Going It Alone
The Half-Truths and Consequences of George W. Bush's War Speech
"Many Iraqis can hear me tonight in a translated radio broadcast," President Bush said during his "48 hours" declaration on Monday, March 17. Here's hoping the Arabic translation came with a bullshit detector, because Bush's speech was heavy on the BS and light on the facts. Indeed, having flopped at the UN, on the streets of London, in the Turkish parliament, and even in U.S. opinion polls prior to his speech, Bush turned up the hyperbole to plead his case--One. More. Time. Any translation of Bush's speech surely picked up what was so plain about his TV performance: He "doth protest too much." Simply put, Bush's heavy-handed pronouncements merely revealed that the president can't make a compelling case for war at this time.
The president told us: "Many nations... have the resolve and fortitude to act against this threat to peace. And a broad coalition is now gathering to enforce the just demands of the world."
Translation: "I couldn't convince many world leaders to support invading Iraq, but even without an impressive coalition lined up, I'm invading anyway."
For starters, Bush didn't name his allies, choosing to rely on resumé-puffery language like "broad coalition" and "many nations." Britain? Spain? And, um... Bulgaria? I mean, that's not much of a "gathering." Heck, by the morning following Bush's speech, three members of Tony Blair's cabinet had resigned to protest Britain's support for the war. Blair himself hangs by a thread, and we may lose the Brits before the first bombs fall.
Meanwhile, what's Bush referring to when he invokes "the just demands of the world"? Sure, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1441 unanimously. But while citing Iraq's lack of compliance with previous UN resolutions mandating disarmament, 1441 also called for another vote on military action. Clearly, given that Bush chickened out of another UN vote, the "demands of the world" don't include U.S. MOABs (Massive Ordnance Air Blast bombs) and troops crushing Iraq at this time.
The president told us: "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.... It has aided, trained, and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al Qaeda."
Translation: "I don't have the goods on Hussein's weapons-of-mass-destruction program, or on Hussein's terrorist ties." If Bush had the evidence, he would show it to us--not just assure us that he's got it.
Where's the beef, Mr. President?
For months now, presidential advisers have been saying that the president would make his case to the American people on the eve of launching war against Iraq. It turns out Bush's case is founded more on bold assertions than on hard facts. And while a majority of Americans (despite Bush's lack of evidence) might feel compelled to support the president now, the rest of the world isn't buying. As a result of Bush's faulty logic, we're going it mostly alone, without UN support.
Does the Iraqi regime currently have a credible, advancing nuclear weapons program? No. Does it have some chemical and biological weapons ferreted away out of sight of the weapons inspectors? Probably. Did it offer medical treatment to one injured, midlevel al Qaeda operative for a couple of months, as Colin Powell claimed in his presentation to the United Nations? Maybe.
Where is the smoking-gun evidence that Iraq is currently a direct threat to the United States? Maybe it is unreasonable to expect Bush to make a cut-and-dried case along the lines of Adlai Stevenson's dramatic presentation to the UN of spy photos showing Soviet launchers during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. But if the best our government (and the Brits) can come up with is forged documents, as they did a couple of weeks ago in trying to claim that Iraq was purchasing uranium until 2001, then there's reason to wonder about the strength of their case.
The president told us: "The terrorist threat to America... will be diminished the moment that Saddam Hussein is disarmed.... Should enemies strike our country, they would be attempting to shift our attention with panic and weaken our morale with fear.... We will not be intimidated by thugs and killers.... We choose to meet that threat now where it arises, before it can appear suddenly in our skies and cities."
Translation: "9/11, 9/11, 9/11!!! America is the victim. Saddam Hussein is Osama bin Laden."
While it's certainly not paranoid to talk about the terrorist threat to America, Bush's attempt to recapture the moral high ground he held in the wake of 9/11 only highlighted how far Bush--and by extension, all Americans--has tumbled since the world rallied round the U.S. in the months after the attacks. He's also mixing and matching his history in order to exploit what's left of post-9/11 sympathy for his tangential war of choice. The president has done a good job of manipulating credulous and ill-informed Americans into believing Iraqis were behind 9/11; more than 40 percent of Americans now believe this to be the case. But it simply isn't true. Remember, Osama bin Laden recently called the Iraqi leadership "infidels." Bush's exercise in Mad Libs history, if you will, is an insult to Americans who do feel a renewed sense of patriotism and resolve after 9/11.
The president told us: "In desperation, [Hussein] and terrorist groups might try to conduct terrorist operations against the American people and our friends."
Translation: "I'm willing to undermine the war on terrorism and incite new terrorist strikes in order to knock out the Iraqis."
In this remarkable statement, Bush is conceding that America is simultaneously engaged in two distinct wars, and that the one almost all of us support--the war against al Qaeda--is less important than the one against Iraq.
The hawks in the cabinet want us to believe that a decisive strike against Iraq will cow terrorists, and in the long run make them less likely to attack us. Of course, just the opposite is true; without UN support, Bush is creating the worldwide impression that the U.S. is an imperialist aggressor. Just when the antiterrorism war seemed like it was making progress, Bush called for a war almost certain to create a new wave of anti-American terrorism. (By raising the terrorist threat level to code orange after Bush's speech, the government acknowledged this fact.)
The president told us: "The Iraqi people are deserving and capable of human liberty. And when the dictator has departed, they can set an example to all the Middle East of a vital and peaceful and self-governing nation."
Translation: "I'm really for democracy. HONEST!"
We'd like to believe that Bush's intentions in the Middle East are pure Thomas Paine and that the president aches to bring democracy to the region, but it's hard to go along with him. If democracy is so important to Bush, why has the run-up to his war on Iraq disrespected democracy at every step? Bush is flouting votes at the UN, badmouthing Turkey for its parliamentary vote, and working with Saudi Arabia--an autocratic state. There's also the sorry state of Afghanistan and the Bush administration's support for a 2002 coup against a democratically elected president of Venezuela--and let's not even bring up the disputed election that put Bush in the White House.
This Iraq war will likely be short. Victory is inevitable. Saddam Hussein will be deposed. The Bush administration will have a couple of months to bask in the glory of an easy win. But by going it alone, we will be paying the price of this war for years to come--not only in money and lost credibility, but in American lives.