There is an aspect about the argument over the causes of the invasion of Iraq that bugs LI. The arguments, pro and con, over the Bush administrations justifications for the war systematically ignore the larger context of the war. In the rush to subject the minutia of justification to microscopic analysis, the connection of these minutia to the overall schema, as well as the outlines of that schema, are silently forgotten.
To my mind, the standard can’t just be: Iraq presented a gathering threat. It has to be closer to what Bush has said himself: in the post 9/11 world, we need to evaluate these threats differently. If we use that standard, then we have to ask: were all the claims to justify the invasion consistent with the larger context of winning the war against the particular network of terrorists that attacked us on 9/11? If, in fact, the time and circumstances of the war in Iraq were separate from, or even diversionary from, the larger context, than the growing threat justification is not only annulled, but we have grounds for thinking that the invasion was actually an invidious thing, the untimely intrusion of an ideological scam that has deteriorated the real and only reason the U.S. should be using its military power, and an ontological failure symptomatic of an ossified foreign policy world view that is disastrously out of synch with the reality that -- 9/11 happened. To put a Heideggerian spin on it, the Bush adminsitration has, in one and complete gesture, memorialized and forgotten 9/11.
Of course, the gesture of memorializing and forgetting is central to the News. That is what News is. However, even if something is News, it doesn't necessarily exclude the fact that something happens. That is the problem with the news -- distinguishing true events from false ones. Which is why Being and Time should be on the syllabus for Journalism students... but I digress.
For this reason, it strikes me that the major reason for going into Iraq has to have been that Saddam Hussein had ties with Al Qaeda that were significant enough to pose a threat to the U.S. In other words, that the ties to Al Qaeda were major, supportive, and continuing.
That is the importance of the Bush claim, in his Cincinnatti speech in 2002, that "we've learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases." And Powell’s reiteration of that claim before the UN in 2003.
The NYT has mapped, for the last couple of months, the rise and collapse of that claim. Their very informative little article, today, on the retracting of that claim by the one Al Qaeda operative who made it, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, shows both how weak the original claim was and how the press failed to press for details in their original coverage of the Bush case.
We draw, however, a larger moral from this story. The real question posed by the invasion of Iraq goes back to 9/11. To put it one way: how did 9/11 happen? For the Bush administration – especially the Pentagon crew – there is a fundamental, but unspoken assumption at work in everything they have done since: that 9/11, however much it serves as a pretext for policy, was an aberration. In other words, Al Qaeda and various networked terrorist groups aren’t important. Their withering will be a collateral effect of following a foreign policy that was devised without them in mind, and that will proceed in spite of them. For Wolfowitz, et al, terrorists aren’t even players. In other words, for these people, Bush’s contention – that the post 9/11 landscape is different – isn’t true. They are still where they were on 9/10. They still believe that a mature foreign policy should not be disturbed by the actions of subordinate, extra-state players. They still don’t get it.We think that the pre 9/11 Bush adminsitration and the post 9/11 is, contrary to surface appearance, pretty consistent with itself. The way the Pentagon underestimated the resistance in Iraq was predictable from the way it underestimated terrorism in August, 2001. The same mechanism is at work. It is top down thinking. It is quintessentially bureaucratic thinking. I think we see, here, the difference between traditional conservatism, with its Burkean respect for social order, and the neo-conservatives, with their contempt for any social order except the ones upon which they have put their stamp of approval. With that contempt comes an under-estimation of the resistance that the social order in Iraq – and indeed, throughout the Arabic world – is able to mount. This has proven fatal to Bush’s Middle Eastern policy. It is why it has not only delivered a chaotic Iraq on the verge of becoming, once again, a Military Security State, but has, in addition, allowed the threat of terrorism throughout the Middle East to metastasize.