How Clueless was Bush? 

How Clueless was Bush?

Glenn Reynolds, apparently still brooding about the "Bush lied" charge (and perhaps brooding even more that the only alternative is that Bush was completely clueless), links to this from the Chicago Tribune:

In measuring risks to this country, the administration relied on the same intelligence agencies, in the U.S. and overseas, that failed to anticipate Sept. 11, 2001. We now know that the White House explained some but not enough of the ambiguities embedded in those agencies' conclusions. By not stressing what wasn't known as much as what was, the White House wound up exaggerating allegations that proved dead wrong.

Those flawed assertions are central to the charge that the president lied. Such accusations, though, can unfairly conflate three issues: the strength of the case Bush argued before the war, his refusal to delay its launch in March 2003 and his administration's failure to better anticipate the chaos that would follow. Those three are important, but not to be confused with one another.

After reassessing the administration's nine arguments for war, we do not see the conspiracy to mislead that many critics allege. Example: The accusation that Bush lied about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs overlooks years of global intelligence warnings that, by February 2003, had convinced even French President Jacques Chirac of "the probable possession of weapons of mass destruction by an uncontrollable country, Iraq." We also know that, as early as 1997, U.S. intel agencies began repeatedly warning the Clinton White House that Iraq, with fissile material from a foreign source, could have a crude nuclear bomb within a year.

Seventeen days before the war, this page reluctantly urged the president to launch it. We said that every earnest tool of diplomacy with Iraq had failed to improve the world's security, stop the butchery--or rationalize years of UN inaction. We contended that Saddam Hussein, not George W. Bush, had demanded this conflict.

Many people of patriotism and integrity disagreed with us and still do. But the totality of what we know now--what this matrix chronicles-- affirms for us our verdict of March 2, 2003. We hope these editorials help Tribune readers assess theirs.

Nice of them to make it clear they have their own butts to cover on this. And how reassuring that there are still three distinct screw-ups that can be kept neatly distinct.

So: a shot at the CIA and other agencies. You didn't predict 9/11 (or was it just that Bush couldn't be bothered getting briefed on al Qaeda?), you didn't predict the end of the Cold War, you've been wrong on a lot of big things (often, er, over-estimating the threat posed by U.S. enemies--that's how bureaucracies grow in Washington): so no wonder if you misled poor, innocent President Bush and the editorial staff of the poor, under-funded Chicago Tribune. Sniff.

So: there was a consensus that was, let us say, 70% wrong, and the Bushies were 100% wrong. How did they go from 70% to 100%? Did they dig themselves into a deeper cave of ignorance than anyone else? "Exaggerating allegations that proved dead wrong"? That sounds a bit worse than the old Churchill chestnut, "terminological inexactitude."

Lots of people thought Saddam had WMDs of some kind; how many ever suggested he actually had, or could quickly acquire, nukes in early 2003? Weren't the latest and best intelligence reports all to the contrary effect? (Setting aside reports from 1997).

Later the Trib says: "Hussein didn't have illicit weapons stockpiles to wield or hand to terrorists. Subsequent investigations have concluded he had the means and intent to rekindle those programs as soon as he escaped UN sanctions." Means? No. "Weapons of mass destruction related program activities" could mean anything or nothing. A couple of Ph.D's in chemistry living somewhere in Iraq? Or what? Was Saddam's Iraq any closer to having nukes, or any number of other WMDs, than 50 or more other Third World countries? Does any of this justify invading Iraq in March 2003? Hasn't Bush's good friend Musharaf of Pakistan caused or allowed the distribution of more nukes than Saddam ever did?

The Trib has also drunk the same Kool-Aid as Reynolds and Bush when it comes to the UN. "Hussein had shunted enough lucre to enough profiteers to keep the UN from challenging him. In a dozen years the organization mass-produced 17 resolutions on Iraq, all of them toothless. That in turn enabled Hussein to continue his brutal reign and cost untold thousands of Iraqis their lives."

Wow. Inaction by the UN did all that? So whenever anyone fails to act on any tyranny, oppression or suffering in the world, they are directly responsible for the resulting torture, suffering, and death? I don't think so. In fact, I'm pretty sure that's insane. Nobody had higher hopes for the UN than Americans--or at least, some Americans. Now there is this rage, probably a result of unrealistic high hopes being dashed. "Why didn't you stop Saddam?" Are you kidding? The UN "itself" has probably never overturned a government, or even made an oppressive government significantly less oppressive. It could have been predicted from the beginning that it would not achieve these results "on its own"; it requires forceful action by member states.

So: the best post facto rationale for Bush is that things are turning out fairly well in Iraq. There is democracy and relative piece. Maybe the mullahs will allow women to go to university; maybe not.

But does this explain March 2003? Of course we had to go in--there were people who needed to be liberated? Out of all the tyrannies in all the world, why this one? Out of all the people who have been brutalized even since 1945, how many have been liberated by the United States?

The Bushies want to keep bringing up WMDs and links to terrorism because these rationales come closest to self-defence--the classic basis for just war. Without them, they have a vague idea of improving a whole region, or even the whole world, one country at a time, and thereby lessening the threat to the U.S. Iraq still seems like a bit of a detour.

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Comment Modernity has been bad to the Arabs, and Saddam was perhaps the most bloated (though certainly not the exclusive) example of dictatorship empowered by modern means. March 03 was a disaster, no doubt, and everyone in the conservative part of the beltway now at least begrudgingly agrees. But the US realized they had an opening, a rare domestic opening, to try to beat back the festering pathologies of the Arabs and they grabbed it. Whether the US can "spread democracy" to these lands is an open question, (one about which it is difficult to be optimistic), but that doesn't mean the least bad option isn't fighting Iraq just the same. This one measure of force might be the prerequisite for the necessary containment policy against the Arab world.

Thu Dec 29, 2005 9:47 am MST by anonymous

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