Berlin to Media Log: Bush still stinks! Boston University journalism professor Michael Berlin is unhappy with Media Log's ever-so-slight deviation from its usual anti-Bushism:
Of course you are right that it does matter if no weapons of mass destruction are found in Iraq.
I am troubled, however, by your "however."
I do not think that President Bush should get any credit whatever for ending human-rights violations, since that was not at all his purpose; it was a "collateral" dividend.
The reason he should not get credit is that he lied to the world and, more importantly to us, the American people, in offering justification for an invasion that killed 130-plus Americans and far more innocent Iraqis and (given the American track record in nation-building in Afghanistan, Haiti, and beyond) offers no certainty that the people of Iraq would be better off 10 years down the road, if factional fighting or a rigid Islamic autocracy were to emerge from the present vacuum.
I needn't even reach for my previous argument against invasion -- that even if Iraq had WMD, there was no indication that it would use them against us or give them to terror groups to use against us, and that human-rights violations, in themselves, cannot legitimize the unilateral exercise of military power against a regime unless they are of the scale that prompted President Bartlett to act to stop a Rwanda-style massacre, on West Wing. (Would Bush have intervened? We know that Clinton didn't.)
Retrospectively, I will say that if human-rights violations alone could justify such an invasion, there would be half a dozen candidates for invasion with a claim equal to that of Saddam Hussein, including "friendly" nations such as Indonesia and possibly Pakistan. I too believe that people can live best under a democracy, but a government that unilaterally decides which autocracies must be overthrown by force is not one I would take pride in; there is too much danger of arrogance and misuse of power.
If no WMD are found, Bush's claims (and Colin Powell's too) to the contrary will surely cost them dearly in the world. I only hope that it costs them dearly with the American people and, in itself, without other considerations being necessary, makes it impossible for them to win a second term in office.
Berlin makes some splendid points, but I guess my view of Bush just isn't quite as cynical as his. I think Samantha Power got Bush exactly right when she told me -- in part of an interview for this week's Phoenix that, unfortunately, didn't make the cut -- that she believes the president is committed to liberalization and reform in places like Iraq, but lacks consistency. Said Power:
The cynical way of viewing Goerge Bush's behavior is that he doesn't have any commitment to [those principles], and he's just invoking them. I don't think that's true. I think he is committed to these principles, but he just doesn't want to apply them very many places. You may say that's the same as not having the principles in the first place, but you know, whatever. That's the way it is.
This doesn't absolve Bush, of course, but I think it does explain him. I have no doubt that he's thrilled at the scenes of liberation playing out in Iraq, and has probably by now convinced himself that that's why we went in in the first place.
However, he lacks the imagination, on the one hand, to understand how much damage we caused to Iraq and to ourselves in the process and, on the other hand, how many other terrible places are crying out for liberation as well -- not just his pet bugaboos, Syria and Iraq, but, as Berlin notes, "friendly" regimes as well.