Commentaary by Andrew Greeley – 2006-11-12 09:33:18
(November 3, 2006) — Why did the United States invade Iraq? The administration, still claiming to be “tough on terror,” dances around in its search for a credibility-saving way out. Bloody bodies and great clouds of smoke appear every night on television. American casualties increase.
President Bush no longer uses the words ”staying the course.” He still seems to insist that the Iraq war is the central front in the war on global terror. The issue on this election eve ought to be: Why did we invade Iraq in the first place?
We no longer hear that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction aimed at us. Or, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put it, the invasion was the ”right thing to do.” Or that the American goal is to make Iraq safe for democracy. Or that we must fight to the end to preserve the honor of those who have died.
What, then, was the reason for the war, other than that the rage and fear of the American people after the World Trade Center attack made it easy for the administration to sell the war?
George Packer in this book The Assassin’s Gate observes that ”it is impossible to be sure” why the country went to war in Iraq, and quotes Richard Haass, an aide to the president, as thinking that he would go to his grave ”not knowing the answer.” Frank Rich in his The Greatest Story Ever Sold suspects that Karl Rove’s desire to build a permanent Republican majority was a major factor.
My hunch is that the answer can be found in the president’s words when he was told about the attack: “This is war!” In point of fact, it was not. It was a vicious assault by a gang of international criminals, not a war in any sense that the word has traditionally meant.
The president’s spontaneous eagerness to find a war where there was only a terrible crime marked the genesis of such phrases as ”war on terror,” ”war on global terror” and ”war on Islamo-fascism.”
They were catchy phrases and crept easily into the national vocabulary. They made Bush a national hero that some in the media could compare to Abraham Lincoln. They made him a ”wartime” president who could fly out to an aircraft carrier (within sight of the California coast) and proclaim ”mission accomplished.”
Unfortunately, after the quick cleanup of Afghanistan (as we thought then), there was no war around. Bush needed a war — another quick, easy victory that would eliminate any discussion of the possibly stolen 2000 election.
Whatever the motives of the other chickenhawks, like the neo-cons who wanted to go to ”Jerusalem through Baghdad,” ultimately the reason for the invasion of Iraq was that the president at some level in his personality wanted a war, needed a war. He also wanted and needed an enemy, and Saddam Hussein was the ideal enemy.
Alas for everyone, Bush and his advisers, most notably Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, miscalculated the reaction of the Iraqis to the invasion. They especially misunderstood the propensity in that deeply troubled society for Muslims to delight in killing other Muslims as well as young Americans.
I do not question the president’s sincerity. He undoubtedly persuaded himself that war was what God wanted him to do. Yet, we can now understand that the war is kind of a vanity war; the president wanted to prove he was a good wartime president. He isn’t. The vice president wanted to prove that he was the toughest man in the Beltway. He isn’t, save possibly when he has a shotgun in this hands.
The neo-cons wanted to reshape the Middle East and take pressure off Israel. They didn’t. The national security adviser (and now secretary of state) wanted to prove she was an astute diplomat. She isn’t.
The war has become the main issue in the election. Americans will vote on Tuesday on whether they support the war or oppose it. Have they come to realize that it is a vanity war, or do they still want revenge on terrorists and are they still afraid?
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