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Invasion's So Succexy

To me, by far the most frustrating thing about the retrospective debate over the Iraq War is that the press, along with the Republican Party, persist in ignoring the fact that the vote on the authorizing resolution took place on October 10-11, 2002 and the war did not begin until March 20, 2003. The president, at the time of the resolution, most emphatically did not portray voting for it as a vote for certain war, but rather as a vote to empower him to conduct some coercive diplomacy, which is exactly what took place over the next four months.

Thus two decisions were taken, one in October to abandon traditional diplomacy in favor of a robust coercive kind, and a second in March to abandon coercive diplomacy in favor of war. An awful lot changed during the period in question, notably the re-entry of the UN's weapons inspectors operating through UNSCOM and the IAEA. This, in and of itself, is important in assessing the wisdom of going to war as containment was working much better in March than in October. Perhaps more important, it ought to transform our understanding of the debate over pre-war intelligence.

Bush and his defenders like to point out that "everyone" thought Iraq had WMD stockpiles and more active nuclear and biological programs than he turned out to have. As of October that's not quite right, but it's an oversimplification rather than a lie. The conventional wisdom really was that stockpiles existed and that the nuclear and bioweapons programs were more advanced than they turned out to be. This defense overlooks various points at which the administration went well beyond the consensus view and the ways in which they shaped the consensus by pressuring the intelligence agencies, but still there's a basic kernel of truth here. A kernel, that is, as long as you're talking about October 2002, which isn't when the decision to go to war was made. By March we had additional information on the WMD question thanks to the inspectors. This information demonstrated definitively that there was something wrong with the intelligence Bush thought he had -- they weren't finding any weapons and they weren't being denied access to any sites. The War Party chose to construe this as evidence of corruption and/or ineptitude on the part of the inspectors, and they were wrong. But beyond Bush's actions at this point and his retrospective mendacy about them lies the interesting fact that in the media retelling of what went on before the war, none of this happened.

Tim Russert on Sunday kept asking John Edwards about his "vote for war" and other such things. Retrospective media accounts of the WMD story always focus on things that were said in 2002, never focusing on what was known -- or knowable -- in the actual run-up to the actual war. The media's erasure of this entire sequence of events is particularly noteworthy because in a lot of respects there was no erasure at all. The press simply spent very little time covering the new invasion-relevant information that became available in the run-up to the invasion. Instead, reporters were busy "embedding" themselves with military units while producers busied themselves drawing up those cool animated graphics that we were bombarded with during "major combat operations." An orgy of France-bashing played itself out in the rightwing press and was just sort of winked at amusedly by the mainstream media. Once the shooting started, everyone dropped into Patriot Mode and no one asked why, exactly, the decision had been made in light of the fact that, as far as anyone could tell, there weren't any WMD after all. It's a bit hard after all this time has passed to recall exactly how demented the media climate was at the time, but I was reminded of it by thinking about the lyrics to Metric's "Succexy" which rather brilliantly portrays the combination of brain-death and bloodlust from which the press seemed to be suffering at the time:

Lonesome for no one when
The room was empty and
War as we knew it was obsolete
Nothing could beat complete denial

All we do is talk, sit, switch screens
As the homeland plans enemies

All we do is talk, static split screens
As the homeland plans enemies

Invasion's so succexxy

Let's drink to the military
The glass is empty
Faces to fill and cars to feed
Nothing could beat complete denial

All we do is talk, sit, switch screens
As the homeland plans enemies

All we do is talk, static split screens
As the homeland plans enemies

Invasion's so succexxy

Passive attraction, programmed reaction
Passive attraction, programmed reaction
Action distraction, more information
Flesh saturation, lips on a napkin
Ass ass ass

Where does the time go?
We're waking up so slowly
Days are horizontal lately
Out of body, watched from above
Out of body, watched from above

Passive attraction, programmed reaction
More information, cash masturbation
Follow the pattern- the hemlines, the headlines
Action distraction,faster than fashion
Faster than fashion,faster than fashion

Lonesome for no one when
The room was empty and
War as we knew it was obsolete
Nothing could beat denial

I wonder, at times, whether the president even thought clearly about what he was doing. Some elements in his administration were clearly committed to war come what may from the beginning, but others, like Colin Powell, were not. As best I can understand it, Powell's decision to throw in with the invaders had more to do with a fit of pique at perceived mistreatment by Dominique de Villepin and Joschka Fischer than a genuine consideration of the issues. Tony Blair seems to have been simply overcommitted by all his previous statements about the vileness of Saddam and the need to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the USA.

October 12, 2004 | Permalink

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The legislative history reveals just how spot-on Matt's comments are. Consider the following colloquy among three of the resolution's four sponsors ... [Read More]

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Comments

Matthew,

An excellent commentary in many ways, but you did lose me on the end regarding Tony Blair. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that he was and in fact is less than 100% comitted to the idea of a Hussein-free Iraq.

I think many on the left are really truly wishful thinking here: it is a persistent and useful question because Tony Blair is widely percieved to fundamentally liberal, fundamentally fair, and fundamentally free from corruption. Bush, on the hand is not considered to be any of things, nor is his administration.

So the question is why would Blair jump onboard with the US administration in this action?

Your answer is made up out of whole cloth.

The most likely answer, the answer that most fits Blairs character, his history, his words and actions, and his ideals is that he believed and believes every word he spoke.

Isn't that more liley than the idea that somehow he was too weak to walk away from the US's flawed effort to induce an Iraqi War?

My opinion is pretty easy to guess. I think Blair truly believed in goodfaith that Hussein was everything he said and that the world would someday truly thank him.

It is hard to imagine when all you hear is one side of the story, but people of good nature can actually disagree on Iraq without being mendacious.

Posted by: dan heskett | Oct 12, 2004 3:12:21 PM

the press, along with the Republican Party, persist in ignoring the fact that the vote on the authorizing resolution took place on October 10-11, 2002 and the war did not begin until March 20, 2003.


Ah, yes. It is the press and the GOP that is ignoring it. Rather than all the Democrats who say there was a "rush to war", when, in reality, there was months of diplomacy between the vote and the war.

Methinks Matthew is projecting...

Posted by: Al | Oct 12, 2004 3:21:09 PM

There was going to be a war, a regime change, an invasion and occupation. Everyone knew it at the time, including Colin Powell, who was seeking for legitimacy and damage control in the face of an inevitability. The only reasonable way to understand that six month period is in the understanding that everyone knew there was going to be a war.

Then, for example, you can perhaps understand Blix and France as deliberately embarrassing Bush in the face of an inevitability. Whether and what purpose was served by those actions can be in dispute.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Oct 12, 2004 3:37:39 PM

Aha, that "time" thing again!

As I recall, after the first UN resolution the
general expectation was that Saddam Hussein would
not co-operate, and consequently there would be war.

Opinions on the inevitability of war changed when
Iraq produced voluminous documentation of its
defunct illegal weapons, and allowed inspectors
considerable (if not complete) access. Remember
the "drone" airplane held together with duct tape
and only controllable within line-of-sight ?
And the missiles with just-over-93-mile range
being crushed by bulldozers ?

By early March it was apparent that
a) the US's intelligence about Iraqi WMD
was at least 95% garbage
b) Iraq was taking active steps to comply
with the UN resolution

Bush denied this reality which was obvious to the
rest of the world, and even to many people in the
US (though apparently not to the major media),
and invaded regardless. Dumb.

Posted by: Richard Cownie | Oct 12, 2004 3:50:51 PM

By a month before we invaded, Hans Blix's team of 100+ inspectors had completed over 400 inspections of over 300 sites in Iraq, and found no WMD. Then we warned the inspectors to get out, and invaded a desert in the Spring. The newsmodels were soon reporting on the heat's deleterious effect on our troops.

Eight months later we could have invaded the desert at an obviously more advantageous time, as winter approached. But by then, we would have known what we know now: There was no reason.

It is plain that Bush rushed to war because he was quickly running out of pretenses. May God have mercy on his soul.

Posted by: Irfo | Oct 12, 2004 3:51:37 PM

On the "everyone thought he had WMD" question -- am I the only one confused by Bush's constant "you saw the same intelligence I did" refrain during the debates and in his stump speeches? Wasn't this four months the time when Bush et al was SELLING us particular bits of intelligence and trying to form a justification for the war? The only reason we had this four month lag was because it took that long for the neocons to massage cherry-picked intelligence into a (shaky) case. Am I the only one who remembers Powell's UN sales pitch? Does Bush really think that everyone else in the U.S. (or at least Congress) had full access to the information he got as president? The fact that we had this lag means that not even Bush himself believed he had been given full authorization to invade without further justification. The fact that it was only four months shows that he wasn't really committed to diplomacy.

Posted by: The Plebe | Oct 12, 2004 3:55:01 PM

the press, along with the Republican Party, persist in ignoring the fact that the vote on the authorizing resolution took place on October 10-11, 2002 and the war did not begin until March 20, 2003.

Actually there are people who *really* ignore that fact in a fundamental way, and they are all those folks who claim that the "16 words" of Bush's state of the union address (in January 2003) were somehow instrumental in causing the war (which was approved, as you point out, in October 2002) to happen.

The president, at the time of the resolution, most emphatically did not portray voting for it as a vote for certain war

Well golly I don't know how Bush "portrayed" it but it would seem that its actual text, which anyone can read (especially the Congressmen who voted on it), would be most germane to its ramifications. Especially the part which begins "The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States...". If Senators Kerry et al were tricked and fooled by the confusingness of just what this resolution they voted for meant, because of how Bush and "the press" "portrayed" it, then maybe they're just too dumb to serve in Congress.

Thus two decisions were taken, one in October to abandon traditional diplomacy in favor of a robust coercive kind, and a second in March to abandon coercive diplomacy in favor of war.

Nice revisionist history attempt but methinks a, ahem, "War Powers" resolution is just what it says it is, and everyone knew it. To say otherwise is simply disingenuous. It would be more accurate to say that guys like Kerry voted Yes on it knowing it would authorize war but with the intent of staking out the *rhetorical* position that their Yes vote was a vote for "robust coercive diplomacy" and not war. And you've apparently decided to try to justify that rhetorical position.

But (for better or worse) their vote was still a vote for war and everyone knows it, even, I reckon, you.

containment was working much better in March than in October.


This may have had something to do with the hundreds of thousands of troops poised on Iraq's border, a state of affairs it is intellectually dishonest to pretend could have been extended indefinitely.

no one asked why, exactly, the decision had been made in light of the fact that, as far as anyone could tell, there weren't any WMD after all.

Sure they did. It's just that this asking did not sway the day, in light of the fact that (a) the War Powers resolution had already been authorized and (b) the War Powers resolution was not exclusively about Saddam's possession of "WMD" in the first place.

(Read it.)

Posted by: Blixa | Oct 12, 2004 4:00:40 PM

The legislative history makes it pretty clear that this the "war" vote was intended to be a "peace, with war as a last resort" vote.

This stuff is not hard to find. You'd think that the media would actually try to figure out what Kerry and Edwards voted for before trying to shove it down their throats to manufacture some grand "Gotcha!" moment.

Posted by: Shankar D | Oct 12, 2004 4:01:30 PM

The inspectors the data they produced and why it was ignored
Let me try to give you an analogy from my field of experimental science.
I have a theory about a significant problem that I am completely confident is correct. There are not very many detractors to my theory but there are some. Never the less I decide to publish it. My friend suggests that I perform one last and definitive experiment. To which I say “come on you know I am right and you know that the experiment is difficult and much can go wrong.”
I perform the experiment, it disproves my theory what should I conclude? Given that I left myself only one option at the outset, which was, that my theory war tight, I must conclude, that was right the experiment went bad. Now that I proved myself right I can publish my theory.
The Iraq case
Theory we know is right: He has WMD
Experiment: Find WMD on the ground.
Experiment is difficult: He is good at hiding WMD and fooling inspectors.
Result: Inspectors find no WMD
Conclusion: I was right he is sneaky

Posted by: bobo | Oct 12, 2004 4:02:56 PM

Don't forget the consequences of the changes in UN resolution 1441 (Nov 2002). Instead of triggering war automatically, as was the original intent, the version that passed threatened serious consequences for violations. We can assume then that the one thing these serious consequences did not include was war because why else make the change? There was, in fact, a second resolution requesting authorization for war that was rejected prior to our invasion.(date?) Don't ignore the impact of these developments on domestic American support for the war.

Posted by: Just Karl | Oct 12, 2004 4:05:58 PM

One way to look at the authorization vote is that it was like a strike authorization vote during a labor contract negotiation. You have to do it to support your negotiators. When was the last time you heard of a union's rank and file voting down a strike authorization?

Posted by: Brad | Oct 12, 2004 4:13:31 PM

The problem is, Brad, that's a seriously irresponsible way to look at a Congressional War Powers vote.

I must confess this line of argument (essentially, They voted Yes to give Bush War Powers but never in a million years did they expect Bush to actually use them!) has thrown me for a loop. I'd just been assuming that this was simply a rhetorical posture of Kerry, Edwards et al so that they could try to salvage their peace-loving credentials in front of their anti-war constituency, while at the same time voting Yes (since, many Congressmen appear to have feared being labeled "soft on terror" or whatever). And I thought I understood it in those terms, as a necessary political triangulation.

However, if they really believed this "my Yes vote on War Powers was not a vote for war powers, but a vote for Bush to BLUFF" jazz you guys are throwing out there, that is seriously disturbing. That would be a completely irresponsible way for them to have discharged their Congressional duties.

Guys, using War Powers as an instrument of bluffing is seriously not a good idea.

Posted by: Blixa | Oct 12, 2004 4:23:49 PM

"Guys, using War Powers as an instrument of bluffing is seriously not a good idea." Is it a bad idea because given the authority to go to war, the Executive might be tempted to even if it isn't necessary, or for some other reason? If it's the first reason, isn't that saying that Kerry and Edwards made the mistake of expecting Bush not to bungle his attempt to disarm Hussein? Isn't that what they're saying?

Posted by: washerdreyer | Oct 12, 2004 4:48:47 PM

In Bush's mind, the weapons inspectors never went back in.

I saw Bush field questions during a photo op with Kofi Annan during the "Mission Accomplished" time frame (July 14, 2003). People were wondering about all those stockpiles.

Bush stated that we had to go in because Saddam never let the inspectors back in. I could see Kofi doing a double take. If he'd been sipping a beverage it might have been a spit take. Kofi must have been thinking "What a moron!"

Remarks by the President and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan in Photo Opportunity The Oval Office

The larger point is, and the fundamental question is, did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program? And the answer is, absolutely. And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power, along with other nations, so as to make sure he was not a threat to the United States and our friends and allies in the region. I firmly believe the decisions we made will make America more secure and the world more peaceful.

Posted by: mark | Oct 12, 2004 4:53:11 PM

Blixa,

I hope you're just being deliberately obtuse about this. Is it really that hard to understand?

Posted by: Waffle | Oct 12, 2004 4:55:33 PM

The war was inevitable once the resolution was in place. It didn't have too much to do with WMD. All of this is theatre

Posted by: praktike | Oct 12, 2004 4:59:55 PM

Blixa,

You're right. Using war powers as a bluff instrument is seriously not a good idea. Neither was passing the Patriot Act in a fit of paranoia days after 9/11. And in the political climate of the time a vote against giving Bush war powers was political suicide, as stupid as that might seem in hindsight.

The very fact that Bush got what he wanted in this manner -- by forcing a vote coded with language that gave him deniablitly that war was imminent -- and then proceeded obfuscate his way toward invasion just backs Matt's point. It's the very deniablity that Bush used that makes it credible for Kerry et al to claim they didn't 'vote for war'.

That Bushco gamed the intelligence and media in order to actually invade only shows their corruption, not that others were playing political games or using revisionist history.

Posted by: bwh | Oct 12, 2004 5:01:49 PM

Blixa is basically arguing that of course Bush was lying when he said that war was a last resort---anyone voting for authorization should have known that. He might have a point.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough | Oct 12, 2004 5:03:18 PM

Another way to look at what Blixa is saying: Of course Bush was going to screw things up if you gave him authorization for war. If a teenager crashes a car, the responsibility lies with the grownups who gave him the keys.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough | Oct 12, 2004 5:05:50 PM

washerdryer,

Is it a bad idea because given the authority to go to war, the Executive might be tempted to even if it isn't necessary, or for some other reason?

"tempted"? Bush didn't need to be "tempted", Bush was fully in favor of war against Iraq. (Wasn't that clear? Don't we all agree on that?) Knowing this, Congressmen should have voted with him, or against, based on whether they thought a war should take place. Not based on these weird "let's authorize War Powers but ONLY TO BLUFF" middle-ground considerations which have no basis in reality. (In REALITY, if you vote War Powers to a President who favors war, *you're authorizing the war*, dummies!).

This distorts the war debate, which is good for no one. (I say this as a war supporter.) Ironically, this attitude some here are saying Kerry et al had, lowered the bar necessary for Bush to overcome to get his war authorized. They allowed him to get away with painting the War Powers vote as a not-necessarily-war powers vote, increasing its support.

Why did they do that? If they were so against war and stuff, why didn't they just stand their ground, say "look, we all know that if I vote Yes on this thing, a war's going to happen", and vote No on that basis? That would have been principled. What'sa matter, Bush "portrayed" the War Powers Resolution as not-nec-war? Oh poor babies. Kerry couldn't have just said "look that sounds nice but again if I vote Yes there's nothing to stop you, if you want"?

A President doesn't need a War Powers vote just for the sake of "coercive diplomacy" in the first place. Presidents can be pretty darn "coercive" *without* War Powers (cf. Clinton/Serbia). This is a phony rationale in every respect.

If it's the first reason, isn't that saying that Kerry and Edwards made the mistake of expecting Bush not to bungle his attempt to disarm Hussein?


They made a mistake all right. They made the mistake of thinking, or pretending (still not sure which), that the War Powers vote was not authorizing the war. At least, according to many here - I'm not sure I buy it; I still have to think that in actuality they knew they were authorizing war, but they just need this "hey we just wanted coercive diplomacy!" talking-point to keep their anti-war base from complaining too much.

Bush didn't "bungle his attempt to disarm Hussein". He succeeded in his attempt to oust Hussein. Ousting Hussein was his goal and he succeeded.

With the blessing of your Congress, including Kerry and Edwards, who authorized the endeavor, no matter how much they (or, some here) are trying to explain and excuse that away.

Posted by: Blixa | Oct 12, 2004 5:13:07 PM

If a teenager crashes a car, the responsibility lies with the grownups who gave him the keys.


But this isn't quite the analogy. It's more like: the grownups thought that the teenager was an awful driver, but gave him the keys anyway expecting that he'd never actually drive the car.

Right? Now does any of the fault lie with the grownups?

Posted by: Al | Oct 12, 2004 5:23:55 PM

For the record, I don't think the war was inevitable after the vote. If Saddam had chosen to truly give in to our demands, I don't think Bush would have gone to war.

Posted by: Al | Oct 12, 2004 5:26:09 PM

praktike,

The war was inevitable once the resolution was in place. It didn't have too much to do with WMD. All of this is theatre

Agreed 100% (surprised? :)


bwh,

And in the political climate of the time a vote against giving Bush war powers was political suicide, as stupid as that might seem in hindsight.

You're saying that lots of (D)s voted Yes, even though they didn't want war, out of cowardly fear for losing their seats. I agree. That's exactly what I'm saying. Along with the fact that this is irresponsible - which it is. Whine about "political climate" all you like but that doesn't make it any less irresponsible.

And, it was "political suicide", eh? 23 Senators voted against it. Are they all going to lose their seats? Try again.

It's the very deniablity that Bush used that makes it credible for Kerry et al to claim they didn't 'vote for war'.

Well, only because they willingly played along. It was a vote for war and they knew it, but obviously it was to Bush's advantage to portray it as not-necessarily. And many Democrats played along with that charade. Now, I had always thought that this was out of mere political triangulation (which is basically what you are saying). However, Matthew seems to think that they did so out of a sincere belief that they were voting for Bluff Powers. I had not considered that anyone could have actually been so stupid and/or gullible, but if anyone was, that is seriously disturbing, like I said. Agreed?


Daryl McCullough,

Blixa is basically arguing that of course Bush was lying when he said that war was a last resort---anyone voting for authorization should have known that. He might have a point.


I'll accept that as a summary of what I'm saying, yes. With the addendum that there was a somewhat justifiable reason for Bush to pretend that war wasn't inevitable - so as not to needlessly spook Saddam before we have our troops in place. But yes, I think that (barring some miracle, Saddam accepting some shady exile deal, etc.) war was inevitable once the resolution passed, and anyone in Congress should have known it, if they didn't.

I still think they did however and this retroactive "you tricked me!" gambit is all just a pose. Nobody was tricked, everyone knew the score. Sorry but I just don't buy that John Kerry and John Edwards are as dumb as Matthew wants us to think they are.

Posted by: Blixa | Oct 12, 2004 5:28:03 PM

Look, this really isn't hard. I don't know why people fail to get it.

1) In October of 2002, Kerry, along with most people, believed that Iraq possessed WMDs.
2) There were two ways to resolve this issue. Coercive inspections or outright war.
3) Kerry (rightly) believes that war shouldn't be ruled out, but should be a last resort.
4) But, Saddam was not about to allow inspectors in just because we asked nicely. There had to be a credible threat of the use of force.
5) Hence the war vote... Without it Saddam had no reason to fear the US, and would not have allowed inspectors back in.
6) After the October resolution, the threat was credible... And it *worked*. The inspectors *were* allowed back in. This removed the entire rationale for war.

Blixa seems to think that Kerry should not have voted for the war because he should have known Bush was going to go to war, hell or high water, no matter if the circumstances changed or not. I guess his opinion is that Kerry should have assumed Bush was a fool, unwilling to change his tactics based on new evidence. Instead Kerry assumed the president was rational. That if things changed (like, for example, if Iraq cooperated with inspectors, thus removing the need for the war) Bush would react to this new information. Alas, Kerry did make one mistake; he assumed the president had common sense. For that, I suppose Kerry deserves some criticism.

Posted by: aelph | Oct 12, 2004 5:33:32 PM

I knew that Bush was set on invading. Did Kerry know? If he's an idiot, maybe not. I knew that Iraq had no live nuclear weapsn program, no real connection to Al-Qaeda, that we'd likely face a guerrilla war and international opprobrium, and that Bush was likely to lose reelection over it.
So far it's all been about as predictable as a ball rolling downhill. Bored now.

Posted by: gcochran | Oct 12, 2004 5:36:27 PM

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