From the Daou Report
THE STRAW MEN OF IRAQ
Ten Pro-War Fallacies
Friday's hastily staged congressional vote on withdrawal from Iraq may have been designed to embarrass John Murtha, but the raucous session offered valuable insight into the various rationales for war and the tactics used to attack Democrats who oppose Bush's Iraq policy. A parade of House Republicans went after the Dems and laid out a surprisingly weak case for the invasion and continued occupation of Iraq. Here, in my view, are ten of the leading pro-war fallacies...
1. VIRTUALLY EVERYONE WHO SAW THE INTELLIGENCE BELIEVED SADDAM HAD WMD, THEREFORE BUSH IS BEING UNFAIRLY SINGLED OUT FOR CRITICISM
The typical framing is: "Democrats got the same intelligence and reached the same conclusion, so blaming Bush for misleading America is purely political." The argument is also presented in 'gotcha' form by people like Sean Hannity, who use a lengthy blind quote about the threat posed by Saddam that turns out to be from Bill Clinton, John Kerry or some other Democrat. The conclusion is that if Bush was lying, they must have been lying too.
There is a false assumption underlying this argument, namely that Dems received the same intel as Bush (they didn't), but setting that aside, here are two reasons why this is a straw man:
a) The issue is not whether people believed Saddam had WMD (many did), or whether there was any evidence that he had WMD (there was), it's the fact that Bush and his administration made an absolute, unconditional case with the evidence at hand, brooking no dissent and dismissing doubters inside and outside the government as cowardly or treasonous. That's what "manipulating the intelligence" and "misleading the public" refers to, the knowing exaggeration of the case for war (whether by cherry-picking intel or using defunct intel or by speaking about ambiguous intel in alarming absolutes). As I wrote in this post: "There we were, more than a decade after the first gulf war, two years after 9/11, and Saddam hadn’t attacked us, he hadn’t threatened to attack us. And then suddenly, he was the biggest threat to America. A threat that required a massive invasion. A bigger threat than Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Iran, Bin Laden. A HUGE, IMMEDIATE threat. It simply defied belief."
b) In addition to the fear-mongering described above, the contention that Bush 'misled' the public is not simply about Saddam's WMD, but about the way the administration stormed ahead with their plans and invaded Iraq in the way they did, at the time they did, with the Pollyannaish visions they fed the world, all the while demonizing dissent and smearing their critics.
In both (a) and (b), the crux of the issue is proportionality. Whether or not Bill Clinton or France or the U.N. believed Saddam was a threat, the administration's apocalyptic words and drastic actions (preemptively invading a sovereign nation) were decidedly out of proportion to the level and immediacy of the threat. THAT is the issue.
2. AFTER 9/11, WE CAN'T WAIT FOR THE THREAT TO MATERIALIZE BEFORE TAKING ACTION
This is often used as a counterpoint to the notion that Bush overhyped the rationale for war. It's a vacuous argument whose logic implies we should invade a half-dozen African countries as well as North Korea, China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Every day that goes by that Bush allows these threats to "materialize," he is failing in his duties to protect the American public and should be impeached. And if the pushback is that North Korea and others are being dealt with diplomatically, isn't that exactly the approach this argument purports to refute?
Furthermore, the war's opponents never claimed they'd prefer to "wait" for threats to materialize. This is another straw man. Nobody wants to wait for threats to materialize; they just want to deal with them differently.
3. DEMOCRATS "VOTED FOR" AND THUS "SUPPORTED" THE WAR
The Iraq War Resolution (IWR) debate has been flogged to death, so there's no need to fully resurrect it here. Suffice it to say that:
a) Many elected Democrats did NOT vote in favor of the resolution. Not to mention the millions of rank and filers who marched down the streets of our cities and were largely ignored by the press and brushed off by Bush. So to say, generically, that Democrats "supported the war" or to imply that there was tepid resistance to it, is false.
b) No matter how many people contest this point, a vote to give Bush authority WAS NOT a vote "for war." Bush also had the authority NOT to invade. Since Republicans are so fond of quoting John Kerry in support of the case for WMD, here are his words on the floor of the Senate the day of the Iraq War Resolution vote.
"In giving the President this authority, I expect him to fulfill the commitments he has made to the American people in recent days--to work with the United Nations Security Council to adopt a new resolution setting out tough and immediate inspection requirements, and to act with our allies at our side if we have to disarm Saddam Hussein by force. If he fails to do so, I will be among the first to speak out.
"If we do wind up going to war with Iraq, it is imperative that we do so with others in the international community, unless there is a showing of a grave, imminent--and I emphasize "imminent''--threat to this country which requires the President to respond in a way that protects our immediate national security needs.
"Prime Minister Tony Blair has recognized a similar need to distinguish how we approach this. He has said that he believes we should move in concert with allies, and he has promised his own party that he will not do so otherwise. The administration may not be in the habit of building coalitions, but that is what they need to do. And it is what can be done. If we go it alone without reason, we risk inflaming an entire region, breeding a new generation of terrorists, a new cadre of anti-American zealots, and we will be less secure, not more secure, at the end of the day, even with Saddam Hussein disarmed.
"Let there be no doubt or confusion about where we stand on this. I will support a multilateral effort to disarm him by force, if we ever exhaust those other options, as the President has promised, but I will not support a unilateral U.S. war against Iraq unless that threat is imminent and the multilateral effort has not proven possible under any circumstances."
Not exactly an endorsement of Bush's approach or a vote "for war." And a good retort to those who argue that Democrats are "rewriting history."
4. TALK OF WITHDRAWAL "SENDS THE WRONG MESSAGE" AND "EMBOLDENS THE ENEMY"
To borrow Samuel Johnson's immortal words, this argument, like (false) patriotism, is the "last refuge of scoundrels." Implying that opposing views are treasonous is the surest way to stifle dissent.
And it's a cheap way to avoid confronting hard questions. Such as: Does anyone seriously believe that Bush's course of action in Iraq has intimidated or deterred the enemy? Doesn't the fact that the insurgency is as strong as ever "embolden" the enemy?
The sobering truth is that there are dozens of recent events and actions that 'embolden the enemy' far more than advocating a disciplined, phased redeployment. Torture of detainees, the use of white phosphorus as an offensive weapon, the curtailing of civil liberties at home, the shameful abandonment of American citizens in the aftermath of Katrina, the cynical outing of CIA agents, the smearing of war critics as traitors, these are far more encouraging to America's enemies. If we are truly engaged in a clash of civilizations, an epic battle against "Islamofascism," then our enemies are far more interested in the destruction of those things that are quintessentially American and that give us the moral high ground (freedom of speech, adherence to international law, upholding ethical norms and standards, respect for human rights, etc.) than strategic redeployment in Iraq.
5. A WITHDRAWAL FROM IRAQ WOULD HAVE CATASTROPHIC CONSEQUENCES
If I learned anything from living in Beirut, it's that predicting the outcome of sectarian divisions in the Middle East is a fool's game. The shifting alliances, the internal pressures, the regional influences, make it next to impossible to say whether or not the removal of American forces would further destabilize Iraq.
It's also grimly amusing that we're expected to believe the prognostications of the very people who told us we'd be greeted as liberators.
For every foreign policy expert who says that Iraq will be worse off without U.S. troops, there's another who will tell you the exact opposite is true. In the absence of any sound predictive capabilities, the endgame should be based on the opening: i.e. the sooner you end something that started out wrong and has had terrible consequences, the better.
For those who counter with the Pottery Barn rule (we broke it we should fix it), the question is: What's the statute of limitations on that rule? What if we can't fix what's broken in Iraq? Is there a point at which we acknowledge we can't fix it and stop trying? Is our attempt to 'fix' Iraq breaking it even further? Also, are there other things we've broken that we're obliged to fix before we try to fix Iraq? Is there a reason our limited resources should go to fixing Iraq and not saving poor, sick, and hungry children in America?
Go now and read the rest.