Monday, March 27, 2006

I'm shocked; shocked!

Another British memo makes even more clear that Bush was determined to invade Iraq regardless.

During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, he made clear to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons, said a confidential memo about the meeting written by Mr. Blair's top foreign policy adviser and reviewed by The New York Times.

"Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning," David Manning, Mr. Blair's chief foreign policy adviser at the time, wrote in the memo that summarized the discussion between Mr. Bush, Mr. Blair and six of their top aides.

"The start date for the military campaign was now penciled in for 10 March," Mr. Manning wrote, paraphrasing the president. "This was when the bombing would begin."

Assuming the memo is genuine -- and it appears to be -- this would seem to be the "smoking gun" indicating that Bush was hellbent to invade Iraq, and all of his publicly stated reasons and rationales were so much window dressing. Having decided to invade, he then proceeded to develop rationales to justify the decision.

That's an indefensible way to conduct foreign policy. At the very least, he was required to level with the American people about his reasons for invading. Even better would have been to develop general criteria for pre-emptive war, then see if those criteria applied to Iraq. That way we could at least claim to be following a set of rules that other people could examine so as to know which side of the "eligible for invasion" line they fall on.

I often describe myself as something of a "baby neocon." I support the idea of America being a force for good in the world. I cheered the first Gulf War and the intervention in Kosovo. Why? Because I thought (and still think) that it's high time the world got off its butt and did something about the bad guys. Sure, the Gulf War was probably about oil, but I was able to support it because it was opposing aggression. And this was while many of my friends were active duty military and in harm's way.

I would support a doctrine that called for taking out bad guys like Saddam. However, such a doctrine requires a few key things:

1. An actual doctrine. We asserted our right to do as we wanted and not wait for U.N. approval. I have no problem with that. BUT: you have to lay down the ground rules, make it clear that *this* might get you invaded while *this* will not. Otherwise we're just throwing our weight around, knocking over whomever we feel like, and the rest of the world is justified in wondering if we're just being self-interested bullies. I think most of the world would support us taking out bad guys, as long as we had a clear and compelling definition of "bad guy".

2. At least the appearance of listening to the rest of the world. We went out of our way to anger the rest of the world in the run-up to Iraq. Sometimes that's necessary. More often, it comes back to bite us in the keister, as it did this time.

3. Capabilities that match our doctrine. The reason we haven't tried to overthrow every bad actor in the world is because we can't. Afghanistan and Iraq already have us overstretched. We either add more capability (and accept the attendant cost), or we accept that we have limits and set our doctrine accordingly. Not overstretching is another reason to have a doctrine; that way, you think about what you're going to do ahead of time.

4. The support of the American people. You can have any doctrine you want, but if the voters won't support it, it's a non-starter. The thing that most irks me about the neo-cons is they *knew* that the voters wouldn't support an attack on Iraq simply because he was a repressive dictator. So they tried to link him to terrorism and breathe life into old reports about WMDs. It's only *after* the war that they've switched mostly to talking about what a bad guy Saddam was, as if that alone were reason enough to have taken him out. I happen to agree that that should be reason enough, but that's for the voters to decide. They had no right to lie about it in the beginning. The American people had a right to decide whether this was how they wanted to spend their blood and treasure.

So without a doctrine , the Bush administration unnecessarily angered the world and misled the American public in order to prosecute a war they wanted to prosecute. They didn't have the guts to make their true case to the public; they didn't trust the public to support them. That's unforgivable.

If Bush had made a forthright case for invading Iraq as part of a new "get the bad guys" doctrine, I would have supported that case. I might still have argued that the invasion was ill-advised for several reasons, starting with "it has nothing to do with the war on terror" and seguing to the incredible cost and the fact that we had not yet built the military needed to support such a doctrine, and finishing with the fact that Saddam wasn't at the top of the bad-guy list. But I would have applauded his effort to engage the American people in a grand and worthy endeavor to make the world a better and freer place.

Instead, it increasingly appears that he misled America and the world because he didn't trust them or didn't think they had a right to weigh in on what he was doing. But laudable goals aren't good enough, especially when incompetently executed for crass reasons under cover of lies and half-truths. Because the lack of matching capability pretty much ensures the venture will flounder, and once people figure out the truth the rug gets yanked out from under the effort, leaving the soldiers hanging high and dry.

Nice work, Mr. President.

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Blogger Matt Parker said...

"Assuming the memo is genuine -- and it appears to be -- this would seem to be the "smoking gun" indicating that Bush was hellbent to invade Iraq, and all of his publicly stated reasons and rationales were so much window dressing. Having decided to invade, he then proceeded to develop rationales to justify the decision."

This is the open secret that everyone knows. I don't think anyone who has been paying attention has doubted this from the beginning. The truth has been "managed" through plausible deniability. i.e. No one could absolutely prove it directly, and when they could prove part of it, the evidence was explained away. Nice being able to deal with evidence one piece of time rather than as a whole picture.

This isn't any more of a smoking gun than other documents and statements have been - it's just the most recent. Don't expect any ah-has to come from it. It'll go away just like all of the others have.

Guess I've just become jaded....



3/27/2006 10:14 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

I agree that for anyone paying attention this is simply one more brick in the wall. But I think this is notable because it is the clearest statement to date that Bush had made up his mind to invade two months before the fact. It's not susceptible to the tortured parsing that the earlier memo about "fixing intelligence" was. It's an unequivocal statement that Bush was going to invade regardless of what the inspectors found.

3/27/2006 10:50 AM  

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