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The Yelling

The question out of both debates is really why Bush gets so testy when Kerry -- or the moderator, or a member of the audience -- questions the wisdom of his Iraq policy. It's a bit demented in a psychological sense, and it's no wonder he can't conduct any proper diplomacy if this is his reaction when people question him. The thing about the Iraq War is that Bush's decision to invade isn't nearly as indefensible as he makes it sound. This was always one of the great liberal hawk mysteries before the war. Why did Bush push such a hysterical line -- roughly, "if we don't invade tomorrow Saddam will give a nuke to al-Qaeda which will be detonated in the middle of Manhattan" -- when there were plenty of non-hysterical, non-false considerations that could be brought to bear? Why can't he just take a deep breath and give a Mead-style answer? Why does he never even make reference to what was, to my mind, clearly the best argument for war -- that sanctions, while fairly effective, were also devastating to the Iraqi public? It's not merely that he's dishonest in various ways, but he doesn't seem to really understand his own policies very well.

October 9, 2004 | Permalink


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Tracked on Oct 9, 2004 12:46:21 PM


The vast majority of his voters don't get that sort of thing. They only understand fist-pumping bluster.

Hell, the man himself only understands fist-pumping bluster. The more 'simple' the better.

Posted by: BobT | Oct 9, 2004 2:55:43 AM

"If you want the support of the broad masses, you must tell them the crudest and most stupid things."

Posted by: David Tomlin | Oct 9, 2004 3:07:19 AM

President Clinton had a good answer to your "best argument for war" - that Saddam's oil income under the oil-for-food controlled program was several billion dollars higher than before the first gulf war. Any harm to the Iraqi people was Saddam's fault, not the rest of the world's.

Posted by: McRutter | Oct 9, 2004 3:11:35 AM

Out of the mouths of babes:

The truth of the matter is if you listen carefully Saddam would still be in power if he were the president of the United States. And the world would be a lot better off.

Posted by: bad Jim | Oct 9, 2004 3:22:38 AM

But who gives a fuck about the Iraqi people? Everyone is all worked up about the casualties on the coalition's side. Where is the outrage about civilian casualties?

Why has Kerry not raised this up? Is this because he does not care or because it is a no-win issue. My guess is that he realises no one actually cares.

Posted by: Samuel | Oct 9, 2004 3:46:58 AM

We see in Bush a man with a serious personality disorder. If he behaves this way in front of the nation, one can imagine how he deals with his cabinet, other agencies, and his staff. The rumors of his anger being uncontrollable inside the administration when confronted with opposing opinion are shown to be reality.

The normal reaction of a stable person when confronted with this kind of personality is to avoid presenting information that will cause an uproar. That is very bad for a US President who must depend on many sources of information to make a decision. Key information may be withheld - and there is some indication that this has already occured.

It is also quite frightening to think that Bush has the ability to launch military action or nuclear weapons. The world, and certainly the US people should be concerned that Bush no longer has the stability required of the US President.

He MUST go.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Oct 9, 2004 4:08:03 AM


I don't follow you at all here:

Why does he never even make reference to what was, to my mind, clearly the best argument for war -- that sanctions, while fairly effective, were also devastating to the Iraqi public?

Why isn't the fact that the sanctions were devastating the Iraqi people a reason to simply lift the sanctions, rather than invade the country?

Posted by: John Turri | Oct 9, 2004 4:08:52 AM

To the Editor:

This debate again made the choice clear -- you can vote for further fantasy, or you can recognize reality.

If you really believe that everything is going well in Iraq, where, every month, more Americans are butchered than the month before, vote for George Bush.

If you really believe freedom is on the march in Afghanistan, where heroin production is at record levels and the Taliban and warlords control much of the country, vote for George Bush.

If you really believe that the economy is doing great, where not enough jobs are created even to keep up with population growth, vote for George Bush.

If you really believe that those earning over $200,000 a year were abused by the tax code under Bill Clinton, and that trillions of dollars in new debt don't matter, vote for George Bush.

If you really believe that the current administration truly cares about the millions of kids who now live in poverty that didn't in 2000, that he cares more about seniors than the drug companies, and that he cares more about the environment than the oil, coal, logging, and mining companies, vote for George Bush.

If you really believe that yelling at and ridiculing those who disagree with you is the best way to lead, vote for George Bush.

But if you think America has done better in the past, and can do better in the future, vote for change. Vote for John Kerry.

Posted by: MattB | Oct 9, 2004 4:22:03 AM

You can't just lift sanctions against a dictator when they are in place as a stop-gap measure to prevent military buildup. If Bush had taken his time, allowed inspectors to fully inspect Iraq and had more vigorously pursued al Qaida so that Osama bin Laden had been brought to justice, I might be supporting Bush in this election. If I understand a word Kerry says, he would too.

I was a very vocal critic of the march to war. I took Scott Ritter's word over Bush's and didn't believe WMD were there.

Stability and democracy don't have to be mutually exclusive and the time for lifting sanctions would have been after the fall of the Baathist regime. I don't think an all out invasion or such a blunder in post-war strategy were in any way unavoidable, though.

It basically all comes down to Georgie fucked it up and needs to go before he breaks something else.

Posted by: Nate | Oct 9, 2004 4:22:40 AM

Matt: Bush, since he does not care about ordinary people (here or in Iraq) does not believe that a relieve-the-Iraqi-people-of-sanctions-invasion would be thought credible. Whereas invading so as to insert-excuse-of-the-day-here is irrefutable because it is such a quickly moving target.

John Turri: because if the sanctions were lifted without the Baathist regime clearly complying with the conditions whose violation caused the imposition of the sanctions, then sanctions would seem to be the claws of the paper tiger and no longer useful.

Because of the peculiarities of the Iraq regime at the time, although most of those conditions had been met, they would still not openly fess up to it (maybe to give Iran heebie-jeebies about what they might still have).

Posted by: TomR | Oct 9, 2004 4:45:43 AM

"It's not merely that he's dishonest in various ways, but he doesn't seem to really understand his own policies very well."

You're just figuring this out now?

This is not a policy administration. The people with power in this administration have no interest in policy. And the people who do have an interest in policy are quickly marginalized.

Posted by: Petey | Oct 9, 2004 6:57:40 AM

I've said Bush was dumb before, but I think he took it a new level last night. The thing about the first debate is, although he was rote and out of it, at least the talking points he had memorized were somewhat defensible. Last night made it clear that his mind is simply not the kind of mind that can process complicated ideas. I mea, what the fuck was he talking about in his Dred Scott answer? It was a longer version of "tribal sovereignty."

Posted by: praktike | Oct 9, 2004 7:56:41 AM

Consider the implications of the pro-war argument you suggest: If BushCorp had used that argument to begin with, it would have entailed being serious about stabilizing and reconstructing the country. A LOT more scrutiny would have been brought to bear on what the plans were for securing and democratizing Iraq. They went with "Panic now! Urgent! Must invade or die!" because it didn't commit them to anything they didn't want to do--all that boring civics-class stuff that FratBoy Cheerleaders find so eye-glazing.

It was basicallly "Let's do some serious heavy-lifting and problem solving here," versus "Let's just blow the shit out of some 3rd-world country to show how mad and strong we are!" Guess which one of those would be the easier sell to Dear Leader himself?

Posted by: DrBB | Oct 9, 2004 8:45:28 AM

Remember the media's response to Howard
Dean's "yell"? Where will they be now
with aWol being out of control?!

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr | Oct 9, 2004 8:58:07 AM

Bush is clearly unfit to lead the nation. He continues to vehemently place his own honor above the nations. According to Bush his only mistakes were "bad appointments". This statement is the height of willful negligence. Bush cannot be questioned about his mistakes, getting angty and flying on the handle. Bush must continually lie and distort just to maintain the semblance of parity on stage. Bush performance these last to debates were disgusting and have demeaned the honor of the office he holds.


Posted by: patience | Oct 9, 2004 9:21:21 AM

It's not merely that he's dishonest in various ways, but he doesn't seem to really understand his own policies very well.

Yeah, remember in the first debate with Gore when Bush repeatedly misrepresented his own policy proposals and past votes and decisions? Well, yes, he was probably just flat-out lying for the sake of political advantage, safe in the knowledge that the media wouldn't call him on it. But he also probably just didn't understand what the f*ck he was talking about.

As for the humanitarian argument for war, well . . . I'm skeptical. The political realists have always said that Bush couldn't have gotten public support for war if the argument was framed that way. (That doesn't explain why he isn't bringing it up now as an ex-post-facto excuse.) I suspect that, if Bush had leveraged his post-9/11 popularity, he could have gotten the public on board, but let's face it: the war would have taken much more in the way of diplomatic chops than Bush could muster, as well as many more troops and dollars. Where was the political advantage in that? After all, the war wouldn't have gone through if Unka Karl hadn't given his stamp of approval.

Posted by: pdp | Oct 9, 2004 9:52:16 AM

My favorite bit was when the woman asked him to name 3 mistakes and Bush, while not naming any, immediately started talking at length about Iraq.
Two words: Sammy Sosa. For some reason Bush is unable to make this winning, self-deprecating joke. You know his handlers have debated it.

Posted by: John Isbell | Oct 9, 2004 10:25:31 AM

You studied philosophy???!!!!!

The "reasons" that Bush did what he did are the ones you have rationalized to explain his doing what he did??

Are you fucking crazy?


Posted by: razor | Oct 9, 2004 11:04:29 AM

The picture that captures the whole debate is here

Spread it far and wide, friends.

Posted by: DrBB | Oct 9, 2004 11:19:13 AM


Posted by: G. Svenson | Oct 9, 2004 11:31:09 AM

I think DrBB, above, nails the Bush Adminstration's Iraq policy in a nutshell. When faced with a complex problem in the world, they opt for the most simplistic solution that can be sold to the American public, and go for it.
I have long believed that the major problem with out invasion of Iraq has been that its ultimate goal has been (and still remains) to ensure the re-election of Republicans in general, and George W. Bush in particular, and that all other aims have been subordinated to this one objective.
I think the Adminstration had planned on an 1898-style "splendid little war" in Iraq - a quick, overwhelming victory followed by flowers and democracy all around, with most of the troops coming home by Election Day, just in time to vote Dubya another term, in a landslide - and they have been blindsided by reality (and don't know how to deal with it).

Posted by: Jay C | Oct 9, 2004 11:34:53 AM

Well Matthew, it looks like you have succesfully acclimated yourself to the politics-driven, people-blind, collective insanity which perpetually afflicts those in the imperial capital. Congratulations.

Why not just end the sanctions, rather than go to war? You are still apparently under the spell of the silly hallucination cast by *both* parties that Saddam posed a serious threat of some kind, and so *some* serious and costly measure was necessary to counter that threat. The parties only disagreed about precisely what measures to take. But the Saddam threat *idee fixe* is just crap. And the only thing that keeps intelligent people from seeing that it is *obvious* crap is that both parties have conspired to fabricate and promote the same nonsense.

The sanctions regime was already crumbling, due to the cheating. It probably didn't have long left anyway. And so what? Saddam and Iraq were suitably weakened - a shadow of their former selves. As far as threats to the US go, Iraq was probably somewhere around #137. Even with santions lifted, there was no real prospect that Iraq would constitute itself as a serious threat to the US. And US and British companies were chafing as they watched the French and the Russians make deals with Iraq. They were lobbying our government to end the sanctions so they could get in on the action. That, in fact, would have been the most rational policy to pursue.

Saddam was not some kind of nut, working with clandestine terrorist networks to attack the US. He was a toothless has-been, a relic from the era of Arab nationalism, bent mainly on survival, on just hanging on to power in the face of domestic and foreign pressure. He was desperate to get the sanctions lifted, and had made several overtures to the US throughout the 90's about possible deals for ending them. Attacking the US was the *last* thing he wanted to do. Saddam would have made a deal, with the right carrots - just like Qaddafi has. He could have been made to accept a *permanent* inspections regime in exchange for the lifting of sanctions and international rehabilitation. Both sides could have saved some face, and we would have moved on.

Iraq had already endured a decade of crushing sanctions and US and British backed no-fly zone restrictions. Enough was enough. The time was right for our side to just declare victory, make a deal and get out of there. So make the fucking the deal! The deal, it is true, would have involved some crow-eating from people like Madeline Albright. But it would have saved the lives of one thousand American soldiers, 10 to 30 thousand Iraqi civilians, more tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers, and several times more that total of other non-lethal casualities. Isn't it obvious what the better course of action was?

So what was the problem? The main problem is that prominent members of three successive administrations - Bush I, Clinton and Bush II - had staked their prestige on the *declared* goal of regime change, and had punished Iraqis for a decade without obtaining the desired end. They had boxed themselves into a position where doing the sensible thing would involve swallowing their pride and admitting mistakes - and that is something Washington officials are loathe to do. Whenever Washington's high and mighty start bleating about "national prestige" being on the line, what they really mean is that their *own* prestige is on the line.

Another problem is that some fanatics and boy geniuses in the Bush administration had fallen in love with the idea that Iraq was the perfect place to start their grand "Middle East makeover" scheme. And isn't it obvious that they wanted to start with Iraq not becuase it was strong, and a threat - but precisely because they perceived it to be so pitiably *weak*, and thus a great place to start? They thought they could just push the government aside, take the place over, set up shop and use Iraq as a base for intimidating everyone else in the region.

The Clinton people, and I include Kerry, are perhaps just as responsible as Bush for where we have ended up, and are still suffering from the same syndrome of self-defensive misrepresentation of reality. Rather than admit they had a failed policy and a dumb idea in Iraq - the "regime change" policy - they calculated that their only option was to press on toward "victory" so their policy would be redeeemed and sanctified by ultimate success. If you have already murdered hundreds of thousands in the obsessive drive to topple some dictator who has become your personal nemesis, you have to keep pushing, and keep murdering in order to get that *one guy* so that people can't say in the end your policy was for nought.

Okay so now after 13 years and the deaths of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of Iraqis, Washington's foreign policy geniuses still might get their "victory". And we're all supposed to go along and say "this staggering human cost, and incalculable strategic damage, were worth it - becuase of course Iraq is better off without Saddam"? It's insane.

The cost of this war, and the sanctions policy leading up to it, are ridiculously, even madly, out of all proportion to the benefits sought. It is so mad that it is puzzling why people can't see it. I suspect it's only because *both* parties have conspired to perpetuate this collective idiocy that the obvious is so often left unstated.

Even if Saddam *had* possessed the small amount of WMD's that US intelligence thought he had left, the CIA had sensibly reported to Congress that there was no serious risk that he would use them against the US - except perhaps in case of attack. Saddam never once in his career attacked the US - he attacked Kuwait, thinking he had a green light to do it. And his main military concern was Iran, not the US.

What Bush won't say because he is a stubborn idiot, and what Kerry won't say because it is impolitic during the campaign, and because he himself drank too much of the Clinton administration kool-aid during the 90's, is that the whole notion of some grave Saddam threat to the US was just bullshit. The whole sorry Iraq chapter of the last 13 years is just about a crazed US foreign policy elite obsessed with "finishing the job" they started in 1991, rather than admitting their mistakes and moving on.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Oct 9, 2004 12:00:16 PM

DrBB, that's Bush's proctologist standing behind him, performing an emergency exam. I think he was pulling a some wood out of dumbya's ass; either that or he was putting it in.

Posted by: poputonian | Oct 9, 2004 2:26:17 PM


Stirling Newberry saying, among other interesting things, that it was all about oil. To summarize, Bush 41 left Saddam in place to keep the Iraq oil offline and prices high as a payoff to the Saudis.
After Chinese demand rose, etc, Bush 43 decided we now need the oil.

Actually, it is all Nixon's fault for floating the dollar. Or something. Read it.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Oct 9, 2004 3:22:07 PM

Great analyis, Dan. Not that I'm sure I agree with all of it, but I wanted to say it's a fine job.

Posted by: David Tomlin | Oct 9, 2004 4:33:32 PM

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