I got an email a few days ago from my friend Dave. He’s a Lefty who lives in England, but he supported the war, as he supported the Bosnian intervention, since he thinks it is the liberal thing to do to depose horrible dictators. An old-fashioned view on the Left these days, but one which provides some common ground for us. He is nonetheless, pretty anti-Bush. He sent me this anti-Bush screed, which makes fairly tired arguments and incorrect statements, including this one: “This doctrine originally declared that the United States has the right to attack a hostile power that possesses weapons of mass destruction.”
My response was about as follows:
No. Wrong. “We must be prepared to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies and friends.” See National Security Strategy of the United States of America.
Note: “before”. How much before? As much as we deem necessary for our security. Other than this inexcusable and easily checked error, I thought the article was trivial. Bottom line, Saddam had way less shit than we thought. This is big news. This is actually a good thing, and we could only find it out by conquering him. He was so stupid he lied about it and fucked around until we conquered him. If he’d have fessed up he’d be at his desk now, and his sons would be raping somebody. He apparently either didn’t know better himself or figured his power rested on people thinking he had the stuff. Maybe he’ll write his memoirs and we’ll find out. Does it mean Bush lied? I don’t think so. Does this mean going into Iraq was wrong? I don’t think so. Does this all mean Kerry gets elected? Maybe. This issue will help him with some moderate voters. We’ll see what Jane Voter thinks in November. If Iraq is more or less quiet and the economy has not tanked, Bush will almost certainly win, on historical trends. But, anything can happen. A Kerry/Clinton ticket is likely. This would lead to lots of excitement and a large turnout of women voters who might put the Donk ticket over the top. This is an interesting year. Carl Rove has said from day one the next election will be very close, as close as the last one, and I think he is right. I did not watch the Bush interview. I read the transcript. It was weak. If he keeps on like that, he can lose. We’ll see how he does. His biggest danger may be alienated righties who are mad about the spending binge and his attempted immigration reform. There is real anger out there. But, Nixon irritated the same type of people in 1972 with his pre-election spending tsunami, and he won in a landslide. And running against your core, assuming there is no third party challenge, to reach into the center, is usually effective.
Dave agreed with me abut the Security Strategy document. He expressed concern that the intelligence apparatus was pressured to provide intel that the leadership wanted, and mentioned the problem Kennedy had in 1962 during the Missile Crisis of “groupthink” and getting advice from his generals to go to war. He suggested that putting so much emphasis on the WMDs was, in retrospect, a mistake, and we should have either deemphasized this, or let Blix work away over there for a longer period of time. Dave concluded that “in the next year or so, Iraq will work out,” which I also think is right. He also predicted that 2008 “will be the all-girl Hillary vs. Condi showdown.”
I responded pretty much as follows:
No one ever goes to war for one reason. Monocausality is always wrong on anything major. There is a combination of circumstances which flow into major events. Saddam was in the cross-hairs for a bunch of reasons — he was a tyrant of worst sort who richly deserved to be removed, he was a nutcase who seemed to be becoming increasingly detached from reality who was sitting right next to the whole world’s oil source and could raise holy Hell with the world economy by attacking the Saudis or other countries in the area, he was not immortal and we were afraid of the country falling into civil war disrupting the oil supply when he died, he supported terrorism ( in Palestine, for example) which is currently a big no-no, he seemed to be working on very worrisome weapons, he was dissing us by shooting at our planes in the no fly zone and thumbing his nose at us in a part of the world where it is dangerous to appear weak, we had already passed a law calling for his ouster (in 1998 under Clinton), he was in violation of the peace treaty that ended the first Gulf war, he was in violation of many UN resolutions, his country seemed relatively weak and easy to conquer (compared to Iran or NK — God help us if we ever have to invade NK), our military was ready to finish him off and had been preparing and planning to do so for a long time, his country seemed like a good lodgment in the region for a military base as a way to put pressure on Iran and Syria, taking his country was a way to end our military basing in Saudi which was provoking problems there and which was unwanted there and which was insecure there, taking his country would put the fear of God into the Arabs who considered us weak and perhaps make them more cooperative, taking his country might allow us to gather intelligence regarding terrorism and the clandestine trade in WMD components, taking his country might draw in terrorists whom we could kill or capture there rather than on our own turf, and finally taking his country would allow us to try to go after the “deep causes” of Arab hatred of us by giving them the chance to have some kind of democracy or at least civilized order to live under — the most ambitious part of the whole thing. I’m sure there are other reasons not listed above.
As they say, a war against Saddam was “over-determined”.
I think Bush had a problem with Blix, which was the timing of getting a war started. We had a huge army building up over there, housed in a desert at immense expense, in danger of being preemptively attacked, and we faced a closing window of cool weather in which to attack. We didn’t have six months. We had a few more weeks. Blix’s program just ran out of time. Bush was looking at the clock ticking and realized he could not put it off forever, and he could not bring everybody home with anything less than a surrender by Saddam. So he pulled the trigger. Saddam apparently thought he could run out the clock. Dolt.
Whether we should have hung so much on the WMD issue is easy to criticize in hindsight. Clinton did not have nearly as much legal maneuvering before he went into Bosnia or Kosovo. We just did it. The legal academic community supported it, too. They talked about evolving norms of international law where sovereignty is trumped by the need to defend human rights and prevent genocide, etc. Those same guys opposed Bush this time, on purely partisan grounds in my opinion, which was disgraceful.
Anyway, at the time it seemed like focusing on WMD was a way to get a “legal” rationale for the war, get another UN resolution, keep Blair and others on our side, all of which was a big deal for a lot of people. And I do think the leadership (Bush, Blair, etc.) believed Saddam had some serious shit. I’m still not sure he didn’t. He had months and months to prepare, and there are persistent reports that he hid stuff in Syria. Maybe so. As it is, he had some components. John Keegan had a good article in the Telegraph on this. I can’t find the link. He pointed out that major intelligence failures are pretty common. The British completely discounted the threat of the V-2 rocket until they began falling on London. The Germans totally believed our disinformation campaign prior to the Normandy invasion. Etc. Still, embarrassing, no doubt about it. Ralph Peters had a good piece in the New York Post about the need to rebuild our intelligence services to focus on human intelligence and language and cultural skills. He is a former Intel guy. We could certainly do a lot of things to improve our intelligence services. But, even when they are running well, determined enemies can keep secrets some of the time. That’s just how it is. If you wait until you have unassailable, perfect intelligence, the bomb is already detonating outside your office. You can’t make that the standard.
I agree that it is not trivial to find out if the intelligence services were pressured to give a different report than they wanted to give. I don’t think they did in the USA. I don’t know in Britain. We’ll hear much more on this in the months ahead.
Yeah, Kennedy was getting group-think in 1962. I think Bush tries to avoid that. Bush tries to cultivate some contrarian discussion among his advisors. Powell fills that role, certainly. The generals came to JFK and said, you have no options, attack Cuba — and whatever you do, you are on your own and we are not responsible for what happens. JFK was smart enough to tell the generals to go to Hell, and he came up with the “quarantine” idea — they didn’t call it a blockade, since a blockade is an act of war. So they just called it something else. It prevented any shooting. He got himself into the whole situation by treating Castro as a big deal, but then failing to take him out, and by nearly pissing his pants at their meeting in Vienna and letting Khrushchev think we has a pussy. But, then, he got himself out of it. Luck of the Irish. I perhaps share one thing with Oliver Stone — I don’t think JFK would have gone into Vietnam the way Johnson did in 1965, face first and with no real strategy. JFK had learned during the Cuba episode never to trust the generals. I don’t think he’d have walked away from Vietnam, but he would have demanded some kind of coherent strategy from them. Generals always need to be controlled with a firm hand. They have their own agendas. (Eliot Cohen’s book Supreme Command, which is about Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and David ben Gurion, is superb on this. Worth reading.)
I’d love to see Condi v. Hillary. That would be great theatre.