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Posted October 11, 2004
I missed the debates last week, too busy to go home and crank up the TV. So I've no idea how the two men comported themselves. I couldn't look for a lump on Bush's back, or search for the lack of a lump at Kerry's crotch. I'll leave these all-important tasks to others.
Thankfully, transcripts are available, and one can tell a lot more about the arguments from print texts than from spoken presentations. The debates solidified my previously held suspicions: both men are dishonest about America's disastrous foreign policy regarding Iraq.
Robin Dahle asked a good question:
Mr. President, yesterday in a statement you admitted that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, but justified the invasion by stating, I quote, "He retained the knowledge, the materials, the means and the intent to produce weapons of mass destruction and could have passed this knowledge to our terrorist enemies." Do you sincerely believe this to be a reasonable justification for invasion when this statement applies to so many other countries, including North Korea?
Bush's response is interesting:
Each situation is different, Robin. And obviously we hope that diplomacy works before you ever use force. The hardest decision a president makes is ever to use force.
Note that this last sentence is merely a plea for sympathy, is ungrammatically made, and comes off as an excuse. And since we know from other sources that the president was trying to justify a regime change in Iraq from his very first week, this opening gambit amounts to a lie.
It's nice to know that he understands that
each situation is different. But it would be better to know what exactly made Iraq worse than Syria, Iran, Sudan, or Saudi Arabia, for that matter, why war in Iraq was a better idea than war elsewhere. Nothing in his comments addresses the difference of Iraq and the difference it made.
After 9/11, we had to look at the world differently. After 9/11, we had to recognize that when we saw a threat, we must take it seriously before it comes to hurt us. In the old days we'd see a threat, and we could deal with it if we felt like it or not. But 9/11 changed it all.
It's an interesting admission of the policy of the U.S. towards al Qaeda. The government saw a threat, but the Bush administration apparently
didn't feel like addressing it, despite numerous attacks and an explicit declaration of war from Osama bin Laden.
What did it take for the Bush administration to take a real threat seriously? It took four hi-jacked jetliners, two buildings destroyed and one damaged, and thousands of Americans dead.
Great record, that. Interesting admission.
I vowed to our countrymen that I would do everything I could to protect the American people. That's why we're bringing al Qaeda to justice. Seventy-five percent of them have been brought to justice. That's why I said to Afghanistan: If you harbor a terrorist, you're just as guilty as the terrorist. And the Taliban is no longer in power, and al Qaeda no longer has a place to plan. And I saw a unique threat in Saddam Hussein, as did my opponent, because we thought he had weapons of mass destruction.
Now, the question that was raised is that since North Korea has developed a nuclear program, and has shown a willingness to flout American prohibitions against proliferating such weaponry — including, perhaps, the willingness to sell to other, non-nuclear-capable groups — why pounce on Iraq and not North Korea? But Bush saw a
unique threat? Why was Iraq unique? And why was it even considered a threat, since, as we all knew, Iraq had been surrounded, hounded, and pounded for a decade, was in fact
Bush shows a nice debating touch by noting that Kerry stupidly bought the official line about Iraq. Kerry's thus culpable for the war, to some extent, too. But since, against the best evidence they preferred to think of Saddam H. as a unique threat, and have been proven to have been wrong, why won't either admit this?
Just saying that Saddam H's regime was
unique in this regard does not make it so. Bush is merely engaging in counter-assertion. He has provided no evidence. And, as he yammered on, he continued to provide no evidence:
And the unique threat was that he could give weapons of mass destruction to an organization like al Qaeda, and the harm they inflicted on us with airplanes would be multiplied greatly by weapons of mass destruction. And that was the serious, serious threat. So I tried diplomacy, went to the United Nations. But as we learned in the same report I quoted, Saddam Hussein was gaming the oil-for-food program to get rid of sanctions.
Well, I guess in the first sentence, above, Bush does identify the nature of the alleged uniqueness. It is utterly uncompelling. Why was the Ba'athist regime more likely to give weapons of mass destruction than some other regime? Blankout. There is no good reason. None offered. None demonstrated. Pakistan (an ally of the U.S.) and North Korea (our enemy for half a century) have both shown more willingness than Saddam H. to share their WMD capacity. Both have them, for one thing; and both have made moves to share, for another. Saddam H's ties to terrorism really rest on only one program of his: his support of Palestinian families of mass murdering suicide bombers. This was awful, and it would have been appropriate for Israel to declare war on Saddam for that reason alone. But anything more? Well, no. (I will not address an implication of this point, that America is playing guard dog to Israel, and that the whole foray might have been to help Israel, and for no other reason. That's a possibility. Neither candidate will admit it. And I doubt if the moderators would allow the question to be asked. I suspect that this is a partial explanation for actual U.S. government behavior, but won't address it again in this essay.) But don't expect Bush to linger over a truthful analysis of the region's geopolitics; Bush, instead, spins his analysis further out of all bounds of rationality:
He was trying to get rid of sanctions for a reason: He wanted to restart his weapons programs. We all thought there was weapons there, Robin. My opponent thought there was weapons there. That's why he called him a grave threat.
Nice grammar, Mr. President.
But the thing he dare not mention — no one dares mention in public debate — is the real reason Saddam H. wanted weapons of mass destruction . . . not to give them away, but to use them in the same way that the Soviet Union and the United States used them for years: to ward off wars of conquest. That's the primary purpose for such weapons: self-defense. Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) worked. Though the USSR and the USA came close to exchanging nuclear blows, both feared retaliation by the other enough to cave, to avoid coming to direct blows. MAD forestalled open conflict until the USSR collapsed — though extended warfare in satellite states did occur, each power tweaking the other (Vietnam, Korea, and Afghanistan being the three major occasions).
Now, when one thinks on the nature of the MAD strategy, a more nuanced view is in order: perhaps the reason the U.S. went to war against Saddam H. was to prevent him from obtaining a future ability to defend himself with WMDs. The lie at the heart of the Bush administration's case — and, I think, the lie at the heart of Kerry's vote to give the administration latitude to end the Ba'athist regime — is the tacit knowledge they demonstrated, the knowledge that Iraq had no WMD retaliatory capacity. They all knew the Ba'athists lacked power to defend themselves with WMDs, and so they attacked early, pre-emptively, before such WMDs would developed. And beneath this lie we find the heart of the issue: a desire (not yet explained) to topple one dictator, but not others.
The official reason is an obvious lie. It's lie coming from Rumsfeld; it's a lie coming from Bush; it's a lie coming from Kerry. After all, how likely is it that a nation-state would give away WMDs? WMDs can be traced. We know where any nuclear bomb comes from. American science is that good. So if Iran gives a bomb to Al Qaeda, and Al Qaeda sneaks it into Washington, D.C., and explodes the U.S. Constitution along with several million of the city's inhabitants, within a week or so the government would know. And retaliate. Bomb the hell out of Tehran, and other major Iranian cities to boot. Iran knows this, so why would it give? It wouldn't. It develops these weapons to prevent America from attacking it. America won't want to risk a nuclear response to an attack. You see the strategy? WMDs are effective in preventing war. America attacked Iraq to prevent it from developing something like invulnerability. So America pre-emptively conquered the nation. For reasons unstated.
I wasn't happy when we found out there wasn't weapons, and we've got an intelligence group together to figure out why. But Saddam Hussein was a unique threat. And the world is better off without him in power. And my opponent's plans lead me to conclude that Saddam Hussein would still be in power, and the world would be more dangerous. Thank you, sir.
He and everyone else with a lick of sense knew there would be no weapons. If there had been such weapons, they would have been used, and we would all have regretted that. This is all just so much dishonesty.
What Bush regrets was not finding anything more than a hint of a WMD program. So the pre-emptive war, to get rid of Saddam H's
unique threat, proved utterly unjustified, since there was no threat, and nothing unique about him.
Oh, I take that back. Of course there was something unique; it's just that what made him unique had nothing to do with WMDs. He had a history with the U.S. During the Reagan years, Donald Rumsfeld had shaken his hand and given him weapons of mass destruction. The American government cheered him on as he fought a losing war with Iran. During the first Bush administration, the administration gave him the green light to attack his neighbor, Kuwait. Then, when the attack happened, we betrayed our signal and went to war with him. And then we pulled back, and prepared for a long siege.
So he was unique. He was the only evil dictator left in the world with such a long and tight history with the U.S. He was an embarrassment. Instead of honestly treating him as a creature of U.S. machinations, and as someone to be
put down, with apologies to his people and his neighbors, the Bush administration and Congress treated him as a threat more than as what he was, an embarrassment.
In doing so, Bush lied, Congress lied, and the U.S. put on the mantle of Just Conqueror, and lied in the stance.
No wonder the rest of the world has come to hate America more, and the Bush administration a whole lots more. We are all wary of conquerors, and especially those that lie and seem to
get away with lying.
But it's not just Bush. The basic dishonesty is widely shared in the U.S. government. Consider Kerry's very politic response:
The world is more dangerous today. The world is more dangerous today because the president didn't make the right judgments. Now, the president wishes that I had changed my mind. He wants you to believe that because he can't come here and tell you that he's created new jobs for America. He's lost jobs. He can't come here and tell you that he's created health care for Americans because, what, we've got 5 million Americans who have lost their health care, 96,000 of them right here in Missouri.
He can't come here and tell you that he's left no child behind because he didn't fund No Child Left Behind. So what does he do? He's trying to attack me. He wants you to believe that I can't be president. And he's trying to make you believe it because he wants you to think I change my mind.
Horrible thing, admitting to changing one's mind!
For my part, it's worse to go on for more than a paragraph addressing another issue entirely. I hate these types of debaters. And Kerry's a good one, addressing as many points as possible, avoiding as long as he can the issue at hand. But he does sort of address it:
Well, let me tell you straight up: I've never changed my mind about Iraq. I do believe Saddam Hussein was a threat. I always believed he was a threat. Believed it in 1998 when Clinton was president. I wanted to give Clinton the power to use force if necessary.
But I would have used that force wisely, I would have used that authority wisely, not rushed to war without a plan to win the peace. I would have brought our allies to our side. I would have fought to make certain our troops had everybody possible [sic: possible what?] to help them win the mission. This president rushed to war, pushed our allies aside. And Iran now is more dangerous, and so is North Korea, with nuclear weapons. He took his eye off the ball, off of Osama bin Laden.
And what he won't admit is that Saddam H. was not a threat. Not a threat to the U.S. anyway. His nuclear program was much less developed than Iran's or North Korea's, and yet he still talks about Saddam H. being a threat. A
grave threat. What nonsense.
This business about allying with other nations, ganging up on the miscreant nations, well, this may be a good idea, or it may not be. But it's obviously the wrong point regarding the Ba'athist regime in Iraq. The decade-long siege obviously worked. We had every reason to believe it worked. It is obvious, also, that this did not matter to the Bush administration, which had another agenda in play regarding Iraq.
So what is Kerry's possible agenda in pretending that the Ba'athists remained a threat to the U.S.?
The answer is probably quite simple. He had only one agenda: get elected. At the time of the vote regarding Iraq's possible conquest, he went along with the majority of politicians, simply because he assumed that's where the majority of the voters would be in a few years, too. The issue, he thought, would largely be over. He could concentrate on the economy and the budget and the children, ah, the children.
He was a follower, not a leader.
And, for that reason, he could not get my vote.
Bush, the liar, won't get my vote either.
Both the Green and Libertarian candidates for the presidency seem to have more balanced views regarding warfare. Both realize that there has been a great deal of self-deception and dishonesty about America's war stance. The conquest was carried on not in honesty, like a noble republic should carry on its foreign policy, but with half-truths and lies. Greens and Libertarians share a healthy skepticism about mainstream war-mongering. Both deserve more attention and praise for their judicious skepticism.
But skepticism should not be equated with an unwillingness to hazard belief where certainty is impossible. We know how Bush got the
information he wanted from his underlings (it takes no advanced degree in semiotics; simple behaviorism could explain it: do what Bush did, demand revision after revision until you get something you want). And we have reason to believe that Kerry, a Senator rarely in attendance on the Senate floor or in Senate meetings, didn't even look at the information much to make his decisions.
So. Voting for either candidate is to vote for dishonesty and irresponsibility. So we make do with justified conjectures. Until they prove otherwise, we have reason to believe very bad things about both of them. Their very avoidance of the real issues demonstrates our cause for suspecting them of knavery and folly. Don't vote for either man.
But some say this isn't practical. As voters, we must choose between the two; you
waste your vote otherwise. The real question is which candidate is the lesser evil.
Well? Would Kerry be better than Bush? Probably. Maybe. Possibly. But that slim possibility of an improvement isn't much of a reason to vote for him. And to knowingly vote for a person who steadily avoids confronting the obvious truths — what kind of signal would that send?
The only good reason to vote for Kerry is to punish Bush. Frankly, a better strategy would be to vote a minor party and then pressure one's representative and Senators to impeach and remove Bush from office.
But that isn't going to happen, in part because too many Americans put partisan allegiances above allegiance to the truth. Too many Americans are just as dishonest as Bush and Kerry.
After that sad note, I'll conclude with comedy. Here's Bush's counter to Kerry's feint:
My opponent said that America must pass a global test before we used force to protect ourselves. That's the kind of mindset that says sanctions were working. That's the kind of mindset that said,Let's keep it at the United Nations and hope things go well.Saddam Hussein was a threat because he could have given weapons of mass destruction to terrorist enemies. Sanctions were not working. The United Nations was not effective at removing Saddam Hussein.
This is a mere string of assertions. Sanctions obviously had worked. There was no working WMD program in Iraq. And giving non-existent weapons to our enemies? Big threat; utter nonsense! And as for the last point, Kerry said it well:
The goal of the sanctions was not to remove Saddam Hussein, it was to remove the weapons of mass destruction. And, Mr. President, just yesterday the Duelfer report told you and the whole world they worked. He didn't have weapons of mass destruction, Mr. President. That was the objective. And if we'd used smart diplomacy, we could have saved $200 billion and an invasion of Iraq. And right now, Osama bin Laden might be in jail or dead. That's the war against terror.
Touché. But Mr. Kerry, if Saddam H. had no WMDs, then he wasn't even remotely a threat. And so you obviously erred in saying that he was. And you persistent in saying that he was. So why do you persist in this error? By what logic was he a threat? You have not explained this. You keep avoiding this.
And let's face it: calling for diplomacy against a non-threat is idiotic. Diplomacy wouldn't have uncovered the truth, because you didn't want to hear the truth. It's hard to prove a negative. The inspectors couldn't find a WMD program. A bunch of hysterics in high places believed such a program existed. So you all — Bush, Kerry, and even some benighted inspectors — said that inspection
wasn't working. What wasn't working was the rationality of people in high places.
Bush says that you looked at the same information, and you obviously
bought that information, unless you just glossed over and went along with the crowd, as I hazard. You either couldn't or wouldn't see through the nonsense. When that nonsense was apparent to me and thousands of others outside the corridors of power. So your clever, well-worded responses and charges, now, are mere hindsight corrections, and do not really address your past decisions.
So why should anyone believe you now when you won't confront your past errors?
There you have it. Bush obviously had another agenda than WMDs in deciding to conquer the Ba'athist regime in Iraq. This makes him a lying knave. Kerry erred in his appraisal of the information that the Bush administration provided. This would make him a fool. But I don't believe it. Kerry is obviously quite smart. I believe he glossed over the information and
went along with the crowd. This makes him a knave, too, though perhaps of a lower sort.
So why would any person of honesty and integrity vote for either man?
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