Sunday, June 01, 2003

Why WMDs matter
We still haven't found the stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that our leaders promised us. Now Paul Wolfowitz admits that the WMDs were always just a fig leaf for an already decided on invasion. Most Americans don't care. We got rid of a bad guy, it was easy, and now we get to ignore the economy and shout, "we're number one" for a while. But we should care and here's why.

First, they lied to us. Lying is part of politics. It's naive to expect the whole truth and nothing but the truth at all times. We do, however, assume that lying has its place and that truth telling is required for certain situations. Starting a war and sending Americans to their deaths is one of the mandatory truth telling situations. This is why, after all these years, people are still able to get into a lather over whether Roosevelt did or did not know about the impending Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Ironically, the Bush administration didn't even need to lie. Most Democrats, liberals, and European allies agreed that Saddam was a bad man who should go; they simply wanted a proper case to be made through the mechanism of international channels. This was too difficult, so the administration made up fairy tales about mushroom clouds over American cities. Mark Bowden makes this point for The Philadelphia Inquirer:
I can imagine no greater breach of public trust than to mislead a country into war. A strong case might have been made to go after Hussein just because he posed a potential threat to us and the region, because of his support for suicide bombers, and because of his ruthless oppression of his own people. But this is not the case our President chose to make.

The Bush administration treated the American public and international community with contempt and deserves nothing less in return.

Second, they exceeded their mandate. In the weeks before the actual invasion, the administration weaseled around, trying out new reasons for war every few days. Saddam is a bad man. He kills his own people. He supports al Qaida. He threatens his neighbors. He might do something bad to us someday. The Iraqi people are yearning to breathe free. Our credibility demands it. The troops are getting seasick and have to go ashore somewhere. Convincing or not, none of these reasons matter. The legal reason for which the Senate authorized use of force was to enforce UN Resolution 1441, disarming Saddam of his WMDs. If we knew there were no WMDs, then the entire war was illegal. Period.

Third, they failed to tend to more important matters while chasing after this chimera. While we conquered a third rate power, the economy continued to slide, unemployment increased, al Qaida regrouped, Afghanistan continued to slide into chaos, we still haven't patched any of the more egregious holes in our domestic security, the states are going bankrupt, and Fox is going ahead with their evil plans for a 24/7 reality show channel. The war not only distracted us from potential scandals of the administration, it not only prevented the administration from dealing with other problems; it prevented anybody from dealing with those problems. Grandma can spend the principal of her dwindling savings on prescription medication only so long before she’s broke. Cousin Bob can live on unemployment only so long before he gets cut off. The budgets of our fire and police departments will only last so long, and putting in overtime for orange alerts makes them run out sooner. A hundred problems just get worse while our representatives are distracted by a bogus war.

I could go on—they squandered a great amount of international good will, they committed us to an enterprise that will be very expensive in blood and treasure, they had no intelligent follow up plan—it all comes back to this: if the reason for the war was bogus and they knew it, even the most remote side effects are their fault. Think of it as analogous to felony liability; in a mundane crime, any evil results are the fault of the criminal. If the police shoot a bystander, it is the criminal’s fault because the police would not have been shooting if not for the crime. In mundane felony liability we throw the book at the criminals. In political felony liability we should also throw the book at the criminals. The first penalty in that book is getting voted out of office.

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