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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

lies of intention and lies of fact

Although I’ve pretty much stopped reading Christopher Hitchens on Iraq, curiosity made me peek at his last Slate column. After two years, I wonder how he would stand up for his friend, Chalabi, whose speech he attended last week.

Although the column is written in Hitchen’s now normal tendentious tone, a mix of scorn and insult that gives the effect of Captain Bligh giving his last speech to the crew of the Bounty, and though, of course, Hitchens is simply a lunatic about Iraq, he does have a valid central point about the Democratic claim to being mislead about Iraq.

Hitchens simply points to a long line of legislation, going back to 1998, as well as Clinton’s own actions, to make the point that the Dems were on board the regime change ship (hey, having thrown in Captain Bligh, I’m sticking with this metaphor, sailor!). I think this is fairly accurate. The rush to war was a peculiarly D.C. moment. The DLC wing of the Democratic party – from Lieberman to Clinton – let Bush carry the message; nor did they scream or yell when it became obvious, in the countdown to the invasion, that other means of settling the question of the weapons of mass destruction – letting the inspectors do their job, for instance – were counterproductive not to Saddam, but to Bush’s policy. This is what Daschle said on October 7, 2002, quoting from the Houston Chronicle:

“Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said the Democratic-led Senate, over the next week or so, will overwhelmingly approve a resolution giving Bush the go-ahead to invade Iraq if necessary to eliminate any effort to develop or use weapons of mass destruction.
"We've got to support this effort," Daschle said during an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press. "We've got to do it in an enthusiastic and bipartisan way." Daschle said the vote would be lopsided, with roughly 75 senators or so supporting the resolution.
But lawmakers are nervous about handling the issue correctly, Daschle said. "This is the first pre-emptive, unilateral authorization of the use of force that we've ever passed."

The root lie, the one Hitchens doesn’t talk about for all his quoting of previous resolutions, was the lie that Bush did not want war. This is a sore point. Since the war’s supporters did, visibly, want war in that period, defending the truthfulness of Bush’s claim that he didn’t means discussing why he didn’t. And those supporters have long claimed that the WMD was merely the mask thrown over the complex of reasons we went to war, which definitely leaves the impression that Bush’s gang was playing the American people for suckers. In fact, on October 7, 2002, Bush, in his key speech in Cincinnati, made it clear that the resolution of Congress did not necessarily mean war:

"Approving this resolution does not mean that military action is imminent or unavoidable," Bush said. "The resolution will tell the United Nations, and all nations, that America speaks with one voice and it is determined to make the demands of the civilized world mean something."

That, of course, was the lie. Bush did everything he could to make military action both imminent and unavoidable. What, one wonders, would it have taken to avoid war? Bush’s answer was that it would have taken complete disarmament by Iraq – but that simply isn’t true. It would have taken Iraq’s complete surrender to Bush, Saddam’s removal and the removal of the Ba’ath party leadership. In other words, the conditions that Bush claimed to be setting for the American audience would always be set a little higher for the Iraqi audience, so we would have our war. The pro-war crowd – Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, et al. – found nothing wrong with this. And the D.C. consensus viewed it, at the time, as the necessary buildup to a necessary war. The Dems under Daschle admitted that they were voting for a unilateral military action on intelligence that consisted of “might be”s – Iraq might possess this, and it might possess that. The talk about what might be is such that it baffles our notion of direct truths – rather, we have to talk about what is plausible and implausible. When, in the same speech, Bush said "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud," he was distorting the evidence – a minor lie, since it was by no means clear – but he wasn’t lying about it in the traditional sense if he was saying that, in his judgment, it was clear. In September, 2002, the dossier on Iraq compiled by the International Institute for Strategic Studies was published. That study concluded, as it turned out correctly, that nuclear weapons “seem the furthest from Iraq’s grasp,” and that Iraq possessed, at best, residual WMD capabilities in chemical and biological arms.

The point, then, is that if we are to go back (again and again and again) to how we got into Iraq, the question of intelligence is subordinate to the question of intention. And all of these questions are academic if they don’t lead us to get out of Iraq, now. To create excuses for our failure in Iraq while remaining as a failing force in Iraq is the kind of malign joke that we do not want to see played on American soldiers or Iraqis.


Paul craddick said...


What was stated as inevitable was that Saddam Hussein would finally comply fully and unambiguously with his disarmament obligations - or face certain dethronement. An invasion was "inevitable" in the sense that a reasonable person would err on the side of expecting SH to remain true to form. Hence planning was undertaken as if the invasion was assured.

Had SH effected a radical change of heart, and/or had he been persuaded to abdicate (by, say, his friends on the UNSC), or even had a disgruntled general dispatched him to Hades and signalled a radical regime shift, there would have been no invasion. The onus lay squarely with SH. Our troop build-up in 2002 gave him a final chance to see that we meant business.

The honest thing to say about intentions, pre-invasion, would be this: SH being who he is, an invasion is highly likely, but not inevitable - he, or circumstances, might make it unnecessary. There was no dishonesty from Bush about whether SH would be made to comply with his obligations, one way or another. And Bush made clear that the choice lay with SH. Rumsfeld sagely observed at the time that the UN intriguers and appeasers made an invasion more, not less, likely - creating an atmosphere in which SH was encouraged to shirk his obligations yet again. All those marchers who thought that, out of the two, Bush was nearer kin to Hitler than was Saddam, did their part as well. Oh, the irony!

The point about SH being "true to form" is pregnant with implications; which, for example, show the complete reasonableness of the '98 Iraqi Liberation Act, as well as why only the most naive would expect the inspections ever "to work." Here one recalls Richard Butler's memoir recounting his tenure as the head of UNSCOM. He reports that Tariq Aziz had observed to him that - as the example of Weimar underscored - there has never been a successful disarmament of a refractory foe without an occupation. And our own occupation-inspections have completely borne that out: as Hitchens notes, Iraq *was not* in compliance with those obligations, and planned to restart its WMD production aggressively once the inspections had been believed to "work" and sanctions were lifted.

The invasion in 2003 was the logical and reasonable result of the incomplete end to the Gulf War, and the subsequent low-level war that ensued throughout the '90's - especially with the exigencies of 9.11 thrown into the mix.

roger said...

Paul, like I’ve said before, yours is the most credible defense of the invasion. You should be pleased that slowly, your version of the invasion’s legitimacy and rationality is being adopted by the Administration’s defenders. The Hitchens article, for instance, is a definite climb down from the dream defense for the dream war that is more typical of Hitchens to something like your position.

And, as I’ve said before, I disagree with your position, both in its interpretation of the Bush administration’s stated policy and its actions. The importance of these things, at the moment is that the issues surrounding our withdrawal still haven’t clarified it. To jump ahead, when you say that the invasion was a reasonable and logical extension of the UN resolutions and the 1998 Iraq Liberation act, I’d say this: it was reasonable and moral to work to overthrow Saddam Hussein. America’s relevance in that overthrow was severely hampered by the dual containment policy, and it is still hampered by the American refusal to deal with Iran in the Middle Eastern system. It was unlikely, even with the sanctions, that there would be enough domestic pressure on S.H. to overthrow him without the active participation of the Iranians, and that American interest was thwarted by a hardline ideological core that has consistently pursued the impossible dream of some Pahlavi restoration in Iran – this fantasy has played a role similar to the fantasy, in the 50s, that Taiwan was going to successfully overthrow Mao. It was a huge failure of Clinton’s foreign policy not to have pursued the opening to Iran in the late nineties. The result of any overthrow would be to strengthen Iran, but it didn’t necessarily have to strengthen Iran’s theocratic ultras. Unfortunately, that is just what we’ve done.

Now, to get historical:

When you say "The point about SH being "true to form" is pregnant with implications; which, for example, show the complete reasonableness of the '98 Iraqi Liberation Act, as well as why only the most naive would expect the inspections ever "to work."

In fact, the most naive would be right. The inspections plus the sanctions worked. The only real report on SH's weaponry in 2002, according to the Financial times, was that put out by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and that study reported that Saddam Hussein was far away from having any weapons that threatened the U.S. or U.S. interests -- i.e., Northern Iraq and Israel. This should have been obvious by 2002: after all, if Saddam Hussein had his WMD, he would certainly have been using them to restore Northern Iraq. If he wasn’t even making an aggressive move on a part of his own territory that had seceded from him, then his ability to attack the U.S. should definitely have been looked at with a very cold eye.

Not only is the idea floated by the Bushies that everybody thought S.H. was a dangerous atom bomb welding madman, but Colin Powell and Condi Rice, before 9/11, both gave interviews in which they praised the success of the sanctions.

As to Bush’s desire for war: I feel like there is a certain doubleness in your defense of Bush. On the one hand, the Bush administration themselves took their case to the U.N. This counts as a point in their sincerity in being persuadable not to invade. On the other hand, you obviously feel that the U.N. is a ripe load of bunk. And that same feeling emanated from the Bush administration. Once you have made it clear that the mechanisms for proving disarmament are such that you do not have any trust in them, you have basically made it impossible to disarm. That is an exercise in bad faith, just as the supposedly diplomacy offensive to get the Europeans on our side was an exercise in bad faith. The people in the Bush administration push. In other words, Bush did want to go to war unless Saddam fulfilled the condition of basically surrendering to the U.S., abdicating, and taking with him the Ba'ath leadership.

Finally, while it was logical and reasonable to want Saddam Hussein overthrown, it was neither logical nor reasonable, in the light of 9/11, to have made a complete mess of the pursuit of Osama bin Laden and then compounded it by turning attention to a peripheral matter. The only explanation for this is that the Bush administration then and now really does not consider terrorism very important, despite the rhetoric. Thus the handholding with Pakistan, thus the seizure of the moment to go after, of all places, Iraq. The number of Iraqis going off to blow up American boats and embassies is approximately zero. The same can’t be said for the Saudis.

I think it is interesting, from the Hayekian perspective, that you cast your defense in terms of what is logical and reasonable. This is the central planning mindset. It is reasonable and logical for planners to set prices. It is reasonable and logical for planners to, for instance, design airplane schedules to maximize airline coverage. All plans designed at the center – in this case, D.C. – can, by simply insulating themselves from troubling input, be presented as reasonable and logical. The real question is, was it in our interest? And the answer to that is no.

On another note: hey, when are you going to galvanize your blog once again? Poor thing, it pains me to go to it, lying there like one of those Easter Island moas, dragged halfway to the beach and then abandoned, all tribal belief sapped.

Paul craddick said...


Thanks for the (qualified) praise, and encouragment re: my blog. I don't wish to go around in circles here, but some of your points deserve a response.

The UN was not - could not be - the "mechanism for proving disarmament." To suppose that it was led to exactly the kinds of fruitless games of cat/mouse which we saw throughout the '90's: Iraqi deceptions followed by exposure, followed by brinksmanship, followed by Anglo-American bombing, followed by perfunctory "compliance" ... and so the loop continued.

The UN role - nominally - was only to *verify* disarmament, the precondition of which was a cooperative power, *not* a refractory foe. The deliquent power is under the obligation to offer the "proof," transparently, unambiguously, and abidingly.

The standard of disarmanent was for SH to abjure any/all WMD-related activity. The alleged merits of the IISS study notwithstanding, it did not - because it could not - demonstrate the requisite renunciation on SH's part. It may have suggested relative *quiescence* (in terms of current production), but as we found out upon undertaking an occupation-inspection, such a state of affairs is as compatible with trying to wait out "inspections" as it is a sign of sincere compliance; SH's Iraq was most emphatically not committed to genuine disarmament. Besides, the IISS could not have anything affirmative to say about the always-unaccounted for supplies of WMD (e.g., Mustard).

There *was* an element of deception in Bush going to the UN - it suggested that the P5 of the UNSC might genuinely be interested in SH actually complying with the conditions it laid upon him, back in '90/'91. No one can honestly believe that, now. In my view, no one who investigated the matter could've believed it in 2002. But, if nothing else, Bush's attempt to cajole/shame the P5 members into action over a completely unambiguous point (Iraq's serial malfeasance) *might* have spurred them to some constructive action. As the Rumsfeld paraphrase states, some moral seriousness from those powers might have averted the invasion.

You've over-interpreted my use of "logical" and "reasonable." My point is the simple - though I believe not simplistic - one that conflicts have a trajectory of their own. As the de facto enforcer for any UN resolution of any moment, the US makes enemies, exposes itself to dangers, etc., which make the initial UN benedictions ultimately irrelevant; national security is a matter of the enmities in which the nation is an active and direct participant.

SH knew that his tormentors were the US and UK, not "the UN." Likewise, SH was primarily an enemy to those two nations - and the fact that the initial aegis (or nominal one) was in some ambiguous way the UN could provide no genuine protection to them from whatever "threats" he might represent (hence, for example, the Iraqi attempt to assassinate GHW Bush).

The "logic" here is simple: back in '91 a cease-fire signed that is predicated on genuine, complete Iraqi disarmament; Iraq fails to cooperate, repeatedly, over a course of years; it becomes clear that, so long as SH is in power, Iraq can never be trusted to have disarmed - the will not to do so is demonstrated over and over again; the US and UK have a continuing (even growing) stake in such disarmament, as they have been the primary enforcers of such all along (the other nominal ones having dropped off and/or become positively hostile to the effort), and thus the US and UK in particular have incurred SH's wrath; as these two nations don't wish for the conflict to go on forever, they wish to see SH out of power - Iraq headed by SH will never be disarmed; hence, in addition to various intermittent military strikes, sponsoring of in-country mischief, etc., the US passes the Iraqi Liberation Act - a completely reasonable and understandable development, in light of the preceding. I don't claim any ersatz mathematical "necessity" here - it just makes sense to the observer, as any quasi-organic development does.

roger said...

Actually, Paul, I think your description shows exactly why the war was doomed from the beginning to fail. War isn't some legalistic thing that comes in the bottom of some rodomontade act that was passed as a sop to certain interests in D.C. and was never meant to be mean anything more than making roses the flower of Texas or something. The lack of seriousness of the 1998 act could be measured by the campaign of 2000. Did either candidate say, well, now that we have this act pushing us, guess we have to go to war with Iraq? Give me a break. If they did a poll in 2000 and asked people what they felt the nation's major problems were, how many people do you think would have said, oh, it is our current war with Iraq? A war on the scale of the war in Iraq can't be the result of anything so frivolous as the kind of move a used car salesman makes when you go back and say that the block is cracked.

This move indicates the wholesale decadence of the D.C. clique, all the journalists and think tankers for whom this war has really been a moment of truth -- we can see them in their blind, stumbling incompetence, and if there strategy is really going to be what you've outlined, I can't see how they won't continue to fall. If we took seriously various treaties we have signed, I could easily make a case for invading Israel for having defied almost fifty years of treaties governing nuclear arms. We all know this. So it is a joke to pretend that the disarmament of Iraq was something that reached such a threshhold that we had to go and do something about it in 2002. In fact, the weakness of Saddam was shown by 9/11, not his strength. Not one Iraqi participated in an attack on the one enemy that Saddam had every reason to attack. The same is true in Tanzania, it is true in the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, true in Afghanistan. And it was a joke that Bush played on the American people that he was really trying to create an international coalition -- as you say, the U.S. and the U.K were Hussein's enemies, or at least that is how it played out in the pro-war circles. And the belief in those circles was that they should have unilateral power, unimpeded by Europe, in the occupation. Be careful what you wish for.

This war was cursed by the lack of necessity, by the misleading conduct of the President, and, of course, in the end by that dark dark spot on U.S. history, the occupation of Iraq.

However, opponents of the war, such as yours truly, had moral problems to face, too -- foremost among them the balance between a sanction regime that was inhumane and condoning, by inactivity, Hussein. I've been a little disgusted by the liberal side coming out and making a hero out of (of all people) Brent Scowcraft, and Bush's father, who truly have blood on their hands -- they coldly left one hundred thousands shi'ites to die after they called on them to revolt from Saddam Hussein. Personally, I think this double illegitimacy has played itself out in the past three years. There are no bright spots. There is nothing really more dangerous than the American irrelevance in the Middle East and the amount of power that the Americans have. That's a gap that will be closed in some awful way, I'm afraid.

roger said...

ps -- Paul, hey, I wasn't bs-ing about missing your blog. I meant it. I know you don't like the usual blog bonanza of chiseling controversies, but your Craddickian specialty of philosophical daydreaming was unique.

Paul craddick said...

Thanks very much, Roger - I'll take your encouragement to heart.