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By Bill Gallagher

DETROIT -- We need St. Patrick to drive from our land and high offices the vipers of war, greed and intolerance. Topping the list of serpents more than ready for a slithering exit from the public scene are George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

Corporations, the religious right and neocon world dominators form the three pillars of the modern Republican Party and represent George W. Bush's base and hope of winning another term.

No Republican gathering, from a fund-raiser to a Bush cabinet meeting to duck hunting with a Supreme Court justice, can be held without the blessing and imprimatur of the Almighty.

Right-wing preachers are always on hand to remind us Bush and Cheney are really doing God's work on earth and keeping them in office will preserve power for the righteous and the anointed.

So, in fairness, who could possibly object if an Irish Catholic tries to get equal time in divine attention, begging for a little intercession from our patron saint in this week when we celebrate his life and work?

Legend has it St. Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland, lifting the people from their pagan idolatry and implanting Christianity. The Christian faith got the Irish to stop fighting and killing all of the time and to devote themselves occasionally to more peaceful pursuits like reading and transcribing old books.

The timing for the conversion was propitious for all of Western civilization, which was, in the 5th century, caught in the depths of the Dark Ages. Most learning was lost in Europe as barbarian tribes from the east and the ancestors of the House of Windsor got their kicks out of burning libraries and schools. That tradition inflames the British royal family's discomfort with books and formal education to this day.

The Irish, however, escaped the marauders, except for the Vikings, who were just out for a drunken good time. They founded Dublin, had their way with our women, thus our red hair, and were largely either assimilated or moved on to more adventures.

Throughout those days, though, the Irish kept their books and their love of learning and preserved the scholarship and cultural wisdom found in the Greek and Roman classics. Their sense of generosity and mission instilled in them the desire to share with the less fortunate. We started with our English neighbors, a long and difficult labor still in progress.

Irish monks set off for the Continent, setting up monasteries and reintroducing classical learning -- thus saving civilization. With that experience in mind, back to prayer.

Hail, Glorious St. Patrick, we pray that you will intercede on behalf of Irish people everywhere, especially Irish-Americans, and urge God to send his servants Bush and Cheney into much-merited reptilian retirement.

They can, with thy blessing, bask in the Texas sun, reflect on their many sins, just relax, count their money and think of ways to make more. They've already done so well selling snake oil, their commercial possibilities are endless.

Dear saint of our green isle, inspire the American people to help in this great work when they vote in November and cast Bush and Cheney out of Washington. Spare them their dignity, we pray. Allow them to shed their skins from time to time and raise more campaign money for yet another Bush restoration and the good of that ever-profitable dynasty. May Jeb, Neil and Marvin sharpen their worthy fangs. Amen.

The president and our beloved saint are forever intertwined, since it was on St. Patrick's Day of 2003 that George W. gave his "get out of Dodge" speech, calling for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq or else. The plans for the "or else" started just days after Bush moved into the White House and, of course, had nothing whatsoever to do with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

I don't drink a drop during Lent except for a special, papally granted St. Patrick's Day dispensation. Last year, as is my usual custom, I joined family and friends at John Cowley & Sons, my favorite Irish pub near my home in Farmington, Mich.

The crowd was crazy yet fun, and the day was lovely and sunny, pushing 70 degrees. But the grand day itself and our celebration were dampened with the thought that on that night Bush would address the nation with a message sure to be "we're going to war."

Perhaps the White House was unaware March 17 was the day of celebration and ethnic pride for millions of Irish-Americans and hordes of fellow travelers. More likely, Karl Rove, the president's political brain, hoped for a small and inattentive audience that would quickly forget the speech.

New York City and Washington are wild St. Patrick's Day venues, but the corporate political pundits didn't have to listen to the speech, since sober, drunk or hungover, they would follow the company line and praise whatever Bush would say.

After a few pints of Guinness and Labatt, a blend made in heaven, my companions and I decided we had an obligation to slip into the hell of Bush speech. Besides, the crowd was becoming too loud and rowdy, less Irish and more like British soccer fans.

My daughter and loyal driver, Rachel, my friend and fellow reporter Amy Lange, a German-Hungarian who acts Irish, and friend Ken Edwards, a Welsh-Italian, headed for a venue where we could hear the television.

Bush's speech was monumentally wrong, yet mercifully short. Rachel, Amy and I challenged nearly everything the president said and scoffed at many of his arguments and assertions. Our irreverence upset Ken, who's a Republican-Convervative, and he dismissed us as America-loathing, carping liberals. He later apologized.

I had already filed my column that week. It appeared in the March 18, 2003 issue of the Niagara Falls Reporter. A year later it is revealing to compare the words Bush read and the words I wrote. George W. did his usual routine about how patient he's been in trying to get Iraq to disarm, and then the stark line: "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."

"No doubt"? A year later the only certainty is that no illegal weapons have ever been found and careful examination shows George Bush and his cast of warmongers exaggerated, distorted, deceived and lied about Iraq's weapons and threat.

The great St. Patrick's Day deception continued when Bush offered another view of Iraq the political propagandists in the Pentagon produced, warning us, "It has aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al-Qaida. The danger is clear: using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons obtained with the help of Iraq the terrorists could fulfill their stated aim and kill ... innocent people."

We now know those wild claims of a partnership between Iraq and al-Qaida were largely based on an intelligence apparatus set up specifically to stretch the truth and convince the nation war was our only choice.

My thoughts that fateful week focused on questions and doubts. How did we get into this mess? How did a monstrously bad idea bring us to the brink of our first preemptive war, diplomatic disaster and the widely held perception that the richest and most powerful nation on earth is a petulant bully, ready to spill blood in an impoverished nation in order to spread democracy?

What so troubled me then and now is how the war in Iraq diverted our attention and resources from the real war on terror and Osama bin Laden's murderous operations, so George W. could settle his old score with Saddam, who "tried to kill my daddy."

"This is not a war of necessity," I wrote. "It is a war of choice that will mark the United States as an aggressor ready to thumb its nose at international law, march into Iraq and make our nation less secure in the process."

I suggested people linked to the Project for the New American Century, a group with a long-stated "get Saddam" agenda, drove the policy toward Iraq. Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and other neocons laid out their hope of invading Iraq as far back as 1997. When George W. was selected president, they used their power in the Pentagon to advance their plan and build the phony case for war. Sept. 11 gave them a convenient cover.

The first insider account of how they did it through systematic and extensive intelligence-cooking is found in an article in online magazine "Salon."

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski provides a chilling account of how the New American Century types moved into important posts in the Pentagon, pushing aside career military and civilian intelligence experts, and how in their fanatic quest to build a case for war with Iraq they would do or say just about anything.

Kwiatkowski says she saw firsthand the political-policy thugs working out of the Rumsfeld-created Office of Special Plans disregarding "carefully considered assessments" of Iraq. She saw them "through suppression and distortion of intelligence analysis promulgate what were in fact falsehoods to both Congress and the executive office of the president."

Kwiatkowski says she recognizes the political dimension of any war, but, she says, "the reasons given to Congress and to the American people for this one were inaccurate and so misleading as to be false. Moreover, they were false by design."

No one's paid a price for the designer deceptions, nor, as Kwiatkowski notes, for "this ill-planned and ill-conceived war and poorly implemented occupation of Iraq."

Bush said his war will work "to advance liberty and peace in that region." The test of time supports the view I offered: "War with Iraq is the best recruitment tool Islamist terrorists like bin Laden could imagine. The violence will radicalize an entire generation in the Muslim world."

The terrible carnage in Spain last week, the bombings at the Shiite shrines the week before and six more U.S. soldiers killed over the weekend leave us with the certain conclusion that al-Qaida and other radical groups are the real enemy, not the bogus danger of Iraq that George W. Bush sold in the great St. Patrick's Day deception.

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com March 16 2004