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My Opinion of the Moment

Bush's Credibility Problem on Iraq

The following was written before the war started. It will be apparent that my advice was not followed, and Bush managed to rally American public opinion anyway. He accomplished this by relying on the public to rally behind the leader in wartime and not ask awkward questions. The truth was bound to come out and support crumble under the circumstances. The war has come under withering attack, and now the struggle is to defend the administration. Unfortunately, defending an indefensible position leads to making some pathetic arguments. Click here to see the "Clinton backed it" torn apart, or here to see the same done to the human rights argument.

Those who think war against Iraq is actually a good idea may be wondering why George II keeps making his case yet isn't believed. Sometimes supporters are heard to ask, "Do you really trust Sadaam more than Bush?" Well, sure, we all trust Bush more than Sadaam, but that's not saying much. Like it or not, the man who won the Supreme Court's approval to sit in the Oval Office has a credibility problem: maybe not with you reading this now, but with a bunch of people he has one, and the political reality is he has to persuade of bunch of people who are not yet persuaded. So, if you support the war, I am about to give a gift and tell you just what you have to do to sell the war, or at least make Bush a more credible salesman.

"Oh no, he's going to drag up the 2000 election again!"
Sorry to burst your bubble but no, that's not the problem. That's not to say the cry to "get over it" has finally proven persuasive with everyone who voted for someone else, or that this legitimacy problem won't go away even if Bush parlays incumbency into a landslide in 2004. There's just more making Bush hard to believe.

Bush always does the right thing -- when there are no other choices left
Bush insisted that legally he could go to war on his own regardless of what Congress wanted. Congress not surprisingly didn't take this well and neither did the public, so after recognizing political reality he went to Congress for authorization. Then he opposed renewed inspections so the war could get going sooner, even though opinion at home and abroad held that war shouldn't be resorted to without at least trying something short of war. Again, political reality required inspections. Going to the UN Security Council was like going to Congress --- it followed insistence that the UN could be ignored and then reality setting in. If Bush does the right thing only when circumstances force him to, what's he doing when he hasn't been forced? What is he doing that hasn't been revealed publicly? Maybe nothing, but with a record like that, that's hard to believe.

So here's how war proponents can address this problem: get your boy Bush to say, "I still hold that under the UN Charter and American law, I need no further authorization to begin the war. However, in a democracy, I need to show that I have the undeniable support of the Congress and the American people. In a world where nations must cooperate to ensure global security, there must be no question of the Security Council's support. Therefore, I'm proposing resolutions to Congress and the Security Council which authorize the use of force against Iraq in explicit terms, effective immediately, and with the goal being the removal of the Iraqi regime."

You may feel he's already done enough and this step is unnecessary. Too many don't share that opinion. If he does this, there's no question the required steps have been taken and he has popular support in America and the support of the UN. Win or lose, he refutes the charges of unilateralism.

Of the people, by the people, for Bush and Cheney's cronies
Iraq has lots of oil, America uses lots of oil, and both Bush and Cheney came from the oil industry. Bush's biggest backer throughout his political career has been Enron and that Enron alumni fill the administration. Ken Lay got to interview candidates for the FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission). Cheney's energy commission met with lots of energy industry executives but no environmentalists, and the proceedings are being kept secret. If the war is successful, American oil companies stand to make a bundle in Iraqi oil. Shockingly, there is suspicion the real reason for the war is to help the oil companies!

There's an easy way to defeat the "no blood for war" argument. Pass a law forbidding American companies from having any involvement in the Iraqi oil industry for ten years after the war is over. If the war is really about security and democracy, then this shouldn't be a problem. There are plenty of foreign companies who can develop Iraq's oil industry so this won't hurt Iraq one bit. On the other hand, if American companies move in right behind the American invasion and somehow win contracts from the American-imposed government, that will only give credence to charges the war is just plain old imperialism.

End the cronyism and coverups
Remember how when Clinton was caught lying about Monica you wondered what else he was lying about? That quite reasonable question applies across parties. The corporate scandals may have been successfully pushed off the evening news, but I assure you that they have not been forgotten by war opponents. For a while it seemed barely a day went by without a new bit of news about Bush and Harken. Cheney has been sued over his involvement in accounting scandals when he ran Halliburton. The SEC under George I had a Bush family friend investigate Harken and, what a surprise, find nothing against the incumbent president's son. On top of Enron's involvement in the Bush administration mentioned above, George II put an accounting lobbyist in charge of the SEC, and the nominee for treasury secretary made out very nicely in the CEO sweepstakes (if you fail, you will have to suffer the consequences --- buckets and buckets of money).

The solution to defeating the critics here is to come clean. Bush needs to reveal everything about Harken and allow an independent investigation. Cheney needs to do the same with Halliburton. Clean the cronies out of government jobs. They need to actively support corporate reform, like expensing stock options, and limiting executive compensation.

There they are, gifts to the pro-war side. Maybe you agree those suggestions for fixing Bush's credibility are a good idea, or maybe you don't. Doesn't matter. If you want to convince the anti-war side Bush's motives are pure, you'll tell Bush to do these things. Like it or not, you'll have to convince opponents that his motives are really what he says before we believe him when he says such and such is a "fact." If we can't agree on a common set of facts, and can't be sure what the goal of the war really is, we'll be tough to convince that war is the only option.

Update
After posting a link to this page on a message board, I received a response, which I've reprinted below along with my response, in which I offered a defense of dissent in war time:

When our country is being threatened by foreign influence or terrorism, and I think all reasonable people will agree that 9/11 was that and more, we should be RALLYING behind our leader, not attacking him. You're playing into the hands of the enemy, 'Divide and Conquer'. Just my opinion.

I understand where you're coming from. There's a natural inclination to rally behind the leader in a crisis, and it's healthy to stick together and put differences aside during an emergency. We're past the emergency though, since there will always be terrorists and the war on terrorism will go on forever in all likelihood. When the bomb is going off is the time to rally, and calmer times like now are when we need to consider our actions deliberately.

In a democracy, it is the citizen's duty to form an informed opinion and debate the issues with fellow citizens and with the leaders. Leaders have to act openly and be accountable to the citizens. When leaders try to lead the nation on a disastrous course, or avoid accountability for their actions, criticism isn't just the citizen's right, but duty.

War time is sometimes considered an exception, a time when we have to follow and put off debate until later. However, war is the biggest disaster our leaders can lead us to, and more than any other time, it is when citizens must speak up and try to change the leaders' course.

Another Update
In case someone thinks only the looney left could hold a position like this, here is the same position defended by that well known liberal, Pat Buchanan. Here's another looney lefty, Abraham Lincoln, who was a congressman speaking of President Polk, who presided over the Mexican War: "Trusting to escape scrutiny by fixing the public gaze upon the exceeding brightness of military glory, that attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood, that serpent's eye, that charms to destroy, he plunged into war."

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