An answer to a simple question, Part II:
Reader No. 1 writes in about my not-so Nasty Theory about the Bush administration and Iraq. My comments immediately follow his points. This isn’t a fisking. More a case of making it easier to read and follow. Here goes:
“At the outset, I realize we often have had a hard time debating the merits of political decisions, so I will try not to make things worse. And I'll probably sound like a member of the hive. But...
“1. If suspected WMD, links to Al Qaeda, and elimination of a dictatorship were not motivations, what would be the motivation for getting rid of Saddam? You say it was ‘a very emotional, personal decision.’ By whom? And again, why?”
The motivation for taking out Saddam is tied to pre-9/11 events, the Gulf War, the attempt on Bush I’s life, Saddam’s flaunting of UN sanctions. The attempt to link it to 9/11 was heavy-handed, disingenuous and manipulative.
“2. I think it is hard to conclude from available evidence that Bush decided 9/11 is what made getting rid of Saddam truly urgent. A new doctrine of pre-emptive action was born that day.”
But he did tie it to 9/11 and make it ‘truly urgent.’ Consistently.
“3. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Saddam came readily to the President's mind as a suspect. But let us please not forget that taking action if needed to disarm Saddam was CONVENTIONAL WISDOM until early 2003. Where were the skeptics then?”
There was a pre- and post-9/11 consensus to take on Saddam. But the president linked it to 9/11 and acted in a manner many found rash. The evidence about lack of WMD indicates we had time to mold that consensus into action. He shattered that consensus.
“4. No question the primary focus was on getting rid of Saddam. I'm going to wait for the election results before I say they bet too much on Democracy. For my money, the biggest failure in Iraq was failing to think through the rationale of the war on terror: that in the post-war era, Islamic terrorists like Zarqawi and his ilk would rush in to fill the void with death and destruction. What's going on in the country isn't an “insurrection’: it's a would-be occupation by terrorists from outside of Iraq. Had we committed more armed forces earlier, we might have avoided it. We
didn't; we're trying to do that now.”
The failure to think through the consequences ties back to the emotional, personal and rash nature of the decision to start the war when he did. Cutting closer to the heart of my Nasty Theory, the ‘primary focus’ was indeed on getting rid of Saddam. The lack of troop strength to achieve other goals indicates this.
“5. Also no question that external pressures in recent months have forced the Administration to refocus on winning the war and the peace in Iraq. I'm glad that you have more confidence in the efforts now.”
I’m somewhat heartened too. But there are many on the right who could have and should have spoken up sooner. Their principles, alas, were overtaken by hack partisan reluctance to criticize the president and force him to take action on those principles.
“6. So which Presidential candidate do you think would be more likely to commit and recommit efforts to save Iraq? Which would be more likely to cave in the face of ferocious opposition and admit the whole thing was a mistake?”
The sad part is: I don’t know which candidate would do better in Iraq. The president has made so many mistakes, thrown so much dust in people’s eyes, insulted so many people who don’t agree 100 percent with his views, I’ve lost faith in the guy. But Kerry hasn’t convinced me he’s the man to finish the job. That’s how bad Kerry is. Kerry is the best -- and only -- thing going for the president.
“7. Like 9/11, WMD in Iraq looks like another serious intelligence failure. Intelligence failures transcend administrations and and span decades. This is where we have to focus attention. I am not sure how some of these problems can be solved (how many volunteers do you think we will get to infiltrate Al Qaeda)... and I am dubious that centralizing everything in Washington is going to do much good. But that's the fundamental problem.”
It’s not just an intelligence failure. There’s now abundant evidence the administration saw what it wanted to see and ignored what didn’t fit into its viewpoint.