June 24, 2008


What’s The Big Idea? (Dorothy Wickenden, June 30, 2008, The New Yorker)

On October 7, 2002, in Cincinnati, Ohio, George W. Bush delivered the defining speech of his Presidency. In the face of “clear evidence of peril” from a regime harboring terrorists and weapons of mass destruction, he declared, “we cannot wait for the final proof—the smoking gun—that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”

Five days earlier, a forty-one-year-old Illinois state legislator had given a momentous speech of his own, although few recognized it as such at the time. “I don’t oppose all wars,” Barack Obama told a few hundred Chicago protesters, adding:

I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars. [...]

Still, sixteen months after announcing his candidacy, and after twenty-six Presidential debates and thousands of public-speaking engagements, Obama remains a puzzle to many voters. Almost as dedicated a policy wonk as Hillary Clinton and arguably more centrist in his economic beliefs, he offers plenty of specifics about what needs to be done. But his captivating eloquence and his slogan—“Change We Can Believe In”—have seemed to lift him dangerously high above the concrete. He has proved his steadiness of purpose without clearly defining his priorities. What, above all, does he intend to accomplish if he is elected President?

Obama is said to have been dissatisfied with the slogan. If so, he has a point. The “change” he advocates can be understood as a pragmatic correction to the radical policies and the ineptitude of the Bush brigade. His political departure is a kind of return. He has written two unusually revealing books—one describing how he came to be who he is, the other delineating how he proposes to reclaim the qualities that once made America so admired. He argues that the United States must relearn the fundamental lessons of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and its own long journey toward a more perfect union, and then apply them to the global upheavals of the twenty-first century.

Hard to unpick all the nensense there, but here are a few basic points:

(1) Given that W has used his presidency to fix his old man's mistakes--tax hikes, Souter, Saddam, etc.--does anyone really think he'd have left office without regime-changing Iraq? 9-11 was a convenient pre-text, not a paradigm-shifter.

(2) WMD was, likewise, just a pre-text, asked for by Tony Blair and Colin Powell, to try and get the United Nations to pass a new resolution, The defining speech on the Iraq War came a month earlier when W challenged the UN to live up to its own Charter and enforce its own prior resolutions, which Saddam was in violation of, President's Remarks at the United Nations General Assembly (George W. Bush,
New York, New York, 9/12/02 ):

Twelve years ago, Iraq invaded Kuwait without provocation. And the regime's forces were poised to continue their march to seize other countries and their resources. Had Saddam Hussein been appeased instead of stopped, he would have endangered the peace and stability of the world. Yet this aggression was stopped -- by the might of coalition forces and the will of the United Nations.

To suspend hostilities, to spare himself, Iraq's dictator accepted a series of commitments. The terms were clear, to him and to all. And he agreed to prove he is complying with every one of those obligations.

He has proven instead only his contempt for the United Nations, and for all his pledges. By breaking every pledge -- by his deceptions, and by his cruelties -- Saddam Hussein has made the case against himself.

In 1991, Security Council Resolution 688 demanded that the Iraqi regime cease at once the repression of its own people, including the systematic repression of minorities -- which the Council said, threatened international peace and security in the region. This demand goes ignored.

Last year, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights found that Iraq continues to commit extremely grave violations of human rights, and that the regime's repression is all pervasive. Tens of thousands of political opponents and ordinary citizens have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, summary execution, and torture by beating and burning, electric shock, starvation, mutilation, and rape. Wives are tortured in front of their husbands, children in the presence of their parents -- and all of these horrors concealed from the world by the apparatus of a totalitarian state.

In 1991, the U.N. Security Council, through Resolutions 686 and 687, demanded that Iraq return all prisoners from Kuwait and other lands. Iraq's regime agreed. It broke its promise. Last year the Secretary General's high-level coordinator for this issue reported that Kuwait, Saudi, Indian, Syrian, Lebanese, Iranian, Egyptian, Bahraini, and Omani nationals remain unaccounted for -- more than 600 people. One American pilot is among them.

In 1991, the U.N. Security Council, through Resolution 687, demanded that Iraq renounce all involvement with terrorism, and permit no terrorist organizations to operate in Iraq. Iraq's regime agreed. It broke this promise. In violation of Security Council Resolution 1373, Iraq continues to shelter and support terrorist organizations that direct violence against Iran, Israel, and Western governments. Iraqi dissidents abroad are targeted for murder. In 1993, Iraq attempted to assassinate the Emir of Kuwait and a former American President. Iraq's government openly praised the attacks of September the 11th. And al Qaeda terrorists escaped from Afghanistan and are known to be in Iraq.

In 1991, the Iraqi regime agreed to destroy and stop developing all weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles, and to prove to the world it has done so by complying with rigorous inspections. Iraq has broken every aspect of this fundamental pledge.

From 1991 to 1995, the Iraqi regime said it had no biological weapons. After a senior official in its weapons program defected and exposed this lie, the regime admitted to producing tens of thousands of liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents for use with Scud warheads, aerial bombs, and aircraft spray tanks. U.N. inspectors believe Iraq has produced two to four times the amount of biological agents it declared, and has failed to account for more than three metric tons of material that could be used to produce biological weapons. Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.

United Nations' inspections also revealed that Iraq likely maintains stockpiles of VX, mustard and other chemical agents, and that the regime is rebuilding and expanding facilities capable of producing chemical weapons.

And in 1995, after four years of deception, Iraq finally admitted it had a crash nuclear weapons program prior to the Gulf War. We know now, were it not for that war, the regime in Iraq would likely have possessed a nuclear weapon no later than 1993.

Today, Iraq continues to withhold important information about its nuclear program -- weapons design, procurement logs, experiment data, an accounting of nuclear materials and documentation of foreign assistance. Iraq employs capable nuclear scientists and technicians. It retains physical infrastructure needed to build a nuclear weapon. Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon. Should Iraq acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year. And Iraq's state-controlled media has reported numerous meetings between Saddam Hussein and his nuclear scientists, leaving little doubt about his continued appetite for these weapons.

Iraq also possesses a force of Scud-type missiles with ranges beyond the 150 kilometers permitted by the U.N. Work at testing and production facilities shows that Iraq is building more long-range missiles that it can inflict mass death throughout the region.

In 1990, after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the world imposed economic sanctions on Iraq. Those sanctions were maintained after the war to compel the regime's compliance with Security Council resolutions. In time, Iraq was allowed to use oil revenues to buy food. Saddam Hussein has subverted this program, working around the sanctions to buy missile technology and military materials. He blames the suffering of Iraq's people on the United Nations, even as he uses his oil wealth to build lavish palaces for himself, and to buy arms for his country. By refusing to comply with his own agreements, he bears full guilt for the hunger and misery of innocent Iraqi citizens.

In 1991, Iraq promised U.N. inspectors immediate and unrestricted access to verify Iraq's commitment to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles. Iraq broke this promise, spending seven years deceiving, evading, and harassing U.N. inspectors before ceasing cooperation entirely. Just months after the 1991 cease-fire, the Security Council twice renewed its demand that the Iraqi regime cooperate fully with inspectors, condemning Iraq's serious violations of its obligations. The Security Council again renewed that demand in 1994, and twice more in 1996, deploring Iraq's clear violations of its obligations. The Security Council renewed its demand three more times in 1997, citing flagrant violations; and three more times in 1998, calling Iraq's behavior totally unacceptable. And in 1999, the demand was renewed yet again.

As we meet today, it's been almost four years since the last U.N. inspectors set foot in Iraq, four years for the Iraqi regime to plan, and to build, and to test behind the cloak of secrecy.

We know that Saddam Hussein pursued weapons of mass murder even when inspectors were in his country. Are we to assume that he stopped when they left? The history, the logic, and the facts lead to one conclusion: Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave and gathering danger. To suggest otherwise is to hope against the evidence. To assume this regime's good faith is to bet the lives of millions and the peace of the world in a reckless gamble. And this is a risk we must not take.

Delegates to the General Assembly, we have been more than patient. We've tried sanctions. We've tried the carrot of oil for food, and the stick of coalition military strikes. But Saddam Hussein has defied all these efforts and continues to develop weapons of mass destruction. The first time we may be completely certain he has a -- nuclear weapons is when, God forbids, he uses one. We owe it to all our citizens to do everything in our power to prevent that day from coming.

The conduct of the Iraqi regime is a threat to the authority of the United Nations, and a threat to peace. Iraq has answered a decade of U.N. demands with a decade of defiance. All the world now faces a test, and the United Nations a difficult and defining moment. Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced, or cast aside without consequence? Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant?

The United States helped found the United Nations. We want the United Nations to be effective, and respectful, and successful. We want the resolutions of the world's most important multilateral body to be enforced. And right now those resolutions are being unilaterally subverted by the Iraqi regime. Our partnership of nations can meet the test before us, by making clear what we now expect of the Iraqi regime.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately and unconditionally forswear, disclose, and remove or destroy all weapons of mass destruction, long-range missiles, and all related material.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately end all support for terrorism and act to suppress it, as all states are required to do by U.N. Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will cease persecution of its civilian population, including Shi'a, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkomans, and others, again as required by Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will release or account for all Gulf War personnel whose fate is still unknown. It will return the remains of any who are deceased, return stolen property, accept liability for losses resulting from the invasion of Kuwait, and fully cooperate with international efforts to resolve these issues, as required by Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately end all illicit trade outside the oil-for-food program. It will accept U.N. administration of funds from that program, to ensure that the money is used fairly and promptly for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

If all these steps are taken, it will signal a new openness and accountability in Iraq. And it could open the prospect of the United Nations helping to build a government that represents all Iraqis -- a government based on respect for human rights, economic liberty, and internationally supervised elections.

The United States has no quarrel with the Iraqi people; they've suffered too long in silent captivity. Liberty for the Iraqi people is a great moral cause, and a great strategic goal. The people of Iraq deserve it; the security of all nations requires it. Free societies do not intimidate through cruelty and conquest, and open societies do not threaten the world with mass murder. The United States supports political and economic liberty in a unified Iraq.

(3) Last, note that W's speech and the Iraq War did precisely what Senator Obama claims to want to do, apply the standards of the American Founding globally. Not that this is new. After all, even the President's father--an arch-Realist/Pragmatist--was responsible for those resolutions, which, among other things, required that Saddam regime-change himself and grant the Iraqi people their God-given liberty.

Senator Obama's argument is that if a war may cost money and lives and be opposed by other foreign regimes that he'd not seek to vindicate American principles. That's a classic Realist trope, just an unAmerican one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 24, 2008 10:12 AM

Yeah, but this image of Wile E. Coyote momentarily suspended over the abyss before the plummet is a good one!

"But his captivating eloquence and his slogan—“Change We Can Believe In”—have seemed to lift him dangerously high above the concrete."

Posted by: Jorge Curioso at June 24, 2008 12:44 PM

I've been singing the praises of James Carville of all people of late, namely his wisdom of understanding that, if a President has a message and has opponents of that message (as all do), then they must hammer that message utterly relentlessly and without mercy, again and again and again on a daily basis until we all want to throw up from hearing it. But it must be done.

Or his opponents will do the same, and they will be the ones who prevail. "Bush lied, people died" is itself a lie. But it is "truth" to millions, and likely always will be, because of an appalling public relations / political "marketing" failure of the Bush administration.

"When a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound"? A philosophical question nevermore. We have our answer. It doesn't matter one whit what that tree actually did, except to God. Here on Earth, it only matters what is heard, and that depends on who is most relentless with the message.

I think Bush assumed "the truth will win out in the end". I, too,would have assumed that seven years ago.

Both of us were wrong.

Posted by: Andrew X at June 24, 2008 2:28 PM

"Five days earlier, a forty-one-year-old Illinois state legislator had given a momentous speech of his own"

Probably the most unintentionally hilarious sentence to appear in a political news article so far this millenium.

Posted by: b at June 24, 2008 2:34 PM

Andrew X you say

"Bush lied people died..is itself a lie"

Yet OJ, himself, says "WMD was, likewise, just a pre-text". Seems to meet the definition of a lie.

Posted by: h-man at June 24, 2008 3:31 PM

H - Point noted, but not gonna go around this mulberry bush for the 86,527th time. Saddam USED those WMD's that people say he did not have, the list of Democrats saying "Saddam has and is seeking WMD's and therefore......" is as long as your arm, and thus the Bush admin HAD to assume the worst in a wartime situation. OJ's own posting demonstrates that WMD was only part of the reasoning, along with treaty violations, massive human rights violations, sanctions violations, etc etc etc.

But again, it is tiresome. We've said it / heard it all before a quillion times. Had Bush been relentlessly hammering these very arguments back in the day, we would not be having it out now.

Posted by: Andrew X at June 24, 2008 5:20 PM


I don't see why WMD being a pretext makes claims about WMD a lie. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was a pretext for WWI, but he was still dead.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at June 24, 2008 6:16 PM

"When a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound"?

"How do you know it fell?" -- Ernie Pantuzzo

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at June 24, 2008 6:30 PM

[Obama] argues that the United States must relearn the fundamental lessons of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution

Ahahaha! Yes, we all know how the Founders would have supported windfall profit taxes, "comparable worth" (let's have the Feds address gender inequality by deciding what all jobs will pay!), ending secret ballots for unionization elections, having the government "create millions of 'green' jobs," etc. etc.

Posted by: PapayaSF at June 24, 2008 6:41 PM

Andrew X, AOG,

Regardless of whether it was a lie, the credibility of the US was damaged by emphasis on WMD (andrew it was nuclear weapons that were being hinted at).

Bush did not need to do any of that as far as domestic support was concerned. Mere technical violations of the earlier ceasefire was sufficient. The US public was with him.

Posted by: h-man at June 24, 2008 6:56 PM

He obviously had WMD since he used them on Iraqis, they just weren't a threat to anyone else. We did him because it was fun, not because he was a threat.

Posted by: oj at June 24, 2008 7:12 PM

Yes, it was time to "do" Saddam. It was necessary and it was easy. Iran was different, not least because Khatami was in office.

I remember listening to Bush's UN speech while driving through the low country of South Carolina (on my way home from a conference). I thought - boy howdy, somebody finally stood at that lectern and told the truth to the whole world. The glove was now well and duly tossed in front of all the double-talkers. And what would they say now?

WMD was an afterthought. But Bush's big mistake was not having a joint appearance with the Congressional leadership after the House and Senate votes, and getting Democrats up there next to him to say they supported the measure in full (i.e., that it was a continuation and a fulfillment of Congressional policy on Iraq since the 1998 regime change vote). That would have negated much of what followed, because then the Democratic party itself would have had to push back against the moonbat left.

While the Pelosi/Conyers/Boxer/Kucinich crew would have still screamed, imagine the effect had Lieberman, Reid, Murtha, Frost, and even Kerry and Hillary herself stood up there. In the fall of 2002, Bush could have dragged them up there. By the time he flew out to the Lincoln, probably not.

Posted by: jim hamlen at June 24, 2008 8:01 PM

Our image was secondary to Tony Blair's domestic political needs.

Posted by: oj at June 24, 2008 8:14 PM

As 9-11 was a pretext for regime changing Saddam. Though many in h-man's crowd think that a hoax too.

Posted by: oj at June 24, 2008 8:22 PM

"many in h-man's crowd think that a hoax too"

Excuuusse me. No. My crowd thinks you are a hoax stir-fried with a pretext, wrapped in a bacon riddle and stuck upside an enigma.

I think like Base Commander Jack D Ripper that there are people who are sapping our precious bodily fluids, causing us to deny our essence to wymyn.

Posted by: h-man at June 25, 2008 3:00 AM
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