join a standing ovation and Pelosi remained seated!
Nevertheless, Ritter knows that there is very little distinction between a bandwagon and a juggernaut; and I think he is right to worry that, even with the power they hold, Democrats could get crushed by the wheels of irrational ideology. Let us hope that, if the Democrats are obliged to show the way, they will not make similar bad decisions fueled by fear; and, in the spirit of Webb's remarks, if we see them trembling on the bring of such bad decisions, then it is our responsibility as their constituents to show them the way!