PolySciFi Blog

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Selling a War

Whether you see Bush's actions during the summer and fall of 2002 as masterful realpolitik or propaganda at its worst, you should find Mark Danner's piece about the Downing Street memo to be an interesting read. Yep, he violates Godwin's law. But it's the best article about this memo that I've read so far, with a succinct wrap-up of what the memo establishes about U.S. diplomacy during this period:
  1. By mid-July 2002, eight months before the war began, President Bush had decided to invade and occupy Iraq.
  2. Bush had decided to "justify" the war" by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD."
  3. Already "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
  4. Many at the top of the administration did not want to seek approval from the United Nations (going "the UN route").
  5. Few in Washington seemed much interested in the aftermath of the war.

The money quote:

Though "the UN route" would be styled as an attempt to avoid war, its essence, as the Downing Street memo makes clear, was a strategy to make the war possible, partly by making it politically palatable.

I think the above statement is something both sides of the aisle can agree on, and a conclustion that will be borne out by history. Now, how bad you think this is depends on whether you think we should have invaded Iraq or not (and more generally, depends on your philosophy about political power, noble lies, &c.). As I've noted before, I supported the war on a much more general basis than WMD or any of the other canards Bush used during that summer and fall: sic semper tyrannus. And as Jody has noted, that's not a good enough reason to get the American people involved; another rationale was necessary. Is it morally okay to play the U.N. against itself the way Cheney did, or to blow up false intelligence to discredit U.N. inspections? I would prefer to think it isn't; I would rather see an administration make an honest play and fail, like Wilson with the League of Nations, than lie and succeed. But that's probably too idealistic of me, and a reason I would make a terrible politician. Jody clearly thinks it's okay to misrepresent facts in the service of greater goals; it's interesting which one of us is a moral relativist when it comes to political power...

In any event, knowing the war was a foregone conclusion makes the administration's appalling failure to adequately prepare for the aftermath of war all the more unforgiveable. Rumsfeld is right: you go to war with the army you've got. But not spending the money to improve the army you've got is a mistake. And awarding the Medal of Freedom to Tenet, Franks, and Bremer may send the right message to the masses (you were right all along, guys! We're winning!), but it doesn't inspire much confidence that this administration is concerned with getting things right. We're in Iraq and we can't get out. Bush doesn't have to run for election again. In a real sense, it doesn't matter what the public thinks of him. So could we spend 1/10th of the effort spent selling the war on winning the peace?


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