Colin made me do it!!!
In various conversations and chats over the last couple days, I’ve heard the new spin again and again. It goes something like this. The international embarrassment, or at least discomfort, we’re now facing over our inability to find any WMD in Iraq isn’t the fault of the Pentagon or the Office of the Vice President or any of the other Iraq-hawks. It’s the fault of Colin Powell and the State Department.
Because it was the State Department and Powell that made the focus WMD, weapons inspections, and UN resolutions. Now, so the argument goes, we’re stuck with the embarrassment of not finding any WMDs. And we wouldn’t be in this spot if the folks at State — the internationalists — hadn’t prioritized the WMD issue above all the others.
This is a bogus argument and wildly disingenuous to boot, not least because it ignores an obvious and transcendentally important point: without playing the WMD card the hawks never would have gotten within a thousand miles of Baghdad. And they know it.
As I argued in my article ‘Practice to Deceive‘, for the chief hawks, finding and eliminating Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction was only one reason — and perhaps even a secondary reason — to go to war. The broader aim was to commence a process of reforming and shifting the geopolitical balance of the entire region by installing free-market, pro-western democracies and rooting out the various political pathologies and sources of anti-Western violence that threatened US interests in the region and even at home. (Again, the details are in the Washington Monthly article.)
I think that plan, at least in its very broad outline, had some real merits (see my original story on Iraq in the June 2002 Washington Monthly).
The problem is that there was never any way you were going to get the American people to go to war for a longterm plan to democratize and institutionalize a cultural revolution in the Middle East on the theory it might arguably further US interests in the region. It was only the imminent or near-term threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction — and the possibility that Saddam might hand them off to al-qaida-like terrorists — that built public support for the war.
That’s it. Nothing else.
And that’s why the administration pushed this argument again and again and again, often hammering on the quite improbable notion that the Iraqis might soon have a nuclear weapon. (Remember Condi Rice’s line: “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”)
You could support this war for many reasons — grand geopolitics, the demonstration effect, weapons of mass destruction, democracy, human rights, helping get our troops out of Saudi Arabia, etc. But the real proponents of war knew that WMD and terrorism was the only way to sell it to the American people. And that’s just what they did. The fact that they also said democracy and human rights would be a good thing doesn’t change that fact.
So it wasn’t the UN that made them do it, or State, or Colin Powell. If there was anyone who pushed them into making WMD the central issue, it was the American people. That doesn’t necessarily mean they made the argument in bad faith or that the war might not still be justified on other lines. But to suggest that State forced the hawks to hype the WMD threat is just the same sort of up-is-down, too-clever-by-four-and-a-half funny-business that made a lot of us distrust these guys in the first place.