Two nights ago Bush spoke to the nation about the situation in Iraq and---surprise, surprise---told us that though the road ahead is difficult, he's following just the right course, which is crucial for our country's security, and that we Americans, having confronted and overcome even greater difficulties in the past, will support him through the current difficulties so that in the end, we will prevail. Run up the flag, play "God Bless America," and, attention everyone, salute! This speech was perhaps the apotheosis of the Bush style, that peculiarly annoying and frustrating blend of wrapping himself in the flag, unctuous self-righteousness, and non sequiturs that makes you want to grab him by the lapels and shake him till he is forced to stop hiding behind shameless appeals to patriotism and to confront the actual situation.
Despite the general pointlessness of the speech, it did try out something new, in particular, a new emphasis for justifying our continuing presence in Iraq. The new emphasis is that Iraq is now the "central front in the war on terror" and that we must persist till we have eliminated this new nest of terrorism. Bush and his gang have always had a set of shifting justifications for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and this new emphasis is the latest shift. It's worth a closer examination.
I have thought from the beginning that the administration's explicit and implicit reasons for invading and occupying Iraq could be selected from the following list.
1. Saddam's possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and the consequent threat he posed to his neighbors and ultimately to us and our friends.
2. Iraq's connection to the global network of terrorists and, hence, to the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
3. Saddam's oppression of Iraq's people, particularly the Kurds and the Shia.
4. The spread of democratic institutions to Iraq and from there to the entire Arab and Muslim world.
5. A show of American power in the Middle East, thereby increasing American prestige in the region and cowing the region's governments and governments elsewhere into supporting American interests.
All of these, except the last, have come to the fore at one time or another before or after the invasion.
Before and just after the invasion, the Bush gang justified it mainly on the basis of WMD, although from the beginning there was talk about the middle three reasons in the list. The Bush gang settled on WMD as the primary justification mainly because it could be sold most easily. As former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz explained in a May, 2003, Vanity Fair interview: "The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason."
There's no question but that the Bush gang hyped the pre-war evidence for WMD. Nonetheless, I am quite sure they expected to find enough evidence on the ground to justify the invasion, since they would have pounced on any evidence whatsoever and promoted it into a major threat. When, as we scoured the country in the aftermath of the invasion, it became increasingly clear that absolutely nothing would be found, the Bushies were left in a very uncomfortable position. For a while they persisted in talking about Saddam's capacity for making WMD, but when this didn't sell, they shifted attention to the middle three reasons. The second had to be abandoned when the 9/11 commission and others concluded that Saddam had very little connection to international terrorists and none to 9/11. (The exception to this abandonment is Cheney, who exceeds all members of the Bush gang in immunity to facts and reliance on bluster.) The third reason continues to receive a ritual invocation---"the world is better off without Saddam Hussein"---on a regular basis.
Increasingly, however, the chief justification became the fourth item in the list, the promotion of democracy, which ballooned into the grandiose rhetoric of Bush's address at his inauguration last January 20: "So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." Great. We're all for that, but it is fatuous to make it the sole basis for our foreign policy when the world confronts many problems and so much of it is very far from having anything like democratic institutions.
Bush's speech on Tuesday signals yet another step in his justification dance. Item two on the list has morphed from Saddam's connection to international terrorism to the undeniable fact that Iraq is now a center for terrorist activity. The problem for Bush is that this is wholly a problem of his own making. Iraq was hardly even connected to international terrorism under Saddam, but now it is a hive of international terrorists, drawn there because that's where they can hurt us. We're left in a no-win situation. With the present level of U.S. troops, we will not be able to defeat the insurgency and wipe out the nest of international terrorists, but increasing the number of our troops is unlikely to help, because it is our very presence that fuels the insurgency and provides the main recruiting tool for the terrorists. This new nest of terrorists, I believe, will be Bush's chief legacy, which we will have to deal with for years to come.
What about the fifth item on the list? I have always believed that this is the Bush gang's real reason for invading Iraq, the primary direct evidence being the administration's plan for permanent U.S. military installations in Iraq. The other reasons were mainly cover. As in so many other cases, to get at the real reasons for Bush's actions, one must strip away volumes of rhetorical cover to get to the underlying motivation. The Bush gang believed---this is core neocon philosophy---that we needed a major show of force in the Middle East, in addition to our justified presence in Afghanistan, in order to restore American prestige in the region and the world after the humbling 9/11 attacks. Iraq was chosen because it was the country for which covering justifications could most easily be assembled. The neocons confidently believed that the invasion of Iraq would increase respect for America and support for American interests in the Middle East and elsewhere.
They were wrong, and this is the ultimate reason why they should be judged harshly and booted out. The Bush gang's mendacity on WMD has dealt a crushing blow to U.S. credibility, and their abandonment of international norms for treating detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo has left our reputation in tatters. Ultimately, we will leave Iraq in a perilous state, with a weak central government, prone to civil war and ethnic strife, and with a new center of international terrorism in its western deserts. Far from increasing respect for America in the world, the whole adventure will be seen as a self-inflicted wound for the United States.
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