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Bush On Iraq

David Adesnik is upset that The New York Times didn't do more to analyze what the president actually said about Iraq and, absurdly, suggests that this is the result of liberal bias at the Times. I would suggest that if anyone bothered to actually analyze what the president said, that would do enormous damage to him. Fortunately, David suggests that if I had written the article I would have "had the decency to quote Mr. Bush at length and then explain why he was lying." Well, there's some lying, and also some other problems, so I'll give it a shot with regard to Iraq, which is what David's interested in.

Members of both political parties, including my opponent and his running mate, saw the threat, and voted to authorize the use of force. We went to the United Nations Security Council, which passed a unanimous resolution demanding the dictator disarm, or face serious consequences. Leaders in the Middle East urged him to comply. After more than a decade of diplomacy, we gave Saddam Hussein another chance, a final chance, to meet his responsibilities to the civilized world. He again refused, and I faced the kind of decision that comes only to the Oval Office -- a decision no president would ask for, but must be prepared to make. Do I forget the lessons of September the 11th and take the word of a madman, or do I take action to defend our country? Faced with that choice, I will defend America every time.
Discussion: Saddam Hussein "again refused" to "meet his responsibilities to the civilized world," to wit "disarm, or face serious consequences." The primary meaning of "disarm" according to the invaluable dictionary.com is "To divest of a weapon or weapons." As Saddam did not, in fact, have any weapons of mass destruction, he could not disarm himself of them, and so his failure to disarm hardly seems to constitute a good reason to invade his country. Now he was in the possession of some missiles that exceeded what he was allowed to have, so perhaps this is the threat to which the president was referring. I seem to recall pre-war speeches as having focused on WMD, but who knows.

The more significant deception here is Bush's framing of the choice: "Do I forget the lessons of September the 11th and take the word of a madman, or do I take action to defend our country?" On the one hand, Iraq posed no threat to the United States. According to invasion advocate Kenneth Pollack the point of invading was to forestall a "gathering" threat Iraq posed to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. According to invasion advocate David Adesnik the point of invading Iraq was to create a happy shining democracy. According to George W. Bush -- and he has consistently maintained this for several years now -- the point of invading Iraq was to forestall a direct security threat to the United States of America. David has never been much troubled by the fact that the president's favored justification for his major foreign policy initiative is a Big Lie, so I don't expect he'll start caring now. The little lie here is that the alternative to invading was to "take the word of a madman." The alternative was to continue to use coercive diplomacy to continue the inspections process. The only banned weapons in Iraq's possession -- the missiles -- were found and discovered by the inspectors. If Bush had chosen not to "take the word of a madman" but instead to take the word of a consciencious Swedish arms control professional, the inspectors could have eliminated whatever there was to eliminate and thousands of lives would have been saved.

Deep breath. All those lies in just one paragraph of Bush's speech! But on we go:

Because we acted to defend our country, the murderous regimes of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban are history, more than 50 million people have been liberated, and democracy is coming to the broader Middle East. (Applause.) In Afghanistan, terrorists have done everything they can to intimidate people -- yet more than 10 million citizens have registered to vote in the October presidential election -- a resounding endorsement for democracy. (Applause.) Despite ongoing acts of violence, Iraq now has a strong Prime Minister, a national council, and national elections are scheduled for January. Our nation is standing with the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, because when America gives its word, America must keep its word. (Applause.)
This is about how the president lies about Iraq, so we'll ignore what he said about Afghanistan except to note that tens of millions of Afghans are far worse off than they would have been if Theresa LaPore had designed the Palm Beach County ballot properly. The main lie of this speech is the attempted linkage between the Afghan and Iraq Wars. It's a lie on two levels. One, it's meant to suggest that Iraq, like Afghanistan, was a country we invaded because it was sheltering members of al-Qaeda. Two, it's meant to suggest that opponents of Bush's Iraq policy are also people who would have preferred to leave the Taliban unmolested. Those people do exist, and if the president were running against them he would easily win reelection. But they aren't -- at least not on the Democratic Party ticket -- so he prefers to just pretend that they are. To say that "national elections are scheduled for January" is not much of a claim for the future of Iraqi democracy. I spoke twenty minutes ago to someone who works for one of the firms that's subcontracting to help organize the elections, do voter education, train poll workers, and so forth. She told me that due to the security situation over there, the plan is for Americans to sit in the Green Zone, train Iraqis in there where it's safe, and then send them "out to their doom" in the non-Green portions of Iraq where it's not safe for Americans to go. This person assures me that this is a highly non-standard procedure, and that efforts to hold elections under far more favorable circumstances often go awry.

And on we go:

As importantly, we are serving a vital and historic cause that will make our country safer. Free societies in the Middle East will be hopeful societies, which no longer feed resentments and breed violence for export. Free governments in the Middle East will fight terrorists instead of harboring them, and that helps us keep the peace. (Applause.) So our mission in Afghanistan and Iraq is clear: We will help new leaders to train their armies, and move toward elections, and get on the path of stability and democracy as quickly as possible. And then our troops will return home with the honor they have earned. (Applause.)
I think that's roughly accurate. I'm not 100 percent sure that "Free governments in the Middle East will fight terrorists" but I think the best bet we have is to hope we do. I don't accept that Bush's policies in Iraq or elsewhere are likely to produce this outcome (see above and here). Ultimately, this is the difference between David and I. I do not now nor have I ever seen any evidence that would indicate that Bush either is sincerely trying to spread democracy across the greater middle east or that even if this is what he wants to do that he knows anything about how to do it. I do, however, greatly admire his speechwriter, as does David. And we go:
Our troops know the historic importance of our work. One Army Specialist wrote home: "We are transforming a once sick society into a hopeful place. The various terrorist enemies we are facing in Iraq," he continued, "are really aiming at you back in the United States. This is a test of will for our country. We soldiers of yours are doing great and scoring victories and confronting the evil terrorists."
Now if I wanted to I could dredge up a quote somewhere of a soldier talking shit about the president. David has often taken exception to people crying "chickenhawk" at the president, presumably because David strongly believed in the need to invade Iraq under false pretenses in order to spread freedom and democracy but not so strongly that he felt like interrupting his academic career in order to serve in the liberation. And fair enough -- this is a democracy with civilian control over the military. That some soldiers think our policy is good, while others think it's bad isn't very relevant.

But how accurate are the soldiers' remarks? Are "The various terrorist enemies [he is] facing in Iraq really aiming at [us] back in the United States"? Some of them, I think, are. Others definitely are not. There is, for example, no evidence whatsoever that Muqtada al-Sadr and his followers would have any interest in attacking Americans if we weren't occupying Iraq. Some proportion of the Sunni terrorists Bush has chosen to largely ignore in favor of fighting the Sadrist would come and kill us over here (this was a good reason not to turn Iraq into a failed state where they could operate freely), while others have narrower nationalist objectives. But Bush, of course, can never admit that his policies are aimed at anything other than countering direct threats to the United States. So he lied about why he wanted to invade, and now he lies (second hand, by quoting a soldier) about why we need to stay. On on we go:

That young man is right -- our men and women in uniform are doing a superb job for America. (Applause.) Tonight I want to speak to all of them, and to their families: You are involved in a struggle of historic proportion. Because of your service and sacrifice, we are defeating the terrorists where they live and plan, and you're making America safer. Because of you, women in Afghanistan are no longer shot in a sports stadium. Because of you, the people of Iraq no longer fear being executed and left in mass graves. Because of you, the world is more just and will be more peaceful. We owe you our thanks, and we owe you something more. We will give you all the resources, all the tools, and all the support you need for victory. (Applause.)
I support the troops, too, and I'm disinclined to get sucked into the vile smear job the president is attempting here. The rhetoric here is meant to imply that if I criticize the president I must think our soldiers I bad people. I deeply -- deeply -- resent the repeated efforts of this administration to impugne my patriotism. The president has not, moreover, given the troops "all the resources, all the tools, and all the support [they] need for victory." The force has been underequipped and dramatically understaffed. What's more, while "the people of Iraq no longer fear being executed and left in mass graves" they certainly do live in fear in constant fear for their lives. And on we go:
Again, my opponent and I have different approaches. I proposed, and the Congress overwhelmingly passed, $87 billion in funding needed by our troops doing battle in Afghanistan and Iraq. My opponent and his running mate voted against this money for bullets, and fuel, and vehicles, and body armor.
The president proposed $87 billion in funding for the troops and for reconstruction. John Kerry voted for a proposal to finance this by rescinding some of Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy. The president said that if such a bill passed, he would veto it. Kerry said that if the bill came up without the amendment, he would vote against it. So Kerry's position is this -- we should only spend the money if we have the money to spend in our treasury. Bush's position is this -- we should only spend the money if doing so does not imperil the fortunes of the highest income Americans; moreover, I plan to use this as a bludgeon with which to beat up my political opponents by lying about their records. We've seen a few vile smears in this speech and a few lies -- now we have the quintessential Bushian moment, a lie in the service of a vile smear. It's a smear that, moreover, was repeated over and over and over again throughout the disgusting display that was the Republican National Convention.
When asked to explain his vote, the Senator said, "I actually did vote for the 87 billion dollars before I voted against it."

When asked to explain his vote, the Senator said, "I actually did vote for the 87 billion dollars before I voted against it."

See above: Vile smear.
Our allies also know the historic importance of our work. About 40 nations stand beside us in Afghanistan, and some 30 in Iraq. And I deeply appreciate the courage and wise counsel of leaders like Prime Minister Howard, and President Kwasniewski, and Prime Minister Berlusconi -- and, of course, Prime Minister Tony Blair. (Applause.)

Again, my opponent takes a different approach. In the midst of war, he has called American allies, quote, a "coalition of the coerced and the bribed." That would be nations like Great Britain, Poland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, El Salvador, Australia, and others -- allies that deserve the respect of all Americans, not the scorn of a politician. (Applause.) I respect every soldier, from every country, who serves beside us in the hard work of history. America is grateful, and America will not forget.

The point of truth here is that some of Kerry's rhetoric has tended to malign allies that should not have been maligned. At the same time, it is quite true that many of the countries in the notional coalition were, in fact, coerced or bribed into their nominal support for the war. Moreover, of all the named countries only Britain, Italy, and Poland have more than token participation in the currently ongoing debacle that is the Bush Iraq policy.
The people we have freed won't forget either. Not long ago, seven Iraqi men came to see me in the Oval Office. They had X's branded into their foreheads, and their right hands had been cut off, by Saddam Hussein's secret police, the sadistic punishment for imaginary crimes. During our emotional visit one of the Iraqi men used his new prosthetic hand to slowly write out, in Arabic, a prayer for God to bless America. (Applause.) I am proud that our country remains the hope of the oppressed, and the greatest force for good on this earth. (Applause.)
This is nice. If, however, we are citing Iraqi public opinion as the source of America legitimacy, then we ought to do what the Iraqi people tell pollsters they want us to do and go home.
Others understand the historic importance of our work. The terrorists know. They know that a vibrant, successful democracy at the heart of the Middle East will discredit their radical ideology of hate. (Applause.) They know that men and women with hope and purpose and dignity do not strap bombs on their bodies and kill the innocent. (Applause.) The terrorists are fighting freedom with all their cunning and cruelty because freedom is their greatest fear -- and they should be afraid, because freedom is on the march. (Applause.)

I believe in the transformational power of liberty: The wisest use of American strength is to advance freedom. As the citizens of Afghanistan and Iraq seize the moment, their example will send a message of hope throughout a vital region. Palestinians will hear the message that democracy and reform are within their reach, and so is peace with our good friend, Israel. (Applause.) Young women across the Middle East will hear the message that their day of equality and justice is coming. Young men will hear the message that national progress and dignity are found in liberty, not tyranny and terror. Reformers, and political prisoners, and exiles will hear the message that their dream of freedom cannot be denied forever. And as freedom advances -- heart by heart, and nation by nation -- America will be more secure and the world more peaceful. (Applause.)

Again, this is what Bush is really good at -- speaking eloquently on the controversial theme that freedom and democracy are good things. Actually spreading them -- not so good.
America has done this kind of work before -- and there have always been doubters. In 1946, 18 months after the fall of Berlin to Allied forces, a journalist wrote in the New York Times, "Germany is -- a land in an acute stage of economic, political and moral crisis. [European] capitals are frightened. In every [military] headquarters, one meets alarmed officials doing their utmost to deal with the consequences of the occupation policy that they admit has failed." End quote. Maybe that same person is still around, writing editorials. (Applause.) Fortunately, we had a resolute president named Truman, who, with the American people, persevered, knowing that a new democracy at the center of Europe would lead to stability and peace. And because that generation of Americans held firm in the cause of liberty, we live in a better and safer world today. (Applause.)
This business, as we've learned, is yet another vile smear at a big convention of vile smears. The remainder of the speech contains no factual assertions -- it's more of the "freedom is good and if you vote for me everyone will be free" business. So, in sum, Bush is the guy we always knew he was. A guy with an awful, and dishonest domestic policy. A guy who lies -- over and over again -- about the security logic behind his foreign policy decisions. A guy who's bakrupting the country. A guy who tries to win elections by producing vile smears against his critics. And a guy who promises to bring freedom to the world. For some reason, I don't buy it.

September 6, 2004 | Permalink

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