The post-war debate about the pre-war rhetoric — my decision
It’s time for my decision. I’d like to congratulate Holsclaw and Schwarz for the effort they put into their arguments. I’d also like to congratulate Jerry, who easily made the silliest argument — pro or con — of all the commenters. The question, to review, is: “It is a complete fabrication that the Bush administration ...
It's time for my decision. I'd like to congratulate Holsclaw and Schwarz for the effort they put into their arguments. I'd also like to congratulate Jerry, who easily made the silliest argument -- pro or con -- of all the commenters. The question, to review, is:
It’s time for my decision. I’d like to congratulate Holsclaw and Schwarz for the effort they put into their arguments. I’d also like to congratulate Jerry, who easily made the silliest argument — pro or con — of all the commenters. The question, to review, is:
“It is a complete fabrication that the Bush administration argued in the runup to the war that there was an imminent threat from Iraq.”
You can see their posts, in order, here, here, here, here, and here. Note what Holsclaw and Schwarz were not debating:
So, with my criteria clear, the winner is…. Jonathan Schwarz Here’s my reasoning: 1) Schwarz is correct to point out that the administration redefined imminent threat in its 2001 National Security Strategy. As Schwarz quoted:
We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries. Rogue states and terrorists do not seek to attack us using conventional means. They know such attacks would fail. Instead, they rely on acts of terror and, potentially, the use of weapons of mass destruction — weapons that can be easily concealed, delivered covertly, and used without warning.
So, the Bush administration’s concept of imminent threat encompassed more situations than prior definitions. For this administration, the combination of hostile intentions and WMD-delivery capabilities is sufficient to be labeled as “imminent.” Note, by the way, that this also clears away all the underbrush generated by the Thesaurus Wars. 2) On the capabilities question, Schwarz wins. His quotations from Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld all characterize Hussein’s capabilities as both pre-existing (with regard to chemical or biological weapons) and growing over time. The quotes also indicate that the administration argued at various points that Hussein would use terrorist groups as his delivery mechanism. Holsclaw, in characterizing the Cheney quote, acknowledges:
“This quote points out Saddam’s capability, and our knowledge about Saddam’s willingness to use such capabilities makes it disturbing that he should continue in power indefinitely.”
3) The above quote also indicates that Holsclaw accepted that Cheney, at least, thought Hussein’s intentions were hostile. Interestingly, neither debater really delved into the question of Saddam Hussein’s intentions. This was actually the key argument behind the realist opposition to the war — that Saddam’s intentions were not fundamentally aggressive. However, given Bush’s description in the SOTU of Saddam as “evil”, and his statement in same that, “trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option,” I’m assuming both of them will stipulate that the administration argued that Saddam had malevolent and hostile intentions. 4) Holsclaw’s best argument is this much-cited paragraph from the State of the Union:
Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late.
Here, it seems that Bush makes a distinction between the conventional definition of “imminent threat” and what weas articulated in the National Security Strategy. Holsclaw concludes from this statement:
The Bush administration did not in fact argue that there was an imminent threat. In fact they strenuously resisted labeling it as such.
This is where the “complete fabrication” part of the statement works against Holsclaw. It doesn’t matter if Bush makes the clear distinction between in the SOTU, if he or other principals in the administration blurred the distinction at other points in the debate over Iraq. And here, the preponderance of the evidence favors Schwarz. From the National Security Strategy forward, the administration argued that:
The definition of “imminent” needs to be expanded; The threat from Saddam Hussein — in the form of “grave and gathering” capabilities and hostile intentions — was getting worse.
Was it a complete fabrication that the administration argued in the runup to the war that there was an imminent threat from Iraq? No, it was not. Congratulations to Jonathan for winning the $100. As a consolation to Sebastian — who I think faced an uphill battle due to the framing of the question — let me take the opportunity to encourage those who agreed and disagreed but respected his line of argumentation to go check out his new blog. [So, you’re saying that Schwarz wins, but that in winning he doesn’t vindicate the bulk of the anti-war criticisms. Were you trying to alienate all sides?–ed. I believe that is the technical description of “referee.”]
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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