Goldberg Uncertainty Principle


The Beltway's current parlor game is to try and find an instance in which George W. Bush said Iraq posed an "imminent" threat to the United States. The game works best in green rooms or yakking with on-air talent with half their critical faculties taken up with ear-pieces, but the home version is mildly amusing too.

Jonah Goldberg claims that it is "revisionist spin" to say that the Bush administration made Iraq out to be an imminent threat. Let's take a whack at the Pop-O-Matic and see what we get.

As Operation Iraqi Freedom got underway, the White House sent the following letter to Congress:

March 18, 2003

Dear Mr. Speaker:

Consistent with section 3(b) of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 (Public Law 107-243), and based on information available to me, including that in the enclosed document, I determine that:

(1) reliance by the United States on further diplomatic and other peaceful means alone will neither (A) adequately protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq nor (B) likely lead to enforcement of all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq; and

(2) acting pursuant to the Constitution and Public Law 107-243 is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.

It is tedious, but evidently necessary, to note that the national security threat posed by Iraq is described as not just imminent, but ongoing. Iraq will not just threaten us tomorrow it does so today; that is what "continuing" means. Now—and in the future. Also note the 9/11 language thrown in to provide a powerful closer.

So it is that no serious person can deny that in word and in deed the Bush administration advanced the position that Iraq had to be invaded to forestall imminent attacks on the U.S., attacks as severe as, or worse than, 9/11.

But Goldberg is correct to note that it is leap to charge Bush with intentionally lying about Iraq. Bush may have believed what he seems to have said. Hence the principle, we may know either the meaning or the veracity of Bush's statements but never both.


NEXT: Anti-Semite or Scold?

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  1. “He may have pointed to Iraq and rattled off the dictionary definition of “imminent threat,” but if he didn’t actually utter the magic word, then you’re a filthy liar!”

    You’re off your nut. There is no game here. Many of us were around at the time, paying attention and *never* honestly thought that Bush was saying that Iraq was going to invade us tomorrow, or saying that the threat was imminent, with or without using the actual word. Since we are not now burdened with your opposition to the war, we do not project our desire to get Bush back onto what we were thinking at the time. As I remember, everyone conceded that the threat was not imminent. That’s why there was lot’s of debate about “Why not wait?”

    Surely some of you anti-war Reasonoids can provide links to the refutations of Bush’s claims that the threat was imminent which you were making before the war. He was making such a big deal about the imminence of the threat that you must have debunked the myth somewhere, right? I’m not saying you can’t, but I don’t remember the immediacy of the threat being contended very much.

    I can certainly provide some links where Bush and others in the administration concede that the threat is not imminent. And where writer’s for and against the war simply concede its non-imminence.

    Here’s a one where the author simply concedes the non-imminence of the threat:

    Here’s a debate where both sides simply assume the non-imminence:

    The writers on the site those links are from tend to get a little flaky, so maybe it’s not representative of the facts at the time, but at least it’s something.

  2. Given a choice between avowed enemies of the United States and Western values, Sadam and Osama scurrying like rats from hole to hole, or strutting before their troops, urging them on against us, only an idiot would chose the later.

  3. Josh: Julian didn’t make this post. Jeff did.

    Yes, but Julian made the first post in the comments, which is what I was replying to.

    And he — along with the rest of the anti-war faction at Reason — still can’t even provide an instance in which he actually implied the threat was imminent. Yet when the rest of us provide times he specifically said the threat was not imminent, we’re the ones twisting the rhetoric?

  4. I don’t understand how the whole issue turned into a referendum on whether Bush used the word or implied the threat was “imminent”.

    The fact is he led the nation into war for the repeatedly and explicitly stated purpose of “disarming” Saddam Hussein of “some of the most lethal weapons ever devised”, which there was “no doubt” that he “continue[d] to possess and conceal” (Address to the nation on the eve of war.)

    To date there is no sign whatsoever of these weapons. Whether it was intentional deceipt or not, the discrepancy between the claims and reality (or more pertinently, what the intelligence at the time could justify) could not be more blatant.

  5. And he — along with the rest of the anti-war faction at Reason — still can’t even provide an instance in which he actually implied the threat was imminent.

    Well, it looks to me like Jeff might have come up with such an instance. Maybe he didn’t. All this parsing makes both sides of the debate look pretty bad. The administration was obviously seriously wrong, and probably deliberately misleading, in its estimate of Iraq’s capacities, whether or not the president thought the threat was “imminent”; and Saddam wasn’t exactly innocently minding his own business, whether or not Bush lied.

    I was opposed to the war, and I think the majority of the information that’s come out since the invasion has strengthened rather than undermined that position. But if something does change my mind — or change your mind — it’s not going to be whether or not Bush used the word “imminent” at some point. You won’t find a smoking gun by splitting hairs.

  6. So Jesse, you’re fine with him mischaracterizing what was said to suit his argument as long as he doesn’t put it in quotes? Gotcha.

  7. Can we strip this down to its bare essence?

    Who here actually thought that the reason we sent troops was to take from Saddam’s hand the button that could blow up New York at any moment he chose?

    Nobody, that’s who. Some may have believed that there was a program that strove to have that capability, others believed that the security threat was in the government sponsored research for weapons that would subsequently be given to terrorist organizations. In either event, the belief was that there was a significant future threat of some sort, and possibly a less significant current threat in the sense that an WMD armed Iraq is dangerous to US interests, with or without delivery capability.

    How does the word ‘imminent’ fit into all this? It depends on how you understand the word, especially if you are trying to infer imminence.

    To some people, a man with a child and a loaded gun represents an immenent threat to the child, because the child could get accidentally shot. To others, a man with a child and a loaded gun is a very enjoyable Sunday afternoon that should also include some barbeque later on.

    We have a situation where the intelligence that was supplied was inaccurate (everyone believed that the WMD projects in Iraq were more developed), and we were left to determine whether or not this constituted an imminent threat. Some will fall on one side, and others will fall on the other, but focusing on semantics can’t be very useful.

  8. Craig: Rather than explain the plain meaning of what I wrote, I’ll simply suggest you re-read Jeff’s post and my comment until comprehension strikes.

  9. Jesse:

    The administration was obviously seriously wrong, and probably deliberately misleading, in its estimate of Iraq’s capacities.

    Look, there is obviously room for debate here about the policy and the magnitude of the threat, but seriously, “probably deliberately misleading”? Please suggest that you have some evidence for this. Do you think that hundreds of thousands of soldiers, journalists, diplomats, civilians and others were forced to train with gas masks and lug their protective gear around even though the Bush administration knew a biochem attack wasn’t possible?

    If you think so, then you must think Bush to be not a bumbling fool but some kind of Bond-like super-villain. As far as I know, he owns no fuzzy white cats.


    You made my point far better than I could. Thanks.

  10. It’s probably fruitless to point this out and others have tried, but…

    By the asinine reasoning of this post, when I say “I am mortal” that’s the same thing as saying “I’m about to die”. Mortality by its nature entails a *continuing* threat of death. (It could happen at any time, will happen some time in the future, it is not known when, probably far away, but who knows?, etc.) Taylor thinks (or pretends to think for the purposes of this argument) this is all the exact same thing as an *imminent* threat of death.

    Um, it’s not.

    It’s JUST NOT.

    What the hell more is there to say?

  11. John: I think the administration used evidence it knew was dubious when it made its case for war. That is not the same as saying it believed all the evidence was dubious.

  12. With regard to the 9-11 connection. Sorry, Jeff. I guess you’ve never worked in the Executive Branch. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I don’t particularly recommend it. (Sorry, I digress.) Anyway, the language wasn’t thrown in for political purposes; it is lawyer-speak in this instance. Public Law 107-243, the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution, required the President to send a formal determination to Congress with those exact words.

  13. Jesse:

    Thanks for the clarification, and it’s a fair point that some of the evidence regarding the uranium deal in Africa turned out to be wrong or fraudulent. But in this context, we’re not talking about the nuclear program, as no one was suggesting pre-war that Saddam could nuke us. It was widely believed that his forces had chemical weapons that could be used, including some very deadly nerve gas. I think it would be preposterous to suggest that Bush & Co. knew this wasn’t true and deliberately invented a phantom threat. That was my point.

  14. It boggles the mind that intelligent people still defend the honesty of the Bush admin’s prewar case.

    “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.”

    I would like someone to explain in what sense that statement was true, or justified, or heartfelt, or anything. Not only was there room for doubt, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the doubters were correct. The administration just ignored the doubts, particularly in their public presentation.

    Or how about when the IAEA gave Iraq a clean nuclear bill of health, and Cheney publicly disparaged that assessment, announcing on national TV:

    “And we believe he has in fact reconstituted nuclear weapons.I think Mr. el-Baradei frankly is wrong.”

    Oops. While that could have been an honest mistake, I have yet to hear an explanation or an apology.

    Then there’s the uranium business, the tubes, the drones, the tons of this and the gallons of that. It is hard to see how they could have accidentally been so far off the mark.

  15. Pinhas:

    “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.”

    I would like someone to explain in what sense that statement was true, or justified, or heartfelt, or anything.

    I would like someone to explain in what sense that statement was ever seriously questioned by any political figure, any intelligence service, in any country before the war. We’re not talking about nukes, we’re not talking about the al Qaeda connection, we’re not talking about any of the debatable propositions about which there was uncertainty and disagreement. We are talking about a proposition that was universally subscribed to, at least with regard to the weapons the Iraqis had already admitted to having.

    The debate was about what to do about this and how serious a threat these weapons truly posed to the U.S. (as opposed to Hussein’s own subjects or neighbors). If the weapons never existed or were secretly destroyed, then the most plausible explanation is that Saddam or his henchmen were attempting some kind of super-macho-cryto-fascist bluff.

    The mistake, obviously, was theirs.

  16. John:

    I would not take issue if he had said that “our best intel leads us to believe”, or something like that. But in fact Blix’s team had not concluded that (they had merely said that some old stockpiles were unaccounted for, and have since said they were probably destroyed). Bush portrayed an educated guess as an established fact.

    While there was a legitimate debate about the dangers posed by Hussein (you know which side I was on), I don’t think the White House’s relentless fearmongering contributed positively.

  17. And here’s one from the well-respected Rolf Ekeus, in November 2002:

    MARGARET WARNER: Give us first your idea what the baseline is. What did Saddam Hussein have in the way of remaining weapons programs when the inspectors left in ’98? And what do you think he at least theoretically could have now?

    ROLF EKEUS: Well, I think it was very little left. There were some precursors.

  18. Pinhas:

    I can understand why you gravitated towards the Rolk Ekeus interview with the defector as evidence of your proposition. But a little more research on your part would have put Ekeus’ position on this in a different light. Ekeus supported the military intervention in Iraq, continues to, and has made a forceful case for discounting the importance of Iraq having destroyed weapons stockpiles, at least as it relates to the danger posed by the Iraqi WMD program.

    Basically, his argument is that many of these weapons don’t keep well, so whether you destroy them or just store them they lose their military utility. What he was far more worried about was ongoing research, ongoing training, ongoing contacts among researchers and terrorists. On that score, the David Kay interim report is actually more important evidence for his ? Ekeus’ ? justification for the war than a discovery of old chemical shells would be.

    Here’s a July 2003 piece he wrote that helps explain the point better:

    I’m not saying that Ekeus is correct about the risk posted by old stockpiles, as I have read arguments to the contrary. But citing him to prove your point is worse than irrelevant. It proves mine.

  19. John:

    I am aware of Ekeus’ position on the war, which is one reason I quoted him.

    The point is that the claim that Iraq had chemical weapons in the run up to the war was not “a proposition universally ascribed to”, as you claim. There were even war supporters like Ekeus who did not agree. His concerns about weapons research are a separate matter.

  20. “universally subscribed to” – sorry

  21. Because one specific deal to buy uranium could not be proven, the brains know that Sadam never, never, never made any attempt at all to get yellow cake or any other WMD components?

    What a bunch of Maroons.

  22. Pinhas:

    Again, commendable try. But Ekeus’ position was not that the Iraqis had nothing, but that they possessed the materials necessary to make weapons for use ? the precursors. The precursors, he was saying, are more dangerous than some old, decaying chemical shells or dissipated nerve-gas canisters.

  23. John:

    That was indeed Ekeus’ position, but:

    (a) The president was talking about weapons, not precursors, in the statement I quoted.

    (b) Ekeus’ claims have not been born out by the Kay report for chemical weapons:

    “Multiple sources with varied access and reliability have told ISG that Iraq did not have a large, ongoing, centrally controlled CW program after 1991. Information found to date suggests that Iraq’s large-scale capability to develop, produce and fill new CW munitions was reduced ? if not entirely destroyed ? during Operations Desert Storm and Desert Fox, 13 years of U.N. sanctions and U.N. inspections. We are carefully examining dual-use, commercial chemical facilities to determine whether these were used or planned as alternative production sites.”

    As for bioweapons, Kay did report discovering “significant information” related to R & D. I anticipate his final report.

  24. all this is fine and good. those who don’t believe the president won’t, all that do, will. this is like the clinton matter. fine. it’s probably as annoying listening to the people who said the “militia movement” wasn’t a threat, was a threat, etc…

    we ARE in iraq. the situation is difficult. what are courses of action, both for those who were for this war since feb 1998 (the date of the famous “neocon letter”), whether you’re a post 9/11 bandwagoneer, or whether you’re a dove type (either as an anti bushie, or just a dove), WHAT IS THE WAY TO ENSURE A US VICTORY THERE NOW?

    given what the situation is, what are ways of getting the most favorable outcomes?

    the clinton admin provided the bush admin. a great deal of the “intelligence” and “data” that was used. february 1998 was almost the day the shoe dropped. does anybody think that would have changed 9/11?

    the cato institute published articles about the “threat” of WMD in iraq. there is plenty of blame to go around if you’re on the dove side, there is plenty of materials from the previous administration to justify action, if you’re a hawk.

    i am still unconvinced about the action. okay, i think “ulterior motives” when i listen to supporters. however, we are there, and we still need to figure out how to win this thing. we need to solve this so the equation world will actually show w/o SH > world w/ SH. we’re not there yet. (think: iran and shah, for example)

    in hopes of victory,

  25. A question for both sides:

    What would it take to change your minds about the war? I don’t care whether you were for or against it when it happened, what would it have taken back then, or what would it take now, to change your mind about it?

    And how many think that the “should we?” question doesn’t matter, and the only important questions now are “When do we leave, and what do we have to do before that happens?”?

    Personally, I’m actually in the later category now. Even though I was against it, arguing about it now feels more and more like when people try to bring up the Clinton scandals. “He was the worst President ever! He was guilty of everything anybody ever accused him of!” “No, he gave us our greatest prosperity ever and he was unfairly persecuted!” (Yawn….)

    From now on my only participation in those “should we have done it?” arguments will be to point out that nobody’s changing their minds on anything.

  26. The question of whether or not the administration perpetrated a mass deception of the American people on an issue of national security should be of some relvance to the President’s reelection campaign.

  27. “It is tedious, but evidently necessary, to note that the national security threat posed by Iraq is described as not just imminent, but ongoing.”

    Can someone explain the use of the word “just” in this sentence? Remove the word and the sentence is true – strange.

  28. Brad S,

    Ten years ago, the Top Ten was dominated by acts like Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Stone Temple Pilots. Now it’s a bunch of former Mousketeers. All those cell phones are lowering the average IQ among twenty-somethings.

  29. Actually, Kevin, last week was a historic one in pop music: For the first time, all of the top 10 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 were by black artists. Not a Britney, Christina, N’ Sync or whatnot to be seen. And this week, the only white act in the top 10 is 3 Doors Down, which is at least guitar-based rock, even if it does suck.

    Also, the acts you name rarely placed songs in the top 10. They only charted high on the Modern Rock charts. In fact, Billboard’s top charting songs for 1993 were:

    1. I Will Always Love You – Whitney Houston
    2. Whoomp! (There It Is) – Tag Team
    3. Can’t Help Falling In Love – UB40
    4. That’s The Way Love Goes – Janet Jackson
    5. Freak Me – Silk
    6. Weak – SWV
    7. If I Ever Fall In Love – Shai
    8. Dreamlover – Mariah Carey
    9. Rump Shaker – Wreckx-N-Effect
    10. Informer – Snow

    Hardly the guitar-rock paradise you posit.

  30. You don’t understand the rules of the game, Jeff. It’s like Simon Says. He may have pointed to Iraq and rattled off the dictionary definition of “imminent threat,” but if he didn’t actually utter the magic word, then you’re a filthy liar! Also, we’re working on a lexical priority rule: the eighty bajillion times Bush implied that the threat was imminent are all trumped by the single time he said that we couldn’t afford to wait for the threat to become imminent.

  31. By the way, I think throwing in references to “9/11” as justification for something can now be considered as problematic (if not moreso) than citing “for the children” as a reason. What do you guys think?

  32. Why Reason wastes any time responding to anything Jonah Goldberg writes is mystifying. He may be the biggest no-talent since Milli Vanilli.

  33. I’m sure you’ll think this is a distinction without a difference, but “continuing threat” is not the same as “imminent threat”. To paraphrase your term, “no serious person” can also doubt that Al Qaeda will use dirty/suitcase/WMD weapons on us if given the chance. We also know that Al Qaeda has both hung out in Iraq and met with Saddam’s people in the 1990’s.

    After Sept. 11, think of a Venn diagram…to me it’s an unacceptable risk for the Rogue State & Al Qaeda circles to merge. I’m personally very comfortable when military power is excercised overseas to prevent a guy who can develop WMD or buy it on the QT with French oil $ from even having the opportunity to do so. After he got it, it would be relatively easy to get it into Al Qaeda’s hands i.e., Americans dead in large numbers. The imminent threat is Saddam’s capability, given his track record, to do what he wants as head of a large country with a bunch of oil

    Whether Bush did or didn’t think it was an imminent threat? When Pedro Martinez threw at Karim Garcia’s head, what was he thinking? We’ll never know and it’s pointless to try to ascertain this.

  34. I always felt sorta sorry for Milli Vanilli. They were just ahead of their time. Nowadays every big pop music act is little more than dancers who lipsync to music someone else makes.

  35. Taylor confuses continuing with imminent.

    I have continuing, ongoing kidney disease, but I am not in danger of imminent kidney failure. And you don’t need to be a doctor to understand the differnce that the phrasing makes.

    What the Bush adminstration is saying is that the tolerance to threats (from some quarters) will be close to zero, not that that that the threat (from those quarters) was new or imminent.

  36. “Bush may have believed what he seems to have said”

    Interesting choice of words, kinda leading is it not??? Do you think he was fooling (lying)about the world situation? For the record—I do not think so.

  37. “Bush may have believed what he seems to have said”

    Interesting choice of words, kinda leading is it not??? Do you think he was fooling (lying)about the world situation? For the record—I do not think so.

  38. More to the point of why you’re wrong…

    A continuing threat can also mean that Iraq was a threat in the past and will be in the future. Baseball games are continuous in Wrigley and Fenway, but none are imminent.

    I’m not going to defend Bush that much, since I’d be hard pressed to place him even in the top 50% of U.S. presidents, and only have any favor towards him because I’m stuck with the abysmal Chretien, who almost anyone would look good next to.

    Further, a “threat” does not always equal a “greater than 9/11 threat”, nor does it mean a “threat of attacks on U.S. soil”. Threats of attacks on U.S. allies, or on U.S. citizens abroad, should also count, no?

    Did people misread the statements? Yes. Were the statements sufficently muddled that one could selectively hear almost anything they wanted to convince themselves? Sure. Was this a deliberate campaign of misinformation as opposed to the inability of the administration to put forward a clear concise statement on why they were doing something, when different members of the administration favoured it for different reasons? This last is far from proven.

    There’s plenty of evidence of problems with the Bush administration, but the constant overreach and arrogant dismissal of legitimate counterpoints by people like Julian leads people to tune out the legitimate points.

    This isn’t as moronic as the Gillespie piece on Plame, but its of a kind.

  39. dude – THANK YOU! I’m so glad someone else realizes this! It blows me away to hear people criticize Milli Vanilli as “fakes” when in reality virtually every piece of crap pop artist that corporate music puts out there today is fake (Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, NSync, Backdoor Boys, Destiny’s Child, B2K, etc). None of these can sing a lick, nor can any of them play any instruments. They’re all basically marketing gimmicks. By the way, I always thought that B2K was some sort of a sandwhich at Burger King.

  40. It is tedious that a writer for Reason conflates words like ‘imminent’ and ‘continuing’ and does so with an air of confident certitude. At least it’s not quite as bad as the item at

  41. Clever turn of phrase on the Uncertainty Principle, JAT, but I can’t go along with the analysis you offer. What seems to be missing here, and in much of the discussion about the so-called “imminent threat,” is what the threat is or was. The “continuing threat” alluded to in Bush’s letter could properly be understood as the threat that Saddam Hussein could and was get his hands on truly dangerous weapons, biochem or nuclear, and then proliferate them or use them for blackmail purposes.

    That threat was, indeed, a continuing one. The David Kay interim report corroborates it to the reasonable person’s satisfaction. What it does not corroborate is that there was an imminent threat of attack by Iraq or an imminent risk of proliferation by Iraq, since Hussein has not yet revealed to have possessed or at least controlled an inventory of actual biochem weapons.

    Perhaps the investigation will eventually reveal that this potentially imminent threat did not exist, or perhaps it will reveal that it did exist (there’s still a big weapons stockpile to sort through).

    It could well be that the intelligence regarding the stockpiles of VX, anthrax, nerve gas, etc. was faulty. That is, the intelligence suggested that there was no evidence these previously admitted Iraqi stockpiles had been disposed of. Perhaps that assessment was in error, or the result of a bluff by Saddam (an idiotic one, as it turned out). War proponents should be prepared to admit this possibility, and everyone should be prepared to offer a useful and constructive policy response if this turns out to be true (just about every intelligence service in the world had pegged things differently, not just ours).

    But the continuing threat referred to was, in fact, a continuing threat based on Hussein’s intentions and what Kay’s team has already discovered. Where we disagree, really, is how serious the threat of his weapons acquisition should have been taken by the U.S. and others. Did Hussein really have any intention of proliferating? What was the extent of his regime’s involvement with or well-wishing of the al Qaeda thugs? Was such a marriage of convenience possible or likely? Was the precedent set in 1993, in the first WTC attack, where some analysts have implicated the Iraqis as at least accessories after the fact?

    That’s the point. It’s always been the point.

  42. Also, Taylor’s use of the Uncertainty Prinicple is wrong on two counts.

    First, it has not application outside of the world of quantum mechanics. You might just as usefully invoke the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology (as defined by Watson).

    But let’s suppose it has application here anyway.

    Second, stripped of the math, the Uncertainty Principle posits that congugate qauntum waveform attributes can not be measured to equal arbitrary levels of precision. It does not apply to non-congugate waveform attributes.

    So its use here implies that ‘meaning’ and ‘veracity’ are conguate functions – that is that they are joined together. So that is something is ‘very true’ that it must also have little meaning, or much meaning, but there can never be one ‘very true’ statement with much meaning and another ‘very true’ statement with little meaning.

    But as daily life teaches, ‘meaning’ and ‘veracity’ are independent. Both can be strong or weak at any given time. They vary independently.

  43. Oops, sorry for the bad spelling on ‘conjugate’.

  44. I often wonder what the point is of discussing the war here any further. Any topic that is ostensibly not “should we have gone to war?” becomes “should we have gone to war?” A topic like “did the President say such-and-such was the reason for war?” becomes “he never said it, but hut the reasons that he did give were very good!” vs. “he said it, and he was wrong, and the other reasons were wrong too!”

    I’d love somebody to prove me wrong: Show me a single H&R post related to the war (with a significant number of replies) that hasn’t degenerated into “should we have gone to war?”

    I’ll issue a full retraction of my lament if somebody shows me such a thread.

  45. Every time I think Reason might regroup and head in the right direction, Julian posts. In this case, it doesn’t matter what Bush said — what’s more important is what Julian thinks he said, or maybe what Julian thought he might say, or what Julian’s hatred-addled brain decided he was implying.

    If Bush were really trying to make the Iraq threat out to be imminent, don’t you think it would be pretty easy to prove he was? That you have to go to such lengths to find quotes where you can kinda sorta read an imminent threat between the lines from a time period when Bush was supposedly hammering the imminency of the Iraq threat four times a day on national TV suggests that maybe, just maybe, he didn’t really tell people that.

  46. Josh’s criticism of Julian reveals another Rohrschach test of the war:

    We were given multiple justifications for the war: WMD threat, liberate the Iraqi people, regional stability, and probably others. One can raise reasonable questions about each of these (how real and/or “imminent” was the WMD threat? Should we overthrow all despots? Will this really stabilize the region?). I’m not saying that the justifications are in fact wrong, just that questions can be (and were) raised.

    To those who supported the war, the multiple explanations reinforce one another to make an even stronger case. To those who opposed it, the multiple explanations leave the question “Well, which is it?”

    I’ll leave it to everyone here to decide which side is right. Since this debate has been raging for close to a year I doubt anybody will find resolution, but there’s the stark contrast.

  47. I’ll just repost Julian’s post, cos it predicted precisely what the Bush-worshipping H & R regulars have just done:

    “You don’t understand the rules of the game, Jeff. It’s like Simon Says. He may have pointed to Iraq and rattled off the dictionary definition of ‘imminent threat,’ but if he didn’t actually utter the magic word, then you’re a filthy liar! Also, we’re working on a lexical priority rule: the eighty bajillion times Bush implied that the threat was imminent are all trumped by the single time he said that we couldn’t afford to wait for the threat to become imminent.”

  48. Josh: Julian didn’t make this post. Jeff did.

    Everybody: Isn’t all this hairsplitting kind of pointless? Does it matter whether or not Bush used the word “imminent”? Is the difference between “imminent” and “continuing” subtle enough to launch a war over?

  49. It is tedious, but evidently necessary, to note that the national security threat posed by Iraq is described as not just imminent, but ongoing.

    It is tedious, but evidently necessary, to note that in your own quotation, in which you incomprehensibly state the threat “is described as not just imminent” – the word “imminent” does not even appear.

  50. It is tedious, but evidently necessary, to note that in your own quotation, in which you incomprehensibly state the threat “is described as not just imminent” – the word “imminent” does not even appear.

    And if Jeff had put the word “imminent” in quotation marks, that would be a relevent point. He did not, so you’ve just outdone everyone on the tedium scale.

  51. The debate would indeed be old news if the administration wasn’t still slugging it out with plain reality. Case in point, Cheney’s speech the other week:

    “Another criticism we hear is that the United States, when its security is threatened, may not act without unanimous international consent. Under this view, even in the face of a specific stated agreed-upon danger, the mere objection of even one foreign government would be sufficient to prevent us from acting.”

    Who on earth said that?

    Cheney also claimed vindication by Kay’s report, which stated that there did not seem to be any ongoing nuclear or chemical weapons program and there may or may not have been a bioweapons program (one of the most commonly cited pieces of evidence for which is a vial of bacteria left in someone’s refrigerator in 1993.)

    Here is the point: When the prez tells the nation and the world that such-and-such is a threat our national security, people believe him. They don’t get daily personal briefings from the DCI. And people don’t like being lied to. The flagrant assault on the truth by a supposed straight-shooter” was hugely depressing.

  52. “I would change my mind if 1) it turns out that the Bush administration did mislead the nation about Saddam Hussein’s intentions and/or links to terrorists”

    Time for a change of mind John:

    A 90-page, top-secret report,that was drafted by the National Intelligence Council at Langley, included an executive summary for President Bush known as the “key judgments.” It summed up the findings of the U.S. intelligence community regarding the threat posed by Iraq, findings the president says formed the foundation for his decision to preemptively invade Iraq without provocation. The report “was good, sound intelligence,” Bush has remarked.

    Most of it deals with alleged weapons of mass destruction.

    But page 4 of the report, called the National Intelligence Estimate, deals with terrorism, and draws conclusions that would come as a shock to most Americans, judging from recent polls on Iraq. The CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency and the other U.S. spy agencies unanimously agreed that Baghdad:
    had not sponsored past terrorist attacks against America,

    was not operating in concert with al-Qaida,

    and was not a terrorist threat to America.

    “We have no specific intelligence information that Saddam’s regime has directed attacks against U.S. territory,” the report stated.

    However, it added, “Saddam, if sufficiently desperate, might decide that only an organization such as al-Qaida could perpetrate the type of terrorist attack that he would hope to conduct.”

    Sufficiently desperate? If he “feared an attack that threatened the survival of the regime,” the report explained.

    In other words, only if Saddam were provoked by U.S. attack would he even consider taking the “extreme step” of reaching out to al-Qaida, an organization with which he had no natural or preexisting relationship. He wasn’t about to strike the U.S. or share his alleged weapons with al-Qaida ? unless the U.S. struck him first and threatened the collapse of his regime.

    Now turn to the next page of the same NIE report, which is considered the gold standard of intelligence reports. Page 5 ranks the key judgments by confidence level ? high, moderate or low.

    According to the consensus of Bush’s intelligence services, there was “low confidence” before the war in the views that “Saddam would engage in clandestine attacks against the U.S. Homeland” or “share chemical or biological weapons with al-Qaida.”

    Their message to the president was clear: Saddam wouldn’t help al-Qaida unless we put his back against the wall, and even then it was a big maybe. If anything, the report was a flashing yellow light against attacking Iraq.

    Bush saw the warning, yet completely ignored it and barreled ahead with the war plans he’d approved a month earlier (Aug. 29), telling a completely different version of the intelligence consensus to the American people. Less than a week after the NIE was published, he warned that “on any given day” ? provoked by attack or not, sufficiently desperate or not ? Saddam could team up with Osama and conduct a joint terrorist operation against America using weapons of mass destruction.

    “Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists,” Bush said Oct. 7 in his nationally televised Cincinnati speech. “Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving fingerprints.” The terrorists he was referring to were “al-Qaida members.”

    By telling Americans that Saddam could “on any given day” slip unconventional weapons to al-Qaida if America didn’t disarm him, the president misrepresented the conclusions of his own secret intelligence report, which warned that Saddam wouldn’t even try to reach out to al-Qaida unless he were attacked and had nothing to lose ? and might even find that hard to do since he had no history of conducting joint terrorist operations with al-Qaida, and certainly none against the U.S.

    If that’s not lying, I don’t know what is.

    What’s worse, the inconvenient conclusions about Iraq and al-Qaida were withheld from the unclassified version of the secret NIE report that Bush authorized for public release the day before his Cincinnati speech, as part of the launch of the White House’s campaign to sell the war. The 25-page white paper, posted on the CIA website, focused on alleged weapons of mass destruction, and conveniently left out the entire part about Saddam’s reluctance to reach out to al-Qaida. Americans also didn’t see the finding that Saddam had no hand in 9-11 or any other al-Qaida attack against American territory. That, too, was sanitized.

    Over the following months, in speech after speech, Bush went right on lying with impunity about the Iraq-al-Qaida threat, all the while flouting the judgments of his own intelligence agencies.

    Even after the war, Bush continued the lie. “We have removed an ally of al-Qaida,” he said May 1 from the deck of the USS Lincoln. “No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime.”

    Read the whole thing:

  53. John-

    It’s nice to have a discussion about the war where I disagree with somebody’s conclusions but more or less agree on principles, and we both understand one another’s positions. Our main difference seem to be how seriously we should judge certain threats. My threshold for when a situation becomes a serious threat is simply higher than yours. But it’s really just a judgement call based on incomplete information. If we had crystal balls and could clearly see whether a situation would become a threat to the US in the future I don’t think there’s by any disagreement.

    You make a good point about humanitarian objectives being desirable but insufficient. If we’re going to invade a country to protect ourselves, we should try to ensure that when we leave the people of that country are living under a more liberal (in the sense of “classical liberal”, not leftist) government, and are making strides toward greater prosperity, but that should not be our sole reason for invading.

    Right now somebody is probably angry that I’d suggest we should improve a foreign country. The simple fact is that, however justified our invasion might be, when we came in we still destroyed infrastructure and killed people, some of them innocent civilians and others conscripts who weren’t thrilled about fighting for their dictator. And we created a power vacuum. However awful a dictator is, most dictators have enemies who are even worse, and when a power vacuum exists there’s the very dangerous possibility that an even worse person will take power. We have a moral obligation to make sure that our actions do not lead to worse tyranny.

    But there are two very interesting arguments out there for humanitarian intervention:

    The first comes from neocons and some other conservatives. By invading a messed-up region and trying to bring liberal values, market economics, and representative government, we are acting in our “enlightened self interest”. We are undermining the fanatics and despots that fan the flames of terrorism.

    The problem with this argument is that cultural, political, and economic transformations are incredibly difficult. In some sense, these are the oldest and only problems of mankind. There’s no easy solution. Progress happens for lots of reasons, including luck. A military invasion by a country with a short attention span in a region with powerful forces adamantly opposed to social, economic, and political liberalization is not a very promising endeavor. To put it another way, LBJ sent armies of social workers into America’s inner cities in the goal of fixing everything. Look how well that went. Soldiers are trained to handle security, not act as social workers. I’m not an optimist. (I’m not pessimistic about the average Iraqi citizen, who is no different from the average person elsewhere in the world. I’m pessimistic about the tools we’re using to counteract the forces that have made life miserable for people like him for decades, even before Saddam.)

    The other case, which comes from the left, is actually more skeptical of self-interested invasions than selfless humanitarian invasions. Now, the Ann Coulters of the world interpret this as treason and some philosophical libertarians probably see it as communist, but the case is a little more subtle than that. Those who want to dismiss it need not read further, but please note that I disagree with the idea I’m about to present.

    The argument is that many US foreign policies spur resentment abroad because self-interest has made us cozy with lots of unsavory people over time (the Shah of Iran, Pinochet, the House of Saud, Saddam Hussein at one point, etc. etc.). This resentment leads to terrorism (although the liberals making this case would agree that terrorism is immoral and unjustified, since murder is no better than tyranny). It is in our enlightened self-interest to debunk the perception of America as indifferent to tyranny by intervening in Haiti, Liberia, the Balkans (OK, some would say there’s a strategic interest in the Balkans, but most people do not think so, rightly or wrongly), etc.

    The problem is that if terrorism is indeed the direct result of anger by people suffering under one of the despots we’ve been cozy with (a claim not fully supported by evidence, but let’s accept it for the sake of argument), undermining a despot elsewhere in the world won’t help. No Al Qaeda recruit will say “Yeah, the House of Saud is a corrupt crony of the western devils, but the US just liberated Haiti, so maybe I’ll drop out of my terrorism 101 class and immigrate to the US to join the military and defend democracy.” The only thing that might change their minds is a humane intervention in the situations that we previously bungled, but our track record of competence in such matters suggests that we should listen to Hippocrates: “First, do no harm.”

  54. The whole point of pre-emptive war is because the threat is not, in fact, imminent. When will people understand this? Not until they decide claiming Bush said the threat was imminent no longer helps their partisan angle.

  55. Thoreau:

    To clarify my point (1) a little bit more, I think that it would set the threshold too high to require that Hussein directly financed the al Qaeda leadership or actively participated in planning al Qaeda operations. I don’t think this is necessary for America’s security to be threatened by Hussein playing footsie with the terror thugs. Instead, I think it would be enough to establish that Iraq had been a source of expertise, materiel, or intelligence to al Qaeda operatives or affiliates. Another relationship that would be potentially actionable by us would be if Iraq had served as an enabler, a sanctuary, or otherwise an accomplice after the fact of an al Qaeda operation.

    By the way, I believe there to be compelling evidence that one or more of these conditions did exist pre-war.

    I would argue that the reason these actions, in some cases seeming to be not all that directly dangerous to the U.S., should trigger a legitimate military response is that state sponsorship in some form is probably necessary to a terrorist operation and is also its weakest link. We may not be able to locate terror cells or elusive leaders in Pathan hill country, but we can identify and take out foreign regimes that collaborate, thus deterring other fearful tyrants from offering similar aid in the future.

    Your point about a low-level contact between Iraq and al Qaeda possibly blossoming in the future is an interesting one. There’s a judgment call to be made here, obviously, involved costs and benefits. My inclination in this case, however, would be to treat almost any kind of relationship along the lines I outlined above, even one with little sign of going beyond an exploratory stage, as worthy of U.S. attention, possibly military in nature. The reason would be the level of danger posed by the terrorists. You have to chop off their means of support, and potential allies of the terrorists need to be very, very wary of getting on the wrong side.

    As to your general point about the justification for war, I essentially agree. It is not enough, as some neocons and Wilsonians suggest, that the Iraqi regime was tyrannical and bloodthirsty. I think that such a regime has yielded its sovereignty, mind you, but I don’t believe that America or any other free state therefore has an obligation to intervene or that such an intervention would necessarily be in our interest. I do think that there should be a moral component when we use military force, so Wilsonian objectives can and should coexist with other, more self-interested ones. But Wilsonian justifications by themselves are insufficient, which is why interventions in places like Haiti have been unwise and unproductive.

    You know, come to think of it, we can’t be the world’s policeman.

  56. Too late, Henry David! Guantanamo is already beefing up its garrison. We hired Hendrik Schon, the famous Bell Labs fraud artist, to prepare the intelligence reports. Bombs will drop on 9/11/2004.

  57. John Hood-

    Thanks for the answer. You lay out points that we can actually discuss, unlike so much war-related commentary (and I’m not just referring to this forum). I understand your reasons numbered 2 and 3. I think it’s pretty obvious that major regional conflicts involving Turkey and/or Iran could be very, very, bad. And I’m not eager to see Iraq turn into France only with lower unemployment.

    I’d like clarification on the first one:

    if 1) it turns out that the Bush administration did mislead the nation about Saddam Hussein’s intentions and/or links to terrorists

    It’s my understanding that Iraq, like almost every other government in the region, has given assistance to terrorists in Israel. Are these the terrorist ties you’re referring to, or are you thinking about terrorist groups that might threaten America?

    Also, there are varying degrees of terrorist ties, ranging from outright patronage to benign neglect. Funding Al Qaeda would be a clear cause for war (you’d get no argument from me if that were estabished). A more passive relationship that might blossom in the future is more difficult. It’s hard to prove a negative. For all we know, if Hussein ever got a nuke he’d contact some terrorists and give it to them so they could destroy DC. It would be hard to prove that that wasn’t the case.

    Then again, for all we know, some Taliban sympathizers in Pakistan’s intelligence service, people who aren’t exactly loyal to Musharraf, are waiting for a moment of Soviet-style record-keeping so they can make a nuclear warhead disappear from the inventory (with nobody the wiser) and then reappear in Chicago. It would be hard to prove otherwise.

    So what would your threshold be concerning Hussein’s alleged plans and terrorist ties? Would you want to prove a negative, or do you have a lower threshold?

    Finally, I’d like to point out to everyone that this in this discussion John and I are both talking about the same principles (war in response to threats against the US), but since we have incomplete information on the actual situation we might reach different conclusions on how to apply those principles. There’s no need for any bashing, as so often happens in these discussions.

  58. Kevin:

    Seemingly tons have ink have already been spilled about the various intelligence findings on Iraq, its weapons programs, its links to terrorists, and so on. I appreciate your lengthy rehearsal of that CIA document, but it has been discussed quite a bit since the relevation. I also got a chance a few weeks ago to talk to a former CIA director about the various spins on the intelligence coming out of the agency, and his response was that this was just par for the course. The CIA, like all bureaucracies, is often divided by turf wars, personality conflicts, skullduggery, etc. His view was that CIA leaders, at least, were confident that they provided the White House with the full story, warts and uncertainties and all, and that the evidence on balance justified U.S. action. Underlings disagreed and continue to.

    Let’s face it, though, Kevin: your opposition to the action was not based on faulty intelligence. Its value is not related to your case against war, which is ideological. I respectfully disagree.

  59. Thoreau:

    Your Kevin Bacon theory of terror linkage is well founded, if distressingly labeled. Must the ubiquitous Antichrist be allowed to intrude even further into our public discourse?

    There does need to be a materiality test here. But the allegations regarding Iraq are not trivial ones. They involve providing funding, training, materiel, and sanctuary to a number of different groups of thugs, including the perpetrators of the first WTC attack and al Qaeda-linked groups. Just yesterday, I read a fascinating piece from the Christian Science Monitor that helped put the Ansar group in Iraqi Kurdistan into sharper relief. Both Iraq and Iran were sporadically providing weapons and other support — wait, I thought Sunnis and Shias never cooperated! — with Gulf shieiks supplying the funds. The relationships were troubled and complex. For example, Iran and Iraq would each play a game where they would offer supplies for a while, then cut them off, and then offer to reinstate them after Ansar/al Qaeda leaders agreed to some condition or another.

    A significant element of my case for war was to uproot these Islamofascist scum and disrupt their activities, something that the secularist Hussein would never have done or allowed because they served his interests, at least with regard to the Kurds. This task was essentially accomplished, though the Monitor piece suggests that the final destination of some of the Ansar/al Qaeda operatives seems unclear. Many of the lower-level folks have been captured either by the Iranians, the Free Iraqis, or the Kurds. Others have left for elsewhere in the Middle East or Europe. Some leaders appear to remain in Iran in some gray area, either with tacit approval to hide out there or undercover.

    Keeping them running and off-balance is a reasonable strategy. I also think it is a justifiable strategy for us for the reasons previously alluded to. Would it have justified the Iraqi campaign by itself? No, I don’t think so. But combined with the intelligence about Iraqi weapons programs, the ongoing impact of the preexisting blockade of Iraq on their own civilians and our troops and allies, the deterrence value of taking out a regime that enabled or aided the terrorists, and, yes, the prospect of introducing a more sane and liberal regime into the heart of the Middle East, the rationale begins IMHO to be compelling. Each by itself falls short or is at least a questionable causus belli. Together, I think they created a scenario where the potential benefits significantly outweighed the potential costs.

    We’ll see if this calculation proves to be true.

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