By refusing to correct or discard these fallacies
in four recent speeches and in other comments on Iraq, Bush seems to be
holding to an unrealistic course that will lead to an ever-lengthening
list of dead American soldiers and Iraqis.
For instance, one of Bush’s favorite arguments
continues to be that the U.S. invasion was justified by the goal of
imposing democracy on Iraq because “democracies are peaceful countries”
– and, therefore, presumably an Iraq with democratic institutions should
The internal contradiction of this rationale – from
the leader of “the world’s preeminent democracy” which invaded Iraq in
2003 under false premises – goes unnoticed by the U.S. press corps even
though it watched the invasion unfold. In an Orwellian fashion, the news
media accepts that Bush’s going to war was evidence of his peaceful
Bush’s notion that democracies are intrinsically
“peaceful” is also not supported by history. Democracies as diverse as
the United States, France, Great Britain and India have fought wars
against neighbors, in colonial possessions or in nations far away –
Vietnam, Mexico, Algeria, South Africa, the Philippines, Cuba and
Kashmir, to name a few.
The United States and other powerful democracies
also have supported proxy wars in even a longer list of countries. U.S.
interventions of various types have touched nearly every country in
Latin America and many of the islands of the Caribbean Sea.
Democracies also have shown themselves to be no
more immune from war fever than autocratic states, as was demonstrated
by the war hysteria that swept the United States in late 2002 and early
As Bush’s supporters poured French wine into
gutters and ran trucks over Dixie Chicks CDs, the U.S. political debate
was drowned out by full-throated calls for invading Iraq. Skeptics were
largely silenced, often excluded from the major media. Constitutional
checks and balances did nothing to slow Bush’s rush to war.
Yet Bush continues to cite the inherent
peacefulness of democracies as justification for invading a nation
halfway around the world. Indeed, this argument is central to his
explanation of why the American people should trust that the Iraq War
will eventually protect the U.S. mainland from terrorism.
“We need to remember that these (Iraqi) elections
are also a vital part of a broader strategy for protecting the American
people against the threat of terrorism,” Bush said in a Dec. 14 speech
to the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.
But that statement was more rhetorical assertion
than rational discourse. Bush offered no logical explanation how the
political chaos and sectarian violence that is expected to follow Iraq’s
latest round of elections will contribute to greater security for the
United States. By contrast, many intelligence analysts see a rising
terrorist threat if the war drags on.
It’s also true that while democracy may be a noble
goal in its own right, elections don’t necessarily bring the wisest
leaders to power. Sometimes, populations gripped by anger, fear,
patriotism or delusion elect demagogues.
But rather than explaining the logic behind his
contention that “democracies are peaceful,” Bush instead relies on his
old trick of juxtaposing the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, with
Iraq, thus counting on subliminal connections – rather than logic – to
sell his point.
“We saw the future the terrorists intend for our
nation on that fateful morning of September the 11th, 2001,”
Bush said in his Wilson Center speech. “That day we learned that vast
oceans and friendly neighbors are no longer enough to protect us.”
This supposed surprise that oceans no longer
protect the United States is another old saw of Bush’s war rhetoric. No
one who grew up during the Cold War with the threat of nuclear-tipped
intercontinental ballistic missiles thought that the Atlantic and
Pacific oceans offered protection from annihilation.
But Bush keeps citing this supposed revelation from
Sept. 11, 2001, as justification for adopting aggressive “preemptive
war” policies against any conceivable enemy that he, as President,
defines as a “gathering danger.”
In his speech, Bush also reprised his false
assertion that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein brought on the U.S. invasion by
refusing to eliminate his weapons of mass destruction and by blocking
the work of United Nations weapons inspectors.
“He denied them the unconditional access they
needed to do their jobs,” Bush said. “When a unanimous Security Council
gave him one final chance to disclose and disarm, or face serious
consequences, he refused to comply with that final opportunity. At any
point along the way, Saddam Hussein could have avoided war by complying
with the just demands of the international community. The United States
did not choose war – the choice was Saddam Hussein’s.”
Although this rewriting of history has become
common in Bush’s speeches – and it is almost never challenged by the
U.S. news media – this assertion that Hussein didn’t comply with U.N.
demands for renewed weapons inspections is simply false.
Hussein allowed the U.N. inspectors to return in
November 2002 – and chief inspector Hans Blix commended Iraq’s
cooperation in the weeks before Bush forced the inspectors to leave in
March 2003. As U.S. inspectors discovered after the invasion, Hussein
was telling the truth when he said he had eliminated his WMD stockpiles.
None was found.
Indeed, the evidence now shows that Bush had long
opposed renewed WMD inspections for Iraq because that would have
eliminated his strongest argument for war. Bush wanted at least a
plausible claim about Iraq’s WMD as an emotional appeal for rallying the
American people behind the invasion. [For details, see
Bush, With the Candlestick…”]
In an interview with Fox News anchor Brit Hume on
Dec. 14, Bush acknowledged that he intended to invade Iraq regardless of
the WMD evidence.
“Knowing what I know today, I would have still made
that decision,” Bush said.
“If the weapons had been out of the equation,
because the intelligence did not conclude that he had them, it was still
the right call?” Hume asked.
“Absolutely,” Bush answered.
Behind the Insurgency
Bush also has continued to misrepresent what
intelligence agencies and other analysts believe is motivating the Iraqi
Picking up on his original theme that al-Qaeda
terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, because they “hate our freedoms,”
Bush said “the terrorists” now are fighting in Iraq because they fear
the birth of freedom there.
“We’re helping the Iraqi people build a lasting
democracy that is peaceful and prosperous and an example for the broader
Middle East,” Bush said. “The terrorists understand this, and this is
why they have now made Iraq the central front in the war on terror.”
But this analysis blurs the varied motivations of
the armed groups fighting in Iraq. The main elements of the Iraqi
insurgency are Sunnis resisting the U.S. invasion of their country and
the marginalization they face in a new Iraq dominated by their Shiite
Non-Iraqi jihadists, a much smaller group estimated
at about 5 percent of the armed fighters, are driven by a religious
fervor against what they see as an intrusion by a non-Islamic foreign
power into the Muslim world. They also blame the United States for
propping up corrupt Arab dictators in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and elsewhere.
Al-Qaeda’s principal demand has always been the
removal of U.S. troops from Islamic lands and the reduction of Western
influence, not opposition to democracy per se, especially if elections
would lead to radical Islamic governments as almost happened in Algeria
in the early 1990s.
Instead of recognizing these more limited goals,
Bush continues to offer a hodge-podge of conflicting arguments on the
supposed motivations of his adversaries. He claims the terrorists’
“grand strategy” is to drive U.S. forces out of Iraq and make it a base
for a global empire.
“Their stated objective is to drive
the United States and coalition forces out of the Middle East so they
can gain control of Iraq and use that country as a base from which to
launch attacks against America, overthrow moderate governments in the
Middle East, and establish a totalitarian Islamic empire that stretches
from Spain to Indonesia,” Bush said in his Dec. 14 speech.
“Hear the words of the terrorists.
In a letter to the terrorist leader Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda leader
Zawahiri has outlined plans that will unfold in several stages. These
are his words: ‘Expel the Americans from Iraq. ... Establish an Islamic
authority over as much territory as you can to spread its power in
Iraq... Extend the jihad wave to secular countries neighboring Iraq.’
But what Bush leaves out of this
explanation is that it was his invasion of Iraq that opened the country
to the al-Qaeda operations there. He also suggests falsely that the
letter, purportedly from al-Qaeda’s Ayman Zawahiri to Abu Musab Zarqawi,
buttresses the alarmist vision of an Islamic empire stretching from
Spain to Indonesia.
The letter actually depicts an
embattled group of extremists fearful that a sudden U.S. military
withdrawal from Iraq would leave them isolated and battling to defend
even small enclaves inside Iraq.
The so-called “Zawahiri letter” raises the
notion of an Islamic “caliphate” along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea,
known as the Levant, as an idea needed
to keep the non-Iraqi jihadists from simply returning home once the United
States departs Iraq.
The letter states that the “caliphate” was
mentioned “only to stress … that the mujahedeen must not have their
mission end with the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq, and then lay
down their weapons, and silence the fighting zeal.” There is nothing in
the “Zawahiri letter” about a terrorist empire stretching from the
Atlantic to the Pacific.
Assuming the letter is real – al-Qaeda has denied
its authenticity – it also portrays al-Qaeda as a struggling
organization under financial and political duress, holding out hope for
limited successes in Iraq, rather than dreaming of global domination.
Al-Qaeda’s leaders were so short of funds that they asked their
embattled operatives in Iraq to send $100,000 to relieve a cash squeeze,
according to the letter.
But as with the earlier
exaggerations about Iraq’s WMD, Bush cherry-picks the available evidence
to confuse and frighten his listeners. [For details on the “Zawahiri
letter,” see Consortiumnews.com’s “Al-Qaeda
Letter Belies Bush’s Claims.”]
Still, Bush’s four recent Iraq
speeches won praise from the major U.S. news media because he inserted a
few admissions of error. His latest presentations were called “sober”
and more in line with the critical assessments of U.S. military
commanders on the ground.
However, even the few admitted
mistakes were phrased in ways that shielded Bush from any serious
“It is true that much of the
intelligence turned out to be wrong,” Bush said in his Dec. 14 speech.
“As President, I'm responsible for the decision to go into Iraq – and
I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our
intelligence capabilities. And we're doing just that.”
In his Fox News interview, Bush
said he included an estimate of 30,000 Iraqi dead in a
question-and-answer session that followed another speech so he could
ensure more press coverage.
“I thought it would be kind of an interesting
diversion, in a sense,” Bush said. “People expect one thing, and
sometimes to do the unexpected in the public arena helps draw attention
to a speech that might – I can’t say would’ve been ignored, but
sometimes it’s hard for me to burn through the filter.
“Secondly, that was a number that's been
floating around the public. You know, it was a number that was in the
press. The 30,000 Iraqis, I must tell you, it's speculative. I don't
think anybody knows the exact number.”
In talking to Hume, Bush also continued to
raise another of his favorite false arguments – that his congressional
critics “looked at the same intelligence I looked at and voted for use
of force in Iraq.” The reality is that the President has access to
detailed intelligence that is not – and in the case of Iraq, was not –
shared with the Congress. [See the Congressional Research Service Report
on "Limitations on
Congressional Access to Certain National Intelligence."]
So, while the ever-hopeful Washington press
corps may discern a more open and more sober President Bush, his four
speeches and other recent comments on Iraq suggest that little of the
substance – and not even much of the theatrics – have changed.