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Defending the Indefensible: A Pathetic Argument to Justify Iraq War II

This follows up my attempt before the war to tell war supporters how to improve Bush's credibility, Bush's Credibility Problem on Iraq (click here for another defense of the war blown apart after this piece was written). My advice wasn't followed then, and now war supporters find themselves the tough spot of defending an indefensible position. That's what happens when a war turns out to have been based on lies, and opponents gratuitously proven right. Sadly, this defense has led to arguments that are just plain pathetic. So it looks like I'm offering war supporters another freebie, one thing that makes you look ridiculous, so you may stop yourselves right now.

Clinton believed the same things Bush did
I was amazed to see this defense of the war. There it was in letters to the editor, opinion pieces, cable punditry, and Bush himself used it in his most recent news conference (which will be remembered as the one where he blamed the sailors for the "Mission Accomplished" banner his staff put up for the TV cameras). Clinton believed the same things about Iraq that Bush did.

This is a bizarre argument on so many levels, but let's start with the obvious: Clinton didn't invade Iraq, Bush did. Maybe Clinton had the same information, maybe he interpreted it the same way, and maybe he wanted to invade. We can speculate all day about why he didn't invade, but we'll never know, and one fact won't change: he didn't do it. Bush did. That makes it Bush's mistake.

That's the core fact, but not the most bizarre aspect. For twelve years now, from the time Clinton became the front runner for the Democratic nomination in 1991 right until today's right wing rantings, conservatives/Republicans have been excoriating Clinton with nary a stop to refill Rush Limbaugh's prescriptions. Clinton lied about everything. He did nothing right. He was wrong on everything. And oh, by the way, he agreed with Bush about Iraq, so take him as an authority on that one subject (but only that one of course). Surely, if Clinton was as bad as all that, his agreement with invading Iraq should be an indication that the war was a BAD idea, right?

Perhaps the assumption behind the "Clinton agrees" argument is that liberals/Democrats must like Clinton in every way conservatives/Republicans despise him, therefore bringing up his name will cause war opponents to react by saying, "Oh, if Clinton likes it, it must be a marvelous idea! Well done George!" I've got bad news for you. Those people who were so vocal before the war often had problems with Clinton too. Not that peace and prosperity were bad -- having them back would be nice -- but you might notice how many war opponents had backed Nader in the 2000 election, and a bunch even did so in 1996. Many voted for Clinton, but held their noses as they did so. Most of us on the left side of center will acknowledge that Clinton mostly did a good job, but that hardly means his word is gospel. If he interpreted the intelligence the same way Bush did, then he was wrong too. Considering how war opponents saw through it before the war, just maybe a policy wonk like Clinton would have seen through it too, even if Incurious George couldn't.

If we were to consider the argument that Clinton regarded the same information as relevant, then there is one problem: the key "information" Bush claimed to have dates from AFTER Bush took office. Clinton's opinion, whatever it was, was based on pre-2000 information. That means assuming Clinton would have invaded Iraq too means assuming how he would have interpreted information he didn't have. Sure, during the war, Clinton said he supported Bush, like many Americans rallied behind their president in wartime. Anyone heard him defend Bush lately? If he does defend the war even now, I refer you back to the paragraph above.

Now I must ask the hawks out there if you would have supported Clinton's theoretical decision to invade. Come on, I mean really. Wouldn't you have been asking tough questions, demanding proof, joining the protests, if it was Clinton taking the country to war? Would you have hesitated for a second to point out that the war was based on lies? All that stuff about patriotically supporting the president in wartime and withholding dissent during a crisis would never have been brought up. How did you react when Clinton authorized the large bombing campaign in December 1998? There was nothing then about supporting the troops being incompatible with opposing the president. You tore into him every which way, just like during the other military actions during his administration. You asked if he bombed Iraq to distract from his impeachment proceedings. Know what? You were right to do so. That was a valid question. It does however indicate that had the war been launched by Clinton instead of Bush, conservatives would have more likely been among the street protestors than among the supporters.

The impression Clinton would have acted as Bush did was reinforced in Bush's press conference mentioned above. He said Clinton attacked Iraq on the same intelligence Bush used. I don't recall that he was challenged on that point, so let me challenge it now. Yes, Clinton bombed Iraq, but not because of the same intelligence Bush used. The bombing campaign in December 1998 was in reaction to Sadaam's obstruction of the UN inspectors, who were removed before the bombing started. Before and after that, US and UK planes attacked anti-aircraft batteries in the no-fly zones when they were targeted by Iraqi radar. Clinton probably did suspect Sadaam had something to hide, but he didn't claim Sadaam had something for sure, or that Sadaam was backing Al Qaida, but that he was impeding the means of verifying disarmament. Whether one believes that was his motive or not, agrees with the bombing or not, it had nothing to do with the reasons that Bush launched his war. It's sad to see Bush able to spin that without challenge.

So now that the "Clinton believed it too" argument is debunked, war supporters are free to concentrate on their strong arguments, like exposing critics' wives as CIA agents, denouncing the news media that gave them a free ride for months, or how the deaths in Iraq are fewer than WW II, which is no doubt great comfort to those grieving their losses in a needless war. Actually, they might consider dropping those too.

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