Saturday, September 27, 2003

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Krauthammer fisks Kennedy -- film at eleven!

In his latest Washington Post essay (link via Andrew Sullivan), Charles Krauthammer fisks Ted Kennedy's statement that with regard to Operation Iraqi Freedom:

This was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican leadership that war was going to take place and was going to be good politically. This whole thing was a fraud.

To which Krauthammer responds:

There are a host of criticisms one might level at Bush's decision to go to war -- that it was arrogant, miscalculated, disdainful of allies, lacking in foresight, perhaps even contrary to just-war principles. I happen not to agree with these criticisms. But they can be reasonably and honorably made. What cannot be reasonably and honorably charged, however, is that Bush went to war for political advantage....

A year ago Bush was riding high. He decided nonetheless to put at risk the great political advantage he had gained as a successful post-9/11 leader -- an advantage made obvious by the Republican gains in last year's elections -- to go after Saddam Hussein.

Politically, the war promised nothing but downside. There was no great popular pressure to go to war. Indeed, millions took to the streets to demonstrate against it, both at home and abroad. Bush launched the war nonetheless, in spite of the political jeopardy to which it exposed him, for the simple reason that he believed, as did Tony Blair, that it had to be done.

You can say he made a misjudgment. You can say he picked the wrong enemy. You can say almost anything about this war, but to say that he fought it for political advantage is absurd.

It's worth comparing Iraq to the Clinton administration's deecision to intervene in Bosnia in the summer of 1995.

If you read Richard Holbrooke, Samantha Power or David Halberstam, it's pretty clear that Clinton acted in Bosnia because he wanted to avoid the political fallout from either further massacres or having to rescue French and British peacekeepers, particularly during a presidential election year.

Now, there were risks to intervention as well, and it's to Clinton's credit that he took the appropriate action. However, at the time, I don't recall (correct me if I'm wrong) accusations that Clinton was acting in a political manner in his use of force, even though there was an element of this to his actions. And, as I pointed out before, the Republican leadership at the time supported Clinton's actions.

They didn't accuse him of waging the war to win the election.

P.S. If you check my aforementioned post, you'll see that Thomas Friedman made Krauthammer's point back in March with even greater force:

Anyone who thinks President Bush is doing this for political reasons is nuts. You could do this only if you really believed in it.

posted by Dan on 09.27.03 at 12:20 AM


I know that Tom Delay made some ugly comments about Bosnia/Clinton in 1999. He led Republicans to vote against the action in the former Yugoslavia.

posted by: snore on 09.27.03 at 12:20 AM [permalink]

Yeah, Snore. I seem to remember a good deal of GOP opposition to the Balkans intervention, along the lines of it being nation-building and even tail-wagging. In the run-up to the Iraq invasion, Saletan--I think I remember specifically, and undoubtedly others--compiled a neat list of anti-war quotes, and they all turned out to be lifted from the Balkans debate. The sides appeared reversed, except that no-one accused dissenting repubs of anti-americanism, appeasement or being "objectively pro-Milosevic."

Too, Dan, the thesis that the prospective war necessarily entailed far too much risk for it to be an election strategy presupposes that the administration appreciated the risk, especially when balanced against the almost certain advantages of being able to cast the republicans as tough on terror in the midterms. Sure, the administration has said the war on terror would require time and sacrifice. But as is their tendency (some might use a stronger word), the Bushies were actually all over the board in their pronouncements, therefore making it difficult to discern what, and if, they actually believed. I think one could just as easily adduce from not only their words, but their actions as well, that the Rove warriors believed Iraq would greet us as liberators and the oil would pay for itself, hence no real reconstruction plan and obscenely low post-war deployment and cost estimates. That the administration sold this adventure to the American public along these optimistic lines is, I'd argue, clearly reflected in the plummeting support now that the truth has been revealed.

I guess I don't mind you giving the Bushies the benefit of the doubt, but Krauthammer appears to be giving them far too much credit.

posted by: Bloggerhead on 09.27.03 at 12:20 AM [permalink]

One can certainly claim that Bush did this for political advantage. I don't know if they did or not but it is not a crazy idea at all. Krauthammer is simply hacking, what he does best.

Contrary to what Krauthammer says Bush was not ridinbg high last year. He had relatively high poll numbers but they had been on a continous decline since 9/11. Just check Bush's poll data in Pollkatz'z site and its clear that the war, and only the war, has pushed Bush's numbers up. Not the tax cut or any other domestic policy.

posted by: GT on 09.27.03 at 12:20 AM [permalink]

Given the fact that Bush timed the war vote for October 2002, then pulled out a gain in the midterms, it seems odd to say that he and his advisors didn't view the war as a political plus for him. I remember a lot of crowing on the right about how Bush's invasion of Iraq would prove his "leadership" and secure his re-election. A Byron York piece on NPR (odd that) in May extolling Bush and his carrier landing really sticks out in my mind the most.

If you want to say that this war didn't pose political benefits, don't quote Tom Friedman, he's not clued into repupblican political circles.

I think very, very few thought this was politically risky for Bush. Sure, it turned out to be, and some sensible people thought it would be a great risk, but the guys running this war really believed the "rose petals" predictions, or else they would not have been so unprepared. I really don't like them, but I don't believe they are that stupid.

posted by: pj on 09.27.03 at 12:20 AM [permalink]

For Rove, it was certainly PLANNED to be a political positive.

For Cheney, it was an opportunity to enact his world domination plans, unwisely put into print more than ten years ago. AND to profit from them when he returns to Halliburton next year.

For Rumsfeld, who knows?
A chance to eradicate an embarassing surrogate dictator from the 80s?
A chance to still feel relevant past 70?

And for Bush, a chance to get the guy "who tried to kill my daddy".

And, by the way, Thomas Friedman has just lost it.

posted by: Fred Arnold on 09.27.03 at 12:20 AM [permalink]

Friedman uses the most absurd and grating analogies in his Times columns.

I don't make it a habit to read Krauthammer's columns, but he has a little of that Dr. Strangelove mojo going on.

I'm sometimes not sure how seriously to take Tom Delay's comments. Is he just a political hack that always criticized Dems, but never Repubs?

posted by: snore on 09.27.03 at 12:20 AM [permalink]


The war resolution vote did occur prior to the mid-term elections for political (among other) reasons -- namely, to hold the Democrats' feet to the fire. They would be placed in the position of having to answer to the voters for their support or failure to support the war, which is entirely appropriate. This does not mean that the war was fought for political reasons. Dan is right.

posted by: Ben on 09.27.03 at 12:20 AM [permalink]

what ever happened to rational dialogue? instead of challenging arguments with reasoned assertions backed by plausible evidence, we have assertions which prove nothing, except for the utter contempt the writter has for the bushies.

cheney is set on world domination via haliburton? really? perhaps the fact that 95% of the contracts in iraq had open bids slightly undermines this fantasy.

rumsfield supports the war b/c he is over 70 and wants to be relevant. that's insightful. do you any support for this? i.e. besides trying to comfort your own preconceived notion that these men are the spawn of the devil?

bush wants to get at the man who tried to kill his daddy? again interesting, but such tired, meaningless assertions proves nothing.

i propose people should listen to bremer, rumsfield and bush. or at least read what they say, and watch what they do. this is the only framework in which rational discourse can take place. it is the only way others can engage in discourse, and further their own understanding. this of course requires an open mind and an ability to question. for as augustine once said: no one believes anything unless one first thought it believable.

posted by: jk on 09.27.03 at 12:20 AM [permalink]

Bravo, a good lesson for both sides to follow.

As the late great Sidney Hook pointed out, before you challenge someone's motives, respond to their arguments first.

Good principle for all of us to follow: right, left and center.

[Geez, do I sound like a 100 year old pompous fart or what?]


posted by: SteveMG on 09.27.03 at 12:20 AM [permalink]

Kennedy missed the target completely. The problem with the Bush administration's foreign policy is its reckless unilateralism. They got us into a situation where our army is stretched way too thin and we are having to fork out hundreds of billions of dollars, all for a war that was completely unnecessary! There are targets on this administration that are the size of a barn door, and all Kennedy did is provide them with another straw man to direct attention away from their real vulnerabilities.

posted by: Michael Jones on 09.27.03 at 12:20 AM [permalink]

Was the Bruckheimer landing good or bad politically? Could it have been arranged without a suitable war backdrop? Did elements of the administration convince themselves that Iraqi-reconstruction would be far less painful than it has been?

These questions--and others--are those you have to answer in order to evaluate Kennedy's claim, and I don't see them addressed in Krauthammer's column.

posted by: Chun the Unavoidable on 09.27.03 at 12:20 AM [permalink]

Yea, that's probably the weakest fisking I've ever seen. If this is the standard we can expect, we'll have to double the layer of tissue paper to protect against the onslaught.

posted by: John on 09.27.03 at 12:20 AM [permalink]

Just in, you prowars: the Wilson/CIA name scandal is breaking big on the Washington Post front page. Payback's a bitch.

posted by: mike on 09.27.03 at 12:20 AM [permalink]

Yeah, that's right,GT, Charles is a Hack - but you- you're a genious.

And Mike, above - feel silly yet?

posted by: Art Wellesley on 09.27.03 at 12:20 AM [permalink]

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