Tuesday, June 01, 2004

One question getting lost in the criticism of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy is the question, “Why?”

It’s convenient to see the war policy as shortsighted, ethnocentric, motivated by greed, simpleminded, and a few other qualities that are less than stellar. According to one player who was around for the formation of Bush’s Iraq policy, it may be all those things, but primarily, it was an attempt to make an example of a country to prove that the US was unafraid to do so and could do so with ease.

Iraq policy was not formulated by idiots. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolowitz, and Pearle may all be radical right-wingers, or in the case of Rumsfeld, simply in love with his own ideas, but they’re not stupid. If you believe Paul O’Neill, and there’s no compelling reason not to, they are something a bit scarier than that.

According to O’Neill’s account (in The Price of Loyalty, his account with Ron Suskind, of his tenure in the administration) of early administration foreign policy discussions, dating back to the Presidential transition and into early 2001, the neocons leading strategy had already decided that the US needed to show developing countries that it could take devastating retribution, in advance, on any state that considered challenging the primacy of the United States by developing an arsenal of chemical, biological, or nuclear weaponry.

In a play designed to illustrate by example what a newly muscular US military could do, the neocons wanted to gin up a war with Saddam Hussein to display their ability to deal with an “asymmetrical” threat to US power, even power not used or likely to be used in the near future.

If this is true, there was no idea that the US homeland was in dire distress from an Iraqi threat. There was a more theoretical issue at hand back in January 2001—how to deal with an obstreperous regional power and how to “dissuade” others from following his example. For this object lesson, these hard men were willing to put American kids and their officers in harm’s way and were ready to subject Iraq to the devastation it has now endured.

If this is even partially true, the people running Iraq policy came into office ready to fight even while President Bush ran a 2000 campaign based on “humble” relations with others nations, speaking not a word of his aggressive plans while his Vice President and military advisors planned all along to push Saddam into a conflict he couldn’t win.

This is a scenario that ought to be the subject of repeated questions for every member of the Administration’s National Security team until satisfying answers are given…however unsatisfying they may be to know.

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