Saturday, January 22, 2005

Imminence and WMDs

Glenn Manishin of Fear and Loathing emailed about my link to him when analyzing Bush's Inaugural Address. I said:
No wonder moderate Democrats resent Bush: he applies pi to problems while they're stuck trying to square the circle.
Manishin disputes the speech's substance, making several arguments; this focuses solely on his first, regarding WMDs:
I don't "resent" Bush, I just think it's ironic that a war started to stop an imminent threat that turned out not to be imminent.
Presumably, Glenn's addressing the Iraq Survey Group's conclusion that Saddam did not have significant WMDs (though he concealed that from weapons inspectors and planned to acquire WMDs once sanctions were lifted). Recently, the White House candidly acknowledged "there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." I'm not disputing the absence of WMD's--but Manishin's still wrong, for several reasons.

Initially, though a common error, the President himself never said Iraq was "an imminent threat". Indeed, he said precisely the opposite several times:
  • At West Point's Graduation in June 2002 :
    For much of the last century, America's defense relied on the Cold War doctrines of deterrence and containment. In some cases, those strategies still apply. But new threats also require new thinking. Deterrence -- the promise of massive retaliation against nations -- means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend. Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies.

    We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best. We cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants, who solemnly sign non-proliferation treaties, and then systemically break them. If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. (Applause.) . . .

    We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge. . . And our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives. (Applause.)
  • Three months later, President Bush officially jettisoned "mutually assured destruction" and committed the country to the new strategy of "preemption":
    For centuries, international law recognized that nations need not suffer an attack before they can lawfully take action to defend themselves against forces that present an imminent danger of attack. Legal scholars and international jurists often conditioned the legitimacy of preemption on the existence of an imminent threat—most often a visible mobilization of armies, navies, and air forces preparing to attack.

    We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries. . . The United States has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction— and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.
  • And Bush repeated that formulation four months later:
    Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.
The President's new foreign policy is known as the Bush Doctrine. It doesn't rely on "imminence" at all.

Second, those arguing other Administration officials said the danger was imminent are wrong. They focus particularly on Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and spokesmen Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan.
  • Rumsfeld did tell Congress:
    [T]hose who raise questions about the nuclear threat need to focus on the immediate threat from biological weapons. From 1991 to 1995, Iraq repeatedly insisted it did not have biological weapons. Then, in 1995, Saddam’s son-in-law defected and told the inspectors some of the details of Iraq’s biological weapons program. Only then did Iraq admit it had produced tens of thousands of liters of anthrax and other biological weapons.
    But this is hardly conclusive; in the same testimony, Rumsfeld also said:
    [T]he last thing we want is a smoking gun. A gun smokes after it has been fired. The goal must be to stop Saddam Hussein before he fires a weapon of mass destruction against our people. As the President told the United Nations last week, “The first time we may be completely certain he has nuclear weapons is when, God forbid, he uses one. We owe it to our citizens to do everything in our power to prevent that day from coming.” If the Congress or the world wait for a so-called “smoking gun,” it is certain that we will have waited too long.
  • Fleischer twice echoed a reporter's formulation of imminence. At the same time, though under-reported, Fleischer also confirmed imminence wasn't required:
    QUESTION: Ari, if there is a war in Iraq, can the American public and the world expect any incontrovertible proof that this menace is growing?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Incontrovertible -- I think there is only one way to have to incontrovertible proof and that's when it's too late. If you're asking about a menace growing, the risk -- and this is why Presidents make very difficult decisions about war and peace -- the risk is how long do you wait for Saddam Hussein to grow stronger, to develop those weapons and acquire nuclear weapons before it's too late? Do you only act after he has used them? Or if we had known that 9/11, for example, was coming, would we have acted to stop it? Of course, we would have. Now with Saddam Hussein the President has to ask similar tough questions. Can we know with certainty what Saddam Hussein is going to do?
  • McClellan has been misquoted. He was talking about the threat to Iraq's neighbor Turkey, not the US:
    QUESTION: What about NATO's role? Belgium now says it will veto any attempt to provide help to Turkey to defend itself. Is this something the administration can live with, or is it a major obstacle?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Two points. We support the request under Article IV of Turkey. And I think it's important to note that the request from a country under Article IV that faces an imminent threat goes to the very core of the NATO alliance and its purpose.
Considered together, these remarks emphasize the absence of inninence as a trigger, consistent with the Bush doctrine.

Third, the Administration never grounded the Iraq war solely on WMDs. Indeed, there were multiple and overlapping reasons for invading, said Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz:

[T]here have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people. Actually I guess you could say there's a fourth overriding one which is the connection between the first two. . . .

The third one by itself, as I think I said earlier, is a reason to help the Iraqis but it's not a reason to put American kids' lives at risk, certainly not on the scale we did it. That second issue about links to terrorism is the one about which there's the most disagreement within the bureaucracy, even though I think everyone agrees that we killed 100 or so of an al Qaeda group in northern Iraq in this recent go-around, that we've arrested that al Qaeda guy in Baghdad who was connected to this guy Zarqawi whom Powell spoke about in his UN presentation.

Bush himself cited reasons apart from weapons, many times:
  • Addressing the UN, in September 2002: "[O]ur greatest fear is that terrorists will find a shortcut to their mad ambitions when an outlaw regime supplies them with the technologies to kill on a massive scale."

  • At a press conference, just prior to the invasion in March 2003: "He is a danger to his neighbors. He's a sponsor of terrorism. He's an obstacle to progress in the Middle East. For decades he has been the cruel, cruel oppressor of the Iraq people."

  • In his State of the Union speech, January 2003:
    The dictator who is assembling the world's most dangerous weapons has already used them on whole villages -- leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind, or disfigured. Iraqi refugees tell us how forced confessions are obtained -- by torturing children while their parents are made to watch. International human rights groups have catalogued other methods used in the torture chambers of Iraq: electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, and rape. If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning. (Applause.)

    And tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country -- your enemy is ruling your country. (Applause.) And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation.
And Congress concurred. The Joint Resolution authorizing Force in Iraq listed numerous arguments for toppling Saddam having nothing to do with WMDs, including, "the sense of Congress that it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove from power the current Iraqi regime and promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime." Been there, done that--an accomplishment undiminished by the magnitude or timing of Saddam's threat to America.

Simply put, as John Hawkins at Right Wing News has documented, a host of concerns other than WMDs justified the invasion.

(Though not directly relevant, I note that the belief Saddam had WMDs was widely shared by current Bush critics, from Kerry to Clinton to Chirac, and that Bush's famous "16 Words" were entirely accurate.)

Fourth, even if WMDs were the sine qua non for war, why is Bush's intent relevant? Writing in Tech Central, Philosophy Professor Keith Burgess-Jackson challenges liberal logic:
Either there is a justification for the war (objectively speaking) or there is not. If there is, then it doesn't matter what motivated President Bush. If there isn't, then it doesn't matter what motivated President Bush. Either way, it doesn't matter what motivated President Bush.
David Horowitz similarly demolishes the claim:
The attacks on the President in the first year of the war in Iraq were entirely about the rationale for the war. This is odd in itself. If we were to discover say that Abraham Lincoln had contrived to send a secret Union force to attack Fort Sumter and blame it on the Confederacy would that change our view of whether the Civil War was worth fighting?
Glenn's argument thus sweeps too broadly, because it would outlaw any action. If Iraq, and the world, is better without Saddam, isn't that enough?

Conclusion: I agree with Horowitz:
In four years, George Bush has liberated nearly 50 million people in two Islamic countries. He has stopped the filling of mass graves and closed down the torture chambers of an oppressive regime. He has encouraged the Iraqis and the people of Afghanistan to begin a political process that give them rights they have not enjoyed in 5,000 years. How can one not support this war?
Ignore the one-sided hype from a hysterical press. Don't lose sight of what America's achieved and the prospects for success to come.

My recommendation, Glenn: courage.


Ben Wyman said...

The focus on "WMD's were the main reason for going into Iraq" betrays something of the accusers' focus. WMD were our main selling point to the UN, which we still hoped would support us.

The reasons given to the American people were broader. Only if one considers what Bush said to the UN as vastly more important than what he said to the American people can one buy into the prevailing accusation.

The UN is not the center of the universe.

Jeff Simpson said...

actually its been proven widely that the senate did not have the same intel as the Bushies. So anyone who makes the weak argument that if Bush lied so did Kerry knows better. What president in history didnt have access to more top secret info than Congress has???
The turkey defense is so funny its almost laughable in that we told the democratically elected Turkish Govt that if they did not help us we would overthrow his government. In an attempt to "bring democracy" to Iraq, although it wasnt the reason then, we threatened to end it in Turkey. these are just two of the numerous lies, weasels, inconsitencies and fairy tales in your posts. Next thing I know you will be telling us that there were no looters in Iraq after the invasion........