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Unanchored Meme

Shocking! Outrageous!

Ron Reagan, son of the late former-President Regan, has a long article in the Sep. 2004 issue of Esquire (regular, print-friendly):

It may have been the guy in the hood teetering on the stool, electrodes clamped to his genitals. Or smirking Lynndie England and her leash. Maybe it was the smarmy memos tapped out by soft-fingered lawyers itching to justify such barbarism. The grudging, lunatic retreat of the neocons from their long-standing assertion that Saddam was in cahoots with Osama didn't hurt.

<long, slow whistle>

And that's just part of the first paragraph. It falls a little short of Bancroft-Hinchey's masterpiece (dissected here) — but still&hellip wow!

I feel like I'm reading the Democratic Underground discussion forums. Bu$hitler is the President-select of AmeriKKKa! Bush lied, people died! The war was illegal! It's all about oooooil!

Anchors aweigh, me hearties. Let's review the truth, as briefly as possible.

In the "torture memos", Rumsfeld denied requests to use methods stronger than "mild, noninjurious physical contact". What happened at Abu Ghraib was not approved, and no official has ever tried to "justify such barbarism" — quite the contrary, it was strongly condemned. I stress the great distance between "mild, noninjurious physical contact" and actual torture.

The "assertion that Saddam was in cahoots with Osama" is an interesting meme. It's gotten traction because people are being deliberately unclear when discussing it. There are several issues: (1) Were Saddam and/or Osama trying to enlist the other's help? (2) Were they actively working together? (3) Was Saddam involved in supporting the 9/11 attacks? (4) Is Saddam relevant to the broader war against Islamic Fundamentalism even if he wasn't involved in 9/11? Let's consider them separately:

  1. Yes, according to a 1999 article in the Guardian, that predates even the 2000 election.
  2. This is very controversial. Googling for "Feith memo" will get you started. It's a matter of record that Saddam supported terrorists (such as by giving money to the families of suicide bombers in Israel) but his actual involvement with al Qaeda is something I haven't studied.
  3. Probably not, I think. And very importantly, the Bush Administration has not claimed Saddam was involved in 9/11.
  4. The Bush Administration does believe that Iraq is relevant to the broader war, and so do I.

Related to #3, do not send me the now-famous quote from Condoleezza Rice used in Fahrenheit 9/11, "Oh, indeed there is a tie between Iraq and what happened on 9/11." If you don't know what she said immediately afterward, which Moore cut from the film, you should read about it (it's #43).

Goodness, I've only gotten through four sentences! This is the difficulty of debate — it takes so much longer to refute a claim than to make one. Let's pick up the pace and dive into what matters:

Politicians will stretch the truth. They'll exaggerate their accomplishments, paper over their gaffes. Spin has long been the lingua franca of the political realm. But George W. Bush and his administration have taken "normal" mendacity to a startling new level far beyond lies of convenience. On top of the usual massaging of public perception, they traffic in big lies, indulge in any number of symptomatic small lies, and, ultimately, have come to embody dishonesty itself. They are a lie. And people, finally, have started catching on.

Does anyone really favor an administration that so shamelessly lies? One that so tenaciously clings to secrecy, not to protect the American people, but to protect itself? That so willfully misrepresents its true aims and so knowingly misleads the people from whom it derives its power?

Ron Reagan is calling Bush and his administration liars. Explicitly. So don't accuse me of setting up a straw man.

The "Bush Lied!" meme has been receiving a considerable pounding lately. The unanimously-approved Senate Intelligence Committee Report is the source of most of it. The infamous sixteen words hold up. There's an excellent review of the Report at Winds of Change, including some discussion of links between Saddam and al Qaeda relevant to #2.

Bush didn't lie about WMDs. He trusted the intelligence, and the intelligence turned out to be wrong. According to the Report, there was no pressure to "cook" the intelligence. Our intelligence service reached the same conclusion as other intelligence services around the world. Britain and Russia and France believed Saddam had WMDs. The leaders of Jordan and Egypt told General Franks that Saddam had them, and would use them. The Clinton administration believed Saddam had them. (There are some eye-opening quotes from Al Gore in that link. Gore believed violations of the 1991 resolutions against Iraq were sufficient cause for military action. His recent statements don't even sound like the same person.) Many Democrats have sounded downright hawkish about the matter.

Everyone — Republicans, Democrats, and foreign leaders — were making congruent statements based on the consensus of the intelligence community, both domestic and foreign. The intelligence was wrong — not completely wrong — but even if it were, there is no justification for calling Bush a liar with respect to WMDs.

A lie is the deliberate communication of a known untruth with the intent to deceive. Bush believed it was true and wasn't trying to deceive. So it wasn't a lie — period. We can lay that meme to rest.

(Incidentally, there is an Iraqi WMD blog that tracks WMD stories.)

Relatedly, it may be claimed that WMDs were merely the public justification for overthrowing Saddam, that they were a relatively minor factor and that the "real" reasons were kept secret. I agree with that position. What I disagree with is the insinuation that the private motivations are at all sinister.

I view the liberation of Iraq as a first step in a mideast cultural reformation, a necessary step toward victory in the ideological war against Islamic Fundamentalism. Iraq was the best place to begin for a variety of practical reasons, among which are the country's relative secularism, lack of allies, weakened military infrastructure, ongoing military operations against them, and of course the brutal tyrant at the helm which was our moral justification for intervention.

The WMD issue provided diplomatic cover for our allies, but all the diplomats always knew that it was never the primary reason. The only people who haven't figured it out seem to be… Democrats.

Tiny Island