Your Lying Eyes

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19 March 2008

Why Did We Invade?

Five long years ago President Bush gave the go ahead for the Iraq invasion. Why, oh why, did he do that? While the President defended his decision today, there are few who now agree, even among those of us who supported the invasion at the time. Indeed, in hindsight, it's hard to imagine how this could ever have seemed a sensible thing to do - perhaps even downright insane, as in Greg Cochran's immortal tale, "The Death March of the Penguins":
If the President had decided (because of a stroke with truly interesting side effects) that we could no longer stand idly by in the eternal conflict between penguins and skuas ( penguins = Good, skuas = Evil) and sent an expeditionary force to Antarctica, an expedition in which a thousand soldiers froze to death and ten thousand others lost limbs to frostbite - an expedition that cost one hundred billion dollars, a conflict in which the skuas and blizzards left the issue in doubt, one in which we discovered that penguins are thoroughly unlikable when you get to know them better - if he had done this instead of invading Iraq, the country would be substantially better off than it is today.
So how did this happen? Ah, there are many theories. One complication in trying to pinpoint the cause is that the enterprise has been so ineffective and costly that no justification could seem to have been worth it. That doesn't mean that we must ignore the actual course of the war in judging its antecedents - we must to some extent weigh the judgemntal faculties of its potential sponsors in assessing their complicity. If an uninsured house burns to the ground - an outcome no one could wish for - would we judge the father smoking a pipe as suspiciously as the child playing with matches? Again, there are lots of suspects, and no doubt plenty of co-conspirators and accessories after the fact - but who or what was the main culprit, the sine qua non, the determining factor in whether or not this war ever took place?

Surely the favorite is that it was all about oil. Obviously, the oil angle hasn't really worked out too well - nothing has worked out too well. But mightn't this have been the casus belli nevertheless? I don't think so because oil men are too smart for this. Any oilman would have counseled a conciliatory approach to Saddam. The Butcher of Baghdad was a beaten man in 2003 - he wished for little more than to hold on to his little Iraqi fiefdom. He'd have jumped at the chance for a little more sovereignty in exchange for a few $billion more in oil revenues. What oil executive would have risked his future supplies for something as risky as a war? None - no oil man would have wanted that. I can't find any record of any big oil people pushing us into the war. Notably, Jim Baker, G.H.W. Bush's longtime crony and oil industry lawyer, was decidedly cool about the invasion in 2002. Reading this account of Baker's advice gives a good idea about how uncontroversial military action against Iraq was in late summer 2002 - there seemed to be little doubt that it would happen, just a lot of questions about how it would happen.

Then there is the military-industrial-complex theory of the war. This one centers around Dick Cheney and his Halliburton contacts. The Iraq war has no doubt been a financial boon for a number of firms supplying the war effort, and it would be naive to think lobbyists representing "war profiteers" didn't push hard for the invasion. Just supplying bullets alone has to have generated some serious profits to several arms manufacturers. But as enthusiastically as the defense industry might have supported it, I don't see them being the prime movers behind the war.

The other credible theory is the Neocon-plot origin of the war. If we look at the most vocal cheerleaders ante-bellum, they were the neocons. Kristol, Krauthammer, Fred Barnes, Mark Steyn - they were beating the drums pretty hard in the run-up, eager to topple the evil Baathist empire and witness the founding of the Baghdad House of Burgesses. Within the administration, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith led the hawk faction in pushing for the war. Yet these guys were ready to attack anyone remotely associated with terrorism. Most of the neocons were clearly motivated by our "special relationship" with Israel and a desire to eliminate overtly hostile regimes. I have no doubt that the influence of neocons in the administration had a powerful effect in not only pushing us towards war but also in gaining widespread support in the halls of power for the war effort. But I don't think we have a smoking gun here.

I don't think we need to consider the ostensible rationales behind the war. I do think it's plausible that the administration sincerely believed Saddam possessed WMD - but this "belief" was never based on objectively derived facts - it was based on wishful thinking and bolstered by a steadfast refusal to look into the matter with any seriousness of purpose. If David Kay indicated otherwise, he must be a dupe or some kind of pacifist, or Saddam must be hiding them somewhere. Nevertheless, such willful blindness to reality could not drive us to war - it must instead be a symptom of something else. The same with all the other rationalizations put forth at the time.

On the eve of the Iraq war, we were now in our 11th year of the Gulf War cease-fire. Every other week, it seemed, American jets were firing on Iraqi aircraft violating either the Northern or Southern no-fly zones. The oil-for-food program was notoriously rife with corruption, and no full accounting had ever been done of Iraq's chemical weapons programs. The horror of 9/11 still had most of us angry and impatient for revenge. Our victory in Afghanistan appeared to be a triumph of determination and competence, as what appeared to be a carefully crafted campaign came to fruition with few casualties and general approval. Meanwhile more and more horror stories of Saddam's brutality - of his and his sons' insanity - made us wonder why do we need to put up with this madman any longer. My feeling at the time was that an invasion would be a quick fix to what seemed like an otherwise interminable situation. We invade, we topple Saddam, we take the sword from whichever competent and unrelated-to-Saddam Iraqi general we could find, leave him in charge, set up cordial relations, and help them transition to a Pakistani-style military-constitutional government. What's the problem?

The problem started to become clear just a few weeks in when Iraqi cities started burning not from street-to-street fighting or American bombs but from Iraqi citizens on a looting spree. There would be no Iraqi general to hand over his sword - there wasn't even a constabulary police force left standing. There appeared to be not a shred of executive authority operating anywhere in the entire country. The place was complete chaos, with no trace of civil order in the souls of its citizens. Good move - now what?

I think what confuses people about the war is the question of who's really in charge in the executive branch. Because Bush isn't particularly knowledgeable or diligent or effective as a communicator (to say the least), everyone assumes he must not really be calling the shots. But I think this greatly underestimates him. On the contrary, an intellectually curious, hard-working, articulate man would no doubt be more inclined to work to build consensus, solicit competing viewpoints, and get to the bottom of things before committing the nation to a such a high-risk endeavor as invading another country. But a stubborn, ignorant, petty man is just the type to engage the nation in such a poorly-considered escapade.

A decade earlier his father had helmed a triumphant victory in Iraq, but one which was soured in many minds by his refusal to go after the criminal despot himself. Instead, in what in hindsight (in 2002) appeared to be a lack of will, President G.H.W. Bush (and his Defense Secretary Cheney!)had let the bastard off the hook, withdrew our troops, and imposed a set of conditions that the dictator must abide by - which conditions the Butcher of Baghdad would proceed to thumb his nose at for the next 10 years.

This bothered the younger Bush enormously, and he no doubt felt a strong need to avenge his father's "humiliation." He also saw what this hollow victory meant to his legacy - nothing, as Bush Sr. was soon to be turned out of office. Bush has been quoted as hoping (in 1999) for an opportunity to become a successful Commander-in-Chief and build his legacy off of that. After 9/11, there was a general feeling in the administration that we had to strike out at all troublesome spots, Iraq being top of the list after Afghanistan. In "Plan of Attack," Woodward leaves little doubt that Bush wanted to go into Iraq, and had (secretly) told Rumsfeld to begin preparations for military action.

Securing some of the world's richest oil fields; enriching Halliburton and other defense contractors; securing Israel's future; sending an unmistakable signal to terrorists and terrorist sponsors everywhere that the U.S. means business; eliminating a threat to peace and stability and a source of WMD in the Middle East - all these motivations - however fanciful or venal they might have been - no doubt played some role in pushing us towards war. But the fundamental drive to war lay in the heart and soul of the man in charge. He pushed for it, he insisted on it, he executed it. Our country has paid the price and will continue to do so for years to come.

12 Comments:

Anonymous i said...

We invaded because the Bush Administration knew that oil prices would be rising sharply this decade, due to rising Asian demand and stagnant output; and they didn't want Saddam Hussein to be flush with all that new petro-wealth (the sanctions on Iraq were due to expire not long after the invasion). Dick Cheney gave a speech to the Royal Institute of London in 1998 in which he warned oil output would fall relative to demand within a decade, and that consequently Iraq, with the world's largest proven reserves of untapped light, sweet, crude oil, would be positioned to become very, very rich. The neocons just couldn't allow Iraq under Saddam to gain the kind of wealth and leverage in world affairs that he stood to gain when the new oil bonanza happened.

The neocons were planning this invasion before Bush ever ran for President.

March 20, 2008 12:39 AM  
Blogger gcochran said...

"sanctions due to expire"

Just as soon as our Security Council veto expired. Where does this shit come from?

March 20, 2008 1:38 AM  
Blogger Steve Sailer said...

Yes, the 1999 quote from Bush's then ghostwriter Mickey Herskowitz about Bush wanting to finish the job his father failed to finish seems like the key.

March 20, 2008 3:20 AM  
Blogger ziel said...

Yes, the 1999 quote from Bush's then ghostwriter Mickey Herskowitz about Bush wanting to finish the job his father failed to finish seems like the key.

Why is that given so little mainstream coverage? I sometimes think it's just too painful an angle to cover, without any sexiness to it.

March 20, 2008 7:40 AM  
Blogger ziel said...

Just as soon as our Security Council veto expired. Where does this shit come from?

It is plausible that many neocons feared that a post-Bush administration might go soft and let the sanctions expire, and so they pushed hard for the war early on in Bush II. They're making similar arguments now with Iran: "Sure, Iran's not a threat today, but in a few years, under a Democrat, we could be in big trouble, so we need to bomb them now!"

Still, I don't think they could have pulled a fast one like that past Bush if he were not intent on garnering glory himself. Like I said, there are many and varied constituencies pushing for a war, but the bottom line is Bush wanted it.

March 20, 2008 7:47 AM  
Anonymous i said...

"'sanctions due to expire'

Just as soon as our Security Council veto expired. Where does this shit come from?"

Even with our Security Council veto, we couldn't prevent Saddam putting his oil on the market. I don't think mine was any shittier than any other theory. The usual rebuttal to any suggestion that the invasion was about oil - that, as Ziel says, the U.S. could easily have struck a deal with Saddam- overlooks two important considerations: 1., that after a decade of sanctions and almost constant bombing raids by the U.S. on Iraq, that Saddam Hussein was even interested in "making a deal" with the U.S. He knew that with the emergence of China, India and other developing nations, he wouldn't be dependent on selling his oil to the U.S. and its allies; and 2., the neocons in the Bush Administration absolutely detested Saddam -for one thing, he was at that time sponsoring daily suicide bombings in Israel- and they weren't willing to negotiate with a Saddam-run Iraq under any circumstances.

March 20, 2008 8:44 AM  
Blogger Black Sea said...

Over the past 50 years, US policy in the Middle East has been driven by two factors: oil and Israel. I don't think that these factors can be eliminated from the administration's internal rationale for the invasion of Iraq.

As Wolfowitz said, "for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason."

Some of the other reasons were suitable for public discussion, and some were not.

Clearly, the invasion was a very bad idea, but had Bush proposed something equally stupid in a place like say . . . Antarctica, the bureacracy would have shut him down immediately. It takes more than a stupid president to initiate a war.

March 20, 2008 9:17 AM  
Blogger gcochran said...

"we couldn't prevent Saddam putting his oil on the market"

Since we had done so for some years in the early 1990s, we obviously could. Under oil-for-food, we allowed oil exports but controlled the money received - and if we had wanted to, we could have continued that.

The 'due to expire' comment was wrong. So is this.

I will bet dollars to donuts that Bush wasn't thinking about 'peak oil' back in 2002. He doesn't know anything about the oil industry and he doesn't find it interesting. Shit, _I_ probably know more about oil production than he does. Come to think of it, I probably know more about it than anyone in public life.

If we're talking about the true reasons that Bush decided to invade, I don't think there were any - if by 'reasons' we mean some kind of rational strategic-political analysis based on known facts. If we managed to wring the details out of him (assuming that he even remembers), they'd be downright embarrassing.

March 20, 2008 11:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I was under the impression that Cheney and the neocons were calling the shots in the Bush Administration, at least in his first term. And Cheney certainly knew what lay ahead in the global oil picture. As far as the neocons are concerned- Wolfowitz, Perle Feith, etc. all had close ties to the defense industry- obviuously had Bush's ear, and certainly seemed to have alot of influence with Bush, regardless of how clueless he was.

You forget that the Asian nations are more dependent on Persian Gulf oil than we are. They were no doubt not happy that the U.S. had kept Iraqi oil off the market for as long as we had, and would not have been willing to go along with any extension of U.S. sanctions on Iraq. Since they are our bankers, it's reasonable to assume they had some influence in our policy toward Iraq.

March 20, 2008 9:26 PM  
Anonymous i said...

That last comment was by me. I really need to register with blogger...

March 20, 2008 9:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone else here besides me see the McCain presidency as a mere continuation of the Bush presidency?


I mean, folks in here are speaking of the neocons in the past tense..................and they have practically won at least four more years now that Obama has been unvieled as a Jerimiah T. Wrights nephew-candidate (McCain is going to win unless he gets his entire foot stuck in his mouth).

Looks like to me, the neo-cons aren't going anywhere for five more years anyway. I'd love to be wrong about this, beleive me.

Miles

March 21, 2008 6:57 PM  
Anonymous Sibyl said...

Here, I don't really believe this will work.

August 26, 2012 11:50 PM  

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