Thursday, a day after he delivered it at the Pentagon, I belatedly read the full text of President Bush’s fifth anniversary of the Iraq War speech.
Perhaps, at this late date, it’s pointless to hold the president’s rhetoric up to any standard of honesty or logic. But it seems worth it to me, if only as an exercise in critical thinking, which we need so badly in our culture and especially our politics.
President Bush is improving in the logic and honesty categories. The swagger is mostly gone, as are the howlingly obvious falsehoods (although many of his quasi-factual assertions could certainly be disputed. The “Fact Sheet” that the White House posted to go with the speech contains bulleted “facts” like: “The battle in Iraq is noble, necessary, and just.”).
And right at the top, Mr. Bush raises a set of excellent questions, stating: “Five years into this battle, there is an understandable debate over whether the war was worth fighting, whether the fight is worth winning, and whether we can win it.” I applaud the president for framing the issue as a cost-benefit was-it-worth-it problem (rather than a good vs. evil problem), and for acknowledging, sort of, with that word “understandable,” that those who reach an opposite conclusion aren’t necessarily moral midgets.
But in his treatment of these questions, the president is up to some of his old flawed logic and intellectual dishonesty, mostly of the selective dishonesty variety. If you are going to do an honest cost-benefit analysis, you have to make an honest estimate of all the costs and all the benefits. The president ignores most of the costs and treats fanciful, pie-in-the-sky benefits as if they were established facts.
For example, the original choice to invade Iraq is justified almost entirely on the grounds that Saddam was an evil tyrant who oppressed, tortured and killed Iraqis (no dispute, he was and did) and threatened his neighbors. If that’s your argument, you need to discuss why the United States isn’t overthrowing other evil tyrants who oppress, torture and kill to maintain control.
Myanmar/Burma leaps to mind, but so do such U.S. allies as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. You need to acknowledge that Saddam was in no position to threaten his neighbors for several years before Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and wasn’t regaining that kind of power.
If it’s innocent Iraqi deaths that bother you, you have to acknowledge the six-figure total of innocent Iraqi death that ensued from OIF and continues to this day. That’s how an honest cost/benefit analysis works. You have to consider whether your decision to invade has saved more Iraqis whom Saddam might have killed or killed more who would be alive today if you hadn’t invaded.
If you want to make the case that weapons of mass destruction (WMD) make the Saddam case special, as in “Because we acted, Saddam’s regime is no longer invading its neighbors or attacking them with chemical weapons and ballistic missiles,” then shouldn’t you mention that before we acted, Saddam had been forced to give up all of his chemical weapons and long-range ballistic missiles?
Mr. Bush has acknowledged that fact once or twice, but doesn’t mention it in this speech. (And please, don’t fall back on the argument that everyone thought Saddam had the WMD. By the time we invaded, the U.N. inspectors had looked everywhere, found nothing and all-but-confirmed that the stockpiles and the weapons-development programs were completely gone.)
The president argues the urgency of completing the mission by invoking the danger of an Iraq in which al-Qaeda would have bases of operation. He doesn’t mention that there were no al-
Qaeda bases under Saddam and very little chance that there would be. He treats the group that calls itself al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia as if it was the same as the al-Qaeda that committed the atrocity of 9/11 (it isn’t). But even if it were, there is surely a fancy Latin term (help me out here, logicians) for the tortured suggestion that we invaded Iraq to solve a problem that we created by invading Iraq.
“Because we acted, the world is better and United States of America is safer.”
Really. Make the case that we’re safer, Mr. President, don’t just assert it. But surely you know that to make the case, you have to deal with the inconvenient facts: that your own intelligence community says al-Qaeda (the real one, the Osama one) is stronger now than it was five years ago; that the Taliban is making a comeback in Afghanistan while the U.S. military is tied down in Iraq; that Iran has benefited greatly from the removal of Saddam; that pro-American leaders have been voted out in several countries, at least in part to punish them for backing Bush on the war; and that multinational surveys have clearly demonstrated that positive feelings toward America have plummeted during the Iraq war years. Acknowledge these facts, Mr. President, put them in context, and the make the case that America is safer for the decision you made five years ago and will be safer still if it continues your policy.
We haven’t even talked about what the war has cost, is costing, will cost. And neither did Mr. Bush (it’s a cost/benefit analysis, y’know) except to note that “In recent months we’ve heard exaggerated estimates of the costs of this war.” What, sir, is your more accurate estimate?
Okay, I’ll stop. I underlined a lot more sentences in the speech than I’ve mentioned here, but I fear I’m turning into that annoying uncle at the family gathering who won’t shut up about …
Read the speech for yourself if you feel so inclined, but hold it to some kind of standard of intellectual honesty.