ALAN RM JONES
The year of the monkey…
It was an annus horribilis for an increasingly isolated and beleaguered Republican president under attack from a scathing media and irresolute Democrats in Congress. Each day’s news appeared more dreadful than the last; a constant stream of casualties and poor generalship and setbacks.
Even the president’s attempts to honour the nation’s war dead was sharply condemned. The Chicago Times said he ‘misstated the cause for which they had died’. In other words, he had lied. And, they added, ‘the cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dish-watery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States’.
Pretty harsh words. They were to be expected, though, from pundits and cartoonists who frequently questioned the president’s intelligence and who had regularly drawn him as a chimpanzee. Abraham Lincoln would have been happy to give 1863 a miss entirely. But then 1862 hadn’t been a banner year, either. At Antietam, Union forces suffered over twelve thousand casualties, the South nearly fourteen thousand; many more would fall in the year ahead at Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor.
One of the few bright spots in an otherwise grim political landscape was that Congressional Democrats were severely split. The so-called ‘War Democrats’ were all for it, but squabbled over every battlefield disaster, of which there was no shortage. If that wasn’t enough, the War Dems also accused Lincoln of being a tyrant – packing the Supreme Court with cronies that would do his bidding to destroy civil liberties.
On the other side of the Democratic divide were the ‘Peace Democrats’, who had bitterly attacked Lincoln’s Emancipation Declaration on job protection and racist grounds – proof, they wailed, that he had lied all along about the real aims of the war he had foisted upon the nation. They demanded that the war, which was being ‘fought on a lie’, be ended at once, even if the Confederacy was allowed to secede.
Even some Republicans voiced their doubts. Covetous European powers were encouraged.
Today, the Democratic and media chorus sings the same tune: ‘Chimpy lied and thousands died’. George Bush, from the beginning of his presidency portrayed as having apelike characteristics, has been accused of lying the nation into war the war in Iraq.
While the Big Lie charge has always focused on WMD, it has morphed through three distinct ‘lies’, each charge itself a lie. The first version of the lie, in the immediate aftermath of the war, went something like this: Bush lied when he claimed that Baathist Iraq under Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to the national security of the United States.
Of course, Bush had never argued that Iraq posed an imminent threat. He had clearly argued that in a post-September 11 world, preventative action was justified to prevent gathering threats from metastasizing to the point where it was too late to act.
In a major pre-war speech, Bush said: “Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.”
Bush argued, in accordance with international law that threatened nations need not wait for an “armed attack” or even an “imminent” threat before responding with force. Rather, as the distinguished diplomat, presidential adviser, and Yale Law School Dean, the late Eugene Rostow, maintained: ‘the target of an illegal use of force need not wait before defending itself until it is too late to do so. International law, after all, is not a suicide pact’.
It is past ironic that Bush – who was and still is scolded for his doctrine of early preemption (i.e., preventive or anticipatory self-defence) against gathering threats – was attacked for not meeting a standard which he explicitly rejected.
The second Big Lie invention that has been peddled is that Bush argued that the war in Iraq was, in the words of California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, ‘all about WMD, full stop’. Boxer made this outburst during Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice’s confirmation hearing earlier this year. It would be generous to accept that Boxer simply forgot what she had voted for in authorising military force against Iraq:
“Whereas Iraq persists in violating resolution of the United Nations Security Council by continuing to engage in brutal repression of its civilian population thereby threatening international peace and security in the region, by refusing to release, repatriate, or account for non-Iraqi citizens wrongfully detained by Iraq, including an American serviceman, and by failing to return property wrongfully seized by Iraq from Kuwait…
“The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to:
“(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and
“(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq”.
Or as Bush stated in October 2002:
“America believes that all people are entitled to hope and human rights, to the non-negotiable demands of human dignity. People everywhere prefer freedom to slavery; prosperity to squalor; self-government to the rule of terror and torture. America is a friend to the people of Iraq. Our demands are directed only at the regime that enslaves them and threatens us. When these demands are met, the first and greatest benefit will come to Iraqi men, women and children. The oppression of Kurds, Assyrians, Turkomans, Shi’a, Sunnis and others will be lifted. The long captivity of Iraq will end, and an era of new hope will begin”.
The third Big Lie furphy, re-heated lately by Chimpler critics the New York Times and Democratic Chairman Howard (‘Yeeeeeaaaahhhh!’) Dean, is that the Bush Administration twisted and lied about pre-war WMD intelligence. Congress and every other intelligence service in the world, including those of nations which were against enforcing the UN Security Council’s resolutions – chiefly France and Russia –had access to the same intelligence and agreed the threat that Saddam posed was real. The Mesopotamian miscreant’s record spoke well enough for itself: four wars, genocide, WMD use and support for terrorists.
To this Dean et al now claim bizarrely that Bush had a secret stash of heretofore uncovered intelligence that showed Saddam had uncovered all of his WMD. Again, it would be charitable to suggest that such charges are based on an innocent overlooking of extensive bipartisan and independent investigations in the US and Britain that showed intelligence had not been cooked up to stage a war.
If the Bush administration could be criticised for anything, it would be for indulging the doubters in the first place. It was never for the UN or the US to prove that Saddam still had WMD; rather, it was always for him to prove that he did not. This he failed to do, or even attempt in good faith to do, and the message and precedent was made clear by Bush’s response.
Nevertheless, Bush has hit back at his critics:
While it’s perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began. Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community’s judgments related to Iraq’s weapons programs.
Bush was up-front about his war aims. While Lincoln planned the Emancipation Declaration in secret, after the war had begun, Bush at least outlined all of his goals before the first shot was fired. But like the Civil War, the war in Iraq was always about much more than the primary stated aim.
While the Civil War was fought, initially, to save the Union, in the end it was and had to be about freedom. The denial of freedom was, after all, what had led to secession and war. Likewise, the absence of freedom in Iraq, and in the Middle East generally, was the proximate cause for terrorism and the spread and use of WMD. For it is a simple fact of the modern world that democracies not only do not repress and terrorise their own people, they do not terrorise or otherwise attack other democracies. It is why, so long ago, the Great Emancipator’s work remained unfinished.
Lest it descend into the Planet of the Apes.