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Campaign 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-

  1. "if it's in our vital national interests"
  2. "whether or not the mission was clear"
  3. "whether we were prepared to win"
  4. "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 Marines).

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 like.

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 aid.

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?

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