One of the many problems with George Bush’s position on Iraq is so embedded in the entire debate that I doubt most people even pay it much thought it any more.
Bush announced that Saddam Hussein was evil and must be deposed and Iraq must be invaded right from the get go. He didn’t say, we have some concerns about Iraq’s adherence to the U.N. disarmament pact. He didn’t say, let’s investigate the issue and communicate our concerns to the world community and to Iraq so that groundwork for a solution can be laid. He didn’t say, here’s the proof. He said, guilty. Let’s invade. He said that more than a year ago.
The U.N. decided to be silly and weigh all the evidence first, as well as the real issue– regardless of Iraq’s alleged infractions, is a military invasion and a war the best way to handle the problem? Is there a downside? Has the U.S. jerked Iraq around, by supporting them against Iran, encouraging them to invade Kuwait, then invading and defeating them and inciting rebel groups to rise against Saddam, only to ensure that he remained in power in the name of stability?
The fact is, the U.S. changed the rules half way through the game.
Most people could see some common sense in a policy of containment. It actually appears to have been working. And most people can see the sense in a line in the sand: if you invade Kuwait, or Iran, or Turkey, or whatever, or you sponsor terrorists, we will take this or that action. In fact, I’m in favor of a clear policy like that, with clear, direct consequences. No negotiations, no extensions, no exceptions. All that is required is for all sides to understand the policy. And of course for a little something called “evidence”.
But when the U.S. blows off North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs, it is clear that there is no policy at all. But that’s been clear all along. Bush wants to whack Iraq, and it was only at Powell’s insistence that he even bothered notifying the U.N. The deck is stacked, however.
Some pundits claim that Powell’s presentation to the U.N. means that Iraq now has “the burden of proof”. Is there a bigger piece of bullshit out there in pundit-land right now? The burden of proof never shifts. It has always been the burden of the United States to show that Iraq’s actions justify war. The absurd insistence that Iraq must prove that they don’t have weapons of mass destruction is surely the emperor’s new clothes of this era. How can you prove that you don’t have something? For some reason, commentators like the New York Times’ William Safire see no absurdity here. That’s how crazy this whole Bush administration is.
You know what I suspect is actually happening here.
1. The Pentagon with it’s $300 billion a year in weapons of mass destruction is always itching for war. It’s in the nature of things. Carpenters want to make things, architects want to design things, actors want to act, Generals want to kill. They look at the world and see all kinds of things that need killing. They look at their chests and see all kinds of space for medals. They look at their billions of dollars worth of bombs and ordnance and jets and submarines, and want to blow things up. It’s human nature. You don’t invest that scale of resources into tools that you really don’t want to use. And military men, of course, see violence and intimidation and plain military might as the solution to everything, just as diplomats see negotiation as the solution to everything, and mothers see an all-knowing beneficent authority as the solution to everything.
2. The Clinton administration was unresponsive, by and large, to the generals’ constant clattering for action, action, action. I’ll bet they had meetings in the situation room in the White House where the generals simply listed hot-spot after hot-spot and begged for authority to act. And Clinton probably said, calm down boys, we’ll try some diplomatic channels first and see if we can get the two sides talking.
3. Enter George Bush. He has a couple of meetings with the generals. They say the same thing they said to Clinton– like, hey, Iraq scares us, lets go over and whack them. He’s a bad guy. And Bush went, he is? By golly, I didn’t know that. Where is Iraq? Why don’t the Iraqians elect a new leader? In short, the generals realized they had an enormously sympathetic, paranoid ear for their ravings and continued to build their case, and reinforce it, and exaggerate it, and accumulate every scrap of evidence they could muster in support of their case. Still, with Powell in State, they weren’t quite able to get the action they wanted until….
4. 9/11. A bunch of Saudis, likely indirectly financed by the Saudi Arabian government which pays off Islamic fundamentalists to go screw up other country’s regimes, attack the WTC. Now the generals sense their opening. There is a mushy, irrational, uneasy shift from Osama, whom they let slip away, to Saddam, whom they are able to locate in the vicinity of Yasser Arafat. Let’s whack him. If he hasn’t already done something evil, he probably will.
5. At this point, the Bush administration is not in analysis mode. They are in prosecutorial mode, and you know how that works.
But I think the world intuitively understands this. The U.N. speeches are not about making a case. They are about twisting arms and bullying for a case that the U.S. does not believe needs to be made. The fundamental arrogance of the U.S. is that they believe that if they prove that Saddam Hussein is willing to resist their ultimatums, that alone is enough to justify a full-scale invasion and the deaths of 250,000 people. They really believe they are “good”, that God has imbued President Bush with the authority to make sophisticated moral judgments about different cultures and histories, and that Jesus is returning soon anyway.
The mocking tone of recent New York Times editorials on the issue make it plain– we’re now into calling the French and Germans weenies and wimps. And how dare they label genetically modified food when the always trustworthy American corporations have determined that this process does no harm whatsoever?
Obviously, these people are serious about weighing all points of view.