May 30, 2003

Bush misleads public

With sky-high poll numbers and a neat little picture of him in a flight suit now on his Oval Office wall, the President once again recently avoided the nagging question of his own credibility.

President Bush made the case to the American people that the "war" (fought without a constitutionally required declaration) was worth hundreds of billions of dollars because Saddam Hussein was an "ally" of terrorists, and had weapons of mass destruction that he could sell them. Now that the war is over, the CIA has just begun an exhaustive survey of its pre-war intelligence collection to understand why it was, in a word, wrong. They overestimated all things Iraqi--weapons of mass destruction in particular. To date, there is zero evidence of programs reaching the scope the president suggested when he was stirring the nation into a fervor over the regime of Saddam Hussein. The issue of Iraq's supposed weapons programs again brings into question the administration's reasons behind the hostilities.

Arguments for and against intervention are both numerous and substantive. However, it is important to understand how the Bush administration went about rousing the American people to support the effort. President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Secretary Rumsfeld, all claimed that Saddam was an imminent threat in league with terrorists. We now know that those claims had little basis in reality.

Saddam Hussein is without question a megalomaniac. In his compounds, he had rape rooms, torture chambers, and secret escape routes. He used all of them. He diverted money from the United Nations oil-for-food program into coffers designed to secure his own chokehold on power. He neglected his people's need for education, healthcare, and justice, instead choosing to enrich a select group of individuals in his immediate inner circle.

Iraq also has immense oil reserves, is one of the largest Arab nations, and is in close proximity to Israel, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Jordan. Many suspect that the president had other reasons to invade Iraq. Perhaps he wanted to lower oil prices (always considered an economic indicator to the lay public) in preparation for the 2004 re-election campaign. Or perhaps his advisors told him of the benefits of billion-dollar contracts that would be given out to companies whose executives now are in his Cabinet, or are close advisors to the president. Or perhaps he wanted to make an example of Iraq as a country that defied the United States in the post-9/11 world.

We may have invaded Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein, project U.S. military power into the Gulf, demonstrate our power to nations that might be harboring terrorists, or even to make money for oil companies. The reasons, the "why," don't matter. "Why" is not even the issue. The issue is what we were told as a people. The president painted a picture of America in danger due to Saddam that proved to largely be a hoax. We went to war thinking that our lives depended on it. They did not. Two recent Al Qaeda bombings in Saudi Arabia only serve to confirm that those who wish us ill were unaffected by the conflict in Iraq, and if anything have become stronger because of it.

Had the President come to us and said that he wanted to invade Iraq because of the oil, or because he wanted to convert Iraq to a western-style democracy to demonstrate American power, then things might be different. At least he would have been telling the truth.

It all comes down to credibility. Bush said we were going to Iraq to eliminate terror, and we weren't. He now expects us to believe that we're cutting corporate taxes for prosperity, that we're protecting the homeland by encroaching on personal freedoms, and that we will "leave no child behind" while states slash their education budgets because of the current economic crisis.

Now is an important time to ask questions of intention and result. The president intends to get re-elected. But what happens when the president's political intentions, be that to invade Iraq, lower taxes, restructure education, or otherwise, result only in empty rhetoric, wasted funding, and glossy photographs? What happens when Bush yields the benefits from his intentions (e.g. higher poll numbers as a result of wartime support), but without any significant result?