The war in Iraq was the right mistake to make (Jonathan Rauch, Feb. 10, 2004, Jewish World Review)

Yes, Saddam’s missile program was a violation — one of many — of his commitments to the United Nations. Yes, he retained scientists who knew how to kill thousands. Yes, he is a very bad man whom everyone is well rid of. But it is useless to maintain that the apparent absence of any major stocks of biological or chemical weapons, and of a viable nuclear bomb program, is anything less than a severe embarrassment for advocates of the war. Me included.

Like many Americans, I was a gradual, and never altogether enthusiastic, convert to the war. I wondered if it would divert attention and resources from other fronts. I worried about the bloodshed and the occupation. Above all, I thought containment seemed to have worked.

In the end, I was swayed by two factors. One was France. When the issue became one of American credibility in the face of a concerted foreign campaign to take the United States down a peg or two, it became important to show that America means business where its security is concerned.

Even that, however, would not have tipped me but for the other factor. People whom I trusted — the president, the secretary of State, the British prime minister, many others — said that containment had already failed as far as chemical and biological weapons were concerned. Nukes, they said, might not be far down the road. Better to react too soon than too late.

Mr. Rauch is a perceptive critic of American democracy and wrote one of the best profiles of George W. Bush we’ve read. But in the latter he did underestimate the meaning of even his own analysis of Mr. Bush. Although, 0on the one hand, he says that :

Bush’s mentality seems more like that of an entrepreneurial CEO than of a conventional politician: He tends to look for strategies that cut to the heart of the problem at hand, rather than strategies that minimize conflict. “He doesn’t like ‘small ball’ — that’s his term,” one of his aides says.

“My faith frees me,” Bush writes, early in his book. “Frees me to make the decisions that others might not like. Frees me to try to do the right thing, even though it may not poll well. Frees me to enjoy life and not worry about what comes next.” He clearly is not a man who fears failure.

He, on the other hand, terms him the “Accidental Radical”, seemingly unable to draw the connection between playing big ball and being a radical.

So it’s predictable, though not necessarily forgivable, that he was fooled as badly as he states above by the WMD argument. No literate person can have been unaware that WMD was a mere pretext for war, added rather late in the game, as a means of trying to get the UN on board and to assuage the more moderate tendencies of folks like Tony Blair, Colin Powell, and, yes, the Jonathan Rauch’s of the world.

Thankfully, the Web often provides us the opportunity to resurrect the past before it disappears down the memory hole. Here is a crystal clear example of the kind of story that was being written even in the major media in the months before WMD became the plotline. Reading it no is a helpful reintroduction to reality, “We’re Taking Him Out”: His war on Iraq may be delayed, but Bush still vows to remove Saddam. Here’s a look at White House plans (DANIEL EISENBERG, May. 05, 2002, TIME)

Two months ago, a group of Republican and Democratic Senators went to the White House to meet with Condoleezza Rice, the President’s National Security Adviser. Bush was not scheduled to attend but poked his head in anyway — and soon turned the discussion to Iraq. The President has strong feelings about Saddam Hussein (you might too if the man had tried to assassinate your father, which Saddam attempted to do when former President George Bush visited Kuwait in 1993) and did not try to hide them. He showed little interest in debating what to do about Saddam. Instead, he became notably animated, according to one person in the room, used a vulgar epithet to refer to Saddam and concluded with four words that left no one in doubt about Bush’s intentions: “We’re taking him out.”

Dick Cheney carried the same message to Capitol Hill in late March. The Vice President dropped by a Senate Republican policy lunch soon after his 10-day tour of the Middle East — the one meant to drum up support for a U.S. military strike against Iraq. As everyone in the room well knew, his mission had been thrown off course by the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. But Cheney hadn’t lost focus. Before he spoke, he said no one should repeat what he said, and Senators and staff members promptly put down their pens and pencils. Then he gave them some surprising news. The question was no longer if the U.S. would attack Iraq, he said. The only question was when.

The U.S. appears ready to do whatever it takes to get rid of the Iraqi dictator once and for all. But while there is plenty of will, there still is no clearly effective way to move against Saddam. Senior Administration officials at the highest levels of planning say there are few good options. Saddam’s internal security makes a successful coup unlikely. The Iraqi opposition is weak and scattered. And this is a war that the rest of the world, with the possible exception of Britain, is not eager for America to wage. While key allies in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, would be more than happy to see Saddam go, they are too busy worrying about their own angry citizens — and quietly profiting from trade with Iraq — to help. A senior Arab official needed only one word to sum up the region’s view of any possible military action: “Ridiculous.” Yet Cheney gave the Senate policy lunch a very different view. He said the same European and Middle Eastern allies who publicly denounce a possible military strike had privately supported the idea.

Maybe so, but even the Administration has conceded that the Middle East crisis has shoved action against Iraq onto the back burner. When the White House announced a Middle East peace conference last week, a senior Administration official said, “This is a detour, and we have to get around it.” Hard-liners, however, think delaying an attack against Saddam because of the Middle East conflict simply means giving him breathing space to perfect his weapons of mass destruction. “Time is not on our side, and Saddam is running out the clock,” says Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, a conservative think tank.

Though there is a near consensus in Washington that the U.S. can no longer afford the failed containment policy of the past decade, which consisted of sanctions, no-fly zones in the north and south and periodic bombings, there is no real agreement on how or how quickly to achieve “regime change” in Iraq. For all the tough talk along the Potomac, the only war now being waged is the one involving the White House, State Department and Pentagon over how and when to move against Saddam.

A front-page story in the New York Times on April 28 claimed that Bush had all but settled on a full-scale ground invasion of Iraq early next year with between 70,000 and 250,000 U.S. troops. But military and civilian officials insist that there is no finalized battle plan or timetable — and that Bush has not even been presented with a formal list of options. Instead, the Times story, with its vision of a large-scale troop deployment, seems to have been the latest volley in the bureaucratic war at home, leaked by uniformed officers who think some of their civilian overseers have been downplaying the size and difficulty of an attack.

Still, planning for some kind of military action is clearly under way. Earlier this year, Bush signed a supersecret intelligence “finding” that authorized further action to prepare for Saddam’s ouster. Mindful of widespread concern that a post-Saddam Iraq could quickly be torn apart by ethnic violence and regional meddling, the White House is increasing its efforts to devise a workable replacement government.

Over the past month, CIA and State Department officials have met with long-feuding Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani to help them bury the hatchet. At a top-secret gathering in Berlin in April, the CIA discussed with them how the U.S. could protect the Kurds if Saddam retaliated against them after a U.S. attack. Also on the U.S. agenda are critical logistical issues, from the condition of roads and airports in the area to how soon Iraqi exiles could be sent into training. (Late last week Barzani confirmed to Time that there was a meeting of Kurdish leaders in Berlin, but denied that the CIA was involved.) While the Kurds, whose forces number about 85,000, could act as a proxy army in the north, they are wary of sacrificing their newfound autonomy (their land is protected by the northern no-fly zone, which is patrolled by U.S. and British planes) for vague promises of a better future. But after watching how the minority Northern Alliance grabbed a major share of power in post-Taliban Afghanistan, they are now asking for a major role in any future Iraqi government, rather than just regional rights, as a price for their cooperation.

Invasion is not the only alternative being considered, but it is the most likely. Taking the Afghanistan campaign as their model, many proponents of action, including Senator John McCain, still believe that before the U.S. commits to a full-scale invasion, it’s worth trying to overthrow Saddam in a proxy war with the help of a local opposition force much like the Northern Alliance, aided by American special forces and air power. But the Iraqi opposition, made up of Kurds in the north and Shi’ite Muslims in the south, is fragmented, largely untested and faced with an Iraqi army much larger and more sophisticated than the one the Northern Alliance helped vanquish in Afghanistan. Given Saddam’s brutal record of using chemical weapons against the Kurds and the U.S.’s past failure to help rebelling Kurds as well as Shi’ites in the south, Iraqis would be understandably wary of heeding an American call to rise up. […]

Hawks like Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Defense Policy Board chief Richard Perle strongly believe that after years of American sanctions and periodic air assaults, the Iraqi leader is weaker than most people believe. Rumsfeld has been so determined to find a rationale for an attack that on 10 separate occasions he asked the CIA to find evidence linking Iraq to the terror attacks of Sept. 11. The intelligence agency repeatedly came back empty-handed. The best hope for Iraqi ties to the attack — a report that lead hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence official in the Czech Republic — was discredited last week.

If links between Iraq and the Sept. 11 conspirators are elusive, links to al-Qaeda may not be. In the past three years, an armed group of Islamic extremists now known as Ansar al-Islam, led in part by a suspected Iraqi intelligence agent, Abu Wa’el, has waged a terror campaign in Kurdistan. Most recently, in April, three militants tried to kill the Prime Minister of eastern Kurdistan just as a State Department official was visiting the region. “It was a message to the U.S.,” says a Kurdish investigator. Many of the 700 to 800 members of the group were trained by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and have returned to Kurdistan since the fighting last year at Tora Bora, according to Kurdish officials.

With hard-liners seizing on such testimony as reason to attack, it falls to Secretary of State Colin Powell — whom many Administration hawks blame for preventing a march on Baghdad at the end of the Gulf War — to play the lonely diplomat. While batting down rumors that he is fed up and quitting, Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, are close to getting a new set of Iraqi sanctions at the U.N. But other Administration principals fear that Saddam is working his own U.N. angle for the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq, whose presence could make the U.S. look like a bully if it invades. “The White House’s biggest fear is that U.N. weapons inspectors will be allowed to go in,” says a top Senate foreign policy aide.

From the moment he took office, Bush has made noises about finishing the job his father started. Sept. 11 may have diverted his attention, but Iraq has never been far from his mind. By the end of 2001, diplomats were discussing how to enlist the support of Arab allies, the military was sharpening its troop estimates, and the communications team was plotting how to sell an attack to the American public. The whole purpose of putting Iraq into Bush’s State of the Union address, as part of the “axis of evil,” was to begin the debate about a possible invasion.

Note particularly that you have a President who has long before made his decision and also just how minimal is the specter of WMD to the entire drama.

Did Bush, Cheney, And Powell Deliberately Mislead Us? (Stuart Taylor Jr., Feb. 9, 2004, National Journal)

Some degree of selective disclosure and one-sided advocacy is to be expected — indeed, unavoidable — when any president uses enormously complex intelligence findings to rally support for a war. But this administration’s outward certitude amid undisclosed intelligence-community doubts was more selective, and thus more misleading, than it needed to be. By airbrushing out the uncertainties, Bush, Cheney, and Powell denied us the opportunity to reach fully informed judgments about a matter of incalculably grave consequence.

Would many supporters of the war have been opposed had Bush, Cheney, and Powell been more candid? Not in my case. In a post-9/11 world, Saddam’s defiant behavior and the risk of Iraq’s acquiring nuclear weapons would have provided a casus belli even had I known everything Bush knew. (I might well have had a different view, however, had I also known that Saddam’s WMD were mostly a mirage.)

Nor was the administration’s intelligence-spinning deceptive in the same sense as, say, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s secret, illegal (although noble) transfers of arms to Great Britain early in World War II. But a president who seeks to lead us into a war of choice owes us a more balanced assessment than Bush provided.

How far Bush and Cheney have fallen short of reasonably full disclosure is a question on which the independent commission now being formed should provide timely guidance for voters. Whether Bush and Cheney were candid enough to be entrusted with another term is a question that voters must answer for themselves.


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