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Thursday, July 31, 2003
Unchecked via dishonesty
Seven days ago OpinionJournal -the online editorial page of The Wall Street Journal- published Steven Den Beste's "We Won't Back Down," a document that could make Tom Petty's individualist aural declaration relevant to a particular collective colonial action if it wasn't already. Den Beste has four main points:
1) The United States invaded and has taken over Iraq "to 'nation build': to create a secularized, liberated, cosmopolitan society in a core Arab nation" because doing so will make the U.S. safer and influence other countries in the Middle East to move in a direction desired by the U.S.
2) Arguments about "U.N. resolutions and weapons of mass destruction" were and are used by U.S. President George W. Bush to justify the invasion because being honest about the mission "would have virtually guaranteed that it would fail. Among other things, it would have caused all of the brutal dictators and corrupt monarchs in the region to unite with Saddam against us, and would have made the invasion impossible."
3) Given points 1) and 2), there should be no controversy over the allegations that the Bush Administration, and their allies in Great Britain, oversold the weapons of mass destructions programs that Saddam was developing since those were not the real issue. Those Democrats, and presumably others although Den Beste does not say so, who continue to be critical of the U.S. being involved in Iraq, which is different than criticizing how the U.S. is involved in Iraq, have no political future.
4) The U.S. will be successful in building an Iraq the U.S. wants because people in the U.S. are "not going to forget 9/11. On some level or another, it's going to be a major political issue here for the next few decades, until we're convinced that the danger is gone. Arab extremism is no longer something that happens a long ways away and that we can ignore, so we aren't going to. It is their problem, but 9/11 made it ours. Now we'll solve it."
I'm in general agreement with Den Beste on the first point, although the two of us disagree on the merits of such an endeavor. Den Beste ignores one important element in the second point which is that Bush said in a February 26 speech that building a nation desired by the U.S. which would influence other countries in the Middle East was a goal of U.S. policy towards Iraq.True it was just one speech amongst many on the topic and "nation building" was hardly the most common justification given the Bush Administration for the war that would come to be known Operation Iraqi Freedom, but openly saying the secret plan seems like it would be a major mistake and something that Den Beste should have addressed.
The third point similarly overlooks the actual arguments being put forward by those who believe the Bush Administration was dishonest in the lead up to Operation Iraqi Freedom when talking about the still yet to be found weapons of mass destruction. While the political success of their cause remains to be seen, many, if not most, who hold this position do not deny that the Bush Administration had other reasons for the escalating the war, and some may believe that at least some of those reasons were valid, but nonetheless they do not believe that dishonesty from the occupants of the White House is acceptable when the matter is justifying a war, which is the very opposite of what Den Beste says. If Den Beste’s logic takes hold and becomes the prevailing wisdom it would be difficult to critique the Bush Administration in any way that would reach out to the unconvinced as any critique of the explicit statements of Team Bush could be dismissed as irrelevant because they are assumed to have other reasons for their actions.
The elimination, or at least near elimination, of the space for such a critique in fact appears to be what Den Beste wants. Much like Jonah Goldberg of The National Review sounded back in March, Den Beste writes:
As combat started, I felt enormous pressure and worry, for the people involved. But on another level I felt a great deal of relief. Once we actually began the invasion, certain political issues became faits accomplis. The question of engagement in the Arab sphere is no longer debatable; we're going to be engaged. That was still in doubt, right up until the first tanks rolled over the border from Kuwait into Iraq. Now it isn't.Actually the U.S. had long been involved in the “Arab sphere” in a variety of ways. The build-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom may have been the beginning of a new stage in U.S. engagement, but, just as before, this should in no way preclude discussions of whether continued intervention is the right thing to do, if only because eliminating even the possibility of such a discussion amounts to unlimited power for the Bush Administration and those that follow to do whatever they want in the region, and arguably the world.
Den Beste’s point about how committed the people of the U.S. are to remaking the Iraq is interesting because it only gives two examples, both from the same period, of situations where the U.S. has successfully rebuilt other countries and he bizarrely assumes that the commitment of the U.S. public to rebuilding another country is of primary importance. The U.S. may or may not be successful in create a democratic, secular and stable state in Iraq and doing so may or may not make the U.S. safer, but Den Beste doesn’t provide any argument one way or the other.
When put together Den Beste’s third and fourth points create an interesting portrait of a public in the U.S. that doesn’t mind being lied to about the reason for war and at the same time is firmly committed to doing whatever is necessary to support the war effort because of their desire to avoid another tragedy. I suspect this is a fair description of a significant portion of the U.S., but that should be worrisome as opposed to encouraging. Such an attitude is at peace with the public only having access to a purposely designed false version of reality and seeks to dampen or even eliminate any checks on the use of military power –the ultimate in “big government”- by a relatively small group of people that are in charge of the U.S.
Although even bringing this up seems like a cheap shot, it should be noted I have written this entry up to this point as if it can be assumed that Den Beste actually believes what he says in “We Won't Back Down”and is not the result of him being dishonest in order to promote some “greater good.” While the critique of Den Beste’s argument that I’ve presented still stands up even if Den Beste doesn’t believe his own argument, the fact that any of this even needs to be said illustrates how absurdity is likely set in once dishonesty is enshrined as necessary and justifiable.