Why We Fight


In the wake of last week's revelations about CIA and other intelligence failures, George W. Bush has issued a new, "broad" defense of going into Iraq. From the Wash Post's account:

"Although we have not found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we were right to go into Iraq….We removed a declared enemy of America who had the capability of producing weapons of mass murder and could have passed that capability to terrorists bent on acquiring them. In the world after September 11th, that was a risk we could not afford to take," Bush said….

The key U.S. assertions leading to the 2003 invasion of Iraq—that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons and was working to make nuclear weapons—were wrong and based on false or overstated CIA analyses, a scathing Senate Intelligence Committee report asserted Friday….

During the Clinton administration, official U.S. policy toward Iraq became "regime change"—a stance that sought the ouster of Saddam Hussein, [Bush] noted.

But Saddam refused to open his country to inspections, Bush said.

"So I had a choice to make: either take the word of a madman or defend America. Given that choice I will defend America."

Whole thing here.

There's any number of things to say in response to this. First off might be the notion that we had already effectively contained Saddam, thus obviating the need for a preemptive strike (go here for a pre-invasion Reason debate on that issue).

Arguably what's most interesting is that Bush (at least in this account) doesn't mention the neoconservative nation/region-building rationale as a justification–that taking out Saddam allowed for the introduction of representative democracy to the Middle East, thus potentially resculpting the political character of the area. Though this is highly problematic, especially as things have actually played out, it remains to my mind the most attractive justification for the invasion and ongoing occupation (whether it can or will succeed is a wholly different matter).

The other point I'll raise here is Bush's attempt to tie the war to the Clinton administration's call for "regime change" in Iraq. I still think that the single largest factor in most Republicans' embrace of the war in Iraq is that a Republican is behind the effort. The reverse goes for the Dems: If President Gore had pushed for such an action (and I suspect that he would have, in some way, shape, or form), they would have rallied around the effort. And, of course, Republicans would have carped. One way of testing this theory, at least in part, is to look at how sides have changed since the Balkans' crises of the '90s, analyzed by Matt Welch in this excellent review essay.


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  1. It is impossible for there to be multiple justifications. When in life does that happen? Bush is guilt of lying. Saddam was the legitimate owner of Iraq. The war was wrong. Time to call it quits. I don’t think we should even bother to retreat, our soliders should just surrender. If they are shot in the process, that is also Bush’s fault (and will help us kick him out of power!!!)

  2. Not “Weapons of Mass Destruction”…. instead “Weapons of Mass Murder.” So what exactly is the choice weapon of mass murderers these days? Chainsaw? Machete? Meat hook? (Note that he’s not asserting that Iraq had any of these, just that it was capable of producing them.)

  3. C,
    I caught the language myself. Recent history tells us that the weapon of mass murder is the BOX CUTTERS!

  4. C,

    I’m not sure, I’ll have to ask my local “Homicide Bomber”.

    (I hate that term, btw. Every bomber that kills someone is a homicide bomber. Suicide Bomber was a much more useful term, damnit.)

  5. I think it would be awkward for Bush to formally acknowledge the “nation-building/seed of democracy” motivation, while trying to maintain working cordial relations with Saudi Arabia and the rest of those nations in the region whose political character we would be trying to resculpt. If we’re going to solicit funds and support for the new Iraq from our “friends” in the region, we can’t very well announce that we hope that it’s the first step toward the subversion of their governments.

  6. Especially good is Welch’s critique of the “Munich mindset.” Cold Warriors of left and right pigeonholed Soviet expansionism into the paradigm of Hitler in the late ’30s.

    Arguably, a better analogy for U.S.-Soviet relations from the late ’40s on would be the British-German “Cold War” in the years before 1914, and the attendant naval armaments race: a hegemonic global superpower faced by a rising regional power that wanted a place at the table.

  7. They only wanted a place at the table!

  8. War is too big a thing to be fought over “could haves” and “maybes”. Going to war was a bad judgement call. Staying there is deliberate ignorance.

  9. As it turns out, the word of the madman was more credible than that of the President of the United States.

    That’s messed up.

  10. Welch’s essay would perhaps be a bit more credible if he included some of the reaction to Kosovo of the conservatives who now support regime change. His essay focuses almost exclusively on Madeline Albright, Wes Clarke, and George Soros. Where were the Neo Cons in 90’s? Bush ran strongly against the idea of “Nation Building” in 2000, and garnered much of the military vote as a result (making wild claims about our readiness, etc). Their excuse will no doubt be that after 9/11 everything was different, but I find this argument disingenuous in the face of the new and shifting rationale for war, which now talks about spreading democracy more than protecting the homeland.

  11. War is too big a thing to be fought over “could haves” and “maybes”.

    Maybe Hitler would have been happy with Poland? Good thing we waited to find out. We got a new word out of the deal: “Coventrated”.

    Saddam was the legitimate owner of Iraq.

    They didn’t elect him owner, they elected him president. He nominated himself owner.

    Milosevic was the legitimate “owner” of Yugoslavia. What right did NATO have to remove him from power? If he didn’t want Muslims in the country he “owned,” didn’t he have the right to expel, murder, and rape them?

    In re Iraq: it was a dirty, thankless job that somebody had to do. That somebody was not the impotent U.N., still raking in too much cash for their oil-for-food scam to wean themselves from that teat. If there’s money to be made, I’d much rather it be in reconstruction than oil sanctions, and much rather it go to us than to France. But as usual lefties need someone else to blame for their problems, and Bush has given them just that. I think privately many of them have raging hardons for how badly it is perceived to be going, as they think it “will help us kick [Bush] out of power!!!”

    I know I’ll have to say this about fifteen more times, but Gulf War I never ended, you fine folks just stopped paying attention.

  12. Joshua, National Review and Weekly Standard both endorsed Clinton’s Kosovo action at the time, though with reservations about the way the wars were implemented.

    Those Republicans that opposed the Kosovo war, such as Tom Delay, are cut from quite a different cloth.

  13. rst, the “oil for food” scandal: I haven’t seen any evidence that it ever occurred, or even quotes from credible sources that such a thing occurred. All I’ve seen are statements from Ahmed Chalabi, saying that he has documentation that backs up his accusations, that he can’t share with anybody.

    Be a good boy, and provide a fellow commentor with a link or two backing up your repeated insinuations, or please stop making them.

  14. It may has escaped rst that the “call it quits” he quotes is a troll.

    we should be hearing something substantial soon about oil-for-food, if Will Safire’s column today is to be believed. which maybe it’s not, but we’ll see.

  15. It would be better to look at the transcript of the speech, before making claims about what’s supposedly not in it.

    Here are a few excerpts:

    Iraq, which once had the worst government in the Middle East, is now becoming an example of reform to the region.


    Our goal is a lasting, democratic peace, in which free nations are free from the threat of sudden terror.


    …we are extending the peace by supporting the rise of democracy, and the hope and progress that democracy brings, as the alternative to hatred and terror in the broader Middle East. In democratic and successful societies, men and women do not swear allegiance to malcontents and murderers; they turn their hearts and labor to building better lives. And democratic governments do not shelter terrorist camps or attack their neighbors. When justice and democracy advance, so does the hope of lasting peace.


  16. “And democratic governments do not shelter terrorist camps or attack their neighbors.”

    How about democratic goernments that attack countries miles away.

  17. I haven’t seen any evidence that it ever occurred, or even quotes from credible sources that such a thing occurred.

    I didn’t call it a scandal (a public thing with societal implications), I called it a scam…your basic swindle. I’m sure there are scores of men with funny accents toiling over shredders to ensure we never know either way. In the meantime:





    and I’m sure there’s more.

    Apparently there’s enough financial discrepancy and nepotism to convince a number of nations and the U.N. itself to investigate. I’m particularly interested in the Swiss Delta company, an oil-for-food vendor with Taliban ties. The Swiss had nazi gold, why wouldn’t they have terrorist fundage? The U.N.’s own employees (ok, just shy of 50% of them) apparently think that integrity is a career-limiting personal characteristic, so those shredders are probably working overtime. As far as hard evidence, we’ll probably never see it. There’s no hard evidence that Bush lied about Iraq, either, but that won’t stop you and maybe a million others from championing his removal on account of it. The fact remains that something stinks about the oil-for-food program, we don’t know what it is, but either way their “humanitarian programme” was obviously not meant to do what it was never able to do. Hussein lived it up, Annan’s son got real paid, and Iraq continued to descend into the ninth level of hell. Yeah, good idea, hand it to the U.N.

  18. “There’s any number of things to say in response to this. First off might be the notion that we had already effectively contained Saddam, thus obviating the need for a preemptive strike (go here for a pre-invasion Reason debate on that issue).”

    The notion that Saddam was effectively contained is simply false. The sanctions regime was totally unstable. First, it required 10,000 Americans to be based in Saudi Arabia – which, as you recall, was one of the reasons Bin Laden wanted to attack the U.S. Second, the sanctions regime was collapsing fairly rapidly. France and Russia were violating it, pressure was building in the U.N. to reduce it, and Americans were being shot at daily. And finally, it was putting a huge and increasing burden on the Iraqi people.

    But here’s the real issue – most people who opposed the war actually supported using American military muscle to threaten Saddam to allow inspectors back in. They just had an unrealistic expectation of what that would lead to. So here’s the real problem – you have 75,000 soldiers amassed in Kuwait. You tell Saddam that he must comply with the inspectors, or face consequences. He subsequently turns over a declaration that even the U.N. inspectors laughed at. Now what do you do?

    This is the real dilemma that doesn’t get discussed much. Given the situation the U.S. was in, having mobilized 75,000 people on Saddam’s border, and then Saddam thumbs his nose at them, jsut what were they supposed to do? Kerry’s answer now is that inspectors should have been given ‘more time’. HOW MUCH more time? With summer approaching and tens of thousands of men sitting in temporary billets and tents?

    If the U.S. had gotten the half-assed cooperation from Saddam and then packed up and gone home, it would have been a huge PR disaster. Saddam would have been the emboldened hero of the Arab world. Plus, after a huge buildup like that followed by a withdrawal, Saddam would have known that the will to send the troops back over immediately would not have been there. So he would have been free to become even more provocative.

    The time to decide whether to keep Saddam ‘in his box’ was before the buildup started. But before the buildup started, Saddam was totally non-cooperative with inspectors. So what do you do?

    Once the buildup started, there were only two possible outcomes – either Saddam capitulated entirely, completely opening up his country to inspections as Libya did, or there had to be an invasion. Any ‘third way’ would have been disastrous.

  19. Joshua — I was reviewing/discussing books by Clarke, Albright & Soros; hence the focus on the Democratic side of the aisle.

  20. In the military, if you were to tell a lie that resulted in the death of a thousand soldiers, you’d get court martialed.

    Maybe Bush should be the first one to face the military tribunal for his deadly lies.

  21. RandyAyn,

    Why don’t you list Bush lies for us, before proceeding to court martial him for his ‘deadly lies’?


    You are capable of unearthing all sorts of nice stuff about Kerry’s 1970’s adventures and Joseph Stalin’s modernization of the USSR in 1930’s, etc. Do you mean to tell us you still have not seen anything credible about UN’s scam? There have been multiple articles in WSJ (Claudia Rossett, I believe) along with a couple in NYT and WaPo as well. Use google, man. Seek and ye shall find.

  22. I think this man, who by his own admission does not watch the news, trusted too readily in his advisors. They had information which painted the world exactly the way they wanted it to be painted. Chalabi knew what Clinton and Bush wanted, and he gave it to them. Clinton knew he didn’t have the political currency to pull it off after the Balkans – the other non-U.N. sanctioned war (but cool, because it was kosher in the eyes of the super-enlightened EU government) – hell he couldn’t even stop Hussein from invading Kurdistan in ’96.

    Chalabi was a screwup, and the CIA knew it before Clinton even left office – they lost millions funding a Kurdish insurgency when the cat was let out of the bag. Chalabi struck back against Clinton for leaving him hanging in 96 with a little ABC documentary (I never saw it), and the CIA retaliated by cutting his ass off. So in 1997 he proposed regime change in a speech (to Zionists, who else?), and the neo-cons bit. I’d imagine that to them, a Muslim who didn’t want to do to the Israelis what the Israelis want to do to the Palestinians seemed a believable breath of fresh air. Only in Hollywood boys…al Qaeda and the Wahhabists don’t want the Jews out of Gaza, they want the Jews and everyone who likes them *dead*. Most people in the Middle East who tolerate Israel would probably never say it publicly, but most people who tolerate the United States probably would burn Bush in effigy anyway just to fit in. When you live in a place where not fitting in can get you killed, and they’re chanting nonsense and burning shit, just chant nonsense and burn shit with them.

    What never fails to amaze me is the short memory of the left. We have a >10 year history of conflict between Iraq and the United States that was never resolved, and not one of you doves has ever had anything to say on that fact. You cannot get your minds to reach back much before the 2000 election. Or perhaps to you, the U.N. Resolution in ’91 conjured a peace merely by its being signed. If you think that is how peace is made, how can we the Mostly Undecided trust your thoughts on war? More to the point, lefties seem to believe that invading Iraq was Bush’s idea, but if they could hold under present consideration anything that happened before say, 9/11/2001, they’d actually have some historical perspective and see that this was set in motion back when chicks dug Michael Bolton.

    What I don’t understand however is why the CIA still allowed Bush to proceed knowing what they knew about Chalabi, that he did not represent the mainstream Middle East, was a complete failure in military and intelligence, and had already publicly exposed their operations in Kurdistan to primetime viewers.

  23. And as to the ad hoc reasons, there were a laundry list of reasons to finish the war we started 12 years ago, some of which may have been inaccurate. We don’t know how inaccurate vs. simply how uncorroborated those dubious reasons are. For instance, there has been no debunking of the yellowcake story, only a finding that although an Iraqi delegation did go to Niger, it could not be proven that they were there for uranium. That doesn’t even prove the intelligence was wrong or forged, let alone that “Bushitler” (that’s one of my favorites) lied about it.

    “Enemy Combantant” is a legal method to strip one’s humans rights.

    Of all your points Phil I’d say this is the only relevant one. Death and expenditures are certainties; al Qaeda is a tool for political leverage. 9/11 took 3,000 of us – 20,000 shy of what we lost in the Battle of Antietam. We mourned and moved on; a steady trickle of propaganda keeps us at just the right balance between apathetic and outraged. People on both sides die in wars; it is unreasonable to expect that they will not. The government spends money, and a war costs money. This one has not costed a significant amount yet. Significant to you, perhaps, but not relative to our economy. al Qaeda wants us dead anyway…I’d sooner waste time musing the appropriateness of arresting a murderer because of how mad it might make other murderers. Don’t be a coward…you’re going to die anyway. And finally, our credibility is only a function of how much other nations agree with us. I love how on an individual level it’s considered valiant to stand up for what you believe in even when you’re alone on it, but on a state level, the rule is Always Cave To Europe.

  24. I thank Ken Silber for providing a link to the transcript of Bush’s actual speech. As I noted in my blog post, I was relying on the Wash Post’s account of the prez’s remarks, not the remarks themselves.

    In light of that, let me update slightly what I find interesting about the speech: I find it interesting that the account of the Bush’s comments in one of the most important newspapers in the country failed to mention that the president justified the war on what are arguably its most compelling grounds.

    I still have serious doubts about what might be called the “let democracy flower” gambit, but Bush has at least been consistent in articulating that position over the past several months.

  25. Randy Ayn,
    Come on now, none of those items were lies. Well, I’m guessing that none of the items you list are lies, because the ones that I know of are not lies.

    Yellow cake in Niger. Not a lie. A CIA operative got her partisan husband to go on a fact finding mission in Niger, where instead of fact finding, he tried to find a way to discredit the President (I don’t know why scores of people in the CIA werent fired or prosecuted for that one). What Bush did say was what Brit intel still stands by, and may yet prove to be true.;

    Stockpiles of chemical weapons: everyone, it seems even Saddam thought that one was true.

    120,000 troops; two things, 1 not a lie, it worked and so far Iraq is on track to become a free nation. 2 Bush is not a General, the Generals tell him how many troops they need for the job. No evidence so far that I have seen that more troops would have been better.

    Iraqis throwing roses: I don’t know that Bush said that. Either way, plenty of Iraqis are extatic over getting rid of Saddam, and the posibilities ahead. We may not agree with what some of them want instead. However, near as I can tell where free elections have occurred they have elected secular governments. The Iraqis that I meet that like us are many, the ones that don’t are few. But it only takes a few.

    “We have a plan”: Did he say that? Did he not have one?

    I’m sure Bush has lied. But I am guessing you haven’t listed any of them. You want a liar, look at Clinton, I wonder did you care about that?

    Lastly, if there were any torture camps, then you wouldn’t know about them.

  26. that is supposed to read: if there were any SECRET torture camps, they you wouldn’t know about them.

  27. kwais wrote: “2 Bush is not a General, the Generals tell him how many troops they need for the job. No evidence so far that I have seen that more troops would have been better.”

    Are you actually this ignorant? The U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki said before the war that at least 200,000 troops would be necessary:

    Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz mocked the Army leadership’s concerns about strategy and troop strength and undercut Shinseki’s authority:

    And now, even though Rumsfeld still claims no more men are needed, the number of troops deployed to Iraq has been increased by almost 30,000 over the last four months:

  28. Kwais,
    I’m not confident about your ability to guess which of Bush’s statements are lies, because you can’t even spot the obvious ones like the yellowcake from Niger. This assertion was discredited even before Colin Powell prevaricated before the United Nations. It was based on forged documents that even a high school kid taking a current events class could have spotted. So if you don’t believe Bush lied on that one, then you have to believe that everyone in the Bush administration was fooled by a third-rate forgery. Neither of those two possibilities inspires confidence in Bush’s ability to lead this country in the fight against terrorism.

    You think Saddam believed he had stockpiles of chemical weapons? That would be a self-deception on the order of Bush’s Niger yellowcake, and would place Saddam at the same level of intellectual functioning as Bush, clearly an insult to a clever dictator like Saddam.

    120,000 troops sent when the Council on Foreign Affairs and the Army War College both recommended nearly half a million. See this excellent Atlantic Monthly article by James Fallows on how Rummy and Bush cheaped out on the resources we needed to stabilize Iraq, thus virtually guaranteeing failure post-combat:


    Oh, and Iraq isn’t on its way to becoming a free nation, it’s on the path toward re-Baathifcation, with a former intelligence officer from Saddam’s inner circle running Falluja and the former Baathist loyalist Allawi now running the government. That’s our version of democracy for Iraq – pathetic!

    Since you seem to be swallowing even the obvious lies, Kwais, I’d suggest you do some actual research to find out the extent of Bush’s mendacity.

  29. zorel, rst, if you’re now backtracking from the “UN officials funded Saddam” charges that got this ball rolling, to a mere “Un officials have sticky fingers,” theh I congratulate you on gracefully exiting the field.

  30. Dan H writes, in what I believe is supposed to be an argument IN FAVOR of the invasion, “The sanctions regime was totally unstable. First, it required 10,000 Americans to be based in Saudi Arabia – which, as you recall, was one of the reasons Bin Laden wanted to attack the U.S.” And now we have 140,000 troops in Iraq, are building permanent bases, and are actually patrolling through their cities and engaging in firefights in and around their mosques. I haven’t been getting many Arabic mash notes in my locker lately, how ’bout you?

    “Second, the sanctions regime was collapsing fairly rapidly. France and Russia were violating it, pressure was building in the U.N. to reduce it, and Americans were being shot at daily.” Let’s see, rapidly collapsing situation, France and Russia undermining efforts, pressure to end the policy, Americans getting shot at daily. Why does that sound familiar?

    It would appear the operation was a success, but the patient died.

  31. The left has been screaming “LIES” ever since Bush took office, for no other reason than to get even for what the right did to Clinton. Bush has not blantantly lied. He has erred, he was misguided, he was misled, he has been arrogant, stubborn, and uncompromising when he needed it the most. Stll. He did not lie. The left is searching in vain for the uquivalent of this:

    “I. Did. Not. Have. Sexual. Relations. With. That. Woman.”

  32. Get your own handle, turdboy.

  33. Mike H.

    This is a long document, let me take a look at it, and I’ll let you know what I think. Thanks for the link.

  34. if you’re now backtracking

    I am not backtracking. For one, you still haven’t said what I said. I called it a scam; you said I called it a scandal. I claim they ran a fraudulent operation designed to make money for themselves without prejudice towards Saddam; you say I claim it was designed to fund Saddam (although its failure in effect did just that). Read the words, joe.

    I do not trust the U.N. to faithfully execute its “internal” investigation, especially when half of its employees maintain that dishonesty is their best career choice. So we are left with what we can see: Hussein did rip off the fund to the tune of billions, Annan’s son’s company did have the contract to monitor the Iraqi transactions, companies (like Delta) which did business with the Taliban were also selling Iraqi oil, and the accounting by BNP Paribas was “Enronesque” — that last bit alone something for which you yourself joe would freely blast Lay and co. No one will ever have to explain these things, because they’re the U.N. and they’re always right.

    because you can’t even spot the obvious ones like the yellowcake from Niger.

    I wonder on what basis you lefties suppose you’ll win converts to your cause. You have no evidence that he lied. Until you find some, the only people who are going to sing along with you are people who weren’t going to vote for Bush anyway (just like until joe sees some hard evidence of the oil-for-bribes program, he will not believe that the U.N. was anything but a good and decent public servant in handling $300 billion in slush funds). But keep getting that message out. Your placards are cute.

    My weatherman said it wasn’t going to rain this morning, but it did. I’m assembling a mob later to go down to the news station and beat the shit out of him for lying. Who’s with me?

  35. A partial list of the real cost of the was to (to date):

    Hundreds of US/Allies killed.
    Thousands of Iraqis killed.
    2% of GDP spent on reconstuction ($87B).
    “Enemy Combantant” is a legal method to strip one’s humans rights.
    Al-Quada handed a new recruitment poster.
    Loss of credibility in the world.

    It would seem to me an action having these (foreseeable) outcomes must have clear, unambiguous provications. The debates over whether the provications were “lies or honest mistakes” indicates the provications were not compelling to begin with.

    I’m with RandyAny. Assemble on the court-marshall, or impeachment.

  36. Zorel,
    If I adopt the same level of proof that Bush uses when he extralegally detains individuals at secret torture camps, then all I have to do is say he’s guilty, and guess what: He is.

    But you want the list:

    Aluminum Tubes: Lie

    Yellowcake from Niger: Lie

    Aerial Death Drones: Lie

    Mobile Weapons Labs: Lie

    Stockpiles of Chemical Weapons: Lie

    Imminent Nuclear Threat: Lie

    Cooperation with al Queda: Lie

    120,000 Troops Needed: Lie

    Iraqi’s Throwing Roses: Lie

    We Have A Plan: Lie

    Bring on the tribunals!

  37. hey rst,

    i’m with you on that with the weatherman and all. except here in chicago, tom skilling uses his brother’s forecasting models. you can always bet that the moron will be way off and extreme in his forecasts (only once, last january, was his extreme on the money). but he talks of “models” and “isobars”, so he sounds competent.

    if you and your gang will join bugsey malone and fat sam and babyface and me in pounding the tar out of our weatherman, we’ll be happy to splurge yers, too!

    oh, what constitutes “evidence” here? i think you’re right about the UN, but i do think dubyah lied or distorted or setup improper implications (al-qaida and iraq), too. so how does that fit in? if the case were such a slam dunk, why are we getting a whole slew of adhoc reasons?


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