There is something quite sad happening in modern politics. There is a hatred of George W. Bush so consuming that it has left many otherwise sensible people with an inability to deal with questions concerning the man and his policies.
I have seen this up close and personal. I’m on a number of mass email lists. One of them is spearheaded by a friend who was once a hippie, became a Republican, and now, since the invasion of Iraq, is an angry, self-described “refugee from Republicanism.” The innumerable daily emails I get from this group are not only hostile to Bush but vicious. In fact, they openly confess to hating Bush: “Yes, I admit I hate Bush,” said one emailer. Another email began, “George Bush is the [G]-damned dumbest [expletive] ever to be president.”
About a month ago, the group distributed an editorial from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that was so filled with hyperbole about a Bush “police state” that I had to respond. This led to heated back-and-forth sparring.
Of all of the items we debated, most frustrating is the assertion that the president lied about Iraq possessing WMDs. I’d like to here briefly address the charge, because it underscores my broader point about Bush hatred:
Even on its face, this claim is self-defeating. Imagine, for the sake of argument, that Bush lied about WMDs. That would mean that he went to war for a reason he knew would be exposed as false the moment we got to Iraq and found no WMDs. He would have pursued this lie knowing it would be exposed in the year he ran for re-election. All of his advisers, all of the U.S. military, and all of the world’s governments and intelligence services, would have been complicit in this conspiracy of unbridled stupidity, one of the grandest lies in political history.
In reality, it must be remembered that the debate over going to war in Iraq was not over whether Saddam had WMDs. Everyone was convinced that he did, including the political left at home and abroad, including all Democrats, Kofi Annan, the French, the Russians, and so on.
My personal experience is instructive:
I began working this issue at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in the early 1990s, and then continued to focus on it in graduate school and as a professor. All along, I supported the Democrats in the White House when they bombed Iraq because of the WMD threat. The last such occasion was December 1998, after Saddam again kicked out U.N. inspectors as they demanded entry to clandestine WMD sites. By the time of Bush’s 2003 invasion, inspections had not occurred in five years, which concerned Bush greatly in the post-9/11 world.
In my lectures, I still use lengthy 1990s articles from The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the London Times, Time, Newsweek, and the Washington Post, that detailed Saddam’s frightening covert biological and nuclear-weapons programs. I still show my students video of Clinton’s secretary of defense on “Meet the Press” and of Clinton administration officials Madeleine Albright, Sandy Berger, and William Cohen taking on an auditorium of hysterical Ohio State University students—their point: we must get Saddam’s WMDs before he uses them.
I remember telling my students on the eve of the invasion of Iraq that I shared the trepidation of liberals who feared our troops would be hit with WMDs as Saddam was backed into a corner. I recall reading a Nicholas Kristof op-ed in The New York Times to that effect.
The debate within the international community was whether an American-led invasion should be pursued to disarm Saddam (the Bush-Blair approach) or whether sanctions and arms inspections should be pursued to disarm Saddam (the French-Russian approach), but never whether Saddam had WMDs.
Of course, after the invasion, we discovered some WMDs, and David Kay found both the infrastructure and intent to ramp up WMD production once Saddam later figured Iraq was in the clear. We did not, however, find the WMD stockpiles we expected.
The argument that Bush lied about WMDs is not only extraordinarily unfair but stunningly misinformed and nonsensical—and comes from people who fancy themselves as smart and Bush as dumb. It lingers because certain people despise George W. Bush so much that they will believe almost anything about the man, no matter how villainous the theory. That contempt undermines their ability to reasonably judge the president and his policies. It also leads them to disturbing conclusions, such as eagerly believing a mass-murdering fascist-racist like Saddam but refusing to believe Bush, even against all facts.
I would advise them to channel their emotions and energies toward a more productive question: why were there no WMD stockpiles in Iraq when we arrived? They must have been destroyed, buried, or moved in the lengthy period prior to the invasion. That is the key issue, but addressing it means redirecting one’s hatred.