04/29/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Rice Links al-Sadr, Bush & Cheney

Has anyone noticed that Condoleeza Rice, speaking in Baghdad on Sunday, unintentionally but tellingly ridiculed President Bush and Vice President Cheney while mocking hardline Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr?

The American Secretary of State branded the Shiite militia leader a coward for threatening to declare war unless the United States and the Iraqi government cease military action against his followers in Basra. She pointed out that al-Sadr issued his threats from the safety of Iran. "I know he's sitting in Iran," Rice said. "I guess it's all-out war for anybody but him. . . . I guess that's the message: his followers can go to their deaths and he's in Iran."

That Ms. Rice could make such a statement and apparently be oblivious to the fact that the same criticism can accurately be applied to those who head the administration in which she serves is indicative of just how far removed that administration is from any serious examination of what it has been doing for the past five years.

Has she forgotten that during Vietnam, a war that both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney enthusiastically supported, the future president and vice president were sitting safely in the United States, Bush with a family-arranged National Guard gig and Cheney marrying and siring a child to gain deferments?

Both Bush and Cheney lied with impunity in order to get their country into a disastrous war into which their followers can go to death while they're in the United States. I guess it's all-out war for anybody but them.

Perhaps Mr. al-Sadr today, like Mr. Cheney in the 1960s, has "other priorities" and so does not want to join in the military actions he urges on others.

If what Ms. Rice said about Muqtada al-Sadr is correct, it merely means that he is, with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, a member of the coalition of the unwilling when it comes to going into war himself, but a leader of the coalition of those all-to-willing to send other people into needless wars.

Robert S. McElvaine teaches history at Millsaps College. His new book, Grand Theft Jesus: The Hijacking of Religion in America, has just been published by Crown.