Some of the White House jabs against their critics these days are so fatuous and simple-minded that it's hard not to step back every so often and wonder if they're even serious.
One of the silliest goes like this. We invaded because Iraq was "a threat". And all the Democrats agree that Iraq was "a threat". And, heck, here's this quote from Bill Clinton saying that Saddam was "a threat". So clearly everyone agreed with the president. So what's the problem?
Perhaps it seems like I'm oversimplifying the argument. But I really must plead its inherently moronic nature.
Sure, lots of people thought Iraq was a threat. But North Korea is a very serious threat. And we haven't invaded North Korea. And Iran's no bed of roses either. But we haven't invaded Iran, though I guess perhaps I shouldn't speak too soon.
For better or worse there was a vast consensus within the American political establishment that Saddam Hussein was a threat to American interests and that he must at least be maintaining some stocks of chemical weapons. It is even true that in 1998 the Congress passed and the president signed the Iraq Liberation Act, which put the US on record as supporting 'regime change' in Iraq, though we should not forget that this law was intentionally foisted on the president at a moment of maximum political weakness by most of the same connivers that brought us the real war four years later.
All true. But not everyone thought we should invade Iraq. And that's the heart of this. You could easily substitute "WMDs" for "a threat" in the sentences above. The question is 'how much of a threat'? Do we need to invade? Do we need to invade right now? Do we have to invade right now before we even get a chance to see if the suspicions which are the premise of our invasion are even accurate?
Various people of different political stripes said 'no' to one or more of these questions. And that's the heart of the matter. It's almost comical when you take a moment to think about it. President Bush has spent most of his presidency swinging around the cudgel that he has the character and the strength to defend the country when his political opponents don't. Now suddenly we learn that all the Democrats he's run against for four years as not tough enough to defend the country actually supported all of these decisions and would have done everything the same way had they been in power. What an extraordinary development.
Yesterday I linked to this exceptional post Mark Schmitt did today over at TPMCafe. What Mark tries to do is get into the mindset that's governed this administration, something that I tried to do, though I think not that well, in this article from two years ago. What we have here with President Bush and his key advisors is something more complicated and deep-rooted than garden variety lying. As Mark puts it ...
the whole practice of evaluating all information going into the war not for its truth value, but for whether it promoted or hindered the administration's goal of being free to go to war. The President could have been given every bit of intelligence information available, and he and/or Cheney would have reached the same decision because they would have discarded, discounted, or disregarded most of it. Information that was Useful to that goal was put in one box, Not Useful put in another. Entire categories of information were assigned to the Not Useful box because their source was deemed an opponent of U.S. military action, or assumed to have some other motive.
This is a deep insight into Mr. Bush and his coterie.
Garden variety lying is knowing it's Y and saying it's X -- Lyndon Johnson at the Gulf of Tonkin. This is a much deeper indifference to factual information in itself.
People ask me sometimes whether I think the president thought Saddam did have big stockpiles of WMD or whether he knew Saddam didn't and lied about it. Or the same with Iraq's alleged links to al Qaida. This even leads to a sort of inverted conspiracy theorizing when people ask, "If he knew there was no WMD, why didn't they at least try to plant some to avoid the catastrophic embarrassment which ensued after the war."
The real answer, I think, is as banal as it is devastating: I don't think they ever gave it much thought -- not in the sense of trying to get to the heart of the matter. A lawyer assembles a case. Whether his client is innocent or not is sort of beside the point. He's trying to get him acquitted. Very similar here. The point was to invade. Non-conventional weapons made it a real possibility. A connection to 9/11 would make it a slam dunk. Some of each might get you just past the goal line. And if that didn't something else might.
This is why there was the bum's rush for the inspections process. I'm sure they figured there were some chemical weapons to be found somewhere. But why take the chance that there weren't, or more likely, why take the chance there wouldn't be enough? That would defeat the whole purpose.
Thinking through these points would be and someday will be an important, critical conversation for this country to have. Because it is a toxic approach to governance which has suffused this administration. It will also be important to understand and come to terms with how various other parties and players set the ground work for, facilitated and enabled what happened over the last few years. George W. Bush and his crew may be the bad actors. But bad actors can't accomplish bad acts on this scale on their own in a nation of 300,000,000 people. At the moment, though, we can't even get those debate started because simply discussing the heart of the issue -- that the administration recklessly and dishonestly gamed the country into war -- triggers a new hurricane of lies, distortions and attempts to confuse.