President Bush's Troubles I
Bill Long 4/9/06
The Subject is Iraq
It is exceedingly difficult for even a popular, intelligent or well-liked President to maintain his popularity in modern-day America through two entire terms. Ronald Reagan faced the Iran-Contra scandal mid-way in his second term, and Bill Clinton's personal conduct became the subject of impeachment hearings in the late 1990s. Thus, for George W. to be facing problems at this time of his Presidency is not unusual. What is unusual, however, is that this President seems singularly unable to climb out of the current pit he has dug for himself. Thus, his reputation, which among the left was always questionable, has taken a nose-dive even among Republicans, and there seems no way at this point for him to restore his popularity or credibility. This and the next essay probe how the latest revelations in the debate over intelligence on the Iraq War in Summer 2003 has further eroded his standing.
The Iraq War--Getting Into It
There are lots of interesting debate points which I like to discuss with informed people about the origins of the War with Iraq. My first question has to do with how serious the plans for war were before 9/11. The second question has to do with what reasons would have been suggested for such a War before the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" (WMD) and "Al-Qaida" rationales began to be promoted in 2002. I think that the Bush Adminstration was looking for a war well before 9/11 but knew that it wouldn't have the support of the American people, despite an impressive propaganda machine, simply because we generally don't go around invading people. We have involved ourselves in "regime change" in South America, Iran or other places in the world, but this was done through covert operations. Rarely do we as a nation invade other nations outside our hemisphere. What could have been the early (pre-9/11) rationales for war against Iraq? The most likely triad are: (1) oil; (2) Israel; and (3) inchoate psychological desires of the President to "do one better" than his father or to "payback" a world figure (Saddam Hussein) who had embarrassed his father.
But after 9/11 things changed. The Adminstration, while still not ignoring the earlier rationales, developed reasons allegedly linked to the terrorist attacks themselves or to fears of subsequent attacks. At the heart of the Administration's case was fear--a fear that Saddam Hussein ("SH") might, in his allegedly megalomaniacal ways, obtain these weapons and then use them on the US. The linchpin of the Administration's case for war, then, was that SH posed a credible threat through his acquisition and development of the weapons themselves or the means to make them. Hence, when Joseph C. Wilson wrote his July 6, 2003 op-ed piece in the New York Times questioning whether SH had sought uranium from Niger, a crucial point in the Adminsitration's argument was subject to attack. Recall that this op-ed piece appeared four months after the US-led invasion of Iraq took place, so Wilson's article would not affect the "conquest" part of the war effort. However, after the battle had been won crucial questions were beginning to arise about whether we really would find evidence of WMD in Iraq.
Thus, Wilson's voice needed to be squelched, in the mind of the Administration. And, they had some experience squelching voices. After the 9/11 attacks, the President's approval ratings, not unexpectedly, soared. Dissenters were in a minority and vocal dissenters were the great exception. Rock musicians and other artists who dared speak out against the Administration were met with retaliation from record labels (at the behest of the Administration minions) or from booking agents. In other words, the word was clear: we were in America, but dissent would not be tolerated. This attitude bred an arrogance in the Administration, and fueled, in my judgment, the President's arrogation to himself of all kinds of powers, justified now by his hapless Attorney General as "inherent" powers of the Presidency.
The Crucial Period--June-July 2003
Thus, just when the Administration was savoring our quick military victory over Iraq in May and June 2003, Joseph C. Wilson wrote his article. He was raining on the President's parade and attacking the main rationale for the War. But the problem for the Adminsitration was that Wilson was a man who had what Bush has since lost: credibility. Wilson was a career diplomat in Africa and Iraq and in the late 1980s even had been Ambassador to Niger, where SH's people had in the late 1990s allegedly gone to procure yellowcake uranium. Thus, Wilson had to be "punished" for daring to disagree with the Adminstration, an Administration which had been throwing its ample weight around with impunity for 20 months.
Punishment was swift. We just learned two days ago (through some filings in the Scooter Libby case by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald) that Libby asserted that his "leak" to the craven Judith Miller of the New York Times (which has had a really rough five years) of classified information designed to make the Administration's case more believable was actually authorized by not simply the Vice-President but also the President. In other words, at least at this point there are uncontroverted allegations that Bush authorized disclosure of highly classified information which argued that Iraq was vigorously pursuing a program for making weapons of mass destruction. This classified information, as we are also learning, was embedded in an Oct. 2002 Intelligence Estimate about the War, but was information that was contested within the Administration itself.
Thus where we are today, as I write this piece, is with the reality of the President's having authorized release of highly selective and skewed confidential data to try to counter the well-argued allegations of Wilson. The next essay will reflect more on this reality and try to assess where we now are on the "leak" case.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long