Rhetoric vs. Reality: Bush on War
February 1, 2003
By Brad Radcliffe
Question: can someone's brain physically explode from the
pressure of too much hypocrisy? Apparently not, because our
president's head is still intact . . . although one has to
wonder how much more self-contradiction his besieged cranium
can take. Think of it as an ongoing science experiment.
Bush's current push for war in Iraq looks like a flip flop
(conveniently ignored by our ever-vigilant press corps) when
compared to what candidate Bush said about going to war in
the 2000 debates.
In a prescient question, Moderator Jim Lehrer asked (in the
first debate on October 3), "how would you go about, as president,
deciding when it was in the national interest to use U.S.
force? Generally." Candidate Bush listed four criteria for
committing U.S. troops-
- "if it's in our vital national interests"
- "whether or not the mission was clear"
- "whether we were prepared to win"
- "whether there was an exit strategy."
Quick, doctor! check for cracks . . . check for fissures!
The pressure must really be building, assuming (perhaps wrongly)
that Mr. Bush actually remembers anything he says. Let's look
at those criteria again, with regard to our latest planned
military excursion into Iraq.
According to Bush himself, war can only be justified if it
involves protecting "a vital national interest" that he defines
as a threat to U.S. territory or citizens. The threat of terrorism
clearly falls under this rubric after the devastating second
attack on the World Trade Center; however, even the administration
hasn't argued for a terrorist threat from Iraq. So where is
the vital national interest that the President claims would
be his first consideration for going to war? Weapons of mass
destruction? Like the nuclear bombs North Korea has?
The "vital national interest" has never been established,
so by his own criteria, the Bombs against Baghdad campaign
fails point number one. "Liberating the Iraqi people" is in
no way a vital national interest (even if we could believe
that's what motivates President Machiavelli to send in the
Point two of rules of engagement according to Bush is that
the mission goals are clearly spelled out, or as he puts it
a little less than clearly, "whether or not it [sic] was a
clear understanding as to what the mission would be." I think
we can translate this from Bushese into standard English:
specify ahead of time precisely what the invasion will accomplish
and how it will be achieved.
But what are the clear goals for this military action? Topping
G.W's list would be to get rid of the "evil dictator"-with
any luck he'll be easier to find than the last "evildoer"
we vowed to rid the world of. But still you come back to the
question-begging argument that "we need to take out Saddam
because he's Saddam." The Bush team can't keep saying that
the Iraqi leader is bad because he's bad forever. Our "old
Europe" allies, who apparently still study logical fallacies
at their well-funded public schools, aren't buying it.
Assuming the Butcher of Baghdad is found and eliminated without
catastrophic losses on each side, then what? How to keep peace
between the Kurds in the North, the Shias in the South, and
the Sunnis in the middle? Will the Kurds suddenly throw down
their weapons when an American puppet is installed? It's more
likely that a new government will only encourage more revolt,
much to the horror of our "allies," the Turks, who have a
restive Kurdish population of their own.
So the mission as BushCo. lays it out is the antithesis of
"clear;" it involves invading a country for an elusive "enemy"
that completely blends with the native population, that IS
the native population. Sound familiar? The mission is so hazy
that it will be hard to say exactly when we have "won"-when
Saddam is ousted? When the Baathist party is eliminated? When
the country is carved up like a rump roast between various
ethnic rivals? When American oil companies install their long
lusted after pipelines? The Bush militarists have never explained
what victory IS in Iraq.
Since no one knows exactly what "winning" in Iraq means,
Bush's third point -that "we must be prepared to win"-again
fails to meet his own criterion. Bush implies by this comment
that in past conflicts, like Vietnam, we were not "prepared
to win." That shows a horrifying ignorance of the lesson of
Vietnam-America won every important military engagement with
enemy forces. What was never won was instituting a political
system that could rally and inspire the South to fight for
its own independence. After the death of leader Diem, for
instance, no one would even run for high office . . . not
too surprising considering that our own CIA had him executed.
Lastly, Candidate Bush emphasized that U.S. Troops should
only be engaged when "there was a clear exit strategy." Emerson
once wrote that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of
little minds." I wonder what he would say about no consistency,
ever. An exit strategy-good point, Candidate Bush-what is
our exit strategy? Let's look at the "exit strategy" the executive
branch came up with in our last imperialistic adventure-Afghanistan:
Install as top dog a man with impeccable oil credentials having
worked for Unocal, and let the rest of the country revert
back to feudal warlordism. Maintain a big presence of U.S.
soldiers as a perpetual target for terrorists, and alienate
the local population with draconian search and seizures. Promise
to rebuild infrastructure and provide medical care and then
renege on the pledge, ignoring the devastating effect that
abject poverty has on unification and peace. This is an "exit
strategy?" It's the off-ramp on the road to nowhere, more
Two years ago, Mr. Bush laid out clear criteria as to when
he would send in the troops. His justification for invading
Iraq, such as it is, meets none of them. As if that weren't
bad enough, Candidate Bush offered such unsolicited pearls
of wisdom that "it's up for the people in this region [Serbia]
to figure out how to take control of their country." Why then
isn't up to "the people" of Iraq to take control of their
country when it too is headed by a despot?
But wait . . . there's more. Adding insult to inconsistency,
he felt the need to dig at Mr. Gore by saying, "the vice president
and I have a disagreement about the use of troops. He believes
in nation-building. I would be very careful about using our
troops as nation builders." Oh my, that's rich. First, he
criticizes Al Gore for "nation- building" that stopped genocide
and instituted democracy in the Balkans, yet a short year
later, his administration overthrew the government of Afghanistan
and had yes-man Hamid Karzai installed without a popular election.
Further, the parliament is dissolved with no plans for reinstatement.
Democracy for the average Afghani does not exist. Promises
for rebuilding infrastructure for basic necessities have gone
unfulfilled. Not only is this the very nation-building that
Bush denounces, it's not even effective nation-building-the
administration wreaks its will on Afghanistan, gets what it
wants after a fashion, and stops short of real democracy and
According to Candidate Bush in consultation with Generals
Powell and Swartzkopf, "if we don't stop extending our troops
all around the world in nation-building missions, then we're
going to have a serious problem coming down the road. And
I'm going to prevent that." He's going to prevent that?
He's going to instigate, activate and perpetuate it, more
accurately. But at least one part of what he said is true:
sending troops all around the world most assuredly will cause
serious problems "down the road," and we seem to be approaching
the end of that road much sooner than later.
So the grand experiment continues, how much longer can our
mighty helmsman continue to mouth one set of values while
acting out another? How long can he spell out to the American
people a set of principles, even deride those who veer
from those principles, and then completely trash his own putative
doctrine whenever he finds it expedient? We all wait and anxiously
watch the presidential head-can it withstand the mounting
pressure, or will it, like that inevitable giant surprise
the night before prom, fester from within until it erupts
in all its purulent glory?