I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The President has "made his choice" -- more wars

Even though it's almost four years old now, this speech from President Bush, delivered in Cincinnati in October, 2002, is still staggering to read.

It's where President Bush told the country that Iraq "possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons"; that it "is seeking nuclear weapons"; that "the Iraqi dictator must not be permitted to threaten America and the world with horrible poisons and diseases and gases and atomic weapons"; that "we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today"; that "Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases"; that "Saddam Hussein is harboring terrorists and the instruments of terror, the instruments of mass death and destruction"; that "despite his public promises, Saddam Hussein had ordered his nuclear program to continue"; that Iraq "could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year"; and that "we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."

There is much, much more like that just in that one speech (such as his solemn warning to Iraqi generals to ignore Saddam's orders to unleash their biological weapons on American troops lest they be treated as "war criminals"). The week following that speech, the Congress overwhelmingly passed the Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq, and the invasion of Iraq became a fait accompli.

In the Cincinnati speech, the President -- in addition to compiling all of that "evidence" against Iraq -- also sought to assure Americans that the rationale for invading Iraq would not compel a series of wars thereafter, because the threat posed by Saddam Hussein was unique in its severity, unlike any other threat anywhere in the world:

First, some ask why Iraq is different from other countries or regimes that also have terrible weapons. While there are many dangers in the world, the threat from Iraq stands alone -- because it gathers the most serious dangers of our age in one place. Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are controlled by a murderous tyrant who has already used chemical weapons to kill thousands of people. This same tyrant has tried to dominate the Middle East, has invaded and brutally occupied a small neighbor, has struck other nations without warning, and holds an unrelenting hostility toward the United States.

By its past and present actions, by its technological capabilities, by the merciless nature of its regime, Iraq is unique. As a former chief weapons inspector of the U.N. has said, "The fundamental problem with Iraq remains the nature of the regime, itself. Saddam Hussein is a homicidal dictator who is addicted to weapons of mass destruction."

The President's speech today makes clear, of course, that there is nothing at all unique about Iraq, that there is instead a whole host of other countries against which he intends to wage war based on exactly the same "unique" reasoning he used to drag the country into war in Iraq:

The enemies of liberty come from different parts of the world, and they take inspiration from different sources. Some are radicalized followers of the Sunni tradition, who swear allegiance to terrorist organizations like al Qaeda. Others are radicalized followers of the Shia tradition, who join groups like Hezbollah and take guidance from state sponsors like Syria and Iran. . . .

So Iran (and Syria) are "state sponsors" of terrorists, terrorists which are tantamount to (even teamed up with) Al Qaeda. What do we do with such states? That's easy:

if you harbor terrorists, you are just as guilty as the terrorists; you're an enemy of the United States, and you will be held to account.

We hold them "to account" (the President's second most favorite phrase after "bring them to justice"). And then there is this:

This summer's crisis in Lebanon has made it clearer than ever that the world now faces a grave threat from the radical regime in Iran. . . . The Iranian regime denies basic human rights to millions of its people. And the Iranian regime is pursuing nuclear weapons in open defiance of its international obligations.

We know the death and suffering that Iran's sponsorship of terrorists has brought, and we can imagine how much worse it would be if Iran were allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. Many nations are working together to solve this problem. The United Nations passed a resolution demanding that Iran suspend its nuclear enrichment activities. Today is the deadline for Iran's leaders to reply to the reasonable proposal the international community has made. If Iran's leaders accept this offer and abandon their nuclear weapons ambitions, they can set their country on a better course. Yet, so far, the Iranian regime has responded with further defiance and delay. It is time for Iran to make a choice. We've made our choice: We will continue to work closely with our allies to find a diplomatic solution -- but there must be consequences for Iran's defiance, and we must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.

The similarities between what the President said about Iraq in the months before our invasion and what he is saying about Iran now are too glaring to miss. They seem to be intentionally repeating most of their rhetoric, almost verbatim, complete with the same incoherence (if Iran is such a crazed, Nazi-like regime, how can we ever trust that they have given up nuclear weapons development? And even if they do that, they still "sponsor terrorists," and thus must be "held to account" under the "Bush doctrine"). Don't all of those premises make regime change via war not an option, but an inevitability?

All of that means one of two things (or some combination of both): (1) the President has decided already that we are going to wage some sort of military attack on Iran and is saying the same things as he said once he decided to wage war on Iraq while pretending to have not yet decided pending "diplomatic efforts"; and/or (2) the White House is trying to have its top officials, including the President, sound like Michael Ledeen because that's necessary to (a) motivate its crazed warmonger base itching for more wars and/or (b) enable Karl Rove to create the warrior/appeaser dichotomy that has worked so well electorally for Rove for two straight elections (and for Republicans for 35 years).

Personally, I think (without knowing) that the President really is committed to military action against Iran, because it's just too central to his self-perceived persona to make war threats like this without following through. But regardless of whether war is inevitable or it's just politically-motivated chest-beating, Democrats have no choice but to engage this debate. The President has the ability to set the agenda and they are obviously going to spend the next two months inflaming these warmonger fires (while hyping every terrorist threat with Malkian-like hysteria) so that the discussion is on this ground and no other.

Democrats ought to be happy about this and should engage this debate eagerly and aggressively. That does not mean defensively trying to assure everyone that they care about terrorism, too, and petulantly insisting that they really are patriots also (which is what we've heard so far in response to this escalated rhetoric). It means jumping on this debate in as straightforward and unambiguous a manner as possible -- offensively.

The President is saying the same things about Iran and Syria as he said when he induced the country to follow him into the disastrous war in Iraq. When he did so regarding Iraq, he said Iraq was a "unique" threat in order to assure Americans that there would not be a series of similar wars. But a series of more wars exactly like Iraq -- but more difficult, more dangerous, more draining -- is exactly what the President is now making clear he intends to bring to this country. It is reckless, destructive war mongering that is going to drag the country into more inflammable, interminable conflicts, and drain America even further of its resources, weaken it immeasurably, and make us more vulnerable on every level.

Do Americans really want to start more wars in the short-term future against more countries -- in Iran, Syria and beyond -- all while we stay, as the President vowed we would, stuck in Iraq until at least the end of his presidency? Why would Democrats possibly fear that debate? The administration sounds like a bunch of madmen who are literally impervious to reality -- like hubristic leaders who learned nothing from Iraq -- and Democrats ought to be using the President's words (and those of Cheney's and Rumsfeld's) to point that out over and over. They don't need to worry; it isn't the hippy-netroots that oppose the war in Iraq and still more wars. It's the vast bulk of the country.

If Americans are vigorously opposed to the war in Iraq, as they are, does anything think they want to replicate that disaster in more Middle Eastern countries? The White House's only chance to salvage this election is to have it center around war debates, but that presents a big problem for them -- the only war they have is politically unusable because it's so unpopular, so they have to create new ones in order to obscure the old one. That new-war strategy is a highly risky one to try to impose on a very war-weary country. They can get away with that only if Democrats let them, which wil happen if Democrats are tepid and uncertain and defensive about whether they want the menu of new wars the President is threatening.

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