Magazine article The New Yorker

REAL REASONS COMMENT Series: 1/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

REAL REASONS COMMENT Series: 1/5

Article excerpt

The war in Iraq was a long time coming--so long that it was obvious in Washington that war was certain even before the diplomatic drama that preceded it began to unfold. President Bush and Secretary of State Powell went to the United Nations, made their charges against Saddam Hussein, forced the weapons inspectors to return, presented evidence of their own when the inspectors found none, and, finally, concluded that Iraq would not disarm and war could not be postponed, no matter what the Security Council thought--and all that, evidently, came after the decision was made to invade. Disarmament may have been a sincere (if, it now appears, unwarranted) reason for war, but it wasn't dispositive. It was the plot device that powered a preordained procession.

The President's television speech about Iraq last week had the feeling of something real being revealed after a thick, obscuring outer layer has been stripped away. Called upon to justify the war anew (because things haven't been going well in Iraq), and deprived of his main prewar argument (because no forbidden weapons have been found), Bush gave us something that seemed much closer to what his true thinking was when he made the decision for war. The news in his speech was the request for eighty-seven billion dollars and the decision to ask for international troops, but the greater significance lay in what Bush told us about his own beliefs and, therefore, about what the country is committed to while he is President.

Bush's speech was not limited to Iraq; he gave us a general argument about the Middle East, terrorism, and democracy. The first link in his chain of logic was the idea that, as he put it, "for a generation leading up to September the 11th, 2001, terrorists and their radical allies attacked innocent people in the Middle East and beyond, without facing a sustained and serious response." (This formulation is notable for its implicit indictment of the first President Bush for pusillanimity, and for putting the son in the position of correcting the father's mistake.) So just about any forceful response to terrorism, or to the "radical allies" of terrorism (a group that included Saddam, evidently), would cause terrorism to decrease. As Bush said, "We have learned that terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength. They are invited by the perception of weakness."

This doesn't quite parse--it doesn't allow for the terrorist attacks that have followed the use of force in Iraq, or for the evident immunity of most of the world's weaklings to terrorist attacks. Terrorists, unfortunately, appear to target qualities more specific than mere meekness. But Bush's statement does claim that reducing terrorism justifies virtually any use of American force. If you believe this, as Bush seems to do with every fibre of his being, how could you in good conscience not go to war in the region from which the worst terrorism emanates? Back in June, Thomas Friedman, of the Times, wrote breezily, "The 'real reason' for this war, which was never stated, was that after 9/11 America needed to hit someone in the Arab-Muslim world." Well, now Bush has as much as stated it. Friedman went on, "Smashing Saudi Arabia or Syria would have been fine. But we hit Saddam for one simple reason: because we could, and because he deserved it, and because he was right in the heart of that world. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.