Ian S. Lustick
Does Even the President Take Himself Seriously on Iraq?Ian S. Lustick
University of Pennsylvania
It is not just difficult, it is well nigh impossible for serious people to take seriously the Bush Administration's campaign for war in Iraq. Indeed it seems that not even the administration takes itself seriously.
President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld declare that we must destroy Saddam's military machine because it cannot be deterred. But when asked about the scale of our casualties when attacking US troops are hit with Iraqi biological or chemical weapons, we are told that those weapons will not be used. Why? Because those who operate the military machine will be deterred from using them for fear of being punished. So, does George Bush believe that the Iraqi regime can't be deterred, and therefore we must attack now before they use their weapons, or that it is easily deterred, and therefore we can attack without fear they will use their weapons?
President Bush has condemned the "axis of evil," and on that short list of enemy regimes are two neighboring countries--Iraq and Iran. The administration holds war with Iraq to be a national security imperative for the United States--necessary to prevent a mushroom cloud from appearing over New York. But it says nothing about Iran. Israel, for one, is rightfully worried more about Iranian weapons of mass destruction and the long-range missiles that can carry them, than it is about the Iraqi threat. Why aren't we? If the axis of evil is real, then the administration should expect to send our victorious army from Iraq into Iran. But it speaks not a word of this. Does a war against Iraq mean we must destroy the evil regime in Teheran to prevent an Iranian mushroom cloud over New York, or has the axis of evil suddenly lost a wheel?
Candidate Bush and his Party campaigned on the ineptitude of big government, on the inability of Washington to understand, let alone solve problems in Peoria or the south Bronx. Surely, whatever the federal government knows about how America works, it knows only a small fraction of that about the rest of the world. Moreover, the biggest and clumsiest arm of the federal power structure is the national security-intelligence apparatus. Yet despite its own misgivings, this enormous bureaucracy is now hailed by the President as poised to solve problems in the Middle East vastly more complex and mysterious than those in Peoria. So, are Washington bureaucrats clueless or do they know what they are doing? Are massive federal programs expensive exercises in futility or brilliant solutions to delicate problems no matter how difficult or how vaguely understood?
Candidate Bush and his Party decried "nation-building" as a mission impossible for the United States. Our army was for defeating the enemy in battle, not producing Jeffersonian democracies in the third world. Now, in the midst of failing to do that in Afghanistan, the administration promises our Army will build a new and better Iraq, though how long this will take and how it will be done are topics treated as either irrelevant or top secret. So, was our military always ready to build new democracies, or only recently endowed with that as-yet-to-be displayed capacity?
President Bush has treated the United Nations as little more than an inconvenient debating society, and treated the entire world to a solid dose of American unilateralism on everything from land mines to global warming, international economic reform to the treaty on war crimes. But now we are told that the United States must act in the face of an outrageous refusal of Saddam Hussein to abide by United Nations resolutions. Without an American led war, it is claimed, the United Nations would lose credibility. So, is the United Nations a pain in the neck, or an international institution whose credibility is so valuable that we must fight a dangerous and immediate war to protect it?
The obviousness of these contradictions in the positions of the administration make it clear that whatever is unleashing the dogs of war in the White House, it is not careful, reasoned analysis. When the President and his men produce such compelling arguments against the assumptions of the war they advocate, it is no wonder that neither they nor their arguments are taken seriously, and neither here or abroad. But the scale of the catastrophe that lies down the road of an American imperial campaign in Iraq is so great that we citizens must take that prospect seriously, even if our government does not.