Thursday, October 14, 2004

I sometimes wonder about people who favor preemptive action in the "war on terror". Not least because al Qaeda's campaign against us began years ago, so it's a bit late to preempt the bastards. But considering Dubya's flip flops on the importance of Osama bin Laden, it's possible that the terrorists that attacked us just aren't central to their notion of the "war on terror."

Besides, Bush keeps saying we didn't invade Iraq to preempt terror per se, but instead, to preempt terrorists getting weapons of mass destruction from Iraq. Of course, we now know from the Duelfer report that that threat didn't exist, and sanctions which we could have maintained indefinitely for a great deal less than the cost of the war were more than enough to keep it from coming into being. Bush's crew's has two responses. They say that there was no way to know that until we invaded. That's just wrong; we could have let the inspectors who were in the country do their job. They also claim that everyone agreed that the evidence they proferred was sound. That's also wrong -- key pieces of proferred evidence were widely criticized. The Niger "yellowcake" memos were exposed as crude forgeries. The aluminum tubes that the administration kept talking about were repeatedly described by the IAEA as unsuitable for uranium enrichment -- echoing, we now know, reports from the U.S. government's own technical experts, which Bush & co. suppressed. And so forth. To the extent that anyone believed the case, it was because they assumed that no resident of the Oval Office would endanger the credibility of the U.S. government by charging to war based entirely on this pack of transparent lies -- they had to have something, even if they weren't talking about it. (For what it's worth, that's what I was thinking). And as long as Bush remains in the White House, no one's going to be making that mistake again.

But forget all that. Let's look at the upshot. Iran now is everything that Bush claimed that Iraq was -- a state with an established record of promoting terrorism (much more than Iraq's), which is now threatening to get nuclear weapons. And our options for dealing with it are absolutely hamstrung by having so many of our combat forces tied down in Iraq, and having our credibility damaged by the failure to find the weapons which Cheney, Rumsfeld, and others were certain of before the war. A policy of preemption demands particular care in assessing threats, precisely to avoid this kind of incredibly costly mistake. The Bush administration did the exact opposite, "stovepiping" every rumor and innuendo they could find about Saddam straight to policy makers, bypassing all the usual checks on raw intelligence, with consequences that are now plain for all to see. People who actually believe in preemption as a viable approach to these sorts of problems ought to be furious at the way it has been botched. Where is the outrage?


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