Dan Drezner weighs in about the reasons for the war in Iraq and, in particular, whether a President might be justified in lying to the country in order to invade. Steven Den Beste believes that the nation wasn’t told the real reason for invading, but that the ends justify the means. Josh Marshall thinks that this is unjustifiable.
Dan argues as follows:
1) They’re both wrong on the ethical question. Marshall and Den Beste assert deception because they both assume a monocausal argument for why the U.S. went to war. The truth is much messier.
Quick, why did the Northern states fight the Civil War—to end slavery or to preserve the Union? Did Germany decide to enter World War I because of its fear of Britain’s existing power, its concern over Russia’s emerging power, or its reliance on a grand strategy that stressed offensive military operations? …
bq. Scratch an honest historian or international relations scholar, and s/he will tell you that all of these answers have some validity. States often go to war for a melange of reasons that go beyond self-defense. …
This is why I can’t accept the “Bush lied” meme. I agree with Marshall and Den Beste that the administration emphasized the WMD issue more than the others. However, Saddam’s treatment of his citizens and the desire to spread democracy to the Middle East were mentioned on a fairly regular basis. There is a clear dividing line between lying and spinning, and the administration’s explanations for why an invasion of Iraq would be a just war fall into the latter category.
On the ethical question then, I guess I side with Den Beste.
Dan begins by saying both Den Beste and Marshall are wrong on the ethical question, but a few paragraphs later he says Den Beste is right. I think he does this because he moves the goalposts along the way. A historical explanation for why any large event—the U.S. Civil War, World War I—happened will most likely be complex and highlight multiple factors. Historians will happily debate them ad nauseam. However, Bush’s critics are not looking in the first place for an explanation of this sort. They want to know what the President’s reasons were for going to war: the reasons he was obliged to give the country as a democratically elected leader. The answer to that question is simpler and more direct than the grand historical issue. This is why Marshall can properly ask:
So, why is this little matter of the uranium statements such a big deal? Because it is a concrete, demonstrable example of the administration’s bad faith in how it led the country to war. To date that bad-faith has been all too apparent on many fronts.
The cold eye of history will judge the war, the reasons for it and its ultimate success or failure. But we don’t live in the light of hindsight. We’re stuck here now, uncertain of the future but lucky enough to live in a political system where leaders are bound at least in principle to give us good reasons for their actions, especially when it comes to something like a war. The likes of Den Beste can put on their cowboy hats, assume they’re part of the in-crowd and confidently assert that the big picture, or the drift of history and geopolitics, or the situation in the long-run, is sufficient to overcome scruples about misleading the public. But one of the chief projects of conservative thought over the past fifty years has been to dismantle the idea that a leader, a social class, or a nation can confidently assume that History is on its side. It’s odd to see the conservatives themselves, of all people, now moving toward the view that the need to adhere to the telos of history trumps the notion of democratic accountability in day-to-day politics.