The United States is a deeply fractured polity. The US has always had significant political, economic and social divisions throughout its short history. Yet just as a diversity of political ideologies have been obfuscated by an electoral system dominated by two parties, deep schisms have, over the last few generations, been largely contained and managed by the civil religion of Americanism underwritten by the post-war prosperity that created a middle class.
The hope and possibility of improving one’s lot through hard work has kept the underlying divisions in the US from festering too severely. But the middle class is now under attack from two sides: First, from corporate America, as epitomized by Wal-Mart whose “everyday low prices” are subsidized by government assistance provided to its hard-working employees, who earn poverty wages with insufficient benefits ; Second, from a strange new brand of so-called conservatives who have reduced the social safety net at time of great economic insecurity, while greatly expanding the size and scope of the government, leaving record-breaking budget deficits for generations to come.
George W. Bush has led the neoconservatives to a quite impressive number of unprecedented victories, in the process bringing to the surface and crystallizing America’s profound disharmony. While it is most likely too early to give any sort of final assessment on Bush’s legacy the damage isn’t done I submit the following for the record.
With the recent release of the final report of Bush’s “Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction,” we have an authoritative, definitive answer: the Bush administration, which has displayed consistency to the point of irresponsibility in emphasizing alleged WMD’s as its major justification for attacking Iraq, was “dead wrong.” Of course, the report’s authors were careful to stick to their mandate, which authorized them only to blame the intelligence community and not to investigate how the “intelligence” was used or influenced by policy makers. But what should be clear to anyone paying attention was quietly acknowledged in the report: “the river of intelligence that flowed from the CIA to top policymakers seemed to be ‘selling’ intelligence in order to keep its customers, or at least the First Customer, interested.” The White House got what it wanted.
Not only was the Bush administration dead wrong, but the actions they justified with this information have directly resulted in up to, and possibly more than 20,000 dead bodies: over 1,700 soldiers from the US-led coalition forces and between 17,000 and 20,000 Iraqi civilians.
But perhaps more remarkable than anything is that these and other facts have done nothing to diminish Bush’s support among the American public. Indeed, it may be Bush’s crowning achievement that reason has ceased to be an effective component of political discourse in the US. Rather, appeals to emotion (fortified by lies, half-truths and image management) have become the primary form of persuasion in American politics.
In the wake of Bush’s political tsunami, logic must be counted among the dead. Rational argument, along with accountability, has become as quaint as the Geneva Conventions. Yet, for those who can still be persuaded by reason, here are three important questions for which we can now contrast the Bush administration’s initial claims with the eventual outcomes. (Again, I submit these for the record, though I do not expect that any facts will persuade any Bush supporters.)
Why did the US attack Iraq?
On March 30, 2003, ten days after air strikes began and the first day that US marines and Army troops engaged the Iraqi Republican Guard, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld declared, “We know where the WMDs are.”
On May 29, 2003, just over three weeks after Bush declared the official end of “major combat operations” in Iraq, he continued the charade, asserting, “We found the weapons of mass destruction.”
Even a year after the invasion Bush maintained his alleged firm belief in the existence of WMDs and continued to use this as a justification for the invasion. In an April 13, 2004 press conference a reporter lobbed a typical softball to Bush: “After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have you learned from it?” In a typical display of elegance, humility and self-reflection, Bush responded:
I wish you would have given me this written question ahead of time, so I could plan for it. [Laughter] John, I’m sure historians will look back and say, ‘Gosh, he could have done it better this way or that way.’ You know, I just I’m sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hasn’t yet.
I would have gone into Afghanistan the way we went into Afghanistan [sic]. Even knowing what I know today about the stockpiles of weapons, I still would have called upon the world to deal with Saddam Hussein. See, I happen to believe that we’ll find out the truth on the weapons. That’s why we’ve sent up the independent commission. I look forward to hearing the truth, exactly where they are. They could still be there. They could be hidden, like the 50 tons of mustard gas in a turkey farm [emphasis added].
And so, with the commission’s report we now have the truth that Bush so eagerly awaited:
There were no WMDs;
The intelligence community was “crippled by its inability to collect meaningful intelligence on Iraq’s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs”;
The White House and Congress made the decision to go to war using intelligence based on “old assumptions” and lies; and
Nearly four years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the intelligence community remains riddled with systemic problems, still impaired and plagued with wide-ranging intelligence failures.
Predictably, Bush’s response is to disavow the major conclusions of the report and promise more of the same: “Our collection and analysis of intelligence will never be perfect, but in an age where our margin for error is getting smaller, in an age in which we are at war, the consequences of underestimating a threat could be tens of thousands of innocent lives my administration will continue to make intelligence reforms that will allow us to identify threats before they fully emerge.” Or, as it turns out, nonexistent threats.
“It turns out we were all wrong,” said Bush’s chief weapons inspector David Kay in a January 28, 2004 testimony to Congress, “there were no large stockpiles of WMD.” But we weren’t all wrong. Many on the left had questioned the politicized intelligence from the beginning, arguing the whole time that Iraq had no connection to 9/11 or Al Qaeda, that the shift in focus from bin Laden to Hussein was the result of a previously-formed administration plan to go after Iraq rather than the outcome of a sustained focus in the so-called war on terror, and that any threat from Hussein was unlikely and certainly not immanent.
Indeed, the pages of the Counterpunch website were filled with such pleas to reason. For instance, three weeks before the invasion of Iraq began, I wrote on Counterpunch.org: “Clinton’s Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, told incoming President Bush that ‘Iraq no longer poses a military threat to its neighbors.’ More strikingly, in a report to congress right before the Joint Resolution on Iraq was passed, the CIA said that ‘Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or chemical and biological weapons against the United States.'
But Bush’s popular and congressional support was not based on logic or reason. Rather, the Bush administration had gotten its way through emotional appeals, exemplified by Condi’s scare tactic: “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
What will the war entail and achieve?
The three major architects of the war were Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz. Each played their role in selling the war:
“We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators. . . . I think it will go relatively quickly… (in) weeks rather than months.”
Vice President Cheney [3/16/03].
The war “could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.”
“It’s hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and secure the surrender of Saddam’s security forces and his army. Hard to imagine.”
Knowing what we know now, these comments are at best willfully optimistic. But, again, the current state of affairs in Iraq was predicted quite clearly by many opponents of the war before the invasion began. Indeed, looking again at the protestations written on Counterpunch’s website, it is hard to interpret these comments as displaying anything other than the sheer incompetence of the war’s architects and a triumph of ideology over reason. For example, in a series of articles on Counterpunch, Zoltan Grossman, a political geographer and expert in global ethnic relations, argued that US and coalition forces would face a resilient Shi’ite insurgency and predicted that Saddam’s capture would intensify the insurgency.
Of the 1500 dead American soldiers, 1400 of them were killed in the two years since Bush declared “mission accomplished” in Iraq, and the occupation drags on. The situation in Iraq now is one of extreme economic and political instability and uncertainty. Electricity is available for only a small fraction of each day, food is in short supply and the sewage and sanitation systems are not operating. Iraqis are being tortured by occupation forces in the same prisons used by Hussein. In general, chaos reigns: “As many as 5,000 Iraqis have been kidnapped in the last year and a half, according to Western and Iraqi security officials,” the New York Times reports, most of them for ransom unrelated to political motivations.
How will the war be financed?
Finally, the question of the financial cost of the war must be added to the human cost. Former Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz, recently rewarded by Bush with a nomination to head the World Bank (and subsequently confirmed), told the House Committee on Appropriations at a Hearing on a Supplemental War Regulation on March 27, 2003:
There’s a lot of money to pay for this that doesn’t have to be U.S. taxpayer money, and it starts with the assets of the Iraqi peopleand on a rough recollection, the oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three yearsWe’re dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.
Currently the US has spent over $200 billion since the invasion in March 2003 and the administration has recently asked for an additional $82 billion (outside the normal budget process). Again, if this displays anything other than sheer incompetence on the part of the administration’s war architects, it is the triumph of belief and emotion over reason. When history proclaims its final verdict on Bush’s legacy, it will likely be not the greatest intelligence “failure” of modern history, nor the tens of thousands of dead bodies left in his wake, but the ascendancy of emotion in American political discourse, as logic and reason are buried with so many other opponents of the neocon agenda.
MATT VIDAL is pursuing his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He can be reached at: email@example.com
1. Jenna Wright, “Wal-Mart Welfare: How taxpayers subsidize the world’s largest retailer,” Dollars and Sense January/February 2005.
2. Many readers will notice the classic philosophical distinction between types of rhetoric here: logos (reason) versus pathos (emotion). A third type of rhetoric in the classic distinction is ethos or appeal based on character. Bush politics are certainly focused on ethos too, through appeal to the moral character of conservatives and patriots, and through character assassination of opponents. It is only logos logic or reason that has been strangled by the ascendancy of Bush politics (somewhat like the use of decapitation as a ‘new’ tactic of terrorism that has resulted from Bush’s foreign policy).
4. MATT VIDAL, “George W. Bonaparte: The Renunciation of Leadership,” Counterpunch.org, February 28, 2004.
5. Zoltan Grossman, “After the War on Saddam: A War on Iraqi Dissidents,” Counterpunch.org, March 21, 2003; “The Perils of Occupation: The Easier the Victory, The Harder the Peace,” Counterpunch.org, April 20, 2003.
6. Kevin Zeese, “After Two Years of Occupation: Both Iraq and the US are Worse Off,” Counterpunch.org, March 16, 2005.
7. James Glanz, “Rings That Kidnap Iraqis Thrive on Big Threats and Bigger Profits,” New York Times March 28, 2005.
8. Iraq Index, The Brookings Institution, http://www.brookings.edu/iraqindex.