Bush Did Not Simply Lie in the Run-up to the Iraq War

by Corey Robin on March 17, 2013

On the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, it’s important to remember that George W. Bush did not always or simply lie about Iraq and the threat it posed. He did not sell the war simply by making stuff up about the presence of WMD or exaggerating the threat posed by Iraq. That storyline is too easy. Bush and his allies did something far subtler—and more disturbing—and what they said was actually well within the canon of national security discourse, both on the left and the right.

Here’s an excerpt from The Reactionary Mind:

Hovering about every discussion of war and peace are questions of life and death. Not the death of some or even many people, but, as Michael Walzer proposes in Arguing about War, the “moral as well as physical extinction” of an entire people. True, it is only rarely that a nation will find its “ongoingness”—its ability “to carry on, and also to improve on, a way of life handed down” from its ancestors—threatened. But at moments of what Walzer, following Winston Churchill, calls “supreme emergency,” a leader may have to commit the most obscene crimes in order to avert catastrophe. The deliberate murder of innocents, the use of torture: the measures taken will be as many and almost as terrible as the evils a nation hopes to thwart.


For obvious reasons, Walzer maintains that leaders should be wary of invoking the supreme emergency, that they must have real evidence before they start speaking Churchillese. But a casual reading of the history of national security suggests not only that the rules of evidence will be ignored in practice, but also that the notion of catastrophe encourages, even insists on, these rules being flouted. “In normal affairs,” Cardinal Richelieu declared at the dawn of the modern state system, “the administration of Justice requires authentic proofs; but it is not the same in affairs of state . . . . There, urgent conjecture must sometimes take the place of proof; the loss of the particular is not comparable with the salvation of the state.” As we ascend the ladder of threats, in other words, from petty crime to the destruction or loss of the state, we require less and less proof that each threat is real. The consequences of underestimating serious threats are so great, Richelieu suggests, that we may have no choice but to overestimate them. Three centuries later, Learned Hand invoked a version of this rule, claiming that “the gravity of the ‘evil’” should be “discounted by its improbability.” The graver the evil, the higher degree of improbability we demand in order not to worry about it. Or, to put the matter another way, if an evil is truly terrible but not very likely to occur, we may still take preemptive action against it.


Neither statement was meant to justify great crimes of state, but both suggest an inverse relationship between the magnitude of a danger and the requirements of facticity. Once a leader starts pondering the nation’s moral and physical extinction, he enters a world where the fantastic need not give way to the factual, where present benignity can seem like the merest prelude to future malignancy. So intertwined at this point are fear and reason of state that early modern theorists, less shy than we about such matters, happily admitted the first as a proxy for the second: a nation’s fear, they argued, could serve as a legitimate rationale for war, even a preventive one. “As long as reason is reason,” Francis Bacon wrote, “a just fear will be a just cause of a preventive war.” That’s a fairly good description of the logic animating the Cold War: fight them there—in Vietnam, Nicaragua, Angola—lest we must stop them here, at the Rio Grande, the Canadian border, on Main Street. It’s also a fairly good description of the logic animating the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union:


We are fighting on such distant fronts to protect our own homeland, to keep the war as far away as possible, and to forestall what would otherwise be the fate of the nation as a whole and what up to now only a few German cities have experienced or will have to experience. It is therefore better to hold a front 1,000 or if necessary 2,000 kilometers away from home than to have to hold a front on the borders of the Reich.


These are by no means ancient or academic formulations. While liberal critics claim that the Bush administration lied about or deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq in order to justify going to war, the fact is that the administration and its allies were often disarmingly honest in their assessment of the threat, or at least honest about how they were going about assessing it. Trafficking in the future, they conjured the worst—“we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”—and left it to their audience to draw the most frightful conclusions.


In his 2003 state of the union address, one of his most important statements in the run-up to the war, Bush declared: “Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words and all recriminations would come too late.” Bush does not affirm the imminence of the threat; he implicitly disavows it, ducking behind the past, darting to the hypothetical, and arriving at a nightmarish, though entirely conjectured, future. He does not speak of “is” but of “if” and “could be.” These words are conditional (which is why Bush’s critics, insisting that he take his stand in the realm of fact or fiction, never could get a fix on him). He speaks in the tense of fear, where evidence and intuition, reason and speculation, combine to make the worst-case scenario seem as real as fact.


After the war had begun, the television journalist Diane Sawyer pressed Bush on the difference between the assumption, “stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction,” and the hypothetical possibility that Saddam “could move to acquire those weapons.” Bush replied: “So what’s the difference?” No offhand comment, this was Bush’s most articulate statement of the entire war, an artful parsing of a distinction that has little meaning in the context of national security.


Probably no one in or around the administration better understood the way national security blurs the line between the possible and the actual than Richard Perle. “How far Saddam’s gone on the nuclear weapons side I don’t think we really know,” Perle said on one occasion. “My guess is it’s further than we think. It’s always further than we think, because we limit ourselves, as we think about this, to what we’re able to prove and demonstrate . . . . And, unless you believe that we have uncovered everything, you have to assume there is more than we’re able to report.”


Like Bush, Perle neither lies nor exaggerates. Instead, he imagines and projects, and in the process reverses the normal rules of forensic responsibility. When someone recommends a difficult course of action on behalf of a better future, he invariably must defend himself against the skeptic, who insists that he prove his recommendation will produce the outcome he anticipates. But if someone recommends an equally difficult course of action to avert a hypothetical disaster, the burden of proof shifts to the skeptic. Suddenly she must defend her doubt against his belief, her preference for politics as usual against his politics of emergency. And that, I suspect, is why the Bush administration’s prewar mantra, “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”—laughable in the context of an argument for, say, world peace—could seem surprisingly cogent in an argument for war. “Better to be despised for too anxious apprehensions,” Burke noted, “than ruined by too confident a security.”


As Walzer suggests, an entire people can face annihilation. But the victims of genocide tend to be stateless or powerless, and the world has difficulty seeing or acknowledging their destruction, even when the evidence is undeniable. The citizens and subjects of great powers, on the other hand, rarely face the prospect of “moral as well as physical extinction.” (Walzer cites only two cases.) Yet their leaders seem to imagine that destruction with the greatest of ease.

{ 136 comments }

1

P O'Neill 03.17.13 at 3:51 pm

Yes, but … if that logic is so dominant in national security discourse, why is it that the USA and Korea are not currently at war with DPRK? They’ve gone far further in word and preparatory deed on serious WMD than Saddam ever did, no one has any idea what’s going on at high levels of government, and yet there’s no 2003 style drumbeat for war.

2

Kaveh 03.17.13 at 4:05 pm

I guess one reason would be domestic lobbies–neocons of various stripes. But doesn’t DPRK already have a nuclear weapon? And I also heard that they have a lot of artillery aimed at Seoul, that is effectively holding the city hostage. So there would be immediate consequences to threatening or actually invading DPRK that they would have to deal with, which makes it unlike Iraq and Iran.

3

david 03.17.13 at 4:36 pm

@1

Yglesias suggested economic policymakers are responding to the crisis they thought they would have to deal with, rather than the actual crisis they have to deal with. It seems plausible that foreign policy thinkers – the PNAC group – thought that a nuclear Iraq was going to be the problem, and simply did not let anything – not 9/11, not recession, not the inability to find weapons – halt their momentum.

4

Billikin 03.17.13 at 4:51 pm

I am unsure of your main point. Is it that Bush did not just lie, but told certain kinds of lies? Or is it that there was a germ of truth in what he said?

5

Mark 03.17.13 at 5:19 pm

Billikin, all the best lies have a germ of truth. But somewhere along the line, Republicans discovered that lousy, poorly crafted lies can be just as effective, and don’t strictly require a germ of truth to work. See also: “Bush’s Brain.”

6

riffle 03.17.13 at 5:32 pm

I came to think the argument for war from Bush and the pro-war cheerleaders was not even a lie: it was bullshit.

Truth and falsity didn’t really matter except to not to get caught in an outright lie — which would impede progress towards war. Other than that, they’d say anything that increased the likelihood of war.

7

Theophylact 03.17.13 at 5:33 pm

He went beyond lying. His reply to Sawyer showed that, as far as he was concerned, the truth simply did not matter.

8

ponce 03.17.13 at 5:37 pm

I just looked up from reading this and saw Wolfowitz being interviewed on CNN.

A tenth anniversary is great opportunity to rewrite a few pages of history.

9

Mao Cheng Ji 03.17.13 at 5:46 pm

They wanted to start that war and they started it. How it was justified and marketed for the domestic audience, that seems like a minor detail. One of maaaany items, together with renting an airfield in Kyrgyzstan, and stuff like that. Does the bullshit their marketing people produced really deserve an in-depth analysis?

10

Davis X. Machina 03.17.13 at 5:47 pm

“His reply to Sawyer showed that, as far as he was concerned, the truth simply did not matter.”

Just win, baby. He had the 2002 midterms coming up, and re-election in 2004 was far from guaranteed. And all the great presidents were wartime presidents.

Iraq — not so much a war as the world’s most expensive campaign commercial.

11

Rich Puchalsky 03.17.13 at 5:48 pm

A post all about “the state of emergency” without a Carl Schmitt reference?

In any case, I don’t understand this post. It dignifies what Bush did through numerous references to Richelieu, Learned Hand, Bacon, etc etc. But no political thinker respected for their practical grasp of power has ever elevated paranoia to a ruling principle. If Bush had a serious argument that the chance of a bad outcome was the same as evidence leading towards one, then that logic demands an immediate all-out nuclear attack on every other country in the world, all of which could in theory attack us some day in some manner.

No, it was only propaganda. It was replaced by different-sounding propaganda about “the responsibility to protect” when Obama wanted his own war, but that doesn’t mean that in seeking to explain that you have to go through a long history of philosophers talking about how countries have responsibilities to protect others. Why are you treating this as serious?

12

Kalkaino 03.17.13 at 5:50 pm

This is elaborated nonsense. Even if the Bushite’s statements were carefully hedged, indemnified as it were against liability for deliberate deception (“The British have learned….”), the whole gang of them deliberately deceived the world about the threat from Sadddam and their reasons for making war on him. They didn’t know about his having WMD’s but they went way out of their way to convince everyone of their certainty on the subject, to sell their phony pose of knowing. They lied and they coerced others to lie. If in the end they half believed or even completly swallowed their own lies this is entirely normal, the banality of evil in operation.

Remember the Downing Street Memo: “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” They lied, over and over and over. Don’t let Bacon, Richelieu and Burke distract you from that brute fact.

13

LFC 03.17.13 at 6:02 pm

This excerpt from The Reactionary Mind is right to point out that one rhetorical/persuasive technique Bush et al. used was the conjuring up of possibilities — and the graver the hypothetical, the less evidence one needs to take action against it, or so they argued.

Where the excerpt stumbles, in my opinion, is in fully assimilating this kind of reasoning to a generic “national security discourse” found on both right and left. There is *some* overlap between the Bushies’ rhetoric and the generic ‘natl security discourse’, but they do have to be distinguished — otherwise it’s hard to account for why the majority of security/IR scholars opposed the 2003 invasion and pointed out that Bush et al. were misusing a familiar form of threat assessment by exaggerating the threat and conjuring hypotheticals that were so improbable as to be absurd. “The smoking gun become a mushroom cloud” metaphor is not rational threat assessment by the standards of “nat’l security discourse” but hyperventilation, because it assumes an effectively insane, undeterrable Saddam who would, once he acquired a nuclear weapon, not hesitate to use it. While Saddam was a brutal dictator who invaded Kuwait and used chemical weapons on the Kurds, there is little evidence that he was insane, and only an insane leader would have used a nuclear weapon vs. the U.S. knowing that he faced the likelihood of a devastating strike in return. Thus C. Rice’s “mushroom cloud” metaphor only even began to make sense if one assumed that Saddam was going to pass the (hypothetical) weapon to al Qaeda, and there was never any convincing evidence that Saddam and al Qaeda were linked.

In short, I think this excerpt from The Reactionary Mind somewhat overplays the extent to which the Bush et al. arguments were congruent with standard “natl security discourse” and underplays the extent to which they were a departure from that discourse.

14

Main Street Muse 03.17.13 at 6:03 pm

“The fact is that the administration and its allies were often disarmingly honest in their assessment of the threat, or at least honest about how they were going about assessing it. Trafficking in the future, they conjured the worst—“we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”—and left it to their audience to draw the most frightful conclusions.”

Correct me if I am wrong, Corey, but this does not seem to show an administration “disarmingly honest in their assessment of the threat…” They were instead, as you beautifully note, speaking “in the tense of fear.” Do you believe they ever had evidence to support the worst-case scenario? I do not. They found no WMD of any kind in Iraq; if there had been something there, the Bush administration would have found it. How can US intelligence be that wrong, if “honest assessments of the threat” were employed?

That’s the problem with this war – they lied us into it. Nothing simple about it. These are the people who declared oh so long ago, “Mission Accomplished…” Lies piled up on more lies. And the war on terror continues.

15

Corey Robin 03.17.13 at 6:12 pm

9: “But no political thinker respected for their practical grasp of power has ever elevated paranoia to a ruling principle.” Have you ever heard of Thomas Hobbes?

“Why are you treating this as serious?” This seems to be emerging as a theme with you. Nothing really to say to that beyond what John has already said to you. Except to say this: when I think something is not worth taking seriously, I don’t take it seriously. I ignore it or, if pressed, simply say, “I don’t take that seriously.” If you want us to believe what you say, why don’t you give that a try?

16

LFC 03.17.13 at 6:20 pm

“Reason of state” originally had as much to do with freeing foreign policy from the dictates of religion as anything else. Also, the phrase was used in a lot of rather different ways by different writers.

http://howlatpluto.blogspot.com/2013/02/reason-of-state-and-ethics-of-statecraft.html

17

Bloix 03.17.13 at 6:27 pm

There is concept in linguistics called “implicature,” which distinguishes between what an utterance, taken as an intended communication made in good faith, implies or suggests, and what, as a matter of strict logical construction, it literally asserts regardless of the good faith of the speaker.

For example, if a student asks the departmental secretary, “Is Prof Robin in his office?” and she says, “Prof Robin? Oh, he’s got a class now,” the student will assume that Prof Robin is not in his office. However, her statement would be literally true even if she knows he is in office (i.e. he’s running late) and she is intentionally misleading the student. That is, she is not communicating in good faith.

Lawyers, ad men, PR men, and speech writers are skilled in the exploitation of implicature. They are able to craft statements that will be taken by all ordinary listeners to mean one thing, but that do not strictly assert that thing. A common example is the non-denial denial, but implicature is also used to imply affirmative statements that are known to be false.

In daily life, the ability to mislead by implicature is strengthened by the listener’s trust of the speaker, and alternatively or additionally by intimidation and assertion of authority. A typical student will not ask the departmental secretary a follow-up, “yes, but where is he right now?”

In legal proceedings, cross-examination often reveals the bad faith intentions behind implied falsehoods. In political discourse, we rely on the press to ask the questions that force

In the run-up to the Iraq War, the Bush administration pushed implicature right up to the breaking point, and used trust, authority, and intimidation to stifle further inquiry. They were aided by a sheep-like press that had no courage to ask the follow-up questions. In some cases, those that were willing to do so lost their jobs (e.g., Phil Donohue).

And so, P O’Neill, the reason we are not at war with North Korea is that the logic of the pre-Iraq war statements was not meant to be taken seriously as logic. It was intended to, and did, serve to imply information that was known to be false, without ever making a literally false statement. No one wants war with North Korea, and therefore no one is going to gin up a campaign of not-quite-literal lies to justify such a war.

18

Corey Robin 03.17.13 at 6:27 pm

12: I think the emphasis on that passage from me that you cite is actually in the following phrase, which you omit: “or at least honest about how they were going about assessing it.” With the exception of Colin Powell’s speech at the UN, that State of the Union address by Bush was the most important statement leading to the war. And he makes it very clear what his standard is for assessing whether or not there is a threat. And all those other quotable quotes — the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud — also gives you a sense of how they were doing their assessment.

But also, everyone, please notice the qualifications and caveats I make in the OP: The title is “Bush did not simply lie.” Then in the first sentence of my intro, “did not always or simply lie.” Later in: ‘were often disarmingly honest.” In other words, at times they did lie; they were not always honest.

LFC at 11: It’s true that some leading IR realist scholars (and realist practitioners like Brzezinski) were against the war. In the earlier part of piece, which I link to, I say just that. Walt, Mearsheimer, etc. were against the war, and clearly so. But do you have hard evidence of the following claim: “the majority of security/IR scholars opposed the 2003 invasion”? I’ve never heard that, so am curious. Though even if it’s true, it doesn’t challenge the point that the principles being invoked are not out of the mainstream; it just means that the IR scholars applied them in the opposite way. But your point that the Bush administration’s discourse is not identical with IR discourse is well taken. Of course I didn’t say it was identical; I just said it lay within the canon. Also, if you look at just war theory, which addresses these questions of imminence and proof most comprehensively, there is a lot in that discourse that makes possible the moves that Bush et al made.

One last thing: some of you seem to think there is an effort here to “dignify” or elevate or “distract” from what Bush did. If you find any exculpatory dimension to this post, I’m surprised. The point is just the opposite.

19

Bruce Wilder 03.17.13 at 6:34 pm

It seems plausible that foreign policy thinkers – the PNAC group – thought that a nuclear Iraq was going to be the problem

I’m sorry, but I’m not following your line of reasoning.

It doesn’t seem the least bit plausible to me, now, and I fail to see on what basis it could seem plausible, now with the information we have (and with the emotional distance from 9/11).

I can see how foreign policy leaders could think it would seem plausible to the broad public in 2001-3, and, therefore, effective arguments could be fashioned around this (false) idea.

I do not see — and this seems like it might be crucial for the OP’s argument — how a foreign policy leader, with responsibility for the judicious assessment of available information and intelligence, could believe that Iraq had nuclear weapons or an active and capable program to develop nuclear weapon capability. I do not see that there is even room for unreasonable doubt on this score.

So, moving from “Bush lied”, past “Bush deliberately deceived” to “Bush wet his pants” doesn’t really cut it with me. And, I’m wondering what the point of the OP is.

20

the Narrator 03.17.13 at 6:34 pm

Sounds a lot like the way the Obama administration has defined ‘imminence’

From :
“4. Expanding the concept of “imminence” beyond recognition

The memo claims that the president’s assassination power applies to a senior al-Qaida member who “poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States”. That is designed to convince citizens to accept this power by leading them to believe it’s similar to common and familiar domestic uses of lethal force on US soil: if, for instance, an armed criminal is in the process of robbing a bank or is about to shoot hostages, then the “imminence” of the threat he poses justifies the use of lethal force against him by the police.

But this rhetorical tactic is totally misleading. The memo is authorizing assassinations against citizens in circumstances far beyond this understanding of “imminence”. Indeed, the memo expressly states that it is inventing “a broader concept of imminence” than is typically used in domestic law. Specifically, the president’s assassination power “does not require that the US have clear evidence that a specific attack . . . will take place in the immediate future”. The US routinely assassinates its targets not when they are engaged in or plotting attacks but when they are at home, with family members, riding in a car, at work, at funerals, rescuing other drone victims, etc.

Many of the early objections to this new memo have focused on this warped and incredibly broad definition of “imminence”. The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer told Isikoff that the memo “redefines the word imminence in a way that deprives the word of its ordinary meaning”. Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller called Jaffer’s objection “an understatement”, noting that the memo’s understanding of “imminence” is “wildly overbroad” under international law.

Crucially, Heller points out what I noted above: once you accept the memo’s reasoning – that the US is engaged in a global war, that the world is a battlefield, and the president has the power to assassinate any member of al-Qaida or associated forces – then there is no way coherent way to limit this power to places where capture is infeasible or to persons posing an “imminent” threat. The legal framework adopted by the memo means the president can kill anyone he claims is a member of al-Qaida regardless of where they are found or what they are doing.

The only reason to add these limitations of “imminence” and “feasibility of capture” is, as Heller said, purely political: to make the theories more politically palatable. But the definitions for these terms are so vague and broad that they provide no real limits on the president’s assassination power. As the ACLU’s Jaffer says: “This is a chilling document” because “it argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen” and the purported limits “are elastic and vaguely defined, and it’s easy to see how they could be manipulated.”

21

LFC 03.17.13 at 6:42 pm

Corey:
Do you have hard evidence of the following claim: “the majority of security/IR scholars opposed the 2003 invasion”? I’ve never heard that, so am curious.

I don’t have the evidence at my fingertips, but will get back to you on this.

22

Corey Robin 03.17.13 at 6:45 pm

Those of you who are so sure of the rationality of political leaders, that they know exactly what they’re doing, and that when they act on information that in hindsight is clearly lunatic, that they are doing so for strictly instrumental, self-conscious reasons, might want to read this fantastic book called The Lavender Scare, by David Johnson, on the purge of gays and lesbians from the government at the height of the Cold War. I read it when it came out (and was as shocked to learn what I’m about to tell you as you yourself might be). I reviewed it in the London Review of Books. Here are the significant deets (if the block quotes indent don’t come out properly, my apologies):

According to John Cheever, 1948 was ‘the year everybody in the United States was worried about homosexuality’. And nobody was more worried than the federal government, which was rumoured to be teeming with gays and lesbians. One might think that Washington’s attentions would have been focused elsewhere – on the Soviet Union, for example, or on Communist spies – but in 1950, President Truman’s advisers warned him that ‘the country is more concerned about the charges of homosexuals in the government than about Communists.’ The executive branch responded immediately. That year, the State Department fired ‘perverts’ at the rate of one a day, more than twice the figure for suspected Communists. Charges of homosexuality ultimately accounted for a quarter to a half of all dismissals in the State and Commerce Departments, and in the CIA. Only 25 per cent of Joseph McCarthy’s fan letters complained of ‘red infiltration’; the rest fretted about ‘sex depravity’.

The scare lasted from 1947 to the 1970s, and in The Lavender Scare David Johnson estimates that thousands lost their jobs. The men and women charged with rinsing the pink from the Potomac were astonishingly ignorant about their quarry. Senator Clyde Hoey, head of the first congressional inquiry into the threat, had to ask an aide: ‘Can you please tell me, what can two women possibly do?’ Senator Margaret Chase Smith asked one Hoey Committee witness whether there wasn’t a ‘quick test like an X-ray that discloses these things’.

The official justification for the purge was that homosexuals were vulnerable to blackmail and could be turned into Soviet spies. But as Johnson points out, investigators never found a single instance of this kind of blackmail during the Cold War. The best they could come up with was a dubious case from before the First World War, when the Russians allegedly used the homosexuality of Austria’s top spy to force him to work for them.

The real justification was even more suspect: gays were social misfits whose pathology made them susceptible to Communist indoctrination. Many conservatives also believed that the Communist Party was a movement of and for libertines, and the Soviet Union a haven of free love and open marriage. Gays, they concluded, couldn’t resist this freedom from bourgeois constraint. Drawing parallels with the decline of the Roman Empire, McCarthy regarded homosexuality as a cultural degeneracy that could only weaken the United States. It was, as one tabloid put it, ‘Stalin’s Atom Bomb’.

How could a nation confronting so many foreign threats allow itself to be sidetracked like this? (This is not just a question for historians: in recent months, Congress has devoted considerable energy to debating gay marriage, while in the last 13 years the US military has fired 55 of its Arabic speakers for being gay; the most recent was uncovered after investigators asked him if he had ever participated in community theatre.) With the Soviets in possession of the bomb and Korea on the march, why was Dean Acheson, the secretary of state, dispatched to Congress to defend his heterosexuality and that of his ‘powder puff diplomats’? Didn’t he have more important things to do than host rowdy gatherings of politicians and journalists that were reminiscent of ‘stag parties’, featuring copious amounts of Scotch and bourbon, and smiling women ‘whose identity remained undisclosed’. As one senator remarked, ‘It reminded me somewhat of the fraternity rushing season at college.’ Dean Acheson tried to appear as ‘one of the boys’, slapping senators on the back. A journalist reported that ‘his hair was rumpled, his tie awry. The stiff and precise manner and speech which have antagonised many of us had disappeared. He even seemed to have removed the wax from his moustache.’

The synergy between national security and conservative anxiety is hardly new. As Johnson shows, the Lavender Scare reflected a general backlash against the loosening of sexual mores and gender roles that resulted from the New Deal and the Second World War. Roosevelt’s welfare state, conservatives argued, sapped the nation’s energy, drained away patriarchal vigour. Instead of sturdy husbands and firm fathers controlling their wives and children, lisping bureaucrats and female social workers were now running the show. World War Two exacerbated the problem: with so many men away at the front, and women working in the factories, male authority was further eroded. Citing these ‘social and family upheavals’, J. Edgar Hoover argued that ‘the wartime spirit of abandon and “anything goes” led to a decline of morals among people of all ages.’

Washington was the centre of this cultural revolution. A boom town for young single people in the 1930s and 1940s, it had a tight housing market, forcing men to bunk up with men, and offered women plentiful opportunities to support themselves by government jobs. What with the anonymous cruising sites of Lafayette Park (right in front of the White House) and the company of tolerant female colleagues in the federal bureaucracy, homosexuals managed to turn Washington into a ‘very gay city’. Hoover grew up in DC when it was a racist backwater of the Old South, and despite his own ambiguous sexuality, he was not happy about these changes.

After the war conservatives stirred a panic about gender roles – ‘A great emphasis,’ according to Cheever, ‘by way of defence, was put upon manliness, athletics, hunting, fishing and conservative clothing, but the lonely wife wondered, glancingly, about her husband at his hunting camp, and the husband wondered with whom he shared a rude bed of pines. Was he? Had he? Did he want to? Had he ever?’ – and deftly turned the public against a government bent on making everyone gay. The New Deal, they claimed, was a Queer Deal; America was run by ‘fairies and Fair Dealers’ (Truman called his domestic programme the Fair Deal). Because of this ungodly union of Democrats, Communists and fags, the United States was now vulnerable to the Soviet Union.

23

ponce 03.17.13 at 7:06 pm

@17

“I can see how foreign policy leaders…”

Are there really any “foreign policy leaders” around?

Most of the gas bags who pontificate on foreign policy these day are really just huckers shilling for a specific special interest.

Like Paul Ryan is a “federal budget leader.”

24

Bloix 03.17.13 at 7:08 pm

I was in Paris on a short vacation in July 2002. At dinner with some old friends, they asked, is the US going to invade Iraq? No, no, I said, for a while it looked like we would, but now it’s clear that Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11, and the talk of another Iraq was has died down.

That was before the administration rolled out its new campaign for war in September.
Remember this?

“”From a marketing point of view,” said Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff who is coordinating the effort, ”you don’t introduce new products in August.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/09/07/us/traces-of-terror-the-strategy-bush-aides-set-strategy-to-sell-policy-on-iraq.html

The “new product” was WMD’s, after the old product – 9/11 – had failed to sell.

So regardless of the irrationality of the war itself, the method used to sell the war – the continuous drum-beat of misleading implications that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, capped by the Powell presentation at the UN – was utterly rational in its successful effort to mislead the public into supporting the war.

25

Patrick S. O'Donnell 03.17.13 at 7:18 pm

I hardly think it’s true, either figuratively or even allowing for rhetorical hyperbole, that Hobbes “elevated paranoia to a ruling principle.” Hobbes was rightly fearful, if not simply concerned, about the role of transcendent religious interests “manipulated by those ambitious of worldly power,” as a direct cause of obdurate social disorder (such ‘transcendent’ interests were not the monopoly of religion, but included ‘honor’ and the esteem of others, for example, interests that trumped the interest in self-preservation or narrowly prudential interests). His concerns were based on deep reflections of the darker events of his time and place, like the English Civil War. Hobbes was not motivated by paranoia, but by a complex picture of human psychology (and not the simple egoistic psychology often attributed to him), an original moral philosophy based on “reasonableness” (and thus an appeal to our rational agency which relies on a ‘reciprocity theorem’ that probably influenced Kant and probably Gewirth’s ‘principle of generic consistency’ as well), and a desire to secure the sundry benefits and virtues of domestic peace. Citizens in affluent nation-states take for granted the sort of peace and security that was elusive in Hobbes’s time and remains so in large parts of our world today. I won’t here attempt to make the case in full so I’ll ask anyone truly interested in a sophisticated analysis of Hobbes’s moral and political thought to carefully read two works by S.A. Lloyd: Ideals as Interests in Hobbes’s Leviathan: The Power of Mind over Matter (1992), and Morality in the Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes: Cases in the Law of Nature (2009), as well as the late Perez Zagorin’s Hobbes and the Law of Nature (2009).

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Kalkaino 03.17.13 at 7:44 pm

I was just reminded of another bit of history that is relevant to the subject of the Presidents Bush and their relation to the truth. When we look at footage of Colin Powell showing a vial white powder to the UN we should remember the televised speech George H. W. Bush gave in Sept., 1989 promoting another war, the war on drugs. He held up a little bag and said, “This is crack cocaine, seized a couple of days ago be Drug Enforcement Agents in a park just across the street from the White House.” He said this to sensationalize “the gravest domestic threat facing our nation – drugs.” Sound familiar?

What Bush 1 said then about the crack was in a trivial sense true. DEA had, with considerable difficulty, enticed a young man to come up out of the ghetto and sell them some crack in Lafayette Park so that the President could make it look like the drug epidemtic was threatening to swamp even the holiest of enclaves. But Bush’s claim was, when weighed ethically, a lie — a verbal deception, a gross and deliberate misrepresentation of the case. So at least W came by his lying ways honestly. But lie he did, and everyone around him did, constantly. They seemed to lie for practice, as if, like cursing for drill sargents, it was practically their mode of respiration.

You say there is nothing exculpatory of Bush et al in your piece, but I think it at least obfuscates, plus it gives the Mayberry Machivels more credit than they deserve — as if there was something sophisticated about their thuggery. They weren’t ‘subtle.’ They were stupidly, brazenly, tranparently, dishonest (as millions of us at the time saw clearly) and they got away with it because our journalists and politicians are cowards.

You say Bush didn’t simply lie, or always lie. Maybe ‘the’ and ‘and’ weren’t lies. But Bush was always practicing to deceive, so your distinctions are pretty nebulous. Indeed, neither he nor any member of his adminsitration has ever shown the slightest sense that they should be expected to tell the truth — and this is perhaps the real horror.

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David Kaib 03.17.13 at 7:44 pm

I’m continually puzzled by the idea that political elites can do as they please and just slap any old justification on what they are doing, therefore such justifications don’t matter. Political discourse is non-stop legitimating. If your understanding of politics makes the vast majority of politics incomprehensible, it’s a good sign that your understanding of politics is not a very good one. Most elite projects require participation from some portion of the masses.

I find it entirely persuasive that it’s the danger allegedly posed rather than the certainty of proof that’s the primary focus in these things. Even when the likelihood gets discussed, it’s often used simply to attack the motives of skeptics: ‘you must be pro-Saddam (or al-Qaeda, etc.) if you can’t see the danger they pose.’

In terms of stopping the madness, the problem with those Democrats who worked to put the breaks on war was that they admitted the core premise – if Iraq had some form of WMD, then their obvious dangerousness would of course justify a preemptive attack. It left them arguing how certain the evidence was. It was an incredibly weak position, because it skipped over the obvious problem–Iraq posed no threat to the US (even if they had these weapons), and preemptive war is always wrong.

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Salient 03.17.13 at 7:47 pm

If you find any exculpatory dimension to this post, I’m surprised.

Surprised? My heckles were raised like twelve times in three paragraphs.

Not for logically sound reasons, though. Blame usually feels strangely fixed-sum: if four people are equally to blame, they bear 0.25 blame; if you argue a fifth person is also equally to blame, you’re necessarily exculpating the other four by 0.05 each. (Even if you dispense with ‘equally’ the same problem recurs.)

Like most seemingly-fixed-sum things, writing it out quantified like this makes it look painfully absurd, but I do think this does kinda track the emotional feel of blame pretty well. On an emotional level blame is basically the sole acceptable justification for sustaining animus at some entity, and nobody likes to feel like they’re getting told to lessen or redirect their animosity. So no matter how carefully you phrase and hedge, the gap between what you’re intending to say and what people feel like you’re saying is gonna be larger than usual when talking about expanding the scope of blame.

anyway I need to go back and read that chapter more thoroughly, somehow the truly awesome phrase “reverses the normal rules of forensic responsibility” slipped past

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Salient 03.17.13 at 7:54 pm

This post could be usefully subtitled “Lying is not the only way to mislead. It’s not even the most pernicious.”

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EricD 03.17.13 at 7:56 pm

Morally neutral causes of disastrous actions can operate even when bad actors play a central role, and this is part of the story here.

Both What is true? and What is good? are legitimate concerns when communications both convey information and motivate actions. Mixing these concerns, however, can lead to spiral causation that sacrifices truth to good causes while elevating bad causes in the guise of good:
———–

A group believes (on dubious evidence) that X must be opposed, and that mobilizing opposition is therefore a Good Cause.

Given this, highlighting evidence that X is dangerous is good—perhaps even obligatory—and evidence to the contrary should be disparaged or suppressed.

At the margin, “good” information becomes preferable to true information, and evidence against X increases and sharpens. The plausibility of concordant evidence grows through both confirmation bias and informal Bayesian considerations. Social proof takes over and severs links to reality.

Lying in a good cause becomes acceptable when the cause seems sufficiently urgent, and lies can generate that very sense of urgency. Demonization becomes legitimate, and who would dare defend demons?
———–

This pattern operates at the interface between science and public heath, too: Evidence that weakens case for shunning (supposedly) bad dietary habits has an uphill fight to reach publication and attention, though the idea of what is bad may in fact be overturned by the evidence. Consider also the skewing of evidence engendered by the War on Drugs and the apparent moral case for exaggerating harms.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.17.13 at 8:00 pm

Of course the post is exculpatory, whether that was your intent or not. It takes a bare-faced lie and obvious propaganda tactic and treats it as if it has an intellectual history of political thought behind it. Bush has no intellectual defense except the one you’ve created for him.

I don’t think that you understood what I said to John, I don’t think that you understand Hobbes, and yes, in the future I’ll try not to bother discussing your posts.

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Bill Barnes 03.17.13 at 8:08 pm

If you’ll indulge me for a moment — it’s frustrating to see this issue debated without attention to the following kind of analysis (from a paper of a few years ago; Corey, feel free to delete this post if it’s too much)

To appreciate the magnitude of the Bush II administration’s failure in Iraq, we should note that over the last 25 years or so, the greatest growth industries in U.S. Government-sponsored public policy studies and related social science have been in the fields of “nation-building” and “democracy promotion,” on the one hand, and the assessment of the problems and risks posed by “state failure”, on the other hand. During the same time, there has been a rejuvenation of the modernization theory of the 1950s and 60s, backed by sophisticated world-wide survey research and partnered with advanced theoretical work on democratization. Thus by the late twentieth century, the U.S. government would seem to have been much more well-equipped intellectually and professionally than in the past for the judicious practice of nation-state-building and democracy promotion. Combine that with the exceptional magnitude of the resources poured into the Iraq intervention by the Bush administration, and one might have thought that some level of success should have been guaranteed.
It is surely correct that part of the problem has been blind over-confidence, pure and simple. The 1990s brought an extraordinary level of optimism, self-confidence, and hubris to the policy community in Washington, D.C. At the same time, the authors of academic work too often allowed policy intellectuals to get away with (and sometimes themselves participated in) the over simplification of their own work and of the problems that were being confronted. In addition, an extreme form of triumphalism was developed by veterans of the Reagan administration and second-generation Neo-Conservatives, leading to a re-vulgarization of modernization theory. Then the events of September 11, 2001 provided the occasion for re-enactment in Iraq of the fate of the earlier modernization theory in Vietnam.
Among those writing about “what went wrong in Iraq,” there continues to be a major discrepancy between, on one hand, recognition of the breadth, depth, and proximate causes of Bush administration failure in Iraq, and, on the other hand, conceptualizing the essence of that failure and theorizing its underlying causes. For example, after initially keeping a low profile, while being privately skeptical, U.S. political scientists Larry Diamond and Francis Fukuyama, perhaps the leading academic advocates and theorists of world-wide democratization, have each laid out devastating critiques of the administrative and policy errors and failures, and inability to learn from mistakes, that has characterized the Bush administration actions in Iraq. But neither Diamond nor Fukuyama has a real explanation for the fact that the administration persisted in and repeatedly compounded those mistakes, rather than heeding the criticisms and corrective advice given by Diamond, Fukuyama, and many others. Diamond, regularly cites ideological extremism in Washington as part of the problem, but never explains what ideology he is talking about. And both Diamond and Fukuyama remain supporters of the Reagan Doctrine’s “democracy promotion” program, and optimistic about its realizability in the medium term. That is not the ideology to which they are objecting.
Francis Fukuyama, acknowledging that his The End of History is an exercise in modernization theory, approves of and quotes political scientist Ken Jowitt’s formulation of his (Fukuyama’s) differences with the Bush administration:

Initially, if implicitly, the Bush administration subscribed to the “end of history” thesis that the “rest” of the world would more or less naturally become like the West in general and the United States in particular. September 11 changed that. In its aftermath, the Bush administration has concluded that Fukuyama’s historical timetable is too laissez-faire…. History, the Bush administration has concluded, needs deliberate organization, leadership, and direction. In this irony of ironies, the Bush administration’s identification of regime change as critical to its anti-terrorist policy and integral to its desire for a democratic capitalist world has led to an active “Leninist” foreign policy in place of Fukuyama’s passive “Marxist” social teleology.

Fukuyama himself emphasizes the impact of the “fact” that the maverick views of the Neoconservatives concerning the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, for which they had been ridiculed, suddenly and dramatically proved correct. This demonstrated that they were justified in refusing to listen to those who disagreed with them, particularly the State Department and the CIA.

Bureaucratic tribalism exists in all administrations, but rose to poisonous levels in Bush’s first term. Team loyalty trumped open-minded discussion…

Regime change [in Iraq] was conceived not as a matter of the slow and painstaking construction of liberal and democratic institutions but simply as the negative task of getting rid of the old regime.

… democracy was a default condition to which societies would revert once liberated from dictators. … The problem is one of the time frame involved. It is one thing to say that there is a broad, centuries-long trend toward the spread of liberal democracy — something that I myself have strongly argued in the past — and another to say that either democracy or prosperity can emerge in a given society at a given time. There are certain critical intervening variables known as institutions that must be in place before a society can move from an amorphous longing for freedom to a well-functioning, consolidated democratic political system with a modern economy. And … institutions are very difficult to establish.

So, on one level, a primary explanation for the Iraq debacle is that the most powerful decision-makers in the Bush administration had never read the sophisticated social science and policy literature on the nuts and bolts of nation-building and democracy promotion that had been accumulating for years, and refused to accept the professional experts in this field as partners. Indeed, Rumsfeld and Chaney went so far as to insist on excluding from the policy-making process those at the State Department who had spent months working up volumes of material on Iraq and possible post-invasion issues. Even when people like Diamond were brought in, their advice was largely ignored; their common sense – that the key to success is expert evaluation of the task at hand and putting appropriate professionals in charge of execution – was ridiculed by Chaney and Rumsfeld. For Diamond and Fukuyama, it should go without saying that you don’t rely on theorists of the “Revolution in Military Affairs” and “shock and awe” when you need to be planning for military policing and clean counterinsurgency; and you don’t rely on Jerry Bremer, Bernard Kerik, and Republican Party campaign cadre to lead and staff the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad.
The democracy-promotion professionals’ larger point would be that the decision about whether to try nation-rebuilding and democracy promotion in Iraq at all should have been made in close consultation with professionals of appropriate expertise. Critics such as Diamond and Fukuyama accept that the Bush administration was, in some abstract sense, well-intentioned (though, at the same time, criminally negligent), and do not say that democracy promotion was undoable in Iraq. Their point is rather that, to professionals such as themselves, it was obvious from the outset that such would be a much more difficult and long-term undertaking than advertised, and therefore success would be prohibitively expensive, especially taking opportunity costs and secondary effects into account. This kind of critique of the Bush Doctrine thus puts the emphasis on “excessively optimistic assumptions” and the failure to carry out an informed cost-benefit analysis, on one hand, and “poisonous levels” of “bureaucratic tribalism” on the other hand, together freezing out relevant professionalism and encouraging an aggressive, reckless and obstinate simple-mindedness – all supposedly raised to a uniquely high level by the effects of the historical juxtaposition of the end of the Cold War and the events of September 11, 2001.
But this ignores the fact that similar pathologies were present in the Reagan Doctrine in Central America during the 1980s, and thus the general syndrome cannot be attributable to the combination of post-1990 events and the peculiar personalities of the Bush administration. Moreover, while what we might call “critical democracy promoters” recognize Iraq 2003 as a hard case that should have been approached much more cautiously, these critics themselves, during the 1990s, remained oblivious to the lessons of Central America – instead sharing in the delusional Neoliberal and Neoconservative triumphalism of the time. And they are still not ready to fully renounce such triumphalism today.
Thus both the champions of the Reagan Doctrine and the champions of the current Bush Doctrine (often the same people) have been characterized by a lack of knowledge of the countries they are targeting, an unwillingness to allow professional experts to play any role in basic strategy formulation, a stubborn resistance to admitting mistakes or exploring negative object lessons, a refusal to think or talk openly and broadly about medium-term and long-term costs and benefits – persisting in all of this for years on end. The champions of the Reagan Doctrine all prematurely proclaimed “Mission Accomplished!” in Central America and in Afghanistan. The Bush II administration just came up with more dramatic staging and greater exaggeration.

The results envisioned by the Reagan Doctrine have not been forthcoming in Central America (or anywhere else), and those who specialize in those countries are well aware of that. But among democracy-promotion professionals, even where particular problems and shortcomings are noted, the general positive narrative of the Reagan Doctrine remains intact. When they accuse the Bush administration of being guided by vulgar ideology in Iraq, it’s not the Reagan Doctrine they mean to indict – though they never say what ideology it is.
Critiques of the Bush administration in Iraq from the left, by contrast, are typically quick to name the ideology at fault as not generic arrogance and greed but imperialistic free-market capitalism. Sociologist Michael Schwartz, writing in May 2006, challenged the media orthodoxy that portrayed the U.S. failure in Iraq as an “inability to halt and reverse the destructive forces within Iraqi society” let loose by the U.S.’s ham-handed efforts to do-good.

This rather comfortable portrait of the U.S. as a bumbling, even thoroughly incompetent giant overwhelmed by unexpected forces tearing Iraqi society apart is strikingly inaccurate: Most of the death, destruction, and disorganization in the country has, at least in its origins, been a direct consequence of U.S. efforts to forcibly institute an economic and social revolution, while using overwhelming force to suppress resistance to this project. Certainly, the insurgency, the ethno-religious jihadists, and the criminal gangs have all contributed to the descent of Iraqi cities and towns into chaos, but their roles have been secondary and in many cases reactive. The engine of destruction was–and remains–the U.S-led occupation.

Schwartz goes on to emphasize that U.S. policy was informed by a:

larger American project of economic reform that involved demobilizing Iraqi state enterprises…and so bringing the Iraqi economy into the global system on its knees. Modern equipment and infrastructure, introduced everywhere by largely American-owned multinational corporations, would then have to be maintained by those same corporations.

In Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, the Iraq debacle is “a very capitalist disaster,” “created by a careful and faithful application of unrestrained Chicago School ideology,” meaning Milton Friedman’s economics. The CPA was deliberately under-staffed by the Defense Department, out of ideological hostility to the idea of a powerful public sector, while private contractors were brought in with staffs of many tens of thousands, paid many hundreds of millions of dollars. And even worse, much of the staff that the CPA did have did not believe in any major role for government:

… Much has been made of the youth and inexperience of the U.S. political appointees in the CPA … [But] that was not their greatest liability. These were not just any political cronies; they were frontline warriors from America’s counterrevolution against all relics of Keynesianism, many of them linked to the Heritage Foundation, ground zero of Friedmanism since it was launched in 1973.

It seems to me that Schwartz and Klein go too far in making the foregoing the general explanation for the Bush administration’s Iraq policy – effectively discounting the idea that many U.S. policy-makers (perhaps even Cheney and Rumsfeld?) really believed that the Iraqi exiles working with the Bush administration were the leaders of an Iraqi modern middle class which, once the Baath regime was out of the way, would rally to, and partner with, American and British actors in a larger project of political and economic reform, bringing much of the Iraqi population with them. In other words, rather than being essentially Friedmanite libertarians, such U.S. policy-makers are closer to being vulgar modernization theorists who, going into Iraq, believed in the chimera of a neo-liberal “big push” toward capitalist economic reconstruction and development, in which foreign actors would substitute for a non-existent national bourgeoisie, in the process coalescing a domestic modern middle class, and stimulating American-style petty bourgeois individualism throughout the Iraqi population. And U.S. policy-makers thought (or instinctively took for granted) that U.S. and British private-sector enterprises could be trusted to play this role in good faith without any strict oversight or regulation by a national state, and that from their example, Iraqis would learn modern economics and administration under the rule of law. Such policy-makers, though not usually thorough-going Friedmanite libertarians, do commonly believe in the New Right’s mythological anti-statist history of the development of Anglo-American capitalism and its universal applicability. And they believe that given (what they understand as) their own triumph in the Cold War, the power of their own demonstration effect, and the readiness of international capital to become involved, “development” has become something of a no-brainer, at least where the ratio of resource endowments to population is favorable. No national bourgeoisie with a hegemonic vocation, striving to build national infrastructure? No professionalized, non-sectarian governmental institutions effective over at least most of the national territory? No problem! Once the bad guys and the utopian fools are out of the way, capitalist development can be jump-started anywhere, with only a skeletal state apparatus in place, because all rational human beings are, potentially, petty bourgeois individualists, leaning, if given half a chance and a dose of demonstration effect, into something like the American way of life.
Of course the democracy-promotion professionals disagree strongly with the foregoing vulgarized version of modernization theory, particularly on the issue of the role of the state. But these professionals have enabled this vulgarization by themselves operating on the assumption that the Third World is by nature a world of underdeveloped nation-states informed by immature national political cultures in need of remedial education in (Neo)Liberalism, to be provided by U.S. hard and soft democracy promotion, assisted by the combination of dramatically enhanced counterinsurgency capabilities and the for-profit democracy industry, opening the way for the global triumph of (neo)liberal capitalism and the end of history. For democracy-promotion professionals it is unquestioned that national states and coherent national political cultures are natural to the modern world, as is their development away from authoritarianism toward liberal democracy, led by the rise to hegemony of the modern middle class and its “civic” political culture. It is only a short step to the conclusion that all historical and material preconditions and requisites of democratization can be substituted for by the combination of (1) the Cold War victory of the United States, and the consequent universalization of abstract attraction to and approval of “democracy” American-style (as shown by survey research), and (2) the injection of democracy-bearing human capital and social capital in the form of the U.S. democracy industry, and the subsequent well-fertilized, greenhouse-growth of its in-country protégés.
Diamond’s and Fukuyama’s confidence that a more appropriately-resourced, tactically more intelligent and enlightened U.S. foreign policy will put us back on the road to world-wide democratization is based on the belief that professionalism such as their own can and will prevail over both arrogant quasi-Friedmanite vulgarity at home and state failure abroad. This is Pollyannaish, even setting aside the magnitude of the coming crises referenced at the beginning of this article. How can people as smart and knowledgeable as Fukuyama and Diamond fail to recognize how radically U.S. policy would have to diverge not only from Bush-Doctrine tactics, but also from the Reagan Doctrine and neo-liberalism generally, in order for their dreams to begin to become realistic?
It is only a modest simplification to say that the crux of the debate between neo-liberal modernization theory and its Neo-Conservative/Republican Right vulgarization is a disagreement over the proper balance between the private sector and the public sector in national development – between the private sector, entrepreneurial elites and managers, on one hand, and the public sector professionals and their modern middle class allies in civil society, on the other hand (what the New Right calls the “New Class”). Professional democracy-promoters like Diamond and Fukuyama have built both their theories and their careers on the idea of Third-Way compromise between New Deal left-liberalism and the anti-statism/anti-leftism of new right Republicanism and Neo-Conservatism. For Diamond and Fukuyama, the proper balance between public and private sectors is a relatively even and mutually respectful one. But for the likes of Chaney and Rumsfeld and the Republican Right, even when they seek to tactically employ the Democracy Industry, they remain disdainful of “New Dealers” and associated “new class” intellectuals (including, or especially, those at the State Department and CIA). They in no way concede equal partnership, or any central role, in societal leadership to the public sector or modern middle class professionalism – in most circumstances, for most purposes, such are to remain only very junior partners. All of this completely misses crucial grounds and ingredients (the centrality of engendering human and social capital among the mass of the population), and the radical contingency, of real success in building truly national states and their democratization.

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Corey Robin 03.17.13 at 8:25 pm

Patrick at 22: I don’t disagree with what you say, and in fact, said as much — while we’re throwing out book citations — in my first book Fear: The History of a Political Idea (see chapter 1, which is entirely on Hobbes). But this one sentence — “Citizens in affluent nation-states take for granted the sort of peace and security that was elusive in Hobbes’s time and remains so in large parts of our world today” — is where our disagreement lies. Not because I don’t think we do take that for granted; we do. But because he thought the people of his own time also took that for granted. He thought people didn’t fear enough and in fact late in life wrote a history of the English Civil War precisely because he was worried that the memory of it was fading.: “Nothing is more instructive towards loyalty and justice than…the memory, WHILE IT LASTS, of that war.” And so a lot of Leviathan actually involves figuring out how to teach people to learn to fear a hypothetical state (remember, he was writing this for all time, not just his time) that may in fact be a long ways off, either in the past or future. (And of course he had come up with these principles before the Civil War actually even broke out.) So given the remoteness (in time) that he well understood the state of war might entail, and given — as you rightly say — that his teaching about fear was part of a complicated and sophisticated moral architecture, I think I am warranted in saying that he elevated paranoia — which is after all unfounded fear of persecution at the hands of others (and remember: he thought the problem was that people had no logical, rather than no empirical, basis to assume they weren’t going to be threatened in the state of war) — to a principle.

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Philip 03.17.13 at 8:26 pm

This bit seems to be the core of your argument ‘The graver the evil, the higher degree of improbability we demand in order not to worry about it. Or, to put the matter another way, if an evil is truly terrible but not very likely to occur, we may still take preemptive action against it.’ But the problem with this is that it does not state how improbable the threat needs to be relative to the potential damage. I can see that at time it might be unclear where to draw the line but the Bush administration were clearly on the wrong side of it i.e. you still need some evidence at least.

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EricD 03.17.13 at 8:28 pm

By the way, is there a good term for the process that I outlined above?

The essential pattern to be named starts with beliefs that engender a sense of urgency in persuading others to share those beliefs, leading to a skewing of judgment and communications that engenders a greater sense of urgency, further skewing, and yet greater urgency, and ultimately to a set of beliefs that makes articulation of opposed views of facts seem morally wrong.

Do any standard or candidate terms come to mind?

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EricD 03.17.13 at 8:33 pm

One stance: “The graver the evil, the higher degree of improbability we demand in order not to worry about it.”

Another stance: “The graver the evil, the more we are obligated to make it seem probable in order to spur action.”

The second stance, unlike the first, leads to a moral/epistemic spiral. It amplifies the danger of the first.

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Mao Cheng Ji 03.17.13 at 9:18 pm

“I’m continually puzzled by the idea that political elites can do as they please and just slap any old justification on what they are doing, therefore such justifications don’t matter. [...] Most elite projects require participation from some portion of the masses.”

They can’t do as they please. They can’t slap any justification. They have to sell it, to assure the required participation, and to bring resistance down to the acceptable level. Where’s the disagreement?

And why is important how they do it? It’s done by professionals, just like any other marketing. It’s a business. They have focus groups and everything.

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ponce 03.17.13 at 9:25 pm

@29

Bill,

You have left out the biggest reason America invaded Iraq:

A lot of Americans, perhaps a majority, enjoy being at war (provided they don’t actually have to serve.)

Afghanistan had proven to be just unsatisfying war foreplay, so Bush & Co. dreamed up Iraq and then made sure the war and the occupation was fought in a much more satisfying manner, with villains, heroes and lots of big explosions.

Every decision was based on ratings, not logic.

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hix 03.17.13 at 10:10 pm

I dont quite understand the point of the blog post. If the point is that realist IR theory is a piece of crap and that all the nonsense American political scientists write are bad after the fact rationalications for irrational and immoral US foreign policy, i agree. In general, sane people (or left for that matter) usually dont get involved in “national security discourse”.

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LFC 03.17.13 at 10:19 pm

Evidence (following up my comment at 21 above) on the question of IR scholars’ views:

S. Peterson, M.J. Tierney, and D. Maliniak, “Inside the Ivory Tower,” Foreign Policy, Nov.-Dec. 2005: nearly 80 percent of IR scholars opposed the Iraq invasion. That statement, plus the survey data broken down by scholars’ political views, is on p. 7 of this 8pp. pdf:
mjtier.people.wm.edu/FP.pdf

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LFC 03.17.13 at 10:28 pm

p.s. Sorry — you have to copy and paste that url @40 into the search bar– but it does work.

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Corey Robin 03.17.13 at 11:22 pm

LFC at 40: Wow, thanks. I hadn’t seen that. One potential problem with that survey though is that the article doesn’t say when it was done. The article came out in late 2005. The real question is whether those scholars supported the war in March 2003 when it began. The survey relies entirely on self-reported positions that, depending on whether the survey was taken, could have been formulated long after the war had gone south. Anyway, I’m perfectly prepared to believe the results, but without knowing when the survey was done, I don’t think we can say for sure that 80 percent of IR scholars opposed the invasion at the time of the invasion.

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rf 03.17.13 at 11:55 pm

“The article came out in late 2005. The real question is whether those scholars supported the war in March 2003 when it began. The survey relies entirely on self-reported positions that, depending on whether the survey was taken, could have been formulated long after the war had gone south.”

On the survey

http://drezner.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/02/20/on_the_foreign_policy_community_and_the_international_relations_academy_in_2002

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Bowman Walton 03.17.13 at 11:59 pm

A good post about the tenth anniversary and some sly responses. In some others that curiously casuistic inquisition into the precise reasons for the damnation of the soul of George W. Bush continues, undiminished by the passing years, change of administrations, etc. Shall Bush be condemned because he did not see the difference between WMD that the enemy has today and WMD he can build or buy tomorrow, or shall it be because he did not sufficiently care about that difference when asked to comment on it by a reporter? On such scrutiny hangs the further policy question whether Bush shall only wriggle where the fire ever burns and the worm dieth not, or shall also– instead?– be cast into the lake of eternal fire. Dante sent many politicians to hell, but being a politician himself, he knew better than to draw distinctions so fine as to make his poetic justice absurd. Bush today is painting oils in retirement after the manner of Lucien Freud, but the rage of some against him is stuck in a Monty Python skit. Against such infernal majesty it seems blandly surface-bound to point out that there is an obvious reason not to care much about either Bush or WMD– many had decided the matter of Iraq already in the Clinton years and saw Bush’s casus belli as the mere update of a bipartisan and prudential argument that had been persuasive for a long time. That is the main reason why knowledgeable Democrats like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry voted for it, little as they may have liked Bush.

The US and UK were in Iraq enforcing a crumbling ceasefire and facing a dilemma about whether and how to leave. The dilemma could have been escaped by a general allied retreat from the Middle East, or possibly by a resolute EU desire to maintain robust but heartlessly cruel sanctions against Iraq. But short of those unlikely happenings– about as likely as the latest Ryan budget– the US and UK were going to be responsible for either watching a defeated Baathist regime in Baghdad repress, rebuild, and rearm under their own weak supervision lamely assisted by the IAEA, or else for finally deposing that regime, ending the sanctions, and concluding a real peace with a real peace partner who was, however imperfect, safer for the region and perhaps for its own citizens.

Status quo or “regime change?” Either path had daunting practical and moral risks, and so tragedy lay not far beyond any choice. The way of regime change was chosen and several disasters followed, of course. But at the time, it would then have been merely wishful to assume that the other path would have been rosier or even truly different over the decade that followed. So it is unsurprising that at this fork where two paths branched, many Americans in both major parties preferred the regime change, motivated by a desire to get out of an untenable position whilst conserving US influence in the region. The reasons never changed, but the political climate was poisoned by a bitterly disputed election, a new administration with neo-conservative ideas not fully understood, and the tragic vindication of President Clinton’s hawkish views on terrorism on September 11.

In retrospect, one wishes that the debate on Iraq that eventually followed had been more evenly matched and reality-based. In the US, we had a meaningless debate between those who knew, somehow, the precise locations in Iraq of the WMD that the IAEA could never find, and their embittered adversaries who virtuously opposed war in Iraq because they virtuously oppose every war everywhere. A meaningful debate would have posed the two paths for public discussion. It would have been at least interesting to have heard someone advocate a serious proposal to update the status quo in Iraq into some arrangement with a lasting and intrusive allied presence in there, few or no sanctions on its economy, more IAEA inspections, and less fighting. And if there were really none to argue for that path not taken, then we should have debated the single path that still remained, hearing the neo-conservative vision of remaking the Iraqi state and some other vision of its critics. At the very least, the realities of postwar administration might then have been considered before the war. The tenth anniversary question of real interest is this– why did we not have that debate then, and why do we still prefer to talk about a certain oil painter in Texas rather than having it now?

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Patrick S. O'Donnell 03.18.13 at 12:27 am

Corey, I hope to continue this particular discussion at some other time and place (so this will be all I have to say in response and I’ll leave the last word to you), but for now let me simply note that, first, fear of insecurity, disorder and violence are very real and not equivalent to paranoia, even if they might generate same. Hobbes did in fact live through the “most intolerant period in the history of Christianity, marked by religious wars, fierce confessional hatreds, and relentless persecutions by both Catholic and Protestant authorities of individuals and groups who differed from the religion of the state and dominant church” (Zagorin). Second, the hypothetical account is meant to model the essential features of relevant possible scenarios, past, present, and in the future, it has eminent heuristic value as a thought experiment (unlike many of the thought experiments found among contemporary philosophers). We need only look at societies in which there is a breakdown of basic legal and political order to appreciate the appeal of the Hobbesian formulation of the state of nature (much hinges on precisely why Hobbes relied on a hypothetical state of nature). Finally, even if one grants for the sake of argument, as I do not, that Hobbes unfairly elevated “fear of persecution at the hands of others” into a general principle, we can set all of that aside (say, in conforming to a principle of parsimony) and appreciate the cogency if not persuasiveness of an argument that provides basic moral and practical reasons for individuals to cooperate and co-exist that are reasons for all individuals qua individuals with a capacity for practical reasoning (and thus minimal moral reciprocity predicated upon a principle of fundamental human equality) and thus is not dependent on or distorted by their particular moral judgments or worldviews (which does not, however rule out the possibility that these worldviews might have resources from which one might reason to the same conclusion, as Hobbes thought was the case with Christian scripture). This allows for a functional understanding of law as a reasonable normative social practice. This appeal to our rational agency is no small achievement, as it trumps any appeal to subjective viewpoints and interests. Of course we might find Hobbes’s conditions for justified rebellion or revolution far too stringent, involving a failure to fully appreciation the possible misrule of a sovereign (which of course need not be an individual but an assembly of persons), but that need not undermine the logic of the original argument which rightly contrasts the benefits the conditions of peace and security attained with a State and the likely fear, insecurity, and violence (a lapse into barbarism) that result in the absence of the minimal conditions of social and political order achieved by the State (the burden of proof is thus placed on those who, like anarchists, believe that such conditions might be achieved outside the State). And to the extent that the State encroaches upon the pursuit of ends by subjects in civil society, to that extent its advantages over the state (or states) of nature diminishes. Again, I hope to carry on this discussion at another time and place (and will read your book in the meantime).

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LFC 03.18.13 at 12:42 am

Corey @42:

Yes, I take the point. Drezner in the post linked by rf says the survey was conducted in 2005. So perhaps the figure is somewhat inflated by hindsight — I don’t know.

Btw, Patrick Jackson tells me that there are some other figures (he was not more specific) in his co-authored ’07 article on Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy. I can’t go through the piece right now but here is the link:

http://kittenboo.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/03/PoP_Jackson_Kaufman.pdf

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Collin Street 03.18.13 at 1:34 am

I’m not sure I see there’s a huge amount of moral difference attaching to the methods you use to mislead people as to the true state of affairs. Intent, outcome, proper-consideration, yes: method, not so much.

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Corey Robin 03.18.13 at 2:37 am

Patrick at 44: Thanks for your thoughts. I think they may be somewhat orthogonal to what I’m talking about. I don’t actually agree with some of what you say, but even if I did, it wouldn’t undermine the claims I made in my last comment to you. At least if I’m understanding you correctly.

Let’s put it this way. There are at least two types of fear in Hobbes that are relevant to the point I’m making. The first is the fear that people have in the state of nature; the second is the fear that people have of the state of nature. Hobbes is very clear throughout all of his texts that while both fears are blameless fears, and that any reasoning person would have these fears, not all men have them. In fact, he often suggests precisely the opposite: that most men don’t actually have a fear of death, or if they do, they ignore it or succumb to (or allow themselves to succumb to) other passions. In order to have or to act on these fears, men must cultivate their reason. Or be instructed in the norms of reason and a great much else. (I actually follow Tuck on the influence of Renaissance humanism and skepticism on Hobbes so that it’s not strictly speaking just reason that needs to be learned. But that’s another conversation.)

With regard to the first fear — the fear in the state of nature — it’s only possible for men to feel that fear if they have a true appreciation of the logic of their situation, rather than merely relying on their observations of their situation, and have logically concluded that they have no reasonable grounds for trusting their neighbor (regardless of what their neighbor does). Or really anyone. In terms of the second fear — the fear of the state of nature — that too is a deduction of logic. It’s not something that is ultimately grounded in empirical observation so much as it is what reason requires.

Now none of this is, I don’t think, inconsistent with what you say. I’m sure you come to the points differently, and put your emphases elsewhere, but again we’re not on opposite sides. At least not yet. The question for Hobbes though is how to get people to fear these things which are not in fact part of their lives. It’s true that Hobbes lived through the Civil War and makes reference to it. But that for Hobbes is the point: the Civil War has happened (in part b/c people act as if such things can’t or don’t happen, or if they don’t act that way, they revel in the happening), people have lived through it, yet they still act as if they haven’t. So he says in Leviathan that the sovereign must give the people “prospective glasses” — which he says are forged of “Morall and Civill Science” (i.e., not observation or experience) — by which they can “see a farre off the miseries that hang over” them. This is the what the fear of the state nature is. And fear, let’s not forget, is for Hobbes an “aversion” and aversion, he insists, “wee have for things, not onely which we know have hurt us; but also that we do not know whether they will hurt us, or not.” It is, he says somewhere, an “inference, made from the passion.” Not certain knowledge but an inference.

Hobbesian fear is that kind of inference or conjecture; reasonable yes, but not an automatic response to immediate or even less immediate danger; it is an inference about miseries far off.

So to bring this all back to where we began, the kind of scenario that Bush engaged in is actually not that far off in form from the Hobbesian calculus. Or at least it certainly didn’t appear to many in the run-up to the war. Which was really the point I was making.

And if this wasn’t already clear, I was a firm opponent of the war. I marched against it, spoke against it, signed petitions, etc. And not only was I an opponent of the Iraq War but I was, from the very beginning, an opponent of the entire war on terror. Again, a discussion for another day, but just to give people a sense of where I am coming from. It’s funny to be accused of elevating the right in stature; usually I get accused of doing the exact opposite!

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Corey Robin 03.18.13 at 3:07 am

Sorry, one other thing. For those who claim I’m trying to shoulder the Bushes a rung or two up the moral ladder, you did catch that part of my OP where I compare the logic of Bush on Iraq to that of Hitler on the invasion of the Soviet Union, right? I’m never entirely certain in what particular precinct of the moral universe my interlocutors reside, but I kinda thought we all lived in that universe where Hitler = bad.

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JRHulls 03.18.13 at 3:42 am

The naked truth is that Presidential candidates will lie and commit treason to achieve or maintain themselves in power. The startling revelations in the recently released BBC tapes, proving that Nixon deliberately sabotaged the establishment of the Paris peace talks, surreptitiously using his campaign operatives to insure the South that they would get a better deal if Nixon were elected. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21768668#story_continues_1

Net result? 5 more years of war, extended to Cambodia and Laos , loss of another 22,000 American lives, let alone the destruction and destabilization in Laos, delayed the
peace that could have been had in 1968 until 1973. If there were any justice, Nixon would be exhumed, tied to a stake near the Wall, and executed for treason.

I number friends amongst the 22,000 that Nixon killed for his presidential ambitions.

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ponce 03.18.13 at 5:51 am

@44

“Shall Bush be condemned because…”

IMHO, Bush gets a pardon because he didn’t attack Iran.

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Steve J. 03.18.13 at 6:08 am

THEY LIED…

WHY WE THINK THEY LIED ABOUT IRAQ
It’s really simple once you understand the facts. First, a LOT of the intelligence was shaky and they KNEW that. Second, they didn’t tell us about the doubts; in fact, they hid them from us.

THREE EXAMPLES:

Cheney:

“Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.”
August 26, 2002
Vice President Speaks at VFW 103rd National Convention

Rumsfeld:

“We know they have weapons of mass destruction. We know they have active programs. There isn’t any debate about it.”

DoD News Briefing – Secretary Rumsfeld And Gen. Pace
September 26, 2002

Fleischer:

“We know for a fact there are weapons there.”
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
January 9, 2003

Posted by Steve J. at 8:16 PM

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Rogers 03.18.13 at 8:51 am

Not to excuse the vile cynicism of W et al and the bottom-line fueled Media collusion, but how about some focus on the silly mythos we all seem to surrender to- namely that we can rely on the native decency and good sense of the ‘Murkan public to sniff out agitprop. The citizenry was/is an ignorant rabble. We would have happily swallowed even clumsier lies to sate our desire for revenge.

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idonthaveacoolname 03.18.13 at 11:10 am

Goebbels said the following of Churchill and the British:

“One should not as a rule reveal one’s secrets, since one does not know if and when one may need them again. The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.”

And this was true with Iraq 2 and is still true today.

In the run up to Iraq, bundle this thick-headedness with a complicit corporate run media and steady erosion of public education in favour of “skills training”, away from critical thought, and voila, the perfect storm of manipulation. Corporate run media with an agenda and a disconnected public. This situation continues unabated today in many countries. In mine, the issue is political support of environmentally disastrous natural resource extraction and the shouts of left-wing traitorous sympathy for any that disagree. Oh, and millions to specific television outlets for ongoing sunshine advertising, the same media outlets that supported the ruling regimes power grab in the last election spreading the good news of trickle down job creators and economic nirvana. Oh, and if you disagree with their law and order agenda, you are siding with child molestors. Just like those pro-terrorists, anti-Americans that questioned Bush and Cheney. I’m looking at you, bloggers here at CT.

Plus ça change.

Rather vile of public officials to purposively lie to the public but hey, what are you going to do? The system is broken. There are no penalties for any of their behavior that for the rest of us would result in social sanction and/or jail time.

Hand wringing may suffice.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.18.13 at 11:58 am

“Sorry, one other thing. For those who claim I’m trying to shoulder the Bushes a rung or two up the moral ladder, you did catch that part of my OP where I compare the logic of Bush on Iraq to that of Hitler on the invasion of the Soviet Union, right? “

All right, I know I shouldn’t but I’ll give this one more try, since the thread has been self-Godwinned already.

Birds have to fly, fish have to swim, intellectuals have to churn out pieces in which people who do stupid things have an intellectual pedigree for their actions. There’s no use in trying to convince the birds or the fishes to do anything differently, but the intellectuals are supposedly reasoning creatures.

What’s your core argument? It’s here:
“He did not sell the war simply by making stuff up about the presence of WMD or exaggerating the threat posed by Iraq. That storyline is too easy. Bush and his allies did something far subtler—and more disturbing—and what they said was actually well within the canon of national security discourse, both on the left and the right.”

But this is a sword with two edges, of course. If what Bush did was within the canon of national security discourse, then we should question that national security discourse. That is the intention of your post. But by the same reasoning, if what Bush did was within the canon of national security discourse, there’s nothing that unusual or blameworthy about it. After all, what’s good enough for Richelieu, Learned Hand, Bacon, and Hobbes must be good enough for us. Why would people complain that Bush’s whole “we must attack them there before they attack us here” ploy was an obvious lie that, after the fact, is now historically known to be a cover for a determination to attack Iraq no matter what? Because it was in fact worse than how the national security discourse normally goes. The national security discourse, for instance, kept us alive through the long period of nuclear confrontation of superpowers, during which the temptation to try a first strike under this same “we must strike first because we’re afraid” reasoning was suppressed. Your argument is incorrect and serves to diminish the unusual quality of what Bush did.

But perhaps your post illuminates the form of propaganda used? No. There’s another “brilliant thinker” who you left out of your list: “Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” — Hermann Goering. It’s an obvious form of propaganda to lie and tell the country that they’re being attacked when they aren’t. And no, people don’t have to go back to Bacon, Locke, or Hobbes to understand that.

The bit about intention is the shabbiest bit of poor thinking of all. How often do you treat the intention of an author as determining the effect of what they wrote? I’m going to skip right over that. Instead, as with John’s post, people claim that there’s no effect — that they’re “just a B-list blogger” — and that anyone who takes them seriously is morally posturing, telling bloggers what to blog about, etc. But this doesn’t work as a general principle. No one questions that if an op-ed appeared in the Washington Post titled “Bush’s Iraq War Logic Not So Unusual” that people would complain. And yes, no one would bother complaining if someone wrote that on a blog that no one read. But this is a matter of degree, not principle. It doesn’t work to tell the people commenting on your post that they should shut up for the same reason that you should never have written your post to begin with.

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Corey Robin 03.18.13 at 12:46 pm

Rich at 55: You say the logic cuts both ways: I totally agree. In fact, it’s always a danger of any and all radical critiques of this sort — the ones that try to show that some conventionally understood extreme behavior is in fact part and parcel of more mainstream modes of action or morality — that it runs the risk of normalizing that behavior. That’s a fair point, and one I accept. I have thought about it a lot, and indeed worry about it, but again it’s a risk that attends many left critiques. I think it more presses in the other direction — toward an engagement with and critique of the mainstream notions that sustained the extreme, away from simply saying Bush is wrong to a critique of the underlying assumptions that made something like Bush possible — but as you say, it can do the reverse. Fair enough.

That said, when you write this, “After all, what’s good enough for Richelieu, Learned Hand, Bacon, and Hobbes must be good enough for us,” I do wonder what you have in mind. Richelieu and Hobbes are considered to be the founders, theoretical or political, of the modern absolute state. They’re not exactly philosophers or practitioners of liberal democracy; just the opposite. To say what’s good enough for Richelieu must be good enough for us is the equivalent of saying what’s good enough for Louis XIV — the most absolutist of absolute monarchs whose regime Richelieu helped construct in advance of Louis’s ascension to the throne — must be good enough for us. I don’t think many people would take that association as a recommendation or elevation. I would have thought it would have undermined anyone associated with such things (just like I thought the Hitler quote would do). Likewise, Bacon who was the lord chancellor and adviser to James I — again one of the most absolute (at least in theory; the reality was more complicated).

As for Learned Hand, I’m quoting from his decision in the Dennis case. That decision is considered by most scholars to be one of the low points of his jurisprudence, the moment where he threw the free speech canon out the window in favor of a discourse of imminence and raison d’etat that’s shameful.

As for telling you to shut up: No such thing. You want to raise fair points for discussion or critique, I’ll respond, as I just have. You tell me you don’t take something seriously, or you think an entire post that I’ve spent a fair amount of time working is about something not worth taking seriously, it’s just a big waste of time and silly, well, there’s not much to say to that except: you should take your own words as seriously as I have, apparently, Bush’s.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.18.13 at 1:14 pm

“Richelieu and Hobbes are considered to be the founders, theoretical or political, of the modern absolute state.”

Machievellian thought has always been condemned, but people respect it. Many people said more or less explicitly that Bush’s actions were worse than a crime, they were a mistake, and would happily have accepted a Richelieu who had the manipulative abilities to control events that the actual Richelieu did. The problem with your analysis is that it conflates Machievellian ruthlessness with what you characterize as Hobbesian paranoia. If you’re talking about something common to both the left and the right, compare the respect that the more left mainstream nation security discourse has for Baker with the disdain shown for Cheney. And the sources that you cite are serious thinkers: no one would dismiss Bacon as a lightweight as they reasonably should with Bush’s advisors.

But, all right. It’s basically fine with me if you understand what I wrote but you disagree. Based on your previous response, I had thought that you didn’t understand.

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mdc 03.18.13 at 1:39 pm

They did make the argument on the basis of *possible* threats Corey describes. They also straight up lied. But I’m always struck by how many of their lies were, in a Lewis Carroll sort of way, technically true: “There is no doubt…”; or when Rumsfeld said he knew where 30% of the WMD were. (30% x 0 = 0)

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.18.13 at 2:45 pm

After all, what’s good enough for Richelieu, Learned Hand, Bacon, and Hobbes must be good enough for us.

This seems like a bit of a genetic fallacy. Or in other words: explicating the historical line of argumentation and showing its common reappearance throughout analogous periods isn’t tantamount to excusing or justifying it or attributing to it an intellectual pedigree (although I suspect that if you really dug deep and got folks like Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld to tell the truth, they’d probably claim some sort of pseudo-historical Straussian-type philosophical lineage). It’s a theoretical framework that’s useful for understanding the context in which the Bush lies on Iraq took place.

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LFC 03.18.13 at 2:48 pm

JRHulls@50

The startling revelations in the recently released BBC tapes, proving that Nixon deliberately sabotaged the establishment of the Paris peace talks, surreptitiously using his campaign operatives to insure the South that they would get a better deal if Nixon were elected.

I don’t remember all the details, but it’s been known for decades that the Nixon campaign in ’68 (ie Nixon and his advisor Kissinger) used Anna Chenault or someone(s) she knew, iirc, to convey the message to Thieu that he would “get a better deal if Nixon were elected.” There may be some additional evidence in the BBC tapes you refer to, I haven’t looked at the link, but the basic facts about this shameful episode have long been known and an account can be found in numerous books on the Vietnam war.

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LFC 03.18.13 at 3:00 pm

Bowman Walton @44

the neo-conservative vision of remaking the Iraqi state

A pity, isn’t it, that this “vision” somehow got operationalized as: lightning-quick invasion w smallish force will topple Saddam, invaders will be greeted as liberators, Iraq will be a functioning democracy within a couple of months, and we can all go home.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.18.13 at 3:29 pm

“It’s a theoretical framework that’s useful for understanding the context in which the Bush lies on Iraq took place.”

That’s only true if it’s an actually correct theoretical framework — if the policy-makers were thinking in this way and taking actions motivated by this line of thinking. If on the other hand they were using it as propaganda a la the Goering quote and their actions otherwise showed no concern with merely possible threats then writing that “what they said was actually well within the canon of national security discourse” serves to validate their propaganda rather than discredit it.

Remember, this whole aspect of the Bush argument was widely taken to be what separated it from mainstream national security discourse, which had rejected aggressive war. (For pragmatic rather than moral reasons, but that’s still better than nothing.) Once again, we survived a long confrontation with an ideologically hostile state armed with the ultimate WMDs, and it wasn’t only because of mutually-assured destruction. It was because it was widely understood that ruthlessness for the purpose of protecting the state is only valuable if it actually protects the state, and that attacking because of ill-justified possible future harm was so risky that it did not work.

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Bill Barnes 03.18.13 at 3:50 pm

Bowman 44 and LFC 61, please see 32 above.

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LFC 03.18.13 at 4:25 pm

B. Barnes @32: I’ve read down to this:

This kind of critique of the Bush Doctrine thus puts the emphasis on “excessively optimistic assumptions” and the failure to carry out an informed cost-benefit analysis, on one hand, and “poisonous levels” of “bureaucratic tribalism” on the other hand, together freezing out relevant professionalism and encouraging an aggressive, reckless and obstinate simple-mindedness – all supposedly raised to a uniquely high level by the effects of the historical juxtaposition of the end of the Cold War and the events of September 11, 2001.
But this ignores the fact that similar pathologies were present in the Reagan Doctrine in Central America during the 1980s, and thus the general syndrome cannot be attributable to the combination of post-1990 events and the peculiar personalities of the Bush administration. Moreover, while what we might call “critical democracy promoters” recognize Iraq 2003 as a hard case that should have been approached much more cautiously, these critics themselves, during the 1990s, remained oblivious to the lessons of Central America – instead sharing in the delusional Neoliberal and Neoconservative triumphalism of the time. And they are still not ready to fully renounce such triumphalism today.

I don’t doubt that there were “similar pathologies” btw GWBush and Reagan ‘doctrines’ but the difference — which you may acknowledge further down in that long post — is that the Bush ‘doctrine’ resulted in full-scale invasion of Iraq while, iirc, the Reagan doctrine in Latin America relied, for the most part (Grenada being an exception) on covert support for forces like the Contras. Also the Reagan doctrine had a ‘negative’ anti-Communist aspect which to some extent competed w ‘democracy promotion’ as a theme, no? So I’m sure there are some continuities and similarities btw Reagan and GWBush but also some differences…

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.18.13 at 5:09 pm

That’s only true if it’s an actually correct theoretical framework — if the policy-makers were thinking in this way and taking actions motivated by this line of thinking. If on the other hand they were using it as propaganda a la the Goering quote and their actions otherwise showed no concern with merely possible threats then writing that “what they said was actually well within the canon of national security discourse” serves to validate their propaganda rather than discredit it.

Maybe this is the crux of the difference. To me, it seems mostly irrelevant what the policy-makers were actually thinking. That is, it’s relevant for the historical record, but what really drove the invasion was the point at which the public perception intersected with Bush et al’s public pronouncements. That was the point where the projection of the possibility of existential threat was made manifest in public opinion; it wasn’t enough just to make some stuff up to sell the war. And I think that projection is a part of the national security discourse, insofar as that discourse is actually public and not confined to the academy. What “the experts” think usually not what the public sees. Even if, as it seems, a majority of IR experts thought the war was a terrible idea (thanks, LFC), that doesn’t mean that this had anything to do with the discourse that actually happened outside the ranks of those experts.

I don’t read anything Corey has written as validating the propaganda. I read it as casting light on another dimension of the same, and contextualizing it within a particular sort of (historically persistent) attitude about national security. I don’t know my Hobbes well enough to say how correct the interpretation is (there seems to be some dispute about this) but hey, that’s why I read blogs like CT. I can’t imagine Wolfowitz reading this and going, “Aha! Even the liberal Corey Robin has validated us!” Who, exactly, are we worried is going to take this the wrong way?

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Rich Puchalsky 03.18.13 at 5:23 pm

“Who, exactly, are we worried is going to take this the wrong way?”

I’ll take the easier question first. It’s a longstanding propaganda tactic to say “Even the liberal Corey Robin agrees that our doctrine was well within the canon of national security discourse.” This makes the whole thing easier to do another time. Given that they wouldn’t really be misquoting Corey in this case, the only defenses are a) truthfulness — but I don’t think it’s true, b) no one is listening to Corey Robin. Which is arguable, but not necessarily true in the way that people here annoyingly (to me) tend to retort “I’m only blogging, don’t tell me how to blog, I’ll refund your subscription fee if you didn’t like it” which completely misses the point.

” To me, it seems mostly irrelevant what the policy-makers were actually thinking.”

No one can really know what someone was thinking, but their actions are observable. It’s an observable fact that the Bush team did not act as if they were generally worried about extreme, possible threats. See e.g. “We don’t really care whether we find Osama Bin Ladin” or “Global warming? What’s that?” or even “We don’t care whether we destabilize the international order that has served the U.S. well.” So Corey’s description isn’t a description of how they were acting. It’s a description of a lie that took its place among many other lies in their propaganda effort. He says “That storyline is too easy”, but he’s wrong.

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Corey Robin 03.18.13 at 5:36 pm

Rich at 66: But, Rich, you actually haven’t shown that I’m wrong at all. All you’ve said is that my argument runs the risk — indeed, has succeeded — of letting the Bush administration off the hook. (I am genuinely flattered that you think anyone in a position of power would use what I say as a propaganda point; you must think much more highly of my stature than I do.) I cite specific stuff from Bush and Perle to show that they didn’t in fact always lie (though as I note above they also did lie, which was very obviously the premise of my use of words like “always” and “simply” in the OP). Unless you have a different interpretation of what it is that they are saying in the quotes that I cite — and remember this was Bush’s State of the Union address, not some random comment at a press conference — I don’t how you can say I’m wrong or that I’m not describing what they are doing. Re-reading your comments here, you’re very heavy on assertion, very light on evidence. But again, let’s stick to the specifics of what I’ve cited here. How is my interpretation of what they are doing in those statements wrong?

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Corey Robin 03.18.13 at 5:47 pm

Sorry, one more point: the fact that the Bush administration didn’t act against every extreme threat, or even seem to be worried by them, is neither here nor there. As I’ve argued many times on this blog and elsewhere, states always choose which threats to act against, which dangers they think are most important. Actually, it was Hobbes who first formulated that argument: when you leave the state of nature and submit to Leviathan, one of the things you give up is the right you had in the state of nature, which he describes in his Elements of Law thus: ““Every man by right of nature is judge himself of the means, and of the greatness of the danger.” That’s what you no longer have the right to under Leviathan: the right to be the judge of the greatness of a particular danger. That is now the state’s right. And all states do that. So at the end of Reconstruction the federal government decided that the threat to African Americans from white Americans in the South simply didn’t register or matter. What *did* matter, what was a real existential threat, was the threat posed by striking workers against capital. So the feds pulled out the troops from the South and sicced them on workers instead. It would be a strange argument to say that the state couldn’t have really thought striking workers posed a threat to the national order or to capital — which it actually did (and for good reasons!) — because in this other instance, where whites were posing a genuine threat to blacks, the state didn’t do anything. You seem to want to remove security from politics, but the fact is the two are always intertwined.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.18.13 at 5:55 pm

Your interpretation is wrong because you’re treating a lie as if it is philosophically serious. Here’s an example;

“And that, I suspect, is why the Bush administration’s prewar mantra, “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”—laughable in the context of an argument for, say, world peace—could seem surprisingly cogent in an argument for war. “Better to be despised for too anxious apprehensions,” Burke noted, “than ruined by too confident a security.””

Here Bush is pretending to be serious — to be speaking out of a principle of his government — and you’re reinforcing that by immediately quoting Burke, who we do treat as having a serious commitment to ideas. But Bush was not speaking out of principle. How do we know that? Because of his actions, some examples of which I’ve given above. I’m not questioning that he said the quotes that you quoted him as saying; I’m saying that these were revealed to be lies. I don’t see what sort of evidence I’m supposed to quote: I’ve been treating this recent history in the aftermath of the Iraq War as generally known, and the kind of evidence that might change your mind if that didn’t (i.e. the above-mentioned survey that the people who define the canon of national security discourse generally did not agree with the invasion) doesn’t seem to have changed your views.

But if you want citations to evidence, I’ll start with this — which I’ve taken from the first Google hit on it, if you don’t like that source — documents which show that the administration was planning to start the war for any one of a number of reasons, many of which had nothing to do with extreme possible threats. Is it your assertion that “the extreme threats angle happened to work best in their propaganda” means that they weren’t lying when they said that this was why they were pursuing the war?

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Rich Puchalsky 03.18.13 at 6:31 pm

“(I am genuinely flattered that you think anyone in a position of power would use what I say as a propaganda point; you must think much more highly of my stature than I do.) “

I would say be cautious, but that’s a lousy reason to do things. So instead I’ll say that people here should justly have some pride. I literally do not understand who the public intellectuals for the moderate left in the English-speaking countries are supposed to be if they aren’t B-list bloggers. People in power most certainly do listen to e.g. what John Quiggin says or what Michael Berube says (and again, I don’t mean to insult anyone else by not mentioning them; I’m not going to research everyone’s media profile just to make this point). Why shouldn’t they listen to what you say?

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Corey Robin 03.18.13 at 6:36 pm

Sorry, you haven’t made the case at all. All you’ve done is to come up with a novel definition of a lie, which is not — in your treatment — to knowingly make a false statement but to knowingly make a truthful statement (or at least statements that are not false) for reasons or motives other than are expressed in or entailed by that statement. By that logic, when some jurists on the Supreme Court joined the Brown decision in 1954, affirming that segregation violated the Equal Protection Clause, we know they were lying — even though the statement itself is true — because their real motive in joining that decision was fear that the Soviet Union was wining the propaganda war in the decolonizing world.

In order to claim that those statements by Bush and Perle are lies, you have to show that they are false, and that they knew them to be false. But since Bush quite openly says that he is not claiming Saddam has WMD but that he thinks Saddam might well get them, and since Perle says that he doesn’t know for certain whether Saddam does have WMD, I don’t know how you can demonstrate the falseness of those statements — unless you can provide evidence that they actually knew for certain that Saddam did have WMD or that they actually knew for certain that he didn’t have WMD.

I’ve never disputed, and nothing in my OP suggests otherwise, that the Bush administration sought to invade Iraq for reasons having nothing to do with the threat of WMD. In fact, I’ve written an entire book, the second half of which is devoted to the notion that what conservatives — and in particular the neoconservatives around the Bush administration — care about most when it comes to warfare is, well, I needn’t rehearse that argument here. But it has nothing to do with the kind of nuts and buts of safety that are raised by the WMD issue.

What the motives of the Bush administration are is one thing; and the post you link to only talks about their motives. How they sold the war is quite another. You want to say they sold it purely through lies and propaganda. I’ve demonstrated that the first claim is false: they make some statements that are not lies. The propaganda part is true — but then you have to ask how propaganda works. I guess in your model it works simply by peddling falsehood. In my model it works by working within a framework that is conventionally and popularly held to be true and by pushing that framework to its outer limits, so that statements made at those outer limits which are lunatic — as I show in that quote about absence of evidence — can seem plausible to a great many people.

The idea that any argument that treats a lie as philosophically serious is wrong is itself not really serious. There’s a long tradition of philosophers treating lies as philosophically serious: Hannah Arendt wrote several essays about precisely that issue, Nietzsche devoted his entire life to precisely this question, and there’s a huge secondary literature that has been generated by Machiavelli’s notion that a political actor ought to engage in deception.

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Corey Robin 03.18.13 at 6:40 pm

Sorry, this phrase wasn’t quite right: “unless you can provide evidence that they actually knew for certain that Saddam did have WMD or that they actually knew for certain that he didn’t have WMD.” I should have written that as “unless you can provide evidence that they actually knew for certain that Saddam did have WMD or that they actually knew for certain that he didn’t have WMD and was not seeking to get WMD and was in no position, even if he did want to get WMD, to get them in the coming years.”

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Corey Robin 03.18.13 at 6:45 pm

“People in power most certainly do listen to e.g. what John Quiggin says or what Michael Berube says…Why shouldn’t they listen to what you say?” Um, because they don’t. The only example you came up with is of an administration at the University of Rhode Island. Set aside that I thought we were talking about people in positions of elite power in DC (and if you want to extend it downward and outward, I’d say places like Albany or Sacramento, or the higher reaches of economic and cultural power; nothing against the URI, but like Brooklyn College where I teach, it’s not exactly the summit of the power elite). The fact is it wasn’t me who exercised power in that instance; it was all of you! Hundreds if not thousands of people wrote letters; that’s what made the difference. And again I’d be rather surprised if some letter-writing campaign we were able to mount here would make one bit of difference on the actions of the Obama or Bush or whatever administration. I’m hardly being coy or peddling false modesty; it just seems like such a basic and obvious truth that I’m amazed anyone would even dispute it.

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JRHulls 03.18.13 at 6:54 pm

In response to LFC at 60. I agree with you that a great deal of Nixon’s treachery was known and documented , but the BBC program links the BBC’s ’94 investigation and previously unreleased interviews with many of the participants, along with the more recently declassified tapes, telling the entire story in an unequivocal manner.

From the BBC website at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01r93sr (available for listening for 5 more days)

Twenty years ago, Charles Wheeler and David Taylor, his Washington based producer, were told that Richard Nixon had secretly sabotaged the Vietnamese peace talks in the autumn of 1968, to continue the war and ultimately strengthen his chances of claiming the presidency. It was an act of political espionage that cost thousands of American lives.

“Back in 1994, Wheeler and Taylor conducted their own investigation, tracking down those involved to piece the story together. Then they waited for the classified material to be released to confirm one of the greatest acts of political subterfuge in American history.

Charles Wheeler died in 2008, before the release of key White House tapes relating to the affair. Now, using these newly released recordings, as well as many of the interviews they recorded at the time, David Taylor pieces together this intriguing story.”

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Rich Puchalsky 03.18.13 at 6:57 pm

“You want to say they sold it purely through lies and propaganda. I’ve demonstrated that the first claim is false: they make some statements that are not lies.”

You were the one who set the terms — you wrote “George W. Bush did not always or simply lie about Iraq and the threat it posed.” I don’t think that you can then say that it’s not philosophically serious to discuss whether his statements really were lies or not. Bush did more than assert some kind of neutral truth about the world, like “the capital of Iraq is Baghdad”. He was presenting a statement that was supposed to be about why the U.S. under his direction was taking the course that it was. So, yes, when people turn up documents that show that he wasn’t really concerned for the reasons why he said he’s concerned, then he’s been shown to be lying about his policies.

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LFC 03.18.13 at 7:17 pm

@JRHulls
Thanks, I’ll listen to the BBC program.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.18.13 at 7:20 pm

“I’m hardly being coy or peddling false modesty; it just seems like such a basic and obvious truth that I’m amazed anyone would even dispute it.”

Perhaps I seem to be not citing evidence because I assume that people know backstories that they don’t actually know. All right. John Quiggin is important enough for right-wing newspapers to routinely run hit pieces on him. Here’s Michael Berube opining on CNN (I just took the most recent hit). Here’s Henry Farrell writing in the Washington Monthly. Or, if you want to just Google for yourself, you could try “Belle Waring pony”. That’s not nothing.

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Corey Robin 03.18.13 at 7:20 pm

Who said anything about it not being philosophically serious to discuss whether his statements were lies or not? I said that it wasn’t philosophically serious to say, as you did, that an interpretation is wrong because it treats “a lie as if it is philosophically serious.” Lots of serious philosophers — I name a few — treat lies as they are philosophically serious. I most certainly did not say that it’s not philosophically serious to discuss whether a statement is itself a lie or not.

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AcademicLurker 03.18.13 at 7:22 pm

If memory serves, Bush et al. took a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach.

They straightforwardly lied regarding the supposed evidence that Iraq possessed WMD. They also made a pitch for the idea that they shouldn’t really have any burden to present evidence at all.

This try everything approach also applied to the supposed reasons for the war. One day we had to invade in order to protect our Freedom Fries from WMD mushroom clouds of doom, the next day it was all about saving the poor oppressed Iraqis from Saddam.

I was truly surprised by the pro-war left not noticing (or I suppose not caring) that the justification for the war changed every week during the run-up to the invasion.

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Harold 03.18.13 at 7:37 pm

It is the technique of salesmanship, or Madison Ave: “Run it up the flagpole and see if it salutes.”

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Main Street Muse 03.18.13 at 10:15 pm

Corey – do you feel the rhetoric surrounding the build-up to war was just smoke and mirrors? There was language that was not just suggestive; it was definitive.

In that same SOTU address, Bush uttered those famous 16 words: “The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

Colin Powell, in his address to the UN: “Indeed, the facts and Iraq’s behavior show that Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction.”

Cheney, on the Sunday talk shows: “And what we’ve seen recently that has raised our level of concern to the current state of unrest … is that he now is trying, through his illicit procurement network, to acquire the equipment he needs to be able to enrich uranium — specifically, aluminum tubes,” Cheney said, referring to one of the elements for making nuclear weapons.” (from CNN: http://bit.ly/Rzv5qD)

Also from CNN, Condi Rice and unnamed officials (same source cited above):

“‘Sources say Iraqi defectors who used to work for Iraq’s nuclear weapons “industry” tell administration officials Iraq’s top priority is acquiring nuclear arms.

‘Rice acknowledged that “there will always be some uncertainty” in determining how close Iraq may be to obtaining a nuclear weapon but said, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.’”

Rice certainly is hedging her statement – but other officials – President, VP, unnamed sources and Secretary of State – make statements they claim are strongly backed by intelligence. So in this build up, yes, there were future-focused “what if…” scenarios – but also, dramatic, intelligence-supported data that made it seem Iraq was about to nuke New York.

“He speaks in the tense of fear, where evidence and intuition, reason and speculation, combine to make the worst-case scenario seem as real as fact.” This is what lying is. Making things seem real as fact when in fact they are not real at all. We’re not talking about novelists. We’re talking about people who were priming the nation for war.

The most remarkable aspect of this war was the complete and absolute absence of any WMD found in the nation our leaders felt was so determined to blow us up. Our national leaders not only spoke in that “tense of fear” but also propped up that emotional rhetoric with seemingly fact-based data. This came at at time when our press seemed to have decided to print up White House press releases verbatim. A perfect storm…

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Rich Puchalsky 03.18.13 at 10:55 pm

“In order to claim that those statements by Bush and Perle are lies, you have to show that they are false, and that they knew them to be false. But since Bush quite openly says that he is not claiming Saddam has WMD but that he thinks Saddam might well get them, and since Perle says that he doesn’t know for certain whether Saddam does have WMD, I don’t know how you can demonstrate the falseness of those statements — unless you can provide evidence that they actually knew for certain that Saddam did have WMD or that they actually knew for certain that he didn’t have WMD.”

I think that Main Street Muse above is basically right, but additionally, on re-reading this, you’re demanding an impossible standard of proof which would require after-the-fact mind reading. If their documents can’t prove what they knew or didn’t know, and their actions can’t demonstrate it, then nothing will serve. But in the ordinary meaning of political truthfulness, they lied. Statements such as Bush’s “So what’s the difference?” imply to the point of lying by misdirection that he thought there was no important difference between possible and actual WMDs, and that he was going to run policy accordingly. But he didn’t think that, insofar as we can tell from his documents and actions.

A lot of your direction in this argument comes under the heading of what I objected to originally — a syndrome in which anything that an intellectual studies takes on intellectual qualities whether they were originally present or not. I don’t think that anyone either in the Bush administration or in the general public had any significant influence from Bacon, to take one example. But it’s easy, when looking at something that was brainstormed for a few hours and then run by some focus groups, to find a whole history of intellectual justification that sounds like it’s saying something similar. There have been a lot of philosophers, and you can always find a number of them to say whatever you want said. And voila, instant intellectual history, so that now instead of the Bush administration trying any half-thought-out justification they can try, they are convincing the public by drawing on a tradition that goes back to Locke, Bacon, Hobbes. etc. It’s a form of analysis that puts your skills ahead of the actuality of what you’re studying.

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Tim Wilkinson 03.18.13 at 11:19 pm

A splendid example of ‘cock-up theory’ maintained in the face of overwhelming counter-evidence.

Almost every paragraph of the OP exemplifies the contortions characteristic of this form of ‘conspiracy-denial’, and the false dichotomies associated with kassiterousthophobia are much in evidence. Without dignifying it further I’ll just add that I don’t think we can say for sure that 80 percent of IR scholars opposed the invasion at the time of the invasion looks very like ‘the burden of proof shifting to the skeptic’, and that while the report of that survey clearly dates it to August 2004 (i.e. still post Abu Graib, but importantly, pre Fallujah II and, probably more relevant to this level of discourse, not passing a rhetorically salient 2-yr mark), I’m willing to accept the statements assigning it to 2005 as a parallel pair of self-servingly negligent cock-ups – a topical enough possibility in this context. In any case I’d have thought IR scholars matter much less here than actual security analysts, and we know about some of their dissent and dismay at the intel being ‘fixed around policy’…for pity’s sake, can it really be necessary to reiterate all this stuff?

Oh yeah, one other thing – as if to compound the comprehensive wrongness of the post, probably the closest it gets to violating the Popper-Hofstadter taboo by attributing deceptive intent is with the term ‘artful’, applied to – of all people – GW Bush.

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gordon 03.19.13 at 12:32 am

It’s enough to give the Precautionary Principle a bad name!

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Plume 03.19.13 at 2:46 am

The key here is that WMD or no WMD, Hussein was no threat. Invading Iraq was simply unconscionable, regardless. It was actually evil. Pure and simple. It was evil. And I think Americans would have said the same thing if they had been watching, from the sidelines, as two other actors, with so vast a gulf in power, went at it instead.

We had completely devastated that country in 1991, with the war, and then tacked on deadly sanctions which had been ongoing for twelve years before the second invasion. Iraq and Hussein were a shadow of a shadow of their former selves, and even at their height of power, American military might wiped them out in a matter of a few weeks.

We were the obvious bullies, the sharks, going up against the Iraqi minnow. It was despicable beyond measure.

Hussein was never a threat to us. We controlled his air space. He had no air force. He was isolated and alone and never would have attacked us even he could. He didn’t attack us when he was at his height of power, and we still sent Iraq back into the stone age. He knew that any attempt at striking us would result in his annihilation and that of his entire nation.

I said this at the time: Who cares if he had WMD? He wasn’t going to use them on anyone. Except perhaps to bluff for a little more time. We didn’t invade the Soviet Union or China or half a dozen other countries who had far superior weapons.

It’s one of the most sickening events in our history, right up there with the invasion of Vietnam and Korea. Those two wars cost the lives of between 5-7 million civilians. Iraq is probably several hundred thousand, if not a million.

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Plume 03.19.13 at 2:50 am

Preemptive war.

In this case, it’s a little like this: A neighborhood gang of a few hundred is worried about a new gang in town. They have a total of ten kids. The established gang is also much older, made up of mostly young men in their early twenties. They all have semiautomatic weapons. The new gang of ten kids is said to have knives, and they’re still in junior high.

So, the established gang attacks and wipes them out, justifying that attack using the 1% solution. There was a 1% chance, they said, that they might go full metal suicide and attack the established gang. With their knives against those semiautomatic weapons.

And they couldn’t have that.

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LFC 03.19.13 at 3:00 am

TWilkinson @83

I brought up the point that, as I originally put it, “the majority” of IR scholars opposed the invasion to buttress a larger point I was making about the OP — see my comment @13. For purposes of that bigger point the exact date of the survey doesn’t matter very much, nor does the exact percentage of IR scholars who actually opposed the war at the time of the invasion. (I did not spot the Aug. 2004 survey date b.c I was more focused on finding the relevant data in a piece I had spent a little bit of time finding in the first place.) Hence your snarky “parallel pair of self-servingly negligent cock-ups” is rather out of place, to say the least, since, to repeat, the exact percentage of IR academic types (in the U.S.) who actually opposed the invasion in March ’03 is not too important. I think it’s safe to say it was a majority, whether the percentage was 55%, 65%, 70%, 75% or whatever.

As I suggested @13, the OP in my view is not “comprehensively wrong,” to use your phrase, but I would have changed some of the emphases had I been writing it. (It also may be worth noting that the post is part of what was, I believe, originally a critical review of Walzer’s ‘Arguing about War,’ and reading its criticism of “natl security discourse” in that context may put it in a somewhat different light. Or not, I suppose, depending on how one judges these things.)

Finally, on a different subject brought up by some commenters, namely the behavior of the nat’l press during the run-up to the war, while most of it was quite awful, there were a couple of notable exceptions, e.g. the McClatchy newspapers — if memory serves.

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Plume 03.19.13 at 4:05 am

Yes. McClatchy was probably the best. But it was called Knight Ridder at the time. McClatchy bought it in 2006.

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LFC 03.19.13 at 4:16 am

@88: thks, I stand corrected on that.

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Salient 03.19.13 at 5:31 am

he thought there was no important difference between possible and actual WMDs, and that he was going to run policy accordingly. But he didn’t think that, insofar as we can tell from his documents and actions.

I don’t get the second sentence here. What evidence do we have that actuality mattered to Bush? That seems completely incompatible with someone who ignored and even obscured data about the actuality.

Also, identifying something as an instance of a particular phenomenon (a subject of study) is not the same thing as identifying something as indicative of a particular philosophy (an object of study). With the caveat that I’m not looking back over everything he said, I feel like at least in general Corey is doing the former, not the latter, and you’re expressing (reasonable) umbrage at the latter. And, if I’m right about what Corey’s doing, then that is legit, in that it doesn’t ascribe any intentionality or awareness to Bush. Are you and Corey maybe talking past each other, somewhat, on this point of contention at least?

Thanks for going back and forth trying to tease all this out, though I think some of it is also sourced in the insistence to treat ‘to lie’ as ‘to mislead’ rather than ‘a particular way of misleading.’ The whole point of the post really is that misleading us into war doesn’t happen only by lying us into war; there’s a compelling and communicable mentality that can, should it prove necessary, build a self-convincing case for war on almost nothing at all.

Because our emotional aversion to disasters doesn’t discount properly for the disasters’ probabilities, our feelings can lead us — mislead us — to evaluate projected outcomes in a non-rational, passionate, inflationary way. And that can be exploited, even without actually literally lying, by those who somehow manage to plant a new and emotionally accessible notion of disaster in our minds. That’s the core point of the post, I think. Pretty good point, too.

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bad Jim 03.19.13 at 8:21 am

Bush actually joked about not being able to find WMD’s in Iraq at a White House Correspondents’ dinner, if I recall aright. He made no pretense about taking it seriously.

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Barry 03.19.13 at 12:19 pm

Corey: “In order to claim that those statements by Bush and Perle are lies, you have to show that they are false, and that they knew them to be false. But since Bush quite openly says that he is not claiming Saddam has WMD but that he thinks Saddam might well get them, and since Perle says that he doesn’t know for certain whether Saddam does have WMD, I don’t know how you can demonstrate the falseness of those statements — unless you can provide evidence that they actually knew for certain that Saddam did have WMD or that they actually knew for certain that he didn’t have WMD.”

This has been covered, Corey – Bush, when actually invading Iraq, did not act as if there were any WMD’s to be secured.

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Main Street Muse 03.19.13 at 1:06 pm

BBC’s John Simpson’s grim story on the aftermath of all of Bush’s imaginations, projections and lies… Please read it: http://bbc.in/YlXT9o

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Tim Wilkinson 03.19.13 at 2:56 pm

LFC – no need to take any umbrage – none of my remarks were directed at you. The post is comprehensively wrong, though.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.19.13 at 3:14 pm

Salient, Corey Robin writes “These are by no means ancient or academic formulations. ” In other words, GWB’s formulations are supposed to be of the same kind. But that’s exactly what I object to — Bush’s administration would like to be thought of as super-competent authoritarians in the mode of Richelieu, because that is excusable. In addition to the undeserved intellectual credit they’d get from having their formulations be those of all those people, there’s a whole cultural fondness in America for the movie cop who breaks all the rules but who has to keep being called back in because only he can stop the criminal.

You write: “I don’t get the second sentence here. What evidence do we have that actuality mattered to Bush?” But that is what Corey has made it about, by insisting that something isn’t a lie unless Bush or the Bush administration person being quoted knew that it was untrue. That definition of Corey’s is pretty much unlike every other definition of political lying that I know of, because with a politician the state of their knowledge is often obscured, so lying means any sustained and deliberate attempt to mislead the public — which is certainly what happened when Bush pretended to be concerned about possible WMDs.

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Tim Wilkinson 03.19.13 at 5:36 pm

The overall, holistic, wrongness of the extract having been fairly well-covered, I hereby summarise the detail of that ‘comprehensive wrongness’, para by para:

pa. 1: Uses the term ‘what they said was actually well within the canon of national security discourse’. (a) This phrase permits attention to be focused on vocab or some overarching formal method such as cost-benefit analysis, into which anything can be shoehorned, rather than the actual content including, as noted above, implicature. (b) The sequel will slip into discussing what they thought and how they operated, thus almost entirely overlooking their radical dishonesty. The crucial distinction between producers and consumers of propaganda (let alone more nuanced classifications such as willing dupes) will thus also be more or less entirely ignored. (c) The GWOT campaign has actually altered that discourse – at least if you select the right source, which segues nicely into…

2: Cites Walzer, who despite bandying about the Likudnik-sounding oddity “moral as well as physical extinction” in his late (post-Iraq, GWOT), less than classic collection of authoritarian opinion pieces, did in that same volume I believe oppose the Iraq invasion both on grounds of hopelessly inadequate evidence for any threat, and independently on grounds of gross disproportionality even were there ‘WMDs’. Note the former reminds us that what is to be determined is not whether some poxy (excuse pun) weapons programme is still being pursued (shudder to think what inspectors of US secret labs would find) – it is whether there is a threat to the US; the latter reminds of the ‘cost’ in cost-benefit – entirely absent in this extract, whic of course makes a nonsense of the whole thing, rendering the precautionary principle all-encompassing.

3. On which note, consequences of underestimating serious threats are so great, Richelieu suggests, that we may have no choice but to overestimate them. Yes, let’s overestimate them. Good idea. The quote is unsourced, but an instance of independent origin crops up at the end of this document, followed by “There are some crimes which it is necessary to punish first, then investigate. Among them, the crime of lèse-majesté is so grave that one ought to punish the mere thought of it.” Perhaps this is to be taken as informing “criminal justice discourse” (as distinct, I repeat, from practice) in the US?

And Learned Hand: “In each case [courts] must ask whether the gravity of the `evil,’ discounted by its improbability, justifies such invasion of free speech as is necessary to avoid the danger.” – here the ‘cost’ side is in evidence, as one would expect, and as it is in serious ‘National Security discourse’. the extract glosses this: The graver the evil, the higher degree of improbability we demand in order not to worry about it. Or, to put the matter another way, if an evil is truly terrible but not very likely to occur, we may still take preemptive action against it. the first formula plugs ‘worrying about it’ into the cost side; the second, unspecified ‘preemptive action’ – no mention of proportionality (and as throughout, no mention of exactly what the ‘truly terrible evil’ is supposed to be – certainly not Saddam harbouring some old pots of botulism, or a rocket that given clear skies and a following wind might go 20 miles too far were it ever fired, which no-one had any reason to think it might be.)

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Tim Wilkinson 03.19.13 at 5:36 pm

4. (a) an inverse relationship between the magnitude of a danger and the requirements of facticity – again, no ‘cost’ side; and ‘facticity’? Is this like, ‘is it made up or not?’ because that is not the same as an estimate of probability (which I won’t go into here). (b) What exactly Bacon has to do with it I’m not sure, but note he alludes to a just fear – that is, a justified expectation – of agression, and states that this can be grounds for attack; and he says so in opposition to unnamed opponents who claim that war must only be a matter of ‘revenge’, or to dehyperbolise, reaction to prior attack. (c) logic animating the Cold War: fight them there—in Vietnam, Nicaragua, Angola—lest we must stop [i.e. fight - TW] them here, at the Rio Grande, the Canadian border, on Main Street.; no, or at least only for public consumption. The logic was to halt the spread of communism, and eventually to ensure the victory of The American Way across the Grand Chessboard. The fear of attack from the USSR was that of a nuclear strike – which is entirely irrelevant here – but, fwiw, on the one occasion when that was actually in any real and salient prospect, the US memorably and successfully relied on deterrence and diplomacy rather than military engagement, or indeed a first nuclear strike. (d) much the same applies to Barbarossa, that one isolated bit of rhetoric notwithstanding; also, AFAICT it was an underestimate, not an overestimate, of the capabilities of the Red Army that underwrote that decision. (And in eth context of Iraq we are only talking about capabilities, since not only were the C the B and the N conflated, but so was the possession of ‘WMD’ with the possibility that it would be used against the USA (rather than a “regional power…attain[ing] preeminence in …[its] local theater” which CR himself has stated was what Cheney wanted to avoid.)

5. the administration and its allies were often disarmingly honest in their assessment of the threat, or at least honest about how they were going about assessing it (a) The rhetorical device of correctio is being used here in support of the regime’s honesty. (b) even the corrected form is wrong – they were not “going about assessing it” in this way – they were doing everything they could to exaggerate it, including making stuff up and putting huge pressure on everyone they could to provide warped assessments. Trafficking in the future, they conjured the worst—“we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”—and left it to their audience to draw the most frightful conclusions. Full quote from that scripted ‘interview’: We know that he has the infrastructure, nuclear scientists to make a nuclear weapon, and we know that when the inspectors assessed this after the Gulf War, he was far, far closer to a crude nuclear device than anybody thought — maybe six months from a crude nuclear device. The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud. Not too much left to the imagination there, really, is there.

6. “Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words and all recriminations would come too late.” Bush does not affirm the imminence of the threat; he implicitly disavows it, ducking behind the past, darting to the hypothetical… – yes, the speechwriters wanted to include enough of this kind of verbal trickery to permit exactly this kind of interpretation obligingly to be made, once the speech was pored over in this kind of context. Their bad grammar in ‘darting to the hypothetical’ can’t be resolved in their favour – that’s not what they intended, nor expected, nor what happened. ‘Would’ clearly should be corrected to ‘will’. And note that ‘permitted to’ means ‘not prevented from’. So it’s “If this threat is not prevented from fully and suddenly emerging, all actions, all words and all recriminations will come too late.” There is a threat, and we must prevent it from emerging before its too late. If I had been in the press pack, I would certainly have spotted this stuff and tried to draw attention to it, but they knew that that wasn’t going to happen.

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Tim Wilkinson 03.19.13 at 5:37 pm

7. Claims outright that the distinction between “there are weapons of mass destruction” and “Saddam could move to acquire such weapons” is a distinction that has little meaning in the context of national security. End of story. The attempt at virtuoso contrarianism of the OP’s That storyline is too easy is just not working for me, sorry.

8. ditto wrt Probably no one in or around the administration better understood the way national security blurs the line between the possible and the actual than Richard Perle. Nope – this distinction is jealously guarded by ‘national security’ professionals both in the academy and in the less politicised – more professional – strata of government. “No one in or around the administration better understood how to blur the line between the possible and the actual than Richard Perle”, we could argue about. “It’s always further than we think” is nice.

9. Absence of evidence is of course evidence of absence, in proportion to the thoroughness of the search. And the neocons etc. were at pains to suggest that the weapons inspectors were not in fact able to carry out a thorough search. Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns” speech was certainly a masterly bit of obfuscation in response to the question “Regarding terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, you said something to the effect that the real situation is worse than the facts show. I wonder if you could tell us what is worse than is generally understood.” We know that the administration induloged in lots of this stuff as well as lying, fabricating evidence, etc. – that does not make any of it serious ‘National Security’ discourse. Recall too that the opening of that headline grabbing bit of diversionary bullshit was “All of us in this business read intelligence information, and we read it daily and we think about it and it becomes, in our minds, essentially what exists.” – which so far as sense can be made of it is a lie, as his comments prove in his own case (cf. Perle’s wisdom above.)

10. As evasive and obfuscatory as anything from Perle or Rumsfeld. The intended message, so far as I can try to tease one out that isn’t trivial, seems to be that the leaders of great powers are in the habit of taking seriously – and, I think one must suppose, starting wars to pre-empt – fantastical apocalyptic scenarios of total annihilation. That, to say the least, has not been established in this extract.

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Doctor Bob 03.19.13 at 7:21 pm

It’s always fun to argue about the past, but the future is more important. the Big Derivative banks have hundreds of trillions of dollars in outstanding liability for derivatives today, after the so-called Dodd Frank clean up has started. That’s much more than the total world GDP. The US and Israel are waltzing towards an attack on Iran. How many members of Congress dare to publicly oppose this insanity?

There’s no doubt that the Iranians have working reactors; they are probably more cooperative with the UN nuclear agency than Saddam Hussein, but like him they are prone to stupid and bellicose statements.
The Israelis have been misled by the success of past military adventures such as the 1981 attack on Iraq’s Osirak reactor. That atttack was opposed by Simon Peres and Labor, but the message drawn by the militarists is that bold action works, full stop. Saddam Hussein’s military apparatus was rickety at best and didn’t even detect the onc0ming Israeli jets. Iran’s government is foolish and rickety, but they have dispersed their nuclear installations. Do the warmongers and drone enthusiasts in the White House assume that Sunni hatred of and disrespect of Iran (we are told that Ahmadinejad receives messages from the fabled hidden 12th Imam) will prevent them from serious action against Israel and the US?
With all due respect, Learned Hand’s pronouncements are rubbish in this context. The question is whether the US can change its intrusive warmongering before it breaks apart on the wheel of history. There is a longer term fiscal issue from our military adventurism but short term effects of another foolish Middle Eastern attack may trump the fiscal implications.

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Corey Robin 03.19.13 at 7:45 pm

I haven’t been able to understand a lot of what’s been said here in the last however many comments — most of it, insofar as I do understand it, seems to be rehash of all the earlier comments — but this comment from Rich does deserve a response: “Bush’s administration would like to be thought of as super-competent authoritarians in the mode of Richelieu, because that is excusable. In addition to the undeserved intellectual credit they’d get from having their formulations be those of all those people.”

I have no idea what Rich is basing this on. Bush and his administration would like to be thought as super-competent architects of an absolutist, highly authoritarian state? Please find me one quote, one shred of evidence, that the Bush administration would *like* to be thought of in those terms. (Richelieu, mind you, also was a firm believer in divine right monarchy, so you’d probably want to get some quotes from some Bush person saying they *want* to be thought of as creators of that kind of regime as well.)

Beyond the sheer implausibility of that claim, I guess what Rich is saying — or assuming — is that if someone grants intellectual pedigree to some odious regime, someone has somehow elevated that regime. (And thus what Bush would like is to be generally thought of as smart or intellectual or something; which of course kind of goes against the entire political persona he and Karl Rove constructed, but whatever.)

But that’s just preposterous. In the last 20 years or so, there has been book after book documenting just how deeply embedded in the highest forms of intellectual discourse Nazism was. From Heidegger to Carl Schmitt to the entirety of the Germany academy to the proto-fascist thinking of the “Conservative Revolution” of the 1920s. The upshot of that literature is not that Hitler comes off better but that Heidegger comes off worse — and more important that Hitler’s crimes are demonstrated to be situated in very deep intellectual traditions and to have very deep intellectual roots. I can’t think of a single person or student who reads that literature and comes away thinking, “Wow, Hitler had Heidegger, so he must have been right after all. Or more right than I realized.”

Or if Hitler is a bridge too gar, take the critique of the Johnson’s Administration’s “best and the brightest.” The whole point of that literature, which is now going on fifty years old, is that it was incredibly smart people, rooted in all sorts of comprehensive intellectual traditions of systems analysis, cybernetics, the Rand Corporation, etc., that got us into the mess in Vietnam. In fact, that was the whole point of Chomsky’s famous essay “The Responsibility of the Intellectuals” — that the crimes of Vietnam and LBJ were enabled, facilitated, by very smart intellectuals.

Now if you want to say that there’s nothing more to Bush’s politics than lying and propaganda, fine. That’s a perfectly intelligible position. But to say, as Rich does over and over again, that the problem with my argument is that it elevates Bush by situating his arguments in an intellectual tradition (and again no one has shown that his arguments are out of keeping with the theorists I cite), and that by doing so, it exonerates him, well, that’s just wrong.

Maybe in Rich’s mind there is some subtle (or not so subtle) assumption, a kind of vulgar Platonism, that holds that if you can show there is reason or rationality to some vice — that there is an intellectual force behind some great crime — that it is thereby made virtuous. I don’t believe that. And what’s more, there’s 100 to 150 years of social and political theory behind me to back up my disbelief. A great deal of twentieth century intellectual history is based on the premise that, as George Steiner once put it, the humanities — or knowledge more generally — does not civilize our gentlemen.

So beyond whatever it is that’s going on inside of Rich’s head I can’t see much to this argument at all.

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AcademicLurker 03.19.13 at 7:51 pm

The upshot of that literature is not that Hitler comes off better but that Heidegger comes off worse

Has Heidegger’s reputation actually suffered significantly? He still seems to be a rock star as far as I can see.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.19.13 at 8:09 pm

“As evasive and obfuscatory as anything from Perle or Rumsfeld. “

I agree with a lot of what Tim Wilkinson wrote, but I don’t know if I’d go as far as what’s written above. But still, yes, there is definitely an obfuscatory, setting-the-bounds-of-discussion quality to Corey’s argument. Up at comment 71, I’m told that I’ve “come up with a novel definition of a lie” for treating lying pretty much as people commonly do when they talk about politicians. Corey goes on:

“In order to claim that those statements by Bush and Perle are lies, you have to show that they are false, and that they knew them to be false. But since Bush quite openly says that he is not claiming Saddam has WMD but that he thinks Saddam might well get them, and since Perle says that he doesn’t know for certain whether Saddam does have WMD, I don’t know how you can demonstrate the falseness of those statements — unless you can provide evidence that they actually knew for certain that Saddam did have WMD or that they actually knew for certain that he didn’t have WMD.”

Treating political statements in this way is a way of making Corey’s argument unfalsifiable. Who can prove what Bush did or did not know, if documents won’t do it? Then Corey’s original statement that Bush “did not always or simply lie about Iraq” becomes true by definition. But it’s a definition specific to him, and seems intended to deny what’s obvious — that the Bush administration intended to deceive, and made statements intending to do including the ones he quoted. If they didn’t lie by his definition, I fail to see why anyone else should be concerned about that definition. And yes, it’s in the service of an unconvincing contrarianism that in my opinion does more to excuse Bush than it does to implicate all of the national security discourse into Bush’s innovations.

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Bill Barnes 03.19.13 at 8:17 pm

“… take the critique of the Johnson’s Administration’s “best and the brightest.” The whole point of that literature, which is now going on fifty years old, is that it was incredibly smart people, rooted in all sorts of comprehensive intellectual traditions of systems analysis, cybernetics, the Rand Corporation, etc., that got us into the mess in Vietnam. In fact, that was the whole point of Chomsky’s famous essay “The Responsibility of the Intellectuals” — that the crimes of Vietnam and LBJ were enabled, facilitated, by very smart intellectuals.”

Exactly correct and entirely applicable to much (not all) of the U.S. in Iraq story (see my #32 above). Those of us who believe that our enemies are all either stupid or pure unadulterated evil, or both, are blinding themselves to reality and disabling themselves politically.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.19.13 at 8:17 pm

“Please find me one quote, one shred of evidence, that the Bush administration would *like* to be thought of in those terms.”

In terms of him re-establishing a monarchy? Please. That’s not what I said, and comes close to bad faith. I said that he’d like to be seen as a competent authoritarian, of course within the American system. Here are a couple of quotes off the top of my head:

“I hear the voices, and I read the front page, and I know the speculation. But I’m the decider, and I decide what is best.” — GWB

“The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” — Karl Rove (probably)

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Mao Cheng Ji 03.19.13 at 8:21 pm

George W Bush, an Übermensch.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.19.13 at 8:35 pm

“But that’s just preposterous. In the last 20 years or so, there has been book after book documenting just how deeply embedded in the highest forms of intellectual discourse Nazism was. [...] Or if Hitler is a bridge too gar, take the critique of the Johnson’s Administration’s “best and the brightest.” The whole point of that literature, which is now going on fifty years old, is that it was incredibly smart people, rooted in all sorts of comprehensive intellectual traditions of systems analysis, cybernetics, the Rand Corporation, etc., that got us into the mess in Vietnam.”

Those studies may or may not be correct, I don’t know. But your analysis isn’t in my opinion, and the fact that it’s similar in style to those others doesn’t make it correct. People traced direct influence from Heidegger to Naziism, from cybernetics to the Vietnam war advisors. Did anyone in the GWB administration read Bacon and say, “Hmm, ‘As long as reason is reason, a just fear will be a just cause of a preventive war.’ Sounds good, let’s use that in our propaganda!” Or did you just come up with a list of every philosopher who’s said something similar and then call that a tradition?

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Corey Robin 03.19.13 at 8:55 pm

In other words, Rich, you have zero evidence to back up your claim that ““Bush’s administration would like to be thought of as super-competent authoritarians in the mode of Richelieu” and you have zero response to the point that merely providing an intellectual lineage to what Bush said hardly exonerates them.

The Rove quote you cite runs in the opposite direction: we’re not reality-based is not the voice of a competent manager — that’s the whole point of the quote! — and of course early modern authoritarians were not about “creating” reality at all. The Bush quote merely establishes that he listens to his advisers and then makes a decision. And he said it in order to defend Rumsfeld who was taking the heat. If that to you smacks of early modern authoritarianism — and him wanting to sound like an absolute monarch — let me introduce you to the man who said “The buck stops here.” Hint: it wasn’t Richelieu!

And when I point out to you that your claim that showing there’s an intellectual lineage behind or pedigree to the statements of Bush et al in no way exonerates or elevates them — and give you two examples of how providing a lineage to an odious regime or policy does the opposite — you just change the subject.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.19.13 at 9:19 pm

Richelieu didn’t create his own reality? You previously wrote that “Louis XIV — the most absolutist of absolute monarchs whose regime Richelieu helped construct in advance of Louis’s ascension to the throne —” What was that if not what Karl Rove would have liked to be thought of as doing? No, it’s not the quote of a “competent manager”, it’s the quote of someone who wants to be thought of as having the personal force to create the system that other people have to react to. “We’re an empire now” isn’t good enough?

Secondly, I really thought that your other point was not worth responding to in the way that you set it up. You’ve already said that you understand what I mean back at comment 56:

“You say the logic cuts both ways: I totally agree. In fact, it’s always a danger of any and all radical critiques of this sort — the ones that try to show that some conventionally understood extreme behavior is in fact part and parcel of more mainstream modes of action or morality — that it runs the risk of normalizing that behavior. That’s a fair point, and one I accept. I have thought about it a lot, and indeed worry about it, but again it’s a risk that attends many left critiques. I think it more presses in the other direction — toward an engagement with and critique of the mainstream notions that sustained the extreme, away from simply saying Bush is wrong to a critique of the underlying assumptions that made something like Bush possible — but as you say, it can do the reverse. Fair enough.”

In this case, you’re trying to show that Bush’s extreme behavior is part of a more mainstream mode of intellectual thought that justifies a particular morality, part of “the canon of national security discourse.” It seemed like you understood the risk of that and accepted it.

But I disagree with the critique that Bush didn’t want to be thought of as an intellectual, therefore this wouldn’t help him. He may not have, but the advisors to his regime are independent actors and have their own interests. Some of them play up the Straussian angle and would like to be thought of as having intellectual reasons for what they do.

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Mao Cheng Ji 03.19.13 at 9:39 pm

Pure speculation, but perhaps that “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach mentioned above was actually a deliberate marketing strategy, designed to give most of everybody a nice customized rationalization: from crude racism and xenophobia, to paranoia, to feminism and liberal internationalism. So, Richelieu, Bacon, and deep philosophical musings could also be there somewhere, for those (few) who care about that sort of thing.

Of course none of that had anything to do with Bush himself, and ‘lying’ doesn’t meaningfully describe anything there. But perhaps some AEI staffer did look up Richelieu, who knows.

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Andrew F. 03.19.13 at 9:42 pm

I agree with some of the post. A few comments.

First, the Bush administration didn’t claim that Hussein posed an existential threat, as the post seems to imply. Possibly the worst contingency they focused upon was that of a transfer of a nuclear weapon from Hussein to a terrorist group, who would then use it. Bush, I believe, spoke about this possibility at a speech he gave at West Point earlier in 2002. There were reasons to assign such a contingency a low probability, but for obvious reasons, it was a salient one for the public. In other circles, the implications of a nuclear Iraq for the Middle East received greater consideration.

Second, I think ultimately what you’re getting at is the existence of cognitive biases in national security discussions. Certainly one could draw from research into loss aversion to explain some of what you mention in your post, for example, and there are a number of other well known biases that likely played a role in the US decision to go to war as well.

But, third, I don’t think your characterization of the discourse surrounding that decision is quite accurate. While the Bush Administration may sometimes have given a dressed up “better safe than sorry” soundbite argument, that’s not how the deeper discussion proceeded. Instead there were a range of arguments introduced to support the idea that Hussein either had, or would seek to have, WMDs. Hussein’s behavior, it was argued, clearly showed an absolute ruler committed to expanding his military power, at all costs. Inspections were argued to be ineffective in detecting covert weapons programs; intelligence was argued to be spotty, inconsistent, and unreliable in detecting such programs (how true that turned out to be). The sanctions regime, it was argued, would not last much longer. Therefore, it was argued, even if Hussein did not have WMDs now, his history and even recent behavior indicates an unrelenting goal of acquiring them; and his odds of obtaining them will only increase if he is not removed sooner rather than later.

These are all arguments based on much more than a simple invocation of a worst-case scenario. There has not simply been, as you say in your post, a reversal of the burden of proof, where now the default action is war. I do think there’s room to argue that there was a bias in favor of such action, though I’m not sure I’d agree as to how typical a feature that is in national security discussions.

I enjoyed the historical quotations. Worth mentioning that Learned Hand of course was simply adapting his earlier rule, formulated in the context of tort law, for determining whether an individual had breached a duty of reasonable care, which he stated in Carroll Towing.

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Corey Robin 03.19.13 at 9:46 pm

I certainly accept the notion that showing how action or regime that many perceive to be extreme is in fact not extreme *can* lead to an exoneration of that extreme. That is indeed a risk, and as you say, we already dealt with that. I don’t accept the notion that showing that there’s an intellectual pedigree to an odious action or regime can lead to the exoneration of that action or regime, which is another point you’ve making throughout. That I think is silly.

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Tim Wilkinson 03.19.13 at 9:50 pm

OK well it seems to me that the extract claims that:

* Cheney etc.’s statements are to be taken in a literalistic reading, on which they are non-committal on the question of what if any CBW or nuclear programmes are under way to what degree of advancement.

This is clearly wrong: on the contrary, in teh cases under consideration, they were asserting the wildest claims about ‘WMD’, itself a mendacious concept, and about Saddam’s willingness – eagerness – to use them against the USA, by pushing innuendo and twisting grammar and reason up to the very limit of uncontrovertible, literal falsehood.

* That they did believe these statements, so read, to be correct

- for example such self-falsifying statements as “Things are always worse than we think”, and clear falsehoods such as “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, not to mention the numerous cases in which they claimed that reports they knew to be rigged were in fact credible. Of course they proceeded by nudges and winks and a studied ignorance; but their concern was to avoid being exposed clearly and distinctly, by Serious critics, in a direct lie, not to stay within the bounds of truth which they knowingly did not do.

* that these statements, again read literally, expressed a case for invading Iraq that fell within the ambit of standard ‘national security discourse’

- this one is obvious enough, I think – since the case, as expressed in the statements under consideration taken entirely literally, was based on imaginary possibilities that were utterly divorced from reality, as we know the

and, as an optional extra, that the elements of this national security discourse which supported this case are traceable to a discernible tradition of thought which includes Bacon, Richelieu, Learned Hand, (Heidegger?), Hitler, Churchill, Cold War strategists and the later Michael Walzer.

It seems clear to me that each of these, and all combinations of them, are wrong.

Also, this conclusion does not entail endorsing any generalisation about the general quality or reasonableness of ‘national security discourse’; nor about everything/nothing succeeding as planned; nor some class of people all being utterly stupid, or utterly evil. It has no particular relation to lavendar lists, or to intellectuals providing morally debased or factually inaccurate or irrational arguments in relation to Vietnam or Nagasaki or the Cold War as a whole. Those are other issues, which involve different considerations.

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Tim Wilkinson 03.19.13 at 9:50 pm

posted unfinished by accident, and now I really can’t be bothered any more

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rf 03.19.13 at 9:53 pm

“The sanctions regime, it was argued, would not last much longer. Therefore, it was argued, even if Hussein did not have WMDs now, his history and even recent behavior indicates an unrelenting goal of acquiring them; and his odds of obtaining them will only increase if he is not removed sooner rather than later.”

This was also a position strongly supported by the Duelfer Report, and I think one of the more coherent arguments vis a vis the WMD threat

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Corey Robin 03.19.13 at 10:32 pm

Andrew at 109: You write: “Instead there were a range of arguments introduced to support the idea that Hussein either had, or would seek to have, WMDs.”

I’m not clear how that “or would seek to have” is different from my post. Again, the point is that he’s pointing to possible or even probable (more on that in a second) futures, not present facts. The only thing I add to this is that in the face of a threat of a certain magnitude (whether the threat is present now or coming in the future) the standard of proof that’s required diminishes in inverse proportion to increases in the magnitude of the threat. The further you push that logic, the more you get to a situation where you almost needn’t have any proof at all in order to act. That’s why the Bush Administration could move from a probable threat to a possible threat so quickly and so seamlessly, and why Bush in the end could say that there was no difference between a hypothetical and an actual threat: the threat was so great that the level of proof was that low — low to the point of being near 0.

So when Bush concedes that the threat is not imminent — his statement accepts that the threat has not “fully” emerged; that it is not in a position to “suddenly” emerge — I see him operating in this framework (whether or not it’s his own thinking doesn’t matter; it’s the frame I’m talking about) that he needn’t furnish the same level of proof he might be expected to furnish in the face of a less serious threat.

As for the existential threat, I assumed, perhaps wrongly, that mentions of a mushroom cloud refer to nuclear weapons exploding. In New York or San Francisco or elsewhere.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.19.13 at 10:37 pm

“I don’t accept the notion that showing that there’s an intellectual pedigree to an odious action or regime can lead to the exoneration of that action or regime, which is another point you’ve making throughout. That I think is silly.”

Well, all right. If you’d rather separate out the two in that way, perhaps I can change the emphasis on the second by saying that I think it’s just bad intellectual practice, independent of whether it exonerates a regime or not. I don’t have a problem with linking Heidegger to Naziiism, or cybernetics to Vietnam, because I think that there’s an actual, defensible connection there. I don’t think that there is any such organic connection between the Bush administration and most of your other sources (except perhaps Burke, and that only because most American conservative intellectuals probably have some influence from Burke).

In short, I think it’s a timeless form of propaganda to say “Our enemies will attack us and then it will be too late unless we attack them first.” Turning this into an intellectual tradition obscures matters rather than illuminating them, unless there’s actual evidence that there’s an intellectual tradition there.

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LFC 03.20.13 at 1:33 am

In following (most of) this discussion, something occurs to me (not a great original insight, I’m sure it’s a point that’s been made before, but nonetheless perhaps worth mentioning). Although parallels of this sort are always tricky (and I hope what follows will be treated just as a blog comment, i.e. sort of thinking aloud), there’s a sense in which the splits in the U.S. foreign-policy ‘community’ or ‘elite’ (or use whatever phrase you like) over the Vietnam War anticipated (or mirrored) those over the second Iraq War.

‘Realists’ like Morgenthau and Kennan opposed the U.S. role in Vietnam, arguing among other things that the strategic stakes in Vietnam did not justify the human and other costs, whereas, e.g., Walt Rostow, by contrast, saw the Vietnam war basically as a moral crusade to defend ‘freedom’ vs. Communism and wanted Johnson to invade North Vietnam (advice Johnson of course did not take for reasons that need not be gone into here). The neocons of the 1990s and 2000s who had long wanted to remove Saddam by force and finally got the chance to do so after 9/11 can be seen, in a way, as the heirs of ‘the Rostow view’ inasmuch as ‘democracy promotion’ (by force if need be) was one of their main declared ideological motives (see e.g. B. Barnes’s comments above). Whereas realists like Kenneth Waltz and Mearsheimer and some of the others who signed the NYT ad of Sept ’02 can be seen, in this context, as the heirs of the Morgenthau-Kennan position on Vietnam.

Or at least, that’s certainly how some of the latter wanted to be seen. In April 2005 Mearsheimer published a piece on OpenDemocracy.net in which he explicitly claimed this mantle: “Hans Morgenthau and the Iraq War: Realism vs. Neoconservatism.”

I think these parallels have a good deal of force but they don’t work perfectly. Rostow thought that opponents of the Vietnam War didn’t care about the ‘freedom’ of Asians as much as that of white Europeans, and in the case of Kennan this was likely true. (I think not true of Morgenthau, though.) The neocons didn’t prominently use this kind of argument in the run-up to the Iraq war, though occasionally they did make a shouldn’t-Arabs-enjoy-the-benefits-of-democracy-as-much-as-others sort of argument, and Bush pushed that line also.

In short, there were pedigrees or traditions that were available for use by both sides in the debate — and these traditions dealt with questions beyond how to think about putative threats, which is what the OP discusses. The neocon view was not *simply* one of U.S. triumphalism, though that was a key element, but also included an element of U.S.-as-spreader-of-democracy, the kind of ‘crusader state’ mentality that the Morgenthau-Kennan school always deprecated but that has long been an element of the U.S. approach to the world. I’m certainly not saying that the spread-democracy ideological angle was the main reason for the invasion of Iraq, but I do think it figured somewhere in the mix.

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rf 03.20.13 at 1:58 am

I’m just reading this LFC, it might be of interest

http://harpers.org/archive/2013/03/a-letter-to-paul-wolfowitz/

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LFC 03.20.13 at 2:05 am

rf –
the minute I saw Bacevich’s byline, I smiled. I will read it.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.20.13 at 2:08 am

LFC: “In short, there were pedigrees or traditions that were available for use by both sides in the debate — and these traditions dealt with questions beyond how to think about putative threats, which is what the OP discusses.”

I agree with that, LFC, but I don’t think *this* tradition was involved — i.e. the one set out by Corey Robin. The U.S. as crusader for democracy has a pedigree, yes, whether one likes that pedigree or not. The U.S. as responder to extreme possible threats does not. In fact, as I’ve mentioned in this thread repeatedly, the traditional U.S. response to extreme possible threats was restraint, as evidenced by the Cold War not being a hot war.

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Corey Robin 03.20.13 at 2:31 am

“The traditional U.S. response to extreme possible threats was restraint, as evidenced by the Cold War not being a hot war.” Tell that to the more than 2 million Vietnamese people that were killed by the US. Tell that to the 200,000 Guatemalan civilians that were slaughtered with US military backing. Tell that to the 70,000 victims of Salvadoran death squads, fighting a US proxy war against Cuba, Nicaragua, and the Soviet Union. I mean if this is your idea of restraint – and of course far more Vietnamese were killed by Johnson/Nixon than Iraqis were killed by Bush — what is your idea of unleashed power?

I really don’t mean to be snarky; I think I’ve just been suffering from a severe case of misrecognition. From your other comments on this blog, I genuinely thought you were some kind of lefty radical. But this comment makes me think you’re quite the opposite (if I’m reading too much into what you say, I really happy to be corrected): you really do believe that for the most part the US has historically pursued a policy of restraint and prudence and that George W. Bush was like a crazy man from hell unleashed from the bowels of some other universe.

I just don’t believe that — not at all because I’m an apologist for Bush (and I do think there was some distinctive ideas that the neocons brought to the table that did differentiate them from their predecessors, but that’s for another day) but because I think compared to Vietnam, Bush was rather restrained. Hell, compared to the gruesome brutality of the death squads that the US sponsored during the 70s and 80s in Central America (not to mention Chile and other military regimes in South America), the Iraq War has been rather restrained. I mean Guatemala is the only country in the entire Western hemisphere to have been deemed by a UN Truth Commission to have committed genocide. And they did it with full US backing.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.20.13 at 3:03 am

I didn’t write that restraint in the face of extreme possible threats equalled non-criminality or moral rectitude. The U.S. killed so many people in Vietnam, Guatamala, and El Salvador precisely because no extreme possible threat was perceived — because those countries were thought to be weak. Countries that posed an extreme possible threat were not attacked. Countries that were themselves weak but that were thought to pose a real risk of superpower confrontation were generally not attacked. (Cuba being a counterexample).

Now, I could counter-offer on the “I thought you were a lefty radical” sweepstakes and point out that the number of people the U.S. killed in Iraq was probably about a million, and that we sponsored death squads there, so that it really wasn’t that much more restrained than Vietnam. But I think that you’re missing the point. The canon of the national security discourse of the U.S. said “WMDs? OK, we’ll stay far away.” That wasn’t a moral commitment to restraint, it was a prudential one. Bush was certainly not the first U.S. President to cause the invasion and brutal destruction of a country. But he was the first to do so, in part, because of this inversion of the prevailing discourse on WMDs.

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Tim Wilkinson 03.20.13 at 3:08 am

Well I can answer that, as it’s so obvious: those are the US throwing its weight around the Grand Chessboard (as was Iraq) – not the US trying to forestall a serious threat to its own population or territory – you know, all that gubbins about annihilation and “moral as well as physical extinction”, launching wars in anticipation of acklnowledged bare possibilities of which, you suggest, is staple fare of National Security discourse, in that cobbled-together tradition based on inaccurate readings of miscellaneous quotes.

BTW, for some lies from administration figures, read http://www.armscontrol.org/events/iraq_july03 – Thielmann’s speech mentions some, Treverton’s contains nothing of interest to anyone, Cirincione has a bit more.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.20.13 at 3:11 am

Re: “I hear the voices, and I read the front page, and I know the speculation. But I’m the decider, and I decide what is best.” — GWB

I love how this clown tried to act like he was a ‘decider’. Apropos of the discussion of Chavez last week, the difference between Chavez and Bush is that Chavez was actually able to say things like this, and have people listen to him. (Famously, he said something like “I know people disagree with me, but I am the boss, and the boss means the boss.’). Chavez on his worst day was twice the man Bush or Obama could be at their best.

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Tim Wilkinson 03.20.13 at 3:15 am

Oh. Well just to point out some highlights from Thielmann:

The Director of Central Intelligence, in prepared, considered statements to Congress in February of 2003 said, “Iraq retains, in violation of U.N. resolutions, a small number of SCUD missiles that were produced before the Gulf War. This information is based on a solid foundation of intelligence,” unquote. This was not what the intelligence community said; the intelligence community said, it probably retains. What it said actually was, “We cannot confirm that all of those over 800 missiles that Iraq obtained have all been destroyed. The vast majority we can confirm that they are destroyed, but there are a few that we cannot yet account for.” I would argue that’s an important difference, and I cannot, for the life of me, understand how, in a prepared segment to Congress, that very important precision would have become so imprecise.

Going down the list of administration deficiencies, or distortions, one has to talk about, first and foremost, the nuclear threat being hyped. I’ve already said I don’t think there was a reconstitution or active rejuvenation of the nuclear weapons program. Most of the stories here are familiar to you: the uranium from Niger story, the aluminum tube story. But I would just remind you that much of the critical assessment of this occurred months before it became known to the public. And on both of these things, in the case of Niger, at least from the State Department’s perspective, INR’s perspective, this was a bad report; it wasn’t worth wasting any more time on. In the case of the aluminum tubes, there was a genuine controversy, and yet that genuine controversy was not honestly described when you had senior administration officials talking about it. Condoleezza Rice said the aluminum could only really be used for centrifuges. No one party to the debates would have ever made a statement like that.

I’m afraid I would have to cite some of the examples of the president in looking at some of the most striking examples of distortions that have weighty consequences. When President Bush spoke to the nation on March 17th, he said, “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised” – “leaves no doubt.” Obviously what he was probably referring to was the continued Iraqi interest in chemical and biological weapons. He assumed that there was a possession of these weapons. It was not a known fact within the intelligence community. The most lethal weapons ever devised? Well, ladies and gentlemen, nuclear weapons are the most lethal weapons ever devised. Iraq had no nuclear weapons and it had a program that was not being actively rejuvenated. I think you could even argue that a B-29 with an incendiary bomb, or a fleet of them, is a much more lethal weapon than the biological and chemical weapons programs of Iraq.

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Salient 03.20.13 at 5:00 am

But that is what Corey has made it about, by insisting that something isn’t a lie unless Bush or the Bush administration person being quoted knew that it was untrue.

The phenomenon you’re talking about is not lying, it’s Frankfortian bullshit.

That definition of Corey’s is pretty much unlike every other definition of political lying that I know of

Do you see how the adjective ‘political’ is the only thing holding that statement together, and it’s only doing so by expanding the definition of lying to include other forms of deception and misdirection that wouldn’t normally be called lying?

The word ‘political’ is always doing a hell of a lot of dirty work in absolutely every sentence that dares to employ it as an adjective, so this expansiveness isn’t exactly unprecedented, but srsly, look at what you’re saying:

Corey’s insisting that something isn’t a lie unless its speaker knew that it was untrue. That definition is pretty much unlike every other definition of lying that I know of

Not even ‘political’ can lift that, dude. (I gotta admit lots of interesting things are getting teased out in your exchange with Corey, though, so maybe I should be shutting up about this and go back to spectating.)

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Rich Puchalsky 03.20.13 at 5:18 am

Everyone here agrees that there was a campaign of purposeful deception. All that we don’t know is whether Bush really believed that it made no difference whether Saddam had WMDs or not and that we had to attack because he’d keep trying to get them even if he didn’t have them now. Bush’s actions, and the documents that were exposed after the war, suggest that he was looking for any excuse for war and therefore he was literally lying when he said “So what’s the difference?” and thereby stated what his reason for war was. But no one knows what his mental state really was. Is it important?

When someone is caught robbing a grocery store and says they didn’t do it, you can collect evidence and say, a ha, you did do it, you were lying. When a politician says “When I said that, I wasn’t lying because I believed it was true”, how can you tell? When the politician said it as part of a campaign of deceptive propaganda, can you really insist that no one knows whether it’s a lie?

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Salient 03.20.13 at 5:20 am

Also

Corey Robin writes “These are by no means ancient or academic formulations. ” In other words, GWB’s formulations are supposed to be of the same kind.

I sort of have no idea what you’re talking about, here. Instead I am imagining a car that careens into the fast lane of I-29 from an on-ramp, nearly slamming into us. I say, “Damn crazy I-29 drivers! They think they own the whole road, endangering everybody!” You say, “But I-29 is 400 miles long!” (Or whatever.) “And that driver’s hardly been on the interstate at all! They don’t get credit for being part of the I-29 crowd! They just kinda stumbled in, they can’t possibly know what it means to be an I-29 driver! You’re giving them far too much credit! This is the mistake backseat drivers always make, attributing a whole history of character to an incident that is undeserving of the richness of the history you attach to it!” To which I say, “?!?!” Now, since we’ve burned through our stash of punctuation, the rest of the dialogue is conveyed through the type of eyebrow gestures that emoticons express by varying the shape of the eyes instead (o_O).

…okayyy, think that’s all from me, g’night.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.20.13 at 5:27 am

“I say, “Damn crazy I-29 drivers! They think they own the whole road, endangering everybody!” “

So Corey’s essay is equivalent to saying “Damn crazy I-29 drivers!”? If that was the case, then yeah, anyone bothering to disagree would look really foolish.

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Peter T 03.20.13 at 8:37 am

Very late in the piece – Corey’s argument is that some of Bush’s justifications had intellectual precedents. This may be true, in the same way that the learned can often trace the origins of modern cults to obscure heresies, through a path surely invisible to the cultists.

But the specifics of the claim – that urgent need requires dispensing with due process – is one made every day, under all sorts of circumstances. It is so ordinary that it doesn’t need Bacon or Richelieu. Even the Bush crowd could surely have thought of it without aid, although it might have taken them a little longer than the average.

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Tim Wilkinson 03.20.13 at 2:13 pm

Yes, especially in Bush’s case, it really doesn’t matter what he believed. But of course senior administration figures did lie about this stuff to make it seem that Saddam had or was on the verge of getting nukes (which could reach the US). The argument under consideration here is not that we may as well attack now because Saddam is going to keep trying to get nukes – it is that some evidence transcendent possibility of destruction at Saddam’s hands – which could happen at any time – makes it imperative to invade immediately.

That is what Cheney, Bush etc believed and argued for, and is within the canon of NS discourse, according to the extract; and subsequent handwaving and discreet back-pedalling doesn’t alter that.

Also – CR @115 in the face of a threat of a certain magnitude (whether the threat is present now or coming in the future) the standard of proof that’s required diminishes in inverse proportion to increases in the magnitude of the threat. The further you push that logic, the more you get to a situation where you almost needn’t have any proof at all in order to act.

This – again – seems not to appreciate the nature of cost-benefit analysis which is of course a basic, probably the basic, tool of ‘National Security Discourse’ – and is what, for example, Learned Hand was in effect invoking.

1. It is essential to consider what action (or rather range of actions) is being discussed: just saying ‘act’, as CR does passim. is no good. Launching an all out war of conquest (with or without the intention of then leaving later on) is different from the ‘worrying about it’ mentioned somewhere above, and has far higher expected cost. In the latter case, a very low expectation of a very high cost will indeed justify this nugatory ‘action’; in the former it may well not; indeed even a quite high probability of nuclear attack may not justify conventional aggression, e.g. as both I and Rich P have pointed out, the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s not a precise matter, but that’s the schema.

2. It is not a matter of picking out some possibility at random and then deciding on a level of ‘proof’- this is indeed the form the Cheney-Bush administration’s propaganda campaign took – mirrored in the numerous cases in which carefully considered caveats and qualifications such as ‘probably’, ‘likely’, ‘we judge’, ‘may be’ were stripped out of intelligence assessments – but that’s not what their real calculations were. (As the Boston Review piece linked above recognises, Cheney was pursuing a longstanding plan for what has to be described as world domination, including preventing regional powers from forming – a recognisably traditional kind of FP aim).

Standard of proof is a forensic concept in which a determination has to be made one way or the other to trigger some consequence. Cost-benefit analysis works with probabilities – credibilities. The method is not to say ‘this would be really bad, so almost no proof is needed before we assume it will happen’ – instead, it’s ‘even discounted for its very low probability of happening, this possible outcome has a high [or not-so-high, as the case may be] cost’ – and actually even this is a simplification, part of a wider web of considerations, in which it is courses of action which are under consideration – Invade Iraq now, don’t invade Iraq now, say. Invade Iraq now has high cost with extremely high probability; don’t invade Iraq has very low cost with probability near 1, and catastrophically high cost (annihilation) only with negligible probability – (of course invading now also has this feature since while it might reduce the tiny probability of a nuclear strike post-conquest, it presumably multiplies the minuscule probability of one during the invasion period. It gets a lot more complex, obviously; there are more outcomes than two; the outcome space is partitioned and mapped to a partition of the probability space. The point is that it’s not a matter of standards of proof required to trigger some predefined ‘action’.

One way to understand this is to consider that setting up a standard of proof is not done on the basis of considering all the available information; so if you consider 2 possible threats, each with high cost, but of which you can only act on one, and set the standard of proof accordingly low, you may end up concluding that both are established and should thus be acted upon. But you can’t do that – problem. Or you may set the standard of proof low and while both pass this threshhold, one barely does so while the other is ‘proved’ to a near-certainty. But on this model, each is adequately ‘proved’ and has an equal claim on resources. (It’s a bit hard to try and suggest how competing claims on resources should be handled under this attempt to reconstruct a bad procedure, because the schema doesn’t really address the costs of acting; see 1.)

(BTW ‘cost-benefit’ is a bad name for Bayesian-style decision theory, since cost and benefit are actually the same thing given +ive and -ive valence, and the name misses out the vital component, probability.)

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Tim Wilkinson 03.20.13 at 2:14 pm

in moderation…

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JRHulls 03.20.13 at 6:41 pm

Given the cast of characters involved, I’m surprised that no one has mentioned PNAC, Project for a New American Century. It’s instructive to look at their policy recommendations, which had a profound impact on the Bush Administration. Essentially a plan to extend what they perceived as a “Pax Americana” they stated

” As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world’s pre-eminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?”
You can read their full statement of principals, and see a list of signatories at:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_for_the_New_American_Century
See also the section on call for regime change in Iraq during Clinton years, including this portion, which would seem to establish the basis for the accelerations of claims of Iraqi threats and the subsequent Bush administrations actions against Iraq.
“Richard Perle, who later became a core member of PNAC, was involved in similar activities to those pursued by PNAC after its formal organization. For instance, in 1996 Perle composed a report that proposed regime changes in order to restructure power in the Middle East. The report was titled A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm and called for removing Saddam Hussein from power, as well as other ideas to bring change to the region. The report was delivered to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.[8] Two years later, in 1998, Perle and other core members of the PNAC – Paul Wolfowitz, R. James Woolsey, Elliot Abrams, and John Bolton – “were among the signatories of a letter to President Clinton calling for the removal of Hussein.”[8] Clinton did seek regime change in Iraq, and this position was sanctioned by the United Nations. These UN sanctions were considered ineffective by the neoconservative forces driving the PNAC.”

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Tim Wilkinson 03.20.13 at 8:40 pm

Indeed, as in the previous post’s Cheney was pursuing a longstanding plan for what has to be described as world domination. See also:

http://surelysomemistake.blogspot.co.uk/2010/02/book-review-transparent-cabal-by.html

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Andrew F. 03.22.13 at 12:52 pm

Okay, so your view is that there are two scenarios Bush was presented with by Sawyer.

In one, Hussein has WMD. The threat of a Hussein armed with WMD would be actual.

In two, Hussein might acquire WMD in the future. The threat of a Hussein armed with WMD would be simply possible.

Because the magnitude of the potential threat was (as presented) so high, the level of evidence required to show the existence of that threat was very low. So low, in fact, that the distinction between an actual threat and a possible threat didn’t matter to Bush.

Is that a fair statement of your view?

To take an asteroid analogy, we look up at a sector of the sky, and we spot an asteroid. Surprisingly, Bush walks up next to us. “That asteroid is going to hit us!” he says, “we need to take decisive action to ensure the safety of the American people. I will not wait idly by while threatening rocks gather in the sky.”

As I mentally note the threatening possibility of Bush ghost-writing future stories under a Dr. Seuss moniker, an astronomer begins to scold Bush for his unscientific and premature conclusions. It turns out that we don’t know yet whether the asteroid will hit us, although it remains a possibility.

“What’s the difference?” Bush asks, irritated. “As a friend of mine might say, even if there’s only a one-percent chance of getting shot by your hunting buddy, you should treat it as a one-hundred percent.” I nod to myself at the wisdom of this; I will never purchase any new Dr. Seuss-like stories for my children.

Okay. But there’s an alternative hypothesis here to consider.

The drivers of the Bush administration’s analysis were (1) Hussein is intractably belligerent, (2) with a history of high-risk behavior; (3) he desires WMDs to secure his own power in the region, and as a means of punishing his enemies should they mortally wound his person or power; (4) once the sanctions give way, Hussein will have considerable resources to acquire the material needed to construct a nuclear weapon; (5) the sanctions will give way; and (6) Hussein already has the knowledge to build a weapon once he gets the materials.

If you buy into that analysis with a high degree of confidence, then for Bush the question was not if, but when, Hussein would acquire nuclear weapons. It’s not that the magnitude of the threat posed has reduced the burden of proof to zero; it’s that the evidence presented has persuaded Bush that unless Hussein is removed (or shows such a remarkable change in behavior as to undermine of one those drivers), the probability of Hussein acquiring a weapon in the near future is high.

In other words, the analysis supported a view that the odds of scenario 2 were very high. For Bush, whether we were in imminent danger of collision with the asteroid didn’t matter; he had been persuaded that the asteroid’s flight path put us on a collision course.

So Bush could well say, “whether he has them now, or he gets it two years from now, the danger in both cases is high enough to justify a war of x-cost to remove him.”

The burden of proof hasn’t gone to zero. It’s rather that present possession of WMD isn’t the essential feature of the threat presented under the analysis Bush believes.

And, just to be clear, there are all kinds of mistakes and biases running through that analysis. But I don’t think this is a case where a framework of “zero proof of threat necessary, given the magnitude of harm posed by the possibility” was in place. Instead the Bush administration had a lot of information, and a lot of prior theory, that confirmed their very strong belief in the threat posed by Hussein, and they referred to that information frequently. The problem is that they ignored information that disconfirmed their belief, and they ignored alternative hypotheses that might better explain the information they had.

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Mao Cheng Ji 03.22.13 at 2:13 pm

The asteroid is gonna hit any minute, and that’s why we must invade Iraq.

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