Monday, October 11, 2004

Mixed Messages

An article in today's New York Times traces the continuing evolution of the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war. The inability to find WMDs in Iraq, a point recently reinforced by the Duelfer Report, has led the Bush administration to begin to tinker with, in a subtle fashion, the precepts on which the Bush pre-emptive doctrine was based.

Traditionally, pre-empting an enemy is all about urgency, striking before the enemy strikes. In the prelude to the invasion in March of last year, Mr. Bush and his aides stopping short of saying Saddam Hussein posed an "imminent" threat. Still, they used urgent-sounding language at every turn to explain why they could not afford to wait for inspectors to complete their work, or for the United Nations Security Council to come to a consensus on authorizing military action. "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud," he said in a speech delivered Oct. 7, 2002.
There are, of course, more such statements by the upper echelon of the Bush administration. At the request of Representative Harry Waxman (D - CA), the House Committee on Government Reform has compiled a searchable database, summarized here, containing 237 specific misleading statements, made on 125 separate occasions, "about the threat posed by Iraq made by the five Administration officials most responsible for providing public information and shaping public opinion on Iraq: President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Powell, and National Security Advisor Rice." Below, are some of the quotes pertaining to the urgency and imminence of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein:

- President Bush stated on October 2, 2002: "the Iraqi regime is a threat of unique urgency...[I]t has developed weapons of mass death."

- President Bush stated on November 20, 2002: "Today the world is...uniting to answer the unique and urgent threat posed by Iraq."

- Vice President Cheney stated on August 26, 2002: "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us."

- In one instance, Secretary Rumsfeld said that Iraq could give weapons of mass destruction to al Qaeda in "a week, or a month," resulting in the deaths of up to 100,000 people. [emphasis added throughout]
In the wake of the release of the Duelfer report, the Bush administration was fast at work parsing the findings in order to try to shore up the lack of "imminence" of the threat that Hussein posed. The urgency of the risk posed by Hussein's regime was undermined by the findings that Iraq's WMD programs, and even conventional weapons programs, had greatly deteriorated since 1991 to the point of non-existence, in the case of WMDs, and severe degradation, in terms of conventional weapons. The focus for Bush has shifted from actual WMDs to a more nebulous concept of future intent and the existence of corruption within the United Nations.

"We did not find the stockpiles we thought were there," Mr. Bush told supporters in Waterloo, Iowa, on Saturday. "But I want you to remember what the Duelfer report said. It said that Saddam Hussein was gaming the oil-for-food program to get rid of sanctions.
While much is being made of the graft resulting from the oil-for-food program, which was established to allow Iraq to sell oil through the United Nations in order to address humanitarian economic needs, the results of this corruption have been overstated by Bush and his supporters. While some money was most likely diverted to Hussein through illicit business dealings with companies based in the United States, France, Russia, Germany and elsewhere, the full parameters of the scandal, and its economic ramifications, have not been disclosed. The Duelfer report itself speculates that if the corruption continued, then it is conceivable that at some future point, Hussein could begin using the money to revitalize his moribund WMD programs, or further weaken the sanctions regime in place since the early 1990s. That being said, it is crucial to realize that no such effort at re-starting the WMDs programs was being made at the time of the invasion, despite the corruption that was occurring and the money this provided Hussein. In fact, there wasn't even a plan in place to re-start the programs, so any such speculation is several steps removed from reality. Here is a quote from the Duelfer report:

The former Regime had no formal written strategy or plan for the revival of WMD after sanctions. Neither was there an identifiable group of WMD policy makers or planners separate from Saddam. Instead, his lieutenants understood WMD revival was his goal from their long association with Saddam and his infrequent, but firm, verbal comments and directions to them.
The sanctions and inspections regime was, in fact, quite effective, as spelled out in this article appearing in Foreign Affairs:

The United Nations sanctions that began in August 1990 were the longest running, most comprehensive, and most controversial in the history of the world body. Most analysts argued prior to the Iraq war -- and, in many cases, continue to argue -- that sanctions were a failure. In reality, however, the system of containment that sanctions cemented did much to erode Iraqi military capabilities. Sanctions compelled Iraq to accept inspections and monitoring and won concessions from Baghdad on political issues such as the border dispute with Kuwait. They also drastically reduced the revenue available to Saddam, prevented the rebuilding of Iraqi defenses after the Persian Gulf War, and blocked the import of vital materials and technologies for producing WMD. The unique synergy of sanctions and inspections thus eroded Iraq's weapons programs and constrained its military capabilities. The renewed UN resolve demonstrated by the Security Council's approval of a "smart" sanctions package in May 2002 showed that the system could continue to contain and deter Saddam. Unfortunately, only when U.S. troops invaded in March 2003 did these successes become clear: the Iraqi military that confronted them had, in the previous twelve years, been decimated by the strategy of containment that the Bush administration had called a failure in order to justify war in the first place.

The unique synergy of sanctions and inspections thus eroded Iraq's weapons programs and constrained its military capabilities. The renewed UN resolve demonstrated by the Security Council's approval of a "smart" sanctions package in May 2002 showed that the system could continue to contain and deter Saddam. Unfortunately, only when U.S. troops invaded in March 2003 did these successes become clear: the Iraqi military that confronted them had, in the previous twelve years, been decimated by the strategy of containment that the Bush administration had called a failure in order to justify war in the first place.
That does not mean that there were not problems with the sanctions. The corruption needed to be addressed, the situation needed closer monitoring in order to insure that Saddam did not profit unduly, and to some degree, they could have been made less onerous on the Iraqi people, although Saddam himself had much to do with this impact. Fixing the weaknesses in the sanctions regime would have been difficult, but certainly not more difficult than convincing the international community to support a pre-emptive invasion that entailed nation building in the Middle East, in the midst of a hostile and cynical population, brokering peace between warring ethnic groups who have decades of grievances to settle, establishing representative Democracy, and keeping out foreign fighters and governments with their own differing agendas - to list just some of the complications of the Iraq project. Fixing the sanctions regime, though troublesome, was the right course of action considering how remote Saddam's threat actually was - and the United States was in a position to get tough on the UN's handling of the sanctions regime considering its standing in the international community vis a vis the events of September 11.

To paraphrase the Duelfer Report, Saddam may at some future point re-start his WMD programs, even though he had no strategy or plan in place, using money grafted from the oil-for-food plan, and this despite the fact that he had not used any such ill-gotten gains for WMDs up until the time of the invasion. The Times article applies these facts to the recent iteration of the Bush doctrine:

Mr. Bush appears to be saying that under his new standard, a country merely has to be thinking about developing illicit weapons at some time. "He's saying intent is enough," said Joseph Nye, a Harvard professor who under the Clinton administration headed the National Intelligence Council, the group that assesses for the president when countries have trespassed that hard-to-define line.

"The classical definition for pre-emption was 'imminent threat,' " Mr. Nye said. Then, with the development of the president's "National Security Policy of the United States," that moved to something less than imminent, because, as Mr. Bush argued, it is often hard to know when a country is about to attack. Now, said Mr. Nye, "the Duelfer report pushed him into a box where capability is not the standard, but merely intention."
This is, simply stated, an unworkable doctrine. There are far too many nations in the world that might have an intent to at some future point in time start up a WMD program that could yield results, and then, in turn, after all the time and effort spent acquiring WMDs, turn them over to terrorists who would successfully administer them in an attack on the United States. We do not have the military capacity to address every eligible candidate under this rubric, and our credibility will suffer if its application is seen as arbitrary. What is particularly perplexing about this standard, is how it applies to other nations currently in pursuit of WMDs.

To listen to Mr. Bush in the last few days, a country that merely desires to obtain the world's worst weapons is a potential target - but he has clearly avoided threatening Iran and North Korea, the two nations racing fastest toward such weapons.
Also free from the wrath of U.S. led pre-emptive invasion was Pakistan - a nation that had acquired the most potent of all WMDs (nuclear weaponry), had close ties to al-Qaeda, and had displayed a willingness to share the nuclear materials and technologies with other rogue nations and terrorist sponsors, including Iran, North Korea and Libya to name a few. Apparently, that is less blameworthy than a possible intent in the future.

President Bush has criticized Senator Kerry for sending "mixed messages" to our allies. Bush has questioned Kerry's ability to lead other nations and garner their support based on Kerry's critical observations of the incompetence and poor judgment shown in the invasion of Iraq and the post-invasion efforts. The Bush doctrine, in actuality, sends the most incomprehensible of messages to our allies, and is based on principles that have been contorted into a Gordian knot of confusion and uncertainty by political expediency. The Bush pre-emption doctrine is the wrong plan, from the wrong candidate at the wrong time.

[Update (of sorts): Kevin Drum at Political Animal quotes this article detailing the Bush administration's military strategy in Iraq:

The Bush administration will delay major assaults on rebel-held cities in Iraq until after U.S. elections in November, say administration officials, mindful that large-scale military offensives could affect the U.S. presidential race.

...."When this election's over, you'll see us move very vigorously," said one senior administration official involved in strategic planning, speaking on condition of anonymity.

....Any delay in pacifying Iraq's most troublesome cities, however, could alter the dynamics of a different election -- the one in January, when Iraqis are to elect members of a national assembly.

With only four months remaining, U.S. commanders are scrambling to enable voting in as many Iraqi cities as possible to shore up the poll's legitimacy.

U.S. officials point out that there have been no direct orders to commanders in the field to pause operations in the weeks before the Nov. 2 election. Top administration officials in Washington are simply reluctant to sign off on a major offensive in Iraq at the height of the political season.
Drum then goes on to recall this moment in the most recent presidential debate:

What was it Bush said during last Friday's debate? Oh yeah: "I don't see how you can lead this country in a time of war, in a time of uncertainty, if you change your mind because of politics." [emphasis added]
So Bush is not only guilty of sending mixed messages to our allies and enemies, but also of letting politics affect his judgment in a time of war. The irony is thick.]

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