The Post Facto Case for War.
I don't know how historians will recall the run-up to the war, but this is what I remember--as early as the summer of 2002, Bush's intention to invade was obvious. The Senate Armed Services Committee met in late July to discuss the matter. By fall of that year, it was obvious that Bush was going to war, and the UN tango was merely an (ultimately futile) ass-covering exercise. I was worried enough about it that in a proto blog post (I didn't start "Notes" blog for three months), I made my own argument against the invasion (archived here).
Yet when I read through stories now that recount the saga, it makes it sound as if it were an open question--Bush was somehow picking his way through a thicket of thorny issues until he--grudgingly--decided he had no choice. In any case, by the time the White House issued its National Security Strategy on September 20, 2002 (provoking my argument, the decision was made. This is the framework for the Bush Doctrine and everything else that Bush used to justify the war must be seen in light of this document (this is the .pdf). The central thesisholds that the US, sufficiently frightened of another country, may invade at its own discretion, without international cooperation or permission. Bush granted the US the power to defend ...
“. . .the United States, the American people, and our interests at home and abroad by identifying and destroying the threat before it reaches our borders. While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively against such terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our country.” [Italics added.]This is a remarkable document, not least because it subverts international law, which clearly holds that pre-emption is only permissible if an attack is imminent. More critically, these arguments are actually the fingerprints left by the administration demonstrating that they didn't have a legitimate case against Iraq: Bush changed official US policy to justify the invasion of a non-threatening agent.
Therefore, all the arguments that followed about mushroom clouds and drones and al Qaida connections were all post facto smokescreens to cover up what the US had already admitted: they were going to war against Iraq for reasons other than its imminent threat to the US. This is the critical point, because so much of what followed had the appearance of subjectivity--Saddam may have nukes, he may have contacted al Qaida, he may be a terrorist supporter.
Bush is exonerated still for the invasion because so many of these premises seem subjective, because it's easy to blame "faulty intelligence." As recently as last December the Chicago Tribune (a war cheerleader) dug through the original arguments and acquitted Bush of the most serious crimes because of this subjectivity.* Apologists give Bush the benefit of the doubt now, just like they did in 2002.
But the National Security Strategy document is the evidence that disproves the thesis. Had Iraq been legitimately threatening, Bush wouldn't have seen the need to draft it. To me, this is the most damning evidence against Bush's ambiguity offensive. It suggests to me that rather than give the administration the benefit of the doubt, we should assume the opposite--that Bush knew the arguments were weak and was polishing them to justify the war.
Over the next couple days, I'll go through those arguments and discuss why, with one or two possible exceptions, they were bogus. (And actually, this is probably the last post of the day--things is gettin busy...)
*Most bizarre example the Trib offered, this in defense of the "bringing democracy" argument: "The notion that invading Iraq would provoke political tremors in a region long ruled by despots is the Bush administration's most successful prewar prediction to date. A more muscular U.S. diplomacy has advanced democracy and assisted freedom movements in the sclerotic Middle East." This was written 70 days ago.