Arguing with Bush
I saw President Bush’s news conference Tuesday evening. He said many things that disturbed me, not in any partisan sort of way (and I continue to maintain that simple partisanship makes for bad analysis), but on grounds of ethics and clear thinking and democratic values. I got the transcript and began arguing back, but could see it could go on for hours. And probably others would do a better job. But, since bytes are cheap, I may as well post what I put down; this is a diary of sorts, after all.
On the analogy between Iraq and Vietnam:
‘ THE PRESIDENT: I think the analogy is false. I also happen to think that analogy sends the wrong message to our troops, and sends the wrong message to the enemy. ‘
If a historical analogy is offered as a cautionary tale or a form of analysis of a contemporary situation, it has to be judged on its own merits. Making such analogies is a form of democratic discourse, and it is the sort of thing that the Bill of Rights meant to protect when it said that the government shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. To say that bringing it up “sends the wrong message to our troops” and to “the enemy” is to attempt to prevent democratic discourse on the grounds that it affects the morale of the democratic country’s fighting forces and that it might give encouragement to those they with whom they are at war.
But the troops are either fighting for democratic values or they are not. If they are, then it is illogical to demand that the Republic forsake democratic discourse because they are fighting for it. It would be like saying that all Americans should turn in their firearms during the war, or that Americans should cease worshipping in the religion of their choice during the war. It is precisely the ability of American citizens to analyze the nature of the war freely that the troops are defending. Moreover, the “enemy” (though who exactly that is is unclear at the moment) is fighting for his own reasons, and can hardly take any real comfort from the existence of free and democratic discourse in the United States.
‘ A secure and free Iraq is an historic opportunity to change the world and make America more secure. A free Iraq in the midst of the Middle East will have incredible change . . . ‘
This premise is not necessarily true. Turkey has had relatively democratic elections since 1950, but this development had no resonances in the rest of the Middle East. Iran went theocratic in 1979, and Khomeini expected everyone in the Middle East to follow suit. No one did. Saudi Arabia is among the world’s richest monarchies, but it has not spread monarchy in the mainly republican Middle East. Middle Eastern countries are often fairly insular with regard to politics, and every tub is on its own bottom. There is no guarantee that a “free” and democratic Iraq will have any real influence on the rest of the region.
At the moment, moreover, Iraq is a poster child for dictatorship. Any Egyptian who looked at what has transpired there in the past year might well decide that the soft dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak is altogether preferable to taking the risk of opening up the system and possibly causing a similar social breakdown!
‘ There’s no question it’s been a tough, tough series of weeks for the American people. It’s been really tough for the families. I understand that. It’s been tough on this administration. But we’re doing the right thing. . .. ‘
I find the equation of the way in which the loss of nearly 80 US troops and the wounding of dozens has been “tough” on the American people, and the way in which these events have been “tough” for the Bush administration to be in bad taste.
Saddam Hussein was a threat.
It is difficult to see how a ruler whose army was so easy to defeat, and who was reduced to hiding in a spider hole, was a threat to the United States.
‘ He was a threat because he had used weapons of mass destruction on his own people. ‘
I should think this proves he was a threat to his own people.
‘ He was a threat because he coddled terrorists. ‘
I don’t know what this means, to “coddle” terrorists. Either he sponsored terrorist actions aimed at harming the United States directly, or he did not. He probably did not, after 1993. The State Department did not even list Iraq as a terrorist threat in recent years.
‘ He was a threat because he funded suiciders. ‘
Saddam Hussein never gave any real support to the Palestinian cause, and he did not pay suicide bombers to blow themselves up. It is alleged that he funneled money to the orphans of such suicide bombers, but I have never seen any documentation for the claim. Supporting orphans is in any case not the same as funding terrorism.
‘ He was a threat to the region. He was a threat to the United States. ‘
I can’t see how, given the state of his military in 2003.
‘ That’s the assessment that I made from the intelligence, the assessment that Congress made from the intelligence; that’s the exact same assessment that the United Nations Security Council made with the intelligence. ‘
Key figures of the Bush administration, including the President, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condi Rice consistently misled the Congress by intimating or stating over and over again that Iraq was close to having nuclear weapons, that it had weapons of mass destruction, and that it was responsible for September 11 and had strong ties to al-Qaeda.
All of these allegations were completely false. Having stampeded Congress into a hasty vote on the war in Iraq with this farrago of phantasies, to now use Congress’s acquiescence as proof that Iraq was dangerous is frankly dishonest.
‘ I went to the U.N., as you might recall, and said, either you take care of him, or we will. Any time an American President says, if you don’t, we will, we better be prepared to. And I was prepared to. I thought it was important for the United Nations Security Council that when it says something, it means something, for the sake of security in the world. ‘
So then would it not be equally important, if the Security Council said “no” to a war, for that decision to be upheld by the United States? When it says something, after all, it should mean something, for the sake of security in the world.
‘ See, the war on terror had changed the calculations. We needed to work with people. People needed to come together to work. And, therefore, empty words would embolden the actions of those who are willing to kill indiscriminately. ‘
I can’t understand what this string of Bushisms could possibly mean. If Bush needed to work with people, why did he blow off the Security Council in March of 2003? If people needed to come together to work, wouldn’t they need to come together about launching a major war that affected the entire world? Why then did Bush go to war virtually unilaterally (bilaterally at most)? That wouldn’t represent much in the way of “people” “coming together.” If empty words would embolden killers, wouldn’t turning the entire United Nations Charter, which forbids unilateral wars of aggression without Security Council permission, into so much scrap paper be a way of “emboldening” such killers?
‘ He also confirmed that Saddam had a — the ability to produce biological and chemical weapons. In other words, he was a danger. ‘
Saddam did not have any stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons at all, and had no nuclear weapons program. Iraq has the same ability to produce “chemical weapons” as all other industrializing societies do, no more and no less. But Iraq did not have such weapons, and it is hardly a casus belli that they had the potential to make them. So does Brazil, but we haven’t invaded it lately.
‘ Finally, the attitude of the Iraqis toward the American people — it’s an interesting question. They’re really pleased we got rid of Saddam Hussein. ‘
About half say the US presence in Iraq is a form of liberation. About half say it is a form of humiliation..
‘ And they were happy — they’re not happy they’re occupied. I wouldn’t be happy if I were occupied either. They do want us there to help with security, and that’s why this transfer of sovereignty is an important signal to send, and it’s why it’s also important for them to hear we will stand with them until they become a free country. ‘
What? I thought they were happy. Now you say they aren’t happy. Which is it?