The Myth of Retaliation

I wrote earlier about the fairly widespread erroneous belief that the Bush administration advocated the invasion/liberation of Iraq due to the mistaken belief that Saddam Hussein was somehow involved in the 9/11 attacks.

As a sociological phenomenon, this error fascinates me. The liberation and democratization of Iraq is the major political event of our times, yet we see that a significant minority of lay people and cognoscenti alike honestly do not understand the rather clearly stated rationales for attempting it. Why do so many people make such an important decision based on an erroneous premise and what does this say about the overall quality of our general political decision making?

[Note: I am not talking about the debate over whether Saddam did or did not support, direct or coordinate with Al-Qaeda prior to 9/11. Instead. I am talking about the perception that the Bush administration and other major advocates of the liberation based their case on the claim that he did. We will likely never resolve the first issue but we can easily verify the second.]

I think the error arises from a very basic fault in human perception. Put simply, the brain perceives new information based on what it already knows and expects to perceive. If we hear or see a new pattern that looks similar to a long-known pattern, we mistake the new pattern for the old. We see what we expect to see, we hear what we expect to hear.

The same bias interferes with our more-complex reasoning as well. Anyone who has made a novel argument on a post thread has seen others reply as if arguing against some old trope. We expect others to make certain arguments about certain events so when they make a novel argument we mistakenly believe they made the old argument we expected them to make.

Historically, most advocates of any particular war based their rationales at least in part on the idea of just retaliation. They hit us, so we must hit them back. The 2001 invasion of Afghanistan fit this mold perfectly. Al-Qaeda, then a de facto arm of the Afghan government, attacked the U.S., so we hit them back. Even if a lot of other factors came into play, the well understood practical and moral imperative to retaliate stood at the center of the justification.

When the Bush administration made its novel new case for the liberation of Iraq, many people expected that the case centered on the idea of retaliation for 9/11, just as the case for invading Afghanistan had. When Bush et al argued for armed invasion as part of a long-term strategy based on transforming the political and social incubators for terrorism, many people misinterpreted it as a call for retaliation.

The secondary debate — i.e., debate by others in the media, academia, the blogosphere etc. — played a significant role in amplifying the initial mistaken misinterpretation. A critical mass of mistaken individuals reiterated the misinterpretation to the point where others pro and con simply accepted it as an accurate representation. (I’ve actually had people make an argument along the lines of, “if it’s not true why do so many people say it?”)

Unfortunately, I don’t think this particular widespread error represents much of an anomaly in political affairs. If we looked at any major public-policy debate in detail we would find that a significant segment of the electorate, media, academics and politicians mistakenly believe that one party or another in the debate makes an argument they did not.

People who support Bush’s liberation of Iraq because they believe that Bush argued that Saddam was somehow responsible for 9/11 make just as grievous an error as do those who oppose the liberation for the same reason. In both cases, people misunderstand the rationales and goals. If they do not understand the goals, they cannot evaluate the effectiveness or justifications of the methods employed.

I personally advocate a libertarian minimal state in large part precisely because I have come to understand that the political system cannot process information accurately. Indeed, the system seems biased to do just the opposite. The very process of public debate corrupts the information we seek to evaluate. Seldom do we face a rather clear-cut situation like Afghanistan. More often we face more-complex situations in which the ideas of the past do not apply. In many cases, we have no option but to rely on political decision making, but I think it clear that we should always use the political process as the last option in a long list.

[Note: I will delete any long winded post on whether Saddam was or was not involved in 9/11. I don’t care in this context because no one seriously ever advocated policy based on the premise that he was.]

31 thoughts on “The Myth of Retaliation”

  1. I am from an older school that says, simply, you do not invade someone’s country because you dislike their government and believe they should have one similar to what you have. Bush made the biggest mistake in American history and we are now paying for it in both money, hatred, and lost American lives. And so far, nothing to show for “democracy.” If you want to spread democracy, then why not in North Korea and China and Syria etc ??? why pick on one country–oh, Greenspan noted we needed to co ntrol oil supply. Ok, that explains and justifies it.

  2. The primary rationale presented for the war was security. Specifically, Saddam is going to get the Bomb. That was what Bush went to the UN about, etc., and I believed him. A very influential book by Kenneth Pollack made this same case, and convinced me. “Liberation and democratization” were presented as ancillary benefits, though at the time I was unwisely hopeful that some such benefits would occur. The Bush administration could not have sold the war to the American public primarily on the basis of “liberation and democratization”. Paul Wolfowitz subsequently said as much, noting that the WMD issue gave the administration “legal cover” to embark on a more ambitious nation-building project. People like me, who believed the security rationale, and supported the war on that basis, would have opposed the war if it had been primarily about “liberation and democratization” or nation-building.

    The idea that Saddam had any involvement in 9/11 was always speculative, and unlikely.

    But the you misrepresent the run-up to the war if you are claiming that “liberation and democratization” were the main rationales advanced prior to the war beginning. They were pushed to the fore on the day of the invasion, which was called “Operation Iraqi Freedom”, and at that moment I began to have my doubts about the whole enterprise, since “Iraqi Freedom” is none of our business and I found the name and the idea objectionable. The Bush administration’s declaratory policy about the war shifted after it began.

  3. WMD became a justification for invading Iraq only when, under political pressure, Bush went to the UN for permission. His view was that the only possible justification for the UN’s approving such a project would be that Hussein had repeatedly refused to allow the UN weapons inspectors access to sites they’d asked to visit. Prior to that, “liberation and democratization” had been the repeated and oft-mocked reasons stated for liberating the country. Also cited were Saddam’s $25,000 payments to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers which Bush correctly interpreted as support for terrorism.

    The Democrats, at the time, were asking why Bush couldn’t come up with just one reason for attacking as if several made his argument weaker.

  4. None of the lay people or cognoscenti that I know or watch on TV or read writings of think that the Bush people invaded Iraq to get back at them or retaliate for 9/11. (Though some think that Bush wanted to invade to get back at Saddam for trying to kill is Dad.) The common thinking is that the related rationale that the Bush administration gave us for invading was that Saddam Hussein was connected to and likely in cahoots with the 9/11 people and we needed to invade to prevent another attack on US soil.

    Well, that’s just one of the many, many rationales that the adimistration put forward. They seemed to be trying as many multiple rationales as possible in the hopes that one would stick. Probably a savvy move since several or perhaps all of their rationales sort of fizzled — like weapons of mass destruction, needing to get rid of Hussein (he’s gone, now what?).

  5. David Still,

    I am from an older school that says,…

    Well unfortunately, its the 21st century. There are no more foreign lands months or years in travel time away. Every part of the globe trades with every other part of the globe. Technology has advanced to the point where weapons that occupy less than a quarter of cubic meter can kill millions.

    Thought experiment. Suicide agents release half a liter of nerve gas in a major city killing thousands. A previously unknown group claims responsibility.

    Now, who actually created the nerve gas and initiated the attack? Where are the fingerprints?

    Bush and crew thought as you did prior to 9/11. They didn’t believe the US had a role in making the rest of the world get along with themselves. Afterward they realized that just as lawlessness in one part of town spells over to the rest, tyranny and operation in one part of the world now infects the rest.

    Old school doesn’t cut it anymore.

  6. Lexington Green,

    “Liberation and democratization” were presented as ancillary benefits, though at the time I was unwisely hopeful that some such benefits would occur.

    I disagree. If you go back and read the actual speeches and such that Bush’s team gave wherein they laid out their case, democratizations played the central role. Bush argued repeatedly that only democratization could disrupt the environments that foster terrorism.

    I think you have to separate the totality of Bush’s rationale from the attention that the media et al paid to this our that component.

    I think a lot of the “Bush said…” stuff comes from focus that the media gave to such matters. In its role as gatekeeper the media got to decide what parts of Bush’s ideas and statements got the most attention. The media played a lot attention to the minor threat of Saddam acquiring nuclear weapons but ignored the more likely threat they he would decide to give the chemical and biological weapons he already had demonstrated he could manufacture to some terrorist group. Bush and cohorts would often give long hour long speeches on the matter and the media would report some variant of “Irag might get nukes!”

  7. This is not about narrative bias or a “sociological phenomenon”, it is about incompetence, and the 21st century looks more and more like the 19th – go watch “Lawrence of Arabia” again. The only way to deal with low-probability/high impact risks is through RESILIENCE, not willy-nilly squandering of overt forces and resources. This debacle will be on our accounts and in our graveyards and hospitals for 50 years.

  8. I beg to differ, Lex. I mean, you’re wrong and you’re right.

    You’re right in that security was/is a chief motivation. But you’re wrong to believe that security and “Iraqi freedom” were separate notions. Liberal goals of “regime change” were already wedded to the core Iraq mission by the time Bush took office. The greater and more obvious effort would have been for Bush to weed out the liberal ideas embedded in the Iraq mission, and certainly Bush didn’t do anything of the sort. He used what was handed to him by his fellow JFK-generation predecessor. It constantly surprises me when folks talk about the liberal frame of the Iraq mission as though it was tacked on, when it actually was part of formalized American policy pre-dating both 9/11 and the Bush administration. IE, it was not solely the possession of WMD in and of itself (comment: as many war critics correctly point out, a number of nations possess WMD) that constituted the special danger, but the possession of WMD coupled with the track record and nature of Saddam and his regime.

    Therefore, if the two-part solution demanded, in addition to a fix to Iraqi WMD, a fundamental change in the nature of governance and governor in Iraq, then what exactly did folks think would happen once we defeated the Iraqi government? That we’d just leave Iraq – mission accomplished? Or, before bugging out, installing a Saddam clone for that good ‘ol (poli sci) realist security?

    The Iraq mission was and is about Security, but from the previous to the current President, it was and is about Liberal Security.

    President Clinton, Oct 1998: “Let me be clear on what the U.S. objectives are:
    The United States wants Iraq to rejoin the family of nations as a freedom-loving and law-abiding member. This is in our interest and that of our allies within the region.
    The United States favors an Iraq that offers its people freedom at home. I categorically reject arguments that this is unattainable due to Iraq’s history or its ethnic or sectarian make-up. Iraqis deserve and desire freedom like everyone else.
    The United States looks forward to a democratically supported regime that would permit us to enter into a dialogue leading to the reintegration of Iraq into normal international life.
    My Administration has pursued, and will continue to pursue, these objectives through active application of all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. The evidence is overwhelming that such changes will not happen under the current Iraq leadership.
    In the meantime, while the United States continues to look to the Security Council’s efforts to keep the current regime’s behavior in check, we look forward to new leadership in Iraq that has the support of the Iraqi people.”

    President Bush, Oct 2002: “By taking these steps, and by only taking these steps, the Iraqi regime has an opportunity to avoid conflict. Taking these steps would also change the nature of the Iraqi regime itself. America hopes the regime will make that choice. Unfortunately, at least so far, we have little reason to expect it. And that’s why two administrations — mine and President Clinton’s — have stated that regime change in Iraq is the only certain means of removing a great danger to our nation. … America believes that all people are entitled to hope and human rights, to the non-negotiable demands of human dignity. People everywhere prefer freedom to slavery; prosperity to squalor; self-government to the rule of terror and torture. America is a friend to the people of Iraq. Our demands are directed only at the regime that enslaves them and threatens us. When these demands are met, the first and greatest benefit will come to Iraqi men, women and children. The oppression of Kurds, Assyrians, Turkomans, Shi’a, Sunnis and others will be lifted. The long captivity of Iraq will end, and an era of new hope will begin. … Iraq is a land rich in culture, resources, and talent. Freed from the weight of oppression, Iraq’s people will be able to share in the progress and prosperity of our time. If military action is necessary, the United States and our allies will help the Iraqi people rebuild their economy, and create the institutions of liberty in a unified Iraq at peace with its neighbors.”

  9. “If you go back and read the actual speeches and such that Bush’s team gave wherein they laid out their case democratizations played the central role.”

    I recall the actual speeches well. I recall Bush making a variety of arguments. I recall explaining to other people that the various arguments had to be taken as a totality, when I was trying to convince them that the war was a good idea, as I believed at the time.

    Democratization without WMDs would have equalled inadequate support for the war, domestically, and to the extent Bush got any, elsewhere. He talked about liberating Iraq, and how that would be a good thing. But I certainly did not see that on its own as a basis to invade anybody, nor would most of his conservative supporters have dones so. Nonetheless, I and many others recognized that if you must do such things, shutting down a dictator is a side benefit, and there may be some larger good that will flow from taht. I recognized these facts when I said that at the time I was “unwisely hopeful” that these ancillary benefits would pay off. Bush talked about them, point conceded. But without the WMD argument he would never have gotten his war.

    The security argument — Saddam will get nukes — was the primary focus of the arguments made in support of the war. It was the primary reason that Bush was able to get support for the war. I also say that he and his team recognized this fact, and accentuated this point. I am giving them the benefit of the doubt that they believed it at the time. If they had tried to make nation-building the main focus, they would have gotten very little support. Certainly not from me or many other fairly typical conservative Republican voters. I cheered when Bush told Al Gore “no more nation building”. I hope both candidates say it in 2008.

  10. Chel,

    None of the lay people or cognoscenti that…

    I run into it a lot. You may not notice it as I do because I find it particular annoying. In any case, polls rather consistently show that roughly a third of the public believes that we attacked Iraq in retaliation for 9/11.

    Well, that’s just one of the many, many rationales that the adimistration put forward.

    Frankly, I find this argument disingenuous. It seems to go something like this.

    Con: Give me one good reason we should liberate Iraq.

    Pro: I can give you ten.

    Con: Make up your mind!

    I think the widespread misperception that Bush has shifted rationales comes from confusing the shifting public debate with Bush himself. If you go back and read the original source materials you can see that Bush laid out a coherent and consistent doctrine within a couple of months of 9/11. All the multiple rationales for the liberation were clearly stated. However, during the last 6 years, the emphasis of the public discourse has shifted from one specific rational to another at different times. Somehow, some people translate that into Bush dishonestly coming up with new justifications.

    I am pretty sure you rely almost exclusively on secondary sources for understanding the Bush doctrine. At any particular time, you only see the part of the plan that the 3rd party you rely on shows you. Your laziness doesn’t translate into dishonesty on Bush’s part.

  11. Contextualizing the argument over Operation Iraqi Freedom

    (Note: I wrote this in 2004. Note2: I am a biased liberal.)

    Introduction. I think the major disagreements over Operation Iraqi Freedom can be simplified to three divergent areas, which I have labelled the Three Strategic Forks. This is probably an over-simplified explanation, but that’s just how smart I am not. I use the terms “realist” and “liberal” in the political science sense, and I incorporate the terminology of Tom Barnett, of whom I am a big fan.

    The first fork is Isolationism versus Intervention.

    Isolationists come from a broad swathe, from radicals who want to remove US influence from the world, to dogmatic realists who see 9/11 as the punishment for liberal Wilsonianism, to Michael Moore types who see the War on Terror as the elites’ distraction from the masses-versus-elites populist issues they care about.

    Interventionists would be the majority of us, folks who accept the notion of US intervention overseas, although the range and type of preferred intervention differs. For example, if you think the US was right to topple the Taliban and disrupt al Qaeda’s terrorist factories, even if you do not support OpIF, then you are an interventionist.

    After taking the Intervention fork, the second fork is what I call the Revenge Mission versus Global Solutions.

    Most realists equate security with threat, so they prefer the revenge mission option for the War on Terror, i.e., kill the terrorists (the symptoms) – which makes Operation Enduring Freedom acceptable – and focus on keeping the wild things out of the homeland by building higher walls and stronger gates.

    Most liberals – the majority of Americans – prefer global solutions, i.e., addressing the global causes of the 9/11-related terrorist phenomenon as well as the symptoms. Liberals consider the spread of democracy and globalisation as the best solution for 9/11-related terrorism.

    A good summary of President Bush Jr’s liberal approach to the War on Terror:
    Among the momentous effects of Al-Qaeda’s violent strikes against the United States on September 11, 2001, was a re-orientation of American policy toward the Middle East. The new paradigm adopted in Washington viewed much of the world as being divided into opponents versus supporters of terrorism. Furthermore, the roots of terrorism were ascribed to Mideast regimes that caused social and economic failures while pursuing the interests of small groups of ruling elites.

    After taking the Global Solutions fork, the third fork is what I call the Slow Burn versus the Race.

    After more-or-less marching in step at the first two forks, many folks disagree at this third strategic fork.

    At this stage, the “Core” (a Tom Barnett term) actors who oppose Operation Iraqi Freedom want a Slow Burn. They agree with the liberal belief that the Middle East must be reformed, but they want to make a realist compromise. As such, they concede Operation Enduring Freedom and a limited increase in engagement with the Middle East, but they are unwilling to bear the commitment, cost and uncertainty of comprehensively engaging the causes of terrorism in the “Gap.” Instead, they would rather remain with pre-9/11 rituals and processes (e.g., the President Clinton approach to terrorism) where they are comfortable. They believe, or convince themselves, the natural flow of globalisation will eventually solve the causes. Beyond that, they will react to symptoms as they flare up.

    The “Core” actors who support OpIF view the war on terror as a race where the “Core” must ‘connect’ the Middle East to democracy and globalisation before this proactive, aggressive, and capable enemy can ‘disconnect’ the region. The attacks of 9/11 were intended as an opening ‘System Perturbation’ (again, Barnett-speak) to disconnect the democratic, globalised community from encroaching on the Muslim world. OpIF, in this context, is an opening counter-Perturbation that replaces the pre-9/11 paradigm of the West’s limited, self-conscious and self-serving engagement in the Middle East with intensive interaction between the globalised “Core” community and the region.

    The greater purpose of OpIF, therefore, is to compel the globalised community to a deeper, long-term commitment to the Middle East – the same deeper commitment many folks in the “Core” oppose. This assessment further holds forth that the terrorists are rapidly moving to sever the vital connections between the Middle East and the globalised community, using the methodology exemplified by the enemy in Iraq with his ‘anti-war’ enabler in the West. If we fail to succeed in this strong liberal push now, in OpIF, then we will lose the connections needed to effect change in the oppression-extremism dichotomy squeezing the Middle East.

    In sum, those who support the Slow Burn refuse to reach past their own comfort zone. Those who support the Race believe the Slow Burn by itself cannot work, because of the existing pre-9/11 conditions that extinguished the Slow Burn in the region, and because post-9/11, the proactive terrorists will do their best to disallow the Slow Burn to work.

    We must respect the enemy. In my opinion, the terrorists are racing and they fully realize what is at stake for them in Iraq. For those in the race – terrorists, Iraqis and nation-builders – the central battle of the War on Terror, in the present and for the future, is unequivocally being fought right now in Iraq.

  12. Lexington Green,

    I think you are confusing short and long term goals. Separating Saddam from his WMDs was a short term goal. Creating conditions so that the same problem would not reoccur is the long term goal.

    What good would it have done to get rid of Saddam but leave the conditions that gave birth to his regime? WMDs aren’t some irreplaceable object like a magic sword in a stone. Like all other technology they arise out of a combination knowledge and resources. What would be the point of removing Saddam but leaving the people and resources to cook in the same environment that created them in the first place?

    What would have been the point of fighting WWII if we just another Fascist take over when we were done? How secure would you sleep at night if Germany and Japan never democratized?

  13. Shannon,

    Your interpretation was how I saw it. What I see may have to do with preconceptions, the literature and culture of fly-over country and the old guys. But I’m pretty sure I heard what he meant.

    I also wish we’d occasionally note that the situation in Iraq was increasingly messy – those parades of dead babies Saddam claimed were killed because of the embargo prompted action as did the refusal to open the country to inspectors. What was the point of such a protocol after a war if it wasn’t carried through? Rather than arguing that Saddam had wmd, wasn’t the argument that he might get it and if so, the agreements after the Gulf War would be pointless? No sensible country would settle for such a brokered peace again, but prefer to annihilate its opponent.

    I’ve increasingly come to believe that Bush speaks a language steeped in certain values and projecting certain visions that are apparently invisible to large groups of Americans. His job is to communicate, not theirs to understand. And this has been a problem for him and his speechwriters – and, in the end, for all of us. But sometimes reactions seem wilful misunderstandings.

    And you are also right about the paradigm shifting. We are fighting old wars. Given the stakes and risks, it isn’t surprising that the first to realize innovation was necessary was the army. Of course, one of the innovations was a belief that a smaller, tighter army – one leaving a smaller footprint – would make it clear we didn’t see our role as an occupation force. That didn’t work. But the army caught on – Petraeus left the field, wrote, researched, wrote – then returned.

    The press hasn’t seemed to catch on yet – their questions often indicate a somewhat strange nostalgia for Vietnam. I don’t think that is because they were young and at the height of journalistic power then. Well, not only. I think it is because all of us need analogies and try to make sense of the present with the past. In the future, it will fit in, we will see Iraq in a context. Now, all we know is the past.

  14. Lex: I cheered when Bush told Al Gore “no more nation building”.

    You know what? I did, too. I was still a soldier at the time of the 2000 election, and I was constantly frustrated by everything that I and my soldiers had to do in our professional lives other than train for war. I knew how tired the military was by Clinton’s op-tempo – we were already marveling then about how often reservists deployed. Naturally, as a proud combat support soldier, I viewed war-fighting as my priority focus. I craved training but, beyond the mandated stuff, dedicated training seemed to be, at a rare best, in the middle of our day-to-day list of priorities. I still recall my surprise and frustration the day I should have gone to an M9 range, with an open seat waiting for me on the LMTV driving out, but I was pulled by my OIC at the last moment for a dumb detail that had nothing at all to do with war-fighting. And here I was in a duty station – Korea – where we were supposed to be ready to go to war within days, maybe even hours.

    I viewed Bush’s stance on nation-building as a promise to cut out the BS and get our focus back to business. But you know what? My mind changed dramatically on 9/11. It wasn’t a stretch for me given that I was a liberal before I joined the military, but it seems to me our conservative President had a realist to liberal conversion on 9/11, too. It’s just too bad he can’t express himself as inspirationally as FDR, JFK and our other celebrated liberal foreign policy presidents.

    Here’s what I realized on 9/11. Simple as it seems, it was a leap for me. When I was going through my initial entry training into the Army, my training was cursory at best about, even dismissive of, “operations than war”, like nation-building or humanitarian assistance … and my training was wrong. The military’s duty isn’t just to fight our nation’s wars; our military’s job is to win them. And victory in real life isnt secured at capturing the flag, or leading at the end of the ninth or when the game-clock runs out. Victory, rather, looks a lot like a Rumsfeldian “long hard slog”.

    In a different, not too distant, time, the post-war for an occupying military looked different than it does now. But in these times, with the world order we’re trying to uphold, winning for our military means liberal operations like nation-building. Before our first troopers crossed the Iraq-Kuwait border in 2003, that’s what our guys were already doing in the post-major combat of “Enduring Freedom” in Afghanistan, so I don’t understand why or how anyone would have expected any different from the post-major combat of “Iraqi Freedom” in Iraq.

  15. “I think you are confusing short and long term goals.”

    I am telling you what was politically necessary to focus on at the time. More, that is precisely what I recall happening. I particularly recall it because I actually had my mind changed on the issue. Generally, the long term goal of democratization these places was neither a necesary nor sufficient condition for invading Iraq. Saddam getting a nuke was both, in my case, and in the case of many who initially supported the war.

    “What good would it have done to get rid of Saddam but leave the conditions that gave birth to his regime?”

    I don’t understand this question. Getting rid of Saddam would have meant disarming his regime, so it cannot harm us. There are no permanent solutions in politics. Ransack the place, destroy its military capacity, and put someone in charge of what is left who is cooperative. That would destroy the threat on an immediate basis, and possibly on a longer term basis.

    “How secure would you sleep at night if Germany and Japan never democratized?”

    We did not remove the threat from the Apaches by making them into a democracy.

  16. Eric:

    Whether or not I agree that nation-building is somehow “necessary” now, or that 9/11 made that obvious, the American public would not have supported a war anywhere primarily for that reason. If a war is necessary, you have to try to “win the peace”, something our military did not want to learn how to do pre-Iraq, and has had to learn on the fly ever since.

  17. Dear Shannon: old school doesn’t cut it anymore? Listen, person. I served in war, not just once but twice. Defend Bush all you want but the fact is that there was no reason to invade Iraq. What a dumb justification you give! We live in a new world and we are globalized etc Guess what: we put Saddam in power and we armed him against Iraq. WE DID IT. We created the monster you now say we had to destroy.It was clear to political science people I knew that to rid Iraqq of Saddam was to get Irn in driver’s seat in the region because it was only Saddam, evil though he was, that kept Iran in check. Now we have civial war, thousands of deaths, and no end in sight. Worse, Iran let loose. So tell me about the new world we live in. I know all about it.My son went into the marines and has served. Tell me how many of your kids you are sending to fight for Bush?

  18. “…we put Saddam in power and we armed him against [Iran].”
    The US neither installed nor armed Saddam Hussein; the former he achieved personally, while Iraqi armaments came predominantly from the USSR, with smaller sales from France, Yugoslavia/Serbia, and South Africa.

    The only US supplies to Saddam’s Iraq were utility helicopters during the Iran-Iraq war; these were primarily symbolic, as Iraq had plenty of attack and assault helos from the USSR at the time.
    What they made concrete was that the US would not seek to block Iraq’s supplies of armaments, ammunition etc. and its vital loan financing by the the Arab oil states.

    As with US provision of intelligence to Iraq re. Iran, the intent is obvious; from the US perspective the only thing worse than an Iraqi victory would be an Iranian one. As Iraq was shaky at that point, Saddam was supported.

    He was not a US creation; he was for a time a convenient tool. Afterward he was opposed for they same reason he had been supported; to deny ANY regional power control over the Gulf/Arabia.

    Once Iran had been checked, it seemed likely Saddam’s wider ambitions could be constrained by tightening up the loans chokehold and building up Saudi military capability. Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait was his attempt to neutralise that problem.

    Almost certainly, Saddam’s long range hope after his ejection from Kuwait was to outlast the increasingly challenged sanctions regime, and perhaps to make use of the likely eventual US v Iran confrontation and/or possible political problems of the Saudis to rebuild his revenues and military capabilities.

    I suspect that invading Iraq was never a matter of democratization (a nice bonus if you get it), or even WMD primarily, but a combination of factors including these, and influenced above all by Iraq’s position re. the revenues and strategic economic importance of Gulf oil.

  19. David Still,

    We live in a new world and we are globalized etc Guess what: we put Saddam in power and we armed him against Iraq. WE DID IT.

    Sorry, but your absolutely wrong.

    The British intervened in 1963 to overthrow the Soviet allied Qassim regime and replace him with Arif. The Baathesit overthrew Arif in 1968 and gradually switched again to the Soviets. Saddam murdered his way to power in 1978. By the start of Iran-Iraq war, the Iraqi military was virtually completely supplied and trained by the Warsaw pact.

    Foreign policy isn’t a game of D&D where some author makes up the world at whim. Real-world decision makers have to work with the conditions as they actually exist using the information and tools available in real-time. We seldom get to choose between supporting the good against the bad. Usually. we get to choose between supporting the bad and the worse. The US and other Western nations gave their very limited support to Saddam during the war for the same reason we supported Stalin against Hitler. Iran at the time poised the more immediate threat. Henry Kissenger summed up the American position best when he remarked, “pity they can’t both lose.”

    Saddam rose to power against the wishes of the free-world. He got his armaments from the enemies of the free-world. The contention that “we” created Saddam in simply an easily falsifiable lie.

    Worse, Iran let loose.

    Yea. Iran is really running rampant all over the region. Why they’ve invaded who exactly? Iran is doing exactly what it was doing before the invasion. I don’t suppose you’ve considered what would have happened in Saddam’s regime collasped due to the sanctions and Iran found itself in a position to back the Shia in a civil war? Ask you’re poli-sci friends.

    Thank you for service but that doesn’t grant you any special insight into foreign policy. History has shown that soldiers have no better grasp of new foreign policy situations than do those who never served. If they did, we would let the military run the State Department.

    Tell me how many of your kids you are sending to fight for Bush?

    My son-in-law was scheduled to deploy to Iraq as a combat medic until he crippled in a training accident. Three of my daughter’s highschool friends, young men I have known for years, are currently serving in Iraq. My spouse just took up a collection to send one of them water guns because he and his teammates need to blow off steam but they can’t go outside their FOB in Saddam’s hometown of Trikit. My cousin Lex Louis’s half-brother, Pfc. Clayton W. Henson was killed by an IED in Iraq. My son is sixteen and has started to think about the military as a choice after he graduates.

    People who have themselves or their loved ones in danger are significantly more likely than not to support the liberation because have a much more real-world i.e. as opposed to ivory tower, view of the world. They understand that the world is a hard place that forces us to choose between bad and worse.

  20. I would suggest that most of those who believe we are doing an important and worthwhile mission in Iraq are more often than not quoted as saying merely I do the job I am assigned to do. I have heard as many reports of those who do not believe in the mission as those who do, and I would ask you to show me statistics suggesting that “most” feel we are doing an important and worthwhile job.

    The initial premise of this post puzzles me. I do not know of anyone I hang with who believed or were told or had read that we attacked Iraq because they were pals with Al Qaeda. That notion was tossed into the hopper after it began to be apparent that WMD were not being found. Can you cite links from the first days of the invasion to make your case?

  21. David Still,

    See this comment in my previous post that links to poll showing that around 33% of the American public appears to believe that Saddam played a role in 9/11.

    I see such comments a lot but then I am sensitized to them. Usually, they take the form of “We invaded Iraq even though it had nothing to do with 9/11” or variation on that theme.

  22. “we put Saddam in power” That is a declarative sentence with a subject, verb and object. Please, please provide links (not from ex-KKK members or communists) which show this statement to be true, or at least to be a hypothesis with some empirical data to support it. The links you provide do not do this. (1) The ex-KKKer states the following “American officials have known that Saddam was a psychopath ever since he became the country’s de facto ruler in the early 1970s.” The phrase “ever since” does not support your original hypothesis. (2) Cockburn’s rag discusses Iraq and Saddam in the context of Bush Sr, who was not CIC when Saddam came to power.

  23. Brilliant insight supported by the comments to your post. No one comments on your central idea. It is as though it was never made.

    I guess she who talks loudest and longest wins – unless they are tasered. Shocking? I think not.

  24. we see that a significant minority of lay people and cognoscenti alike honestly do not understand the rather clearly stated rationales for attempting it.

    They never once laid out a clearly stated rationale. They leaned heavily on proxies, and alluded to mushroom clouds.

  25. Let me put that differently: the Bush administration never clearly articulated an argument. There were so many themes and ideas jumbled up in there that it was inevitable that people would connect dots among the various images that the Bush admin threw out.

  26. “The primary rationale presented for the war was security. Specifically, Saddam is going to get the Bomb.”

    No, it was more than that. Here’s the ’03 SOTU:

    “Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans, this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known.”

    You can’t read that and seriously ask how people got the zany idea that Bush fought the war to get back at the hijackers. Bush continually juxtaposed 9/11 and Iraq, sometimes rhetorically (like above), sometimes through factual claims that Iraq assisted al-Q in the run up to 9/11.

  27. Jpe, Bush says, “Imagine” right at the start of the sentence. Saddam had an arsenal of chemical weapons and he supported terrorism. Given the capability and sentiment, those two sentences were meant to illustrate that Saddam Hussein was a ticking time bomb, not an accomplice for 9/11.

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