Bait and Switch: The Neocon Case for War in Iraq
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Bait and Switch: The Neocon Case for War in 0aIraq
The Minneapolis - St Paul Star Tribune | Editorial
Thursday 31 July 2003
In an appearance Tuesday before a skeptical Senate Foreign 0aRelations Committee, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz declared that "the 0apeace in Iraq is now the central battle in the war on terror." That same refrain 0ahas begun to pop up in statements by President Bush and Vice President Dick 0aCheney -- as well as the neoconservative thinkers and writers who provide the 0aintellectual framework for this administration's approach to foreign and defense 0apolicies. It begins to get down to the bedrock rationale for going to war in 0aIraq.
Strands of that rationale have been around for years, but they 0aweren't given public emphasis -- not in the 2000 presidential campaign and not 0ain the prewar debate about whether to invade Iraq. If you piece together those 0astrands, the rationale, prewar, went like this:
Saddam Hussein is a brutal tyrant who routinely thumbs his nose 0aat the United States. His interest in weapons of mass destruction -- if not his 0apossession of them -- is well-established, meaning he may become a threat to the 0aUnited States and its friends at some point. Moreover, he is in violation of 0anumerous U.N. Security Council resolutions. The United States can make a case 0afor ousting him by military force -- a case that can't be made for any other 0aMiddle East leader. So Saddam's the guy.
Removing Saddam will do a number of positive things. In his place 0athe United States and friends can build a peaceful, prosperous, democratic, 0asecular state in Iraq. That in turn will be a powerful catalyst for promoting 0achange and reform throughout the Islamic world. Oppressive, corrupt regimes will 0abecome vulnerable because people across the region will want what the Iraqi 0apeople now have. And Islamic reform is key to removing the conditions that breed 0aterrorism.
There's also what is called the "flypaper" or "magnet" effect, to 0awhich Bush spoke with his famous "Bring 'em on" statement. The idea is that the 0apresence of tens of thousands of American military personnel on the ground in 0aIraq will make them a magnet for terrorists from around the world. It will pull 0aterrorists away from Israel and the United States to Iraq, where U.S. forces can 0asafely engage them in full-fledged combat and defeat them.
Those American forces also are likely to embolden reformist 0aelements next door in Iran, threatening the rule of the oppressive, 0aAmerica-hating mullahs. On the other side of Iraq, in Syria, terrorist groups 0asuch as Hezbollah are likely also to get the message that they'd best behave, 0alest they too get whacked by the Americans.
That's the neocon theory, and there is evidence that pieces of it 0aare indeed working. But pieces are not: Witness the warning that also came 0aTuesday of a new airliner hijacking threat in the United States and overseas. 0aNote also that in his appearance before the Senate committee, Wolfowitz and 0aothers declined repeated efforts by frustrated Democrats and Republicans to 0aestimate the cost of occupying Iraq, how long it might take or even how many 0atroops it might require.
"Oh, come on now," responded Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the 0aranking Democrat. "Does anyone here at the table think we're going to be down 0abelow 100,000 forces in the next calendar year? When are you guys starting to be 0ahonest with us?"
The larger question is why those guys weren't honest with 0aCongress and the American people before the war started. Why did they focus 0aalmost exclusively on the supposedly imminent threat posed by Saddam Hussein's 0aweapons of mass destruction? Why not lay out their far more nuanced, ambitious 0aneocon theory about projecting American values into the Middle East and thus 0abeginning a regional transformation? Wolfowitz has said the WMD rationale was 0achosen for "bureaucratic" reasons; it was the one factor everyone could agree 0aon.
But other neocon writers hint it was for a different reason: They 0aknew they couldn't sell their vision -- not to traditional conservatives, as 0aGeorge Will has made clear; not to most liberals, and not to the nonideological 0amiddle which would balk at the cost in dollars and human life. So they gussied 0aup the "imminent threat" posed by Iraq's WMD programs and rode that argument 0ainto war.
The neocon theory is interesting and complex. It's like a new 0atheory for solving a scientific question. New theories need grueling examination 0aby peers who try to knock holes in them before they are accepted as the basis 0afor action. They also need to be explained, patiently and with precision, so the 0apublic can know what it is being asked to purchase with the lives if its kids 0aand its money.
The neocon foreign policy agenda got neither a thorough vetting 0anor public explication -- because its authors apparently thought the American 0apeople wouldn't understand it or wouldn't buy it. Instead, the neocons pulled a 0aclassic, and very arrogant, bait and switch. Sooner or later, they're going to 0apay for it.
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