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November 22, 2004

Is Noam Chomsky A Senior Bush Administration Official?

This recent article by Walter Russell Mead in Esquire quotes a "senior administration official" on the "real reasons" for the invasion of Iraq. DO NOT MISS THIS. What the senior administration official says could, with tiny modifications, have come out of the mouth of Noam Chomsky.

Here's the relevant section:

But what were the real reasons for going into Iraq? I'd asked a senior administration official.

There were two basic reasons, the official said. "One was to be rid of the Saddam Hussein regime, whose defiance of the world community had multiple consequences -- not the least of which were very bad consequences for America at the strategic level."

The other was containment. Most people who opposed the war argued that containment was working, that, as the phrase went, "Saddam was in his box." "The containment of Saddam, while not as costly in the short term as war, was still a very costly endeavor. It cost money, obviously. But that was a small part of it.

"It resulted in large American forces being stationed in Saudi Arabia. It resulted in a very bad message to the world, including to Islamic terrorists, that America and the world could be defied successfully. It advanced the radicalization of certain Saudis and the glorification of Saddam. Every day he succeeded in flouting us was another day in which the message to the Islamic world would be that America could be defied."

And the connection between containment and Al Qaeda? I asked. Between our Iraq policy and September 11?

The official pointed out fatwas from Osama that cited the effects of sanctions on Iraqi children and the presence of U. S. troops as a sacrilege that justified his jihad. In a real sense, September 11 was part of the cost of containing Saddam. No containment, no U. S. troops in Saudi Arabia. No U. S. troops there, then bin Laden might still be redecorating mosques and boring friends with stories of his mujahideen days in the Khyber Pass.

As it was, the administration took what looked like the path of least resistance in making its public case for the war: WMD and intelligence links with Al Qaeda. If the public read too much into those links and thought Saddam had a hand in September 11, so much the better.

Let's examine this in detail. From the article, it seems likely Mead's source is Cheney or Rumsfeld, or possibly Wolfowitz or Scooter Libby.


Mead's source sometimes refers to Saddam defying "the world community," and sometimes just defying "America." We can ignore the boilerplate reference to the world community. Obviously if anyone was defying the world community in this situation, it was the US.

But what does it mean to say Saddam was "defying" America? Iraq had in fact disarmed; as we now know, it hadn't had any actual banned weapons since 1991. And it had readmitted inspectors in 2002. Moreover, we also now know Saddam was trying to make peace with the US throughout the nineties.

My take is that it was not that Saddam was defying us in the present. It was that Saddam had at one time defied us, by not capitulating immediately on Kuwait. And if you defy us once, there is nothing you can do to atone. While the sanctions were supposed to be removed when Iraq disarmed, both the Bush I and Clinton administrations repeatedly said we would not allow them to be lifted until Saddam was ousted, whether or not Iraq disarmed. (The hope was the sanctions would make Saddam's ouster more likely.) In other words, there was literally nothing Saddam could do to stop "defying" us short of leaving power, which given Iraq and his rule would likely lead to his death.

Now, why was it so important to punish Saddam's defiance? Look at this critical sentence: "It resulted in a very bad message to the world, including to Islamic terrorists, that America and the world could be defied successfully."

This is literally incoherent. It resulted in a bad message to the world that the world could be defied? Obviously this isn't what the source meant. What the source really was saying was: "It resulted in a very bad message to the world that America could be defied."

Sure, we didn't want Islamic terrorists to be encouraged. But our concerns go far, far beyond that. It's important that Hugo Chavez in Venezuela see America can't be defied. It's important that Palestinians see that, that China see that, and France, and Canada. Mead's source probably thinks it's important that US Democrats see that the Bush administration can't be defied.

When you're running the world, every now and then you have to make an example out of somebody. Some might object to this worldview, and say this isn't international relations, it's organized crime. Well, you say potato...


Thank God Mead's source thinks: "In a real sense, September 11 was part of the cost of containing Saddam."

Because as I've said before, if they really believe we were attacked "for our freedom," then we're in REAL trouble. That would mean they're truly nuts. Fortunately, they're just power-mad greedheads with utter contempt for the America people and humanity in general. That we might be able to deal with.

In other words, they know very well we were attacked because of US foreign policy. The "they hate us because we're free" bullshit is just a cover story for simple-minded Americans.

Of course, this raises an interesting question. I'm friendly with Seth Ackerman, a writer whose perspective on these things is extremely well-informed. He contends that this second reason makes no sense, because the Bush administration could not possibly have thought an invasion of Iraq would lessen the Arab world's sense of grievance at US foreign policy. So Seth suspects this was not part of their pre-war thinking, and Mead's source is just using it as a fancy ex post facto justification now that Iraq has turned to shit.

I'm not so sure. I think the Bush administration IS so out of touch with reality they believed Iraq could be transformed into a "democracy" (ie, pliant client state) that would somehow make Arabs love us. At the very least, they probably thought it was better than the status quo. After all, Wolfowitz has been making this argument since May of 2003:

There are a lot of things that are different now, and one that has gone by almost unnoticed--but it's huge--is that by complete mutual agreement between the U.S. and the Saudi government we can now remove almost all of our forces from Saudi Arabia... It's been a huge recruiting device for al Qaeda. In fact if you look at bin Laden, one of his principle grievances was the presence of so-called crusader forces on the holy land, Mecca and Medina. I think just lifting that burden from the Saudis is itself going to open the door to other positive things... it's a huge improvement.

There's no way to settle this. Wars happen for all kinds of reasons, and even the people who made the final decision might disagree on the most important factor. All I'll say is, I think Reason Two may well have played an important part in the Bush administration's thinking.


The Mead article also contains the best evidence we're likely to get that the Bush administration suspected the WMD nonsense was false. Mead writes that Wolfowitz "reminds me that [Dean] Acheson decided to be 'clearer than truth' in explaining the communist menace to the American people."

This is a reference to something Acheson, Truman's Secretary of State, wrote in his memoir Present at the Creation. Acheson believed that the world was too complicated to explain to the governmental bureaucracy, much less normal Americans. So you had to, uh, bend the truth a little bit.

So, the smarter Bush administration figures may well have thought Iraq was WMD-free now, but that -- as Wolfowitz also famously said -- Iraq "floats on a sea of oil," so Saddam would have had the resources to acquire banned weapons in the future if he remained in power. But that was too hard to explain to us rubes, so a little exaggeration was required.

And here we are. I just hope the Bush administration doesn't get in trouble for plagiarizing Professor Chomsky's ideas.

Posted at November 22, 2004 04:01 PM | TrackBack

That bit about Iraq floating on a sea of oil--isn't that also a part of the larger strategic picture unmentioned by the mysterious official? And I don't just mean that Saddam could later buy WMD. Let's face it, we want to control access to that oil as world supplies dwindle.

I also don't completely buy the idea that this official thought an important benefit of a quick war to remove Saddam would be the dismantling of Saudi bases and thus removing one of bin Laden's rationales for terror.

Bin Laden had long before expanded his list of grievances. His aim was always a return to the Caliphate and a pan-Arab power. Where do the new bases in Iraq fit into this equation? Where does our complete enabling of Ariel Sharon's grandest dreams of Greater Israel fit? How does Osama fit at all, given the fact that the Bushies were obsessed with Iraq long before 9/11, while they gave Osama scarcely a thought?

This official sounds like he's hiding as much as he's telling. He knows he's speaking to someone knowledgeable, not one of the proles whose head hurts if the explanation is more complicated than "A leads to B." There's just enough of a complex truth, but not anywhere near all of it.

Posted by: Max at November 23, 2004 02:19 AM

Though Osama's goals include building a Caliphate, there is an important difference between what he wants, and what he can exploit rhetorically. The presence of infidels in the nation of the two cities will likely be a far better draw for outraged Muslims than the fact that the U.S. is forestalling the recreation of the Caliphate.

However, though I find the rationale sound, I agree that the whole thing seems like a dodge - Osama simply doesn't seem like a big enough geopolitical problem to justify such an enormous war, especially for people who seem to evince so little interest in actually stymying him.

Posted by: saurabh at November 23, 2004 12:10 PM

Remember when the "communist threat" was enough to encourage Americans to scream for war?

The reasons for entering Vietnam were a little more than a mere "bending of the truth"...and it is a truth that continues to be distorted out of shape even to this day.

For example: most persons are completely unaware of the wealth of oil which exists in Indochina. Oil which was desired by the Japanese before WW2 and exploited by the French until Ho Chi Minh made it very unpleasant for them. After which the American government arbitrated the instigation of Diaz into power, and for the next seven years sent materials, guns and financial support to that extremely violent government in order to enable American multinationals the opportunity to continue to exploit that oil. That is, until it again became remarkably unhealthy. A lengthy war ended the availability of Vietnamese oil, coincidentally at precisely the same time that the United States underwent an energy crisis.

Interestingly, American imports of oil dropped by one billion barrels between 1972 and 1973; which is equal to the vietnamese production of oil between the years of 1970 and 1971.

But of course, there is no oil in Vietnam, and everything I've just said is bullshit. Just as there is no practical oil production in Iraq (as reported by USA Today in May of this year), and this is a war about getting rid of Saddam for the good of democracy and winning the Arabs over to the American cause.

Posted by: Alexis at November 23, 2004 03:10 PM