Sunday, November 14, 2010

False Premises

I watched George and Laura Bush's interview on CBS Sunday Morning today. It was pretty good. The interviewer walked a fine line, keeping it a human interest story while asking some pretty tough questions about Iraq and Katrina.

Mr. Bush stated that one of the regrets of his presidency was not finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He said that it gave him a sick feeling. My ears perked up at this. Was he admitting that the invasion perhaps should not have happened?

Of course not. And how could he say that, even if he did think it was true? He asked so much of so many and the damage to persons and families has been so massive, that there is no way he could ever admit that it was a bad decision.

No, he said that the sick feeling was because he knew that not finding those weapons would undermine the legitimacy of the invasion in people's minds. Then he explained that the real reason for the invasion was to try to topple a brutal dictator's regime and plant a fledgling democracy in the middle east hoping that it might spread.

In a sense, he is right. That is the only reason that ever made sense for the Iraq invasion. Iraq was never a huge threat. We actually invaded Iraq because it was a small threat. There is no way anyone would invade North Korea, another part of the "axis of evil", with its gigantic standing army, much scarier weapons arsenal and even more insane leadership. Iran? No chance.

The only reason to attack another country preemptively, the only reason to start a war with another country with little immediate justification, was to take advantage of public sentiment following 9/11 in order to try this experiment in nation destroying/rebuilding.

But there is a problem with Bush's reasoning now. While this may have been the real reason for the invasion of Iraq, this was not the reason that was given. Weapons of mass destruction was IT. That was the reason. That was the case that Colin Powell presented to the UN. That was the case that the President presented at his State of the Union (making use of sloppy, false intelligence concerning "yellow cake" pursuits in Africa by Saddam).

So whatever a person's feelings are on the Iraq war, we must admit that we invaded under false premises. These premises were contrived and yet they were also legitimately believed by many. But they were wrong. This democracy-building-through-aggression idea is a post-hoc rationalization given to the public - even though it probably is the real reason that the Bush administration wanted to invade.

It became obvious they would find a reason. First the UN inspectors needed to be let in (and rightly so). Then there were access and timeline issues. Then we would only stop the invasion if Saddam and his family would leave....which they didn't, but can you imagine spending tens of billions to position ourselves for invasion and then not doing it? No, if Saddam and all the top Baathists had left, we would have found another reason - to prevent chaos, to assist the Iraqi people, something.

And what is the problem with making war when it is not a necessity? Thousands of US soldiers have been killed. Tens of thousands wounded and many of those disabled. Tens of thousands of Iraqi men, women and children have been killed, wounded and disabled. Families upon families upon families all over the world have been deprived of their loved ones.

It seems shallow to reflect on the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the project in light of all those lives, but sending those resources towards the war has affected people's lives too.

I don't think Mr. Bush is a bad guy on a personal level. I think his intentions were good, but his judgement was way off. And he insists that he has always stuck to his principles. I just wish he would admit that the national and international community was not sold the Iraq war with the premises that he now uses to justify it.


  1. excellent post, and aptly put, Steven.

  2. I think the most frustrating part of the Iraq war is that we will never know the exact justification for going to war. This is because I believe the people who made the decision don't know why they did. I view the Bush administration as an Ouija board, decisions come out of it, but no one really knows who made them. I think the best evidence of this comes from the book written by Bush’s former press secretary who stated that President Bush was really confused after an interview with Tim Russert, where Russert ask the president if the Iraq War was a war of choice or a war of necessity. He didn’t seem to understand that a distinction like that could be made and that of course it was a war of necessity because he had never thought of it in any other way. It was almost as if in his mind the war was pre-ordained and that it had to happen because it was always going to happen. It’s frustrating to think of such a loss of American blood and treasure in that way, but unfortunately I do think that is the reality of the situation.

  3. So perhaps the "decider" wasn't clear on his own reasons until he developed them later. Makes sense to me, after this interview especially.

    The other component was the failure of the media to pursue alternate views. They jumped on board because it was a good story. It wasn't until after Harriet Myers and Katrina that they finally turned on Bush because being anti-Bush and anti-Iraq invasion was the better story.

    I can still remember the lust in the media for the invasion. Everyone wanted to see the AMerican war machine in action. Shock and awe.

    When you spend hundreds of billions on defense (potential war energy), it seems likely that it will have to become kinetic energy now and then to justify its existence.

  4. For me, it seems that there is little doubt that Bush thought we would find WMDs. Was that the primary reason for going in? Was the evidence as strong as some purported? I don't know.

    It may be that his advisors (who he referenced often when confronted with his decision) convinced him of the existence of these weapons... I tend to believe him. It may also be, though, that he was a bit more open to being convinced than some might have been. We'll never know what information he was given, but given that we found no weapons I think it's reasonable to say that someone may have skewed the evidence.

    I tend to believe that his motives were nowhere near as sinister as some have suspected (i.e. 'no blood for oil"); that being said, I think it's perfectly understandable that some believe he was biased and therefore saw what he anticipated he would see. I think we're all susceptible to this (sitting president included). I don't believe it's likely that anyone would begin a war in the cavalier fashion many have attributed to Bush. He may well have been caught up in the fervor just as the aforementioned media were, though.

    Good thoughts, Steven. I thought you presented a fair assessment and that you did well to separate your conjecture from the known facts. It makes for a much stronger argument than simply taking an evil president as a given and proceeding forth.

  5. Thanks, Randy. Yeah, Joe Biden said it well in the 2008 vice presidential debate when he stated that we do better to question people's judgements than to question their motivations.

    That said, there certainly is an inconsistency in the reasons presented over time for the Iraq invasion. I suspect that WMD became the reason for the public, while a larger design was in place all along. And the former president confirmed this in the interview by stating the "real" reason for the invasion - a reason that I suspect the larger public would not have supported before the invasion.

    WMD was like the reason that an employer uses to fire someone whom she wanted to fire anyway.

  6. Also, there are quotes of President George W. Bush saying: "he tried to kill my dad" (referring to George H.W. Bush). A lot of people blame President George H.W. Bush for leaving Iraq too soon, after Desert Storm. I do believe that part of George W.'s decisions were influenced by a desire to finish what his dad started. I do believe that George W. considered many other factors when making his decisions, but I just want to point out that standing up for his dad was one of them, in my view.

    Steve, I think this was well put. Good post. I watched some interviews with him recently too and I agree that George W. doesn't come across as evil. He does seem very very misguided. I think he will be looked at each year with less and less reference as a former President, as we continue to assess his Presidency over time.

    On a side note, the scariest part of 9-11 to me has always been the amount of absolute fear and hate that entered the hearts of so many Americans after the tragedy. Logic and reason washed away. I hope we can improve on that in the future.