Monday, October 20, 2003

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (6)

The post-war debate about the pre-war rhetoric -- my decision

It's time for my decision. I'd like to congratulate Holsclaw and Schwarz for the effort they put into their arguments. I'd also like to congratulate Jerry, who easily made the silliest argument -- pro or con -- of all the commenters.

The question, to review, is:

"It is a complete fabrication that the Bush administration argued in the runup to the war that there was an imminent threat from Iraq."

You can see their posts, in order, here, here, here, here, and here. Note what Holsclaw and Schwarz were not debating:

  • "Bush lied." -- What was in dispute was rhetoric and not intent -- so I ignored all the various hypotheses both authors proffered about why the administration did what it did.
  • "We only went to war because Bush said there was an imminent threat." That's patently false, but whether the Bush administration made other arguments justifying the use of force is irrelevant to the question of whether an imminent threat argument was used.
  • "The administration implied there was an imminent threat." To argue is to use the active voice to make a positive argument. To hint at something, or fail to correct misperceptions made by others, is not quite the same thing.
  • So, with my criteria clear, the winner is....

    Jonathan Schwarz

    Here's my reasoning:

    1) Schwarz is correct to point out that the administration redefined imminent threat in its 2001 National Security Strategy. As Schwarz quoted:

    We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries. Rogue states and terrorists do not seek to attack us using conventional means. They know such attacks would fail. Instead, they rely on acts of terror and, potentially, the use of weapons of mass destruction -- weapons that can be easily concealed, delivered covertly, and used without warning.

    So, the Bush administration's concept of imminent threat encompassed more situations than prior definitions. For this administration, the combination of hostile intentions and WMD-delivery capabilities is sufficient to be labeled as "imminent." Note, by the way, that this also clears away all the underbrush generated by the Thesaurus Wars.

    2) On the capabilities question, Schwarz wins. His quotations from Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld all characterize Hussein's capabilities as both pre-existing (with regard to chemical or biological weapons) and growing over time. The quotes also indicate that the administration argued at various points that Hussein would use terrorist groups as his delivery mechanism. Holsclaw, in characterizing the Cheney quote, acknowledges:

    "This quote points out Saddam's capability, and our knowledge about Saddam's willingness to use such capabilities makes it disturbing that he should continue in power indefinitely."

    3) The above quote also indicates that Holsclaw accepted that Cheney, at least, thought Hussein's intentions were hostile. Interestingly, neither debater really delved into the question of Saddam Hussein's intentions. This was actually the key argument behind the realist opposition to the war -- that Saddam's intentions were not fundamentally aggressive. However, given Bush's description in the SOTU of Saddam as "evil", and his statement in same that, "trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option," I'm assuming both of them will stipulate that the administration argued that Saddam had malevolent and hostile intentions.

    4) Holsclaw's best argument is this much-cited paragraph from the State of the Union:

    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.

    Here, it seems that Bush makes a distinction between the conventional definition of "imminent threat" and what weas articulated in the National Security Strategy. Holsclaw concludes from this statement:

    The Bush administration did not in fact argue that there was an imminent threat. In fact they strenuously resisted labeling it as such.

    This is where the "complete fabrication" part of the statement works against Holsclaw. It doesn't matter if Bush makes the clear distinction between in the SOTU, if he or other principals in the administration blurred the distinction at other points in the debate over Iraq. And here, the preponderance of the evidence favors Schwarz. From the National Security Strategy forward, the administration argued that:

  • The definition of "imminent" needs to be expanded;
  • The threat from Saddam Hussein -- in the form of "grave and gathering" capabilities and hostile intentions -- was getting worse.
  • Was it a complete fabrication that the administration argued in the runup to the war that there was an imminent threat from Iraq? No, it was not.

    Congratulations to Jonathan for winning the $100. As a consolation to Sebastian -- who I think faced an uphill battle due to the framing of the question -- let me take the opportunity to encourage those who agreed and disagreed but respected his line of argumentation to go check out his new blog.

    [So, you're saying that Schwarz wins, but that in winning he doesn't vindicate the bulk of the anti-war criticisms. Were you trying to alienate all sides?--ed. I believe that is the technical description of "referee."]

    posted by Dan on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM


    Very entertaining debate and I agree with your decision. What's the next question? Who are the next debaters? :-)

    posted by: Ed Thibodeau on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    I'm no expert on debating, but isn't it bad form to bring up what was, apparently, the KEY piece of evidence - the 2001 National Security Strategy - in the final rebuttal, thereby precluding one's opponent from responding to it?

    In law, attorneys cannot bring up NEW evidence in summation. I would have thought the same principle would apply here... but apparently not.

    posted by: Al on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    I would have preferred to see the NSA entered into evidence earlier, too, but this does not seem to violate any pre-set rules of this debate. Holsclaw will be hard pressed to find a positive spin in the NSA for his argument, though. When looking at the Administration arguments within the context of their public statements, Iraq is the closest thing to an immediate threat as you can get.

    It's too bad that most war pundits will still point to the SOTU address for their definitive proof that Bush didn't classify Iraq as an immediate threat... Of course, it really depends on what your definition of IS is, right fellas?

    posted by: NonPundit on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    One other comment: I disagree with Dan's interpretation of what the 2001 National Security Strategy says. It seems to me that what it is saying is much closer to the SOTU's "we can't wait for an imminent threat" (to paraphrase) than it is to Dan's interpretation that it means that the "definition of 'imminent' needs to be expanded".

    In any case, since Sebastian was not given an opportunity to tell us what HE thinks the National Security Strategy means, I'd encourage him to put up a post on his blog on the subject...

    posted by: Al on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Silly? Well I take that with honor sir. But I question your use of the word "silly."

    Apparently you agreed with the main thrust of my argument. So I'd say I was thinking outside the box, or, by through use of metaphor and allusion to art and popular culture, bringing the argument down from it's lofty heights to something the rest of us were familiar with and could understand.

    What is art, what is humor, if not a way to comment on, judge, and measure life?

    May the Schwartz Be with You!

    posted by: jerry on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Thanks for refereeing. A loss on the word 'complete' is one I can handle. :)

    posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    "It's too bad that most war pundits will still point to the SOTU address for their definitive proof that Bush didn't classify Iraq as an immediate threat..."

    Well, that's the problem with trying to prove a negative, isn't it? The SOTU is great evidence if you are trying to show that the Bush Administration argued that we needn't wait for Iraq to become an "imminent threat". But just because it made such an argument in the SOTU doesn't preclude you from finding other something somewhere else that could be argued to say the opposite. And Dan apparently did just that.

    I'd be curious to know Dan's take on why there is (in his mind) an inconsistency between the National Security Strategy and the SOTU -- that is, to Dan, the argument in the NSS was "exapnd the definition of 'imminent threat'", while the argument in the SOTU was "we can't wait for an imminent threat". Does Dan think that these two arguments really different? If so, what explains that the same administration made two inconsistent arguments within a year? [I can just see him saying "I'm the Professor... I'LL ask the questions here!" :-) ]

    posted by: Al on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    First this part:

    "If so, what explains that the same administration made two inconsistent arguments within a year?"

    Politicians often make inconsistent arguments without bothering to take a breath in between them.

    As for the National Security Strategy statement, it says "we must adapt the concept of imminent threat", not that we must set aside the "imminent" concept and replace it with something else.

    The passage taken as a whole suggests that in today's world rogue states and terrorists possessing weapons of mass destruction must be considered an "imminent threat". It is, as Drezner suggets, a broadening of the concept of imminence to reflect a post-9/11 world.

    Yes, broadening a concept is different from not using the concept at all.

    posted by: William Swann on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Al: " isn't it bad form to bring up what was, apparently, the KEY piece of evidence - the 2001 National Security Strategy - in the final rebuttal, thereby precluding one's opponent from responding to it?"

    Bad form, at least, yes.

    In formal High School debate, there is often a significant fraction of the limited time available invested, by both sides, in specifying the "definitions of terms". This is reflected in the "thesaurus war" here. It's surprising that the key question, the precise legal meaning of "imminent threat", was so little regarded.

    I remember first seeing the Gregory Peck movie version of "To Kill a Mockingbird" at an age at which I didn't know what "rape" was ... kind of made the whole trial confusing. I provisionally decided rape meant "to beat up". Of course, when that definition was refined later in my life, the drama became a LOT more intense.

    I have the impression from the belatedly arriving NSA quote that there has been an international/historical standard definition of "imminent threat" which the U.S. (Shrub) is attempting to amend. This is a question I'd like to see explored. As it is, I'm seeing lot of noise and fury, signifying -- very little.

    posted by: Pouncer on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Kudos to all involved. This debate turned on, due to the nature of the question, semantics. I dont think that Drezner was unfair, but rather that he was called upon to makes his own judgements tailoring narrow definitions to generally ambigous words and phrases.
    'Whole cloth': one could argue that that term encompasses any and all statements of fact and arguments, meaning that should any single tiny part of the case prove to be true, the threshold of whole cloth is violated and Schwarz wins automatically. Few would argue that this is a realistic or intuitive use of this term, but it is valid from a Boolean logic type standpoint. But realistically some threshold must be set for what is considered 'whole cloth' and hence opinions will differ.
    Bush's state of the union: Drezner inteprets Bush's now famous speach as redefining the term 'imminent'. Here is where I disagee with his reasoning. If Bush was trying to expand the scope of what must be considered under the term 'imminent', he went about it in a very disjointed and ultimately feeble way. "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? " Why did Bush disavow the argument of 'waiting till the threat is imminent' by attacking it in his second sentence, if indeed he was agreeing that the threat was already imminent but the definition needed to be expanded? Would he not have said 'I agree that we should only act when a threat is imminent, and in fact this threat is imminent and here is why'? But Bush in fact did the opposite. He was not spinning the definition of imminent (badly) as Drezner suggests, he was in fact arguing against imminence being the threshold at all. That is the only way that paragraph makes sense.

    posted by: Mark Buehner on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Does anyone think that Bush's next SOTU will be parsed very carefully by many listeners?

    posted by: xian on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    "This was actually the key argument behind the realist opposition to the war -- that Saddam's intentions were not fundamentally aggressive."

    Surely the realist would not rely on a reading of Saddam's intentions, but instead maintain that his capabilities were too limited to significantly threaten American interests.
    And it should be recalled that Saddam checked with the US ambassador before invading Kuwait and was given an all clear. And that his invasion of Iran was not disapproved in Washington and may have been in response to attempts by Iran to subvert his regime.

    posted by: Realist on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Dan's argument precisely disproves his conclusion that it's not incorrect to say, "the administration argued in the runup to the war that there was an imminent threat from Iraq". Because at one point the Bush administration explicitly changed the meaning of 'imminent,' at that point they could not have been claiming that the threat was imminent in the sense everyone else meant.

    So, the second sense of "imminent," call it "imminent2" was "growing". The Bush administration wanted to say, "Yes the threat is imminent2, in the sense of a growing threat. So, if you change the meaning of 'imminent,' then, yes, the threat is imminent2."

    Next the critics say, "Shame on Bush! He said the threat was imminent. He lied."

    Bush defenders rightly reply, "No. Bush said explicitly that the threat was not imminent. At one point he said it was 'imminent2' and carefully explained that this term has a different meaning from 'imminent'. He suggested that the country take the war on terror seriously by thinking of growing threats as being as serious as imminent ones - by thinking of them as 'imminent2'. But never did he imply that the threat was imminent. On the contrary, he denied it."

    It's like carefully telling a smoker, "You're 'killing yourself' in the sense of gradually damaging your health so that you'll die some years from now." Who can believe that this sentence is a lie if the smoker doesn't drop dead within a few minutes? Especially after carefully explaining to the smoker, "I don't mean you're 'killing yourself' in the sense of causing yourself to die within a few minutes. In fact, I've denied it. The point is that you shouldn't take only those sorts of dangers seriously, but the longer term ones just as seriously." Point: anti-smoker.

    So, Dan decided wrongly.

    posted by: Jim on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    I think your line of reasoning is flawed in three ways:
    1)Just because the situation met the criteria for "imminent2" does not mean that it did not meet the more stringent criteria for "imminent", or that adminstration officials did not imply or state that it did not. Your analogy involves a single statement, but in order to reflect the situation it would need to contain a reference to "imminent" as well as "imminent2". Then, the flaw becomes obvious (eg that meeting the second does not deny meeting the first).
    (either that, or your assertion that no admin member claimed "imminent" status needs to be examined much more closely- see #3).

    2)You act as if the definition of "imminent" is agreed-upon, but that is certainly not the case- witness the first few posts in this debate. So, there is no firm target.
    And, of course, changing terms in the middle of a national debate is suspect, and suggests (IMO) that the person is trying to drag in the former meaning. (eg we could say that redefining "Rogue state" to "Islamic state" is trivial in our debate, but on the national stage this has real implications that go far beyond semantic engineering).

    3)Just because the President, at one point, *might* have suggested an alternative meaning for "imminent" does not mean that everyone in Washington, or even in the adminstration, can be understood to suddenly be talking in the new language. There is no evidence that a new meaning for "imminent" became common fare in Washington during this period.
    Or, if there is, I havent run across it & you haven't provided any.


    posted by: antiJim on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Dan did not address two of Schwartz's best points: Rumsfeld's assertion of an "immediate threat from biological weapons," and Bush's statement "Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists."

    Are these not imminent threats? Paraphrasing Sam Ervin, I can understand the meaning of this because it's in my mother tounge. There's nothing to parse here -- they were definitely talking about an imminent threat.

    posted by: doncoop on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    I would hardly want to gloat, since a great deal of effort went into the losing side's efforts (no, Mick McMick, not yours), but I am happy overall with the outcome. I can see how the 9/17 National Security Statement was pretty much as dispositive as Dan makes it. This leaves two issues mooted, one of which Dan seems barely to touch on, and one of which I think he has erred and may set a bad precedent.

    1. A complete fabrication by liberals. I truly don't see how this can be seen as a "fabrication", when the meme was in use before the war by such illiberal institutions as Radio Free Europe. Leaving aside the question of whether the Bush Administration actually did market the threat as imminent, it would appear that the idea that the threat was imminent appeared across the political spectrum. Hence, even if the claim is a fabrication, its attribution is erroneous. Nor, of course, can one argue that before the war the Administration objected to the characterization of 'imminent' and the liberals continued anyway, as the objections have arisen only post-war in response to the gulf [!] between what we found on the ground and what we were terrified of beforehand. The Administration's pre-war attitude to claims of imminence could not be described even by its most passionate defenders as less than agnostic.

    2. Implication is not argument?! Here I am afraid Dan has set the bar much too low. I can not put it better than Matt Yglesias:

    This tactic -- saying things that are true in such a way as to get people to believe things that are false -- has become a prominent feature of the administration's public relations strategy on a number of fronts and, frankly, it stinks.
    If, say, 70% of the country becomes convinced that we found biological weapons in Iraq (as they are convinced 9/11 was materially assisted by Saddam) on the basis of the Kay Report's lurid tale of one vial of botulism without explaining that it's the harmless variety and was obtained from an American scientific supply company before Gulf War I, [link] is an accusation that Bush retroactively hyped the Saddam threat (a) a complete fabrication because a careful scientific parsing of the Kay Report reveals the truth OR (b) accurate because it speaks to the impression ordinary readers gained from the release of the Report and accompanying dog-and-pony show. I think the answer is (b). The Bush Administration (and indeed anyone else) should be, and legally are, responsible for the consequences of innuendo.

    posted by: Andrew Lazarus on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Antijim's three objections have three replies:

    1. I thought we understood that in SOTU, Bush said, "Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent." Dan already went over that point.

    2. Changing the terms of debate - equivocation - surely is an illicit move. But that's not what the NSS document did. It was arguing that since terrorists' networks ought to be treated as harshly as imminent threats, we ought to start changing the definition of "imminent" to include terrorist networking. To think this is equivocating in a debate is like thinking that my anti-smoker equivocated in some sort of debate in order to get the smoker to believe that he was going to die in the next few minutes. Clearly he was not doing that.

    3. How's Bush supposed to clean up any confusion caused by Rumsfeld's "immediate," Fleischer's letting a reporter say "imminent," and so forth, other than by coming on prime time TV and saying that the threat is not imminent? Guy can't win.

    Andrew, the American people believe in angels, creationism and all sorts of other unfounded stuff. Are we to assume that he misled them there, too? Guy can't win. As for your analysis of Kay's report, don't you think it lacks the thoroughness of's posts of Oct. 3?

    posted by: Jim on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    I can't agree with the reasoning about the definition of "argument." Considering how narrowly framed the question is, it would only be fair to apply strict definitions to its various terms.

    The debate question refers to the Bush Administration as a collective whole, not to members of the Bush Administration. For the Bush Administration collectively to have argued an imminent threat would be more than having one or several or even every spokesperson suggesting that an imminent threat existed or might exist. It would also be more than having individual spokespeople from time to time speak of imminence or even refer to it as a theoretical justification: It would be for the Bush Administration as a whole to adopt the argument from imminent threat as official policy rationale, in this instance for military action.

    If Colin Powell says we need cooperation from our German friends, but Don Rumsfeld says that we don't need to worry about Old Europe, neither is Administration policy or the Administration's argument until and unless the President says so. As we have all been reminded many times, the sole definitive voice on Administration policy, the President himself, expressly rejected an imminent threat rationale, most famously in the 2003 SOTU.

    The NSS document brings up some other interesting points. I can't agree with the use that's being made of it at all: Just because the Bush Administration may have set out in 2001 to "adapt the concept of imminent threat" does not mean that it necessarily succeeded in doing so - that its preferred "adaptation" became the accepted substitute for imminence as previously understood. Once again, Bush's SOTU statement is definitive, and it clearly acknowledged that the prior definition of imminence was held still to be the accepted one.

    It would be possible that some statement prior to the SOTU made a different argument earlier in the run-up, but no such statement coming from Bush himself or advanced as the Bush Administration's official argument has been produced.

    Finally, the war opponents may have won this debate, due mainly to the framing of the question, but, to whatever extent they rely on the National Security Strategy document and parallel ideas of re-definition, they lose the argument about justifying the war, and cede the field to the Bush pre-emptive war doctrine: If gathering threats are imminent threats, then Saddam Hussein's Iraq did pose an "imminent" threat.

    posted by: Colin MacLeod on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    How's Bush supposed to clean up any confusion caused by Rumsfeld's "immediate," Fleischer's letting a reporter say "imminent," and so forth, other than by coming on prime time TV and saying that the threat is not imminent? Guy can't win.
    Yeah, as a matter of fact, if he didn't want us to terrify us into a war being fought for some other reason or reasons, that would be an excellent idea. But Fleischer not once but repeatedly refused to deny that Iraq was an imminent threat, including once when asked directly by Helen Thomas.
    Q: There is no imminent threat.
    MR. FLEISCHER: This is where -- Helen, if you were President you might view things differently. But you have your judgment and the President has others.
    The President did not dispel this [mis]impression because he did not wish to.

    You seem not to have read the link about the Kay Report. In the blog entry, Sullivan asks why there is no major PR offensive emphasizing Bush's claims like "a live strain of deadly agent botulinum [was found]". Perhaps the reason is that Bush's quote here is somewhere between deceptive and flat-out untrue. The botulinum we found is totally unsuitable for biowarfare and basically innocuous. (We didn't find "toxin", we found the bacterium, a big difference.) Before the Yellowcake fraud the media would have fallen in lockstep behind the Botulinum Crisis, but they have adopted newfound skepticism you would do well to share. Sullivan may be a better English-language stylist than I am, but credulous acceptance of dubious, deliberately misleading propaganda is not "thoroughness".

    posted by: Andrew Lazarus on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Those who opposed invading a sovereign nation without a clear and present danger do not cede the field to the Bush doctrine of war on whomever he feels like. In fact, what this discussion demonstrates is that, in spite of much rhetoric to the contrary, Hussein was never a threat to us.

    That Bush said we can’t wait for imminence but then went on to stoke fears that the threat was, in fact, imminent, demonstrates that the word “complete” is false; the prevalence of that interpretation by those who were on both sides of the question (prior to the realization by the pro-dead solider side that Hussein really was never a threat) demonstrates that “fabrication” is not appropriate either.

    In other words Mr. Holsclaw, you didn’t lose because the terms were too strict, you lost because your argument didn’t hold water. Whether Bush himself said that Iraq was an imminent threat, his regime made sure that everyone was thinking that.

    posted by: Lori Thantos on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    "How's Bush supposed to clean up any confusion caused by Rumsfeld's "immediate," Fleischer's letting a reporter say "imminent," and so forth, other than by coming on prime time TV and saying that the threat is not imminent? Guy can't win."


    "It doesn't matter if Bush makes the clear distinction between in the SOTU, if he or other principals in the administration blurred the distinction at other points in the debate over Iraq"

    If members in his administration did not explicitly express an "immediate threat" justification, how can Bush's SOTU address not be used as the administration policy?

    Relying on an ambigous White House press briefing question, a Rumsfeld ad-lib, a voice of America quote, etc... should not contradict the policy he laid out before the people.

    Now I think it is time to hold up an argument against the war to this type of scrutiny [war for oil, illegitimate war, unprovoked doctrine].

    posted by: PJ on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    From Dan's ruling:

    Note what Holsclaw and Schwarz were not debating:

    "The administration implied there was an imminent threat." To argue is to use the active voice to make a positive argument. To hint at something, or fail to correct misperceptions made by others, is not quite the same thing.

    This is very amusing. For all the excruciating parsing of language over the past week, this is the first time that the word "argue" has been subjected to the microscope.

    But now that it's staring me in the face, I think this distinction is responsible for much of the left/right disconnect on the issue.

    One way to interpret the word argue encompasses the totality of the techniques to convince people to come over to your side. Thus all the innuendo, juxtaposition, implication, hints, etc were part of the marketing campaign to win support for the war, but were not (according to Dan's restrictive definition) part of the argument for going to war.

    For people who read the debate question with a more expansive idea of what the word argue means, Holslaw's contention seems pretty far-fetched. Didn't he see the vial of powder in Powell's hand, didn't he hear Condeliza Rice talk about Mushroom cloud, etc?

    But if you separate out the logical/factual assertions from the marketing program, I can understand why he'd make such an assertion. I still disagree with him, but he's not as far-out as it seemed.

    BTW, I think Dan is well within his rights to interpret "argue" the way he does.

    And, yes, in case you're wondering I am quite amused to be engaging in an argument over what the word "argue" means.

    posted by: uh_clem on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    So let me get this straight...
    Ari Fleischer didn't really speak for Pres. Bush? When he REPEATEDLY declined opportunities to clarify that the Bush administration did not perceive an imminent threat - when he informed a reporter, at a press conference, in response to a question, that the President's view differed from the view that "there is no imminent threat" - he wasn't really speaking as Bush's spokesman, even though he was, at the time, employed as Bush's spokesman? Should we just dismiss everything Fleischer or McClennan had ever said, on any topic?

    I think you need to read Andrew Lazarus' post again - Fleischer's response is not ambiguous, and, unless Jim can convince me otherwise, it is not something that can be lightly dismissed as unrepresentative of the administration's public arguments. Fleischer did not "let" a reporter say 'imminent', Fleischer was directly asked by Helen Thomas to comment on the President's view of the statement (implicitly shared by Thomas) "there is no imminent threat," and Fleischer actively - not passively - replied that the President's view differed from that view.

    posted by: Brendan Lynch on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Lori, you're holding Bush to an unfair standard. You are using information that we only know now in retrospect. Yes, if Bush new for a fact the limited scope of Iraqs current weapons program, then the argument he made was wrong. But I defy anyone to produce evidence that _any_ world government or intelligence agency believed Iraqs capabilities were so minimal. That information was not available, and to assume such would be irresponsible at best and reckless at worst. Bush had to work with the information he had on hand that we all knew: A.Iraq had a vibrant weapons program in the past and used said weapons B.They never accounted for all those weapons C.They never cooperated fully with inspectors and had a track record of stonewalling D.There had been no longterm strategic change to assume the stonewalling would stop in the future E.Weapons inspectors had been documented to have failed to find programs in the past, indeed in Iraq itself. F.Proper intelligence gathering in a stalinist police state is nearly impossible G.Reams of defectors (of various reliability) had sword programs were in place H.Foriegn intelligence sources confirmed that Iraq was in the market for illegal contraband I.This situation had no chance of resolving itself. Hussein and his dynasty wer utterly secure for the forseeable future.
    In the face of all that you are suggesting that Bush should have assumed that Hussein was completely bluffing, and indeed enduring crippling sanctions needlessly? To assume that at the time would have be criminally stupid.

    posted by: Mark Buehner on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Well done Daniel. Marvelous job refereeing. Although, like some other posters, I think you let the Bushies off a little easily in stating that "To argue is to use the active voice to make a positive argument. To hint at something, or fail to correct misperceptions made by others, is not quite the same thing." To hint at something, and to do so with less than great subtlety and _repeatedly_, I think amounts to an argumentative tactic. For instance, numerous references to Saddam in one sentence and 9/11 in the next are not necessarily 'arguments' that he was involved in it, but it's hardly surprising (and hardly unintended, I believe) that people (apparently 70%) come to make that connection.

    That's how marketing works. You see that big spiffy new Jeep Cherokee, there's a handsome rugged man driving it amongst beautiful mountainous scenery with a beautiful woman riding shotgun. Jeep isn't explicitly 'arguing' buy our product and be happy, but they're certainly working pretty hard to install that connection. The Bush administration did the exact same in its constant juxtapositions of Saddam and 9/11 and Saddam and terrifying images like "mushrooms clouds" and the like (and of course, do recall Andy Card's infamous statement about "not releasing/marketing a new product in August" or whatever it was).

    It may not be conventional, or the sort of on-the-level and factual arguments we would expect (and should demand) from our leaders, especially when the issue is so grave as war, but it's the sort of rhetorical/misdirection argumentation these deceitful schmucks used.

    posted by: TolucaJim on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    To address the implication point briefly. Politics is implication. Argument is implication. Did Clinton imply that Europe could go up in flames if we did nothing in Kosovo? Of course he did, had he said it out loud he would have been laughed at. And he was right to do it, worst case scenarios are always implied. To make them direct arguments would be to demagogue. If we dont subsidize agriculture we risk starvation. If we dont increase education spending our schools will collapse. Very few make these arguments, but nearly everyone implies them. To 'imply' that Bush was doing something novel or untoward in this is silly and naive. Implication is not common, its endemic

    posted by: Mark Buehner on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Point taken Mark.

    However, there are crucial differences between your examples and the Iraq War.

    It may or may not be true that Europe would have went up in flames were it not for intervention in Kosovo, and we may or may not starve without agriculture subsidies. They are not empirically verifiable.

    But it's damn near factual that the Saddam Hussein DID NOT have any involvement in 9/11. It is damn near factual that Iraq does not have anything resembling a nuclear weapons program (much less nukes, or even a bio/chem weapons program, much less bio/chem weapons, despite hyped claims about moldly old innocuous test tubes in refrigators).

    Yes, there is some hindsight here. Many people _thought_ Iraq had these weapons. Although I don't think that's true about the Nuclear weapons, and that's why the Bushies leaned so heavily on the deceitful implications of mushroom clouds and vague yellowcake references. And the important thing here is that Bushco made this implications WHILE KNOWING, almost certainly (thanks to some decent intell work, and missions like Wilson's, or the CIA's memos and requests to take the Yellowcake out of the Oct. Cincy Speech), the info was false. I mean, Cheney continues to plant suggestions about 9/11 and Iraq, Iraq and al Qaeda.

    As you note, implication is often used. But they're lamentable--it would obviously be preferable if politicians presented facts and made open, reasonable arguments. Still, implication is not, as you not, novel or exceptionally untoward.

    I WOULD say it's exceptionally "untoward" to use implication to plant connections about things KNOWN to be false (Saddam & 9/11, say, or yellowcake). Especially if one's defense is to turn around and say--What, me? Why goodness no, I never actually _said_ Saddam was involved in 9/11, or listen, listen, I did say the "British" said this or that. It's covering your ass in advance, trying to distance oneself from clearly unsavory BS, yet still making damn sure people (70%) make the bogus connections.

    posted by: TolucaJim on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    I just like the fact that both Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan linked to the debate when it first started up, but now that the thing's been won by the "objectively pro-Saddam" side, they are completely silent re: Drezner's blog.

    posted by: Tom on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Interesting view of the use of "imminent" in its traditional or updated meanings.
    How's this for a question?
    A criminal is walking down the street. He is known to assault people. He is armed. He is not attacking anybody, and has not attacked anybody for at least a month, as far as we know,
    Is an attack from him imminent?
    Is possibly, right now, with no warning or other signs calling for increased alertness the same as imminent?
    If Saddaam had awakened one morning and decided, in his delusions of how things were really going, to hand over a few hundred pounds of chemical weapons to terrorists, he could have done it, and done it pretty quickly.
    But with no signs that he might be thinking this, is it "imminent"?
    Is instantly possible at sole discretion an allowable definition?

    posted by: Richard Aubrey on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Meanwhile, another bet is lost...

    posted by: HH on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Now watch: we'll find new evidence that proves there was a somewhat "imminent" threat after all. And the anti-Bush crowd will start whining "Why didn't Bush tell us there was an imminent threat?! Why didn't he use the word imminent?! He LIED!!!!!"

    posted by: Mick McMick on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Yes, yes Drezner, sure whatever you say, man. Bush didn't mislead the country on WMD at all. It was all just a big misunderstanding! Whoopsie-daisy.

    And you know you can't really prove that Hitler ever specifically ordered the Final Solution either.

    Yes, both Hitler and Bush are not guilty as charged.

    posted by: The Fool on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Oh wait a minute, perhaps I spoke too fast. Drezner's report of his decision is about as clear as the majority decision in Bush v. Gore. But, now, having read the fine print, i.e. the 2nd page of Drezner's post, I find that he appears to have decided that Bush DID say we faced an imminent threat from Hussein.*

    Congratulations Dan! FYI: the earth is round and revolves around the sun, not vice versa -- in case you were wondering.

    *I hereby retract my previous post. adak asdj lskd;als;las;dlaks;dla;slda asda asd asd asd asd as dasdkajsh askjh aksd

    posted by: The Fool on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    I know: let's have a debate on whether or not O.J. is guilty!

    posted by: The Fool on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    "It is a complete fabrication that the Bush administration argued in the runup to the war that there was an imminent threat from Iraq."

    Sucker bet.

    "How's Bush supposed to clean up any confusion caused by Rumsfeld's "immediate," Fleischer's letting a reporter say "imminent," and so forth, other than by coming on prime time TV and saying that the threat is not imminent? Guy can't win."

    Rumsfeld's ad-lib, Fleischer's ambigous press breifing, and a Voice of America quote do not negate his explicit position expressed in the SOTU.

    posted by: PJ on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Keep telling yourself that PJ. You're a good little true believer.

    Two points: 1) it doesn't matter whether Bush said "imminent", he lied about WMD to create a false sense of crisis to get us into war. If you won't admit that then you are as dishonest as Bush, and 2) Bush said that we couldn't wait any longer for the UN inspectors to do their job. He needed war right away. He also said we couldn't wait for a mushroom cloud to tell us the threat was imminent.

    All that stuff about not being able to wait, PJ, is the same as saying the threat is imminent.

    Stop lying to us and stop lying to yourself.

    posted by: The Fool on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    >He also said we couldn't wait for a mushroom cloud to tell us the threat was imminent.

    "Couldn't wait" does not equate to "imminent." It equates to an intolerable situation that had to be dismantled _before_ it became imminent.

    Too bad God's special children can't grasp the difference in meaning.

    Oh, well. I guess I'll just have to wait a year to watch their heads implode when Bush gets reelected due to their insane obsession with hating the guy, instead of offering a realistic alternative. They are pushing otherwise Democrat-leaning swing voters into the GOP camp by making it clear they actually hope for US failure, both militarily and economically, just to satisfy the blind rage that hasn't subsided since Gore's embarrassment in Florida.

    Let's put it this way: Bush's reelection is "gathering." But a few more months of unprofessional rants from the Democratic contenders, and another four years will become "imminent."

    And imminent means what now? Oh, yes. Unavoidable. Certain. Not "if," but "when."

    Look it up in your Pictionary.

    posted by: Mick McMick on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Mick, do you know any Democratic-leaning swing voters?

    posted by: Andrew Lazarus on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    I did, until they became too embarrassed by the kooks to continue associating themselves with them. That doesn't make them Republicans, but at best (from a Dem perspective) they'll just stay home on Payback Tuesday.

    posted by: Mick McMick on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Dear Dick McDick:

    First of all, the entire debate about "imminent" is a smokescreen created by liars.

    Second, if there is a threat which must be dealt with NOW without waiting, then that threat is imminent.

    Not only is that threat imminent, it is a threat that is already here. Remember a "threat" is a claim about future activity, not the activity itself. The terrorist act which that threat is a threat of may or may not be imminent. Of course, Bush didn't say that Hussein was imminently about to actually handoff some of his vast stockpiles of WMD. In that case, Bush would have obviously already launched a response. But Bush quite obviously -- to anyone who hasn't been brainwashed by the Republican party and their disciples -- ginned up an imminent threat that had to be dealt with immediately without waiting.

    By the way, McDick, if you're ever in the neighborhood, come visit my planet -- it's called "Earth."

    posted by: The Fool on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Hey McDick:

    What is that has you so convicned that Bush will win in 2004? Is it his crappy and steadily declining poll numbers? Or is it Bush's world record, shittiest peformance record in all of presidential history -- i.e. the fact that NOT A SINGLE THING HAS GONE RIGHT since Bush was selected president? Is that what it is?

    You people are truly pathetic. It makes me sick that my country is populated with so many pathetic and delusional liars and assholes. Why can't you all go be a cancer on someone else's country?

    posted by: The Fool on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Well, if a conservative defines the term of the debate, and then says that the debate is won on those terms - not much of a surprise there.

    This whole debate about "imminent" is quite a joke, actually. All of the administration was banging the war drums, talking up the threat of Saddam Hussein to a hurricane level - to then turn around and argue that Bush didn't argue for "imminent" threat is willful blindness.

    1. Rumsfeld "knew where the weapons of mass destruction are. They are in the north and east around Tikrit". or some such.
    2. "We don't want the [signal? what was this...] to be a mushroom cloud". Condi
    3. Looking for nuclear weapons from Africa.

    There are so many more. Read the Sy Hersh article in the New Yorker, to see the wilful blindness this administration believed.

    Also, you cannot say the administration can "redefine" imminent. This is where the judgment falls down, and becomes merely a legalistic after-the-fact CYA , for the administration and war apologists.

    posted by: what's that on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Your example is spot-on, but your interpretation of it isn't. The correct word to use for a known mugger walking down the street is *dangerous*. One would be justified in monitoring the situation. The authorities would be justified in keeping tabs on the guy. A civilian might alter his behavior (eg leave the area)...
    But is the threat "imminent"? If you pulled out a gun and shot the guy because an attack was 'imminent' on the grounds that you stated, you would find yourself in prison. And rightly so.

    That is because imminence implies more that capability and possible tendancy- it implies signs that the act is impending. That it is in the works.

    The US actions in Iraq were similar to this, IMO.


    posted by: Carleton Wu on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    FYI, I am a Democrat. Another FYI, I do not lie.

    I think it is irresponsible to make flimsy anti-Bush, anti-war arguments when the main criticism of Bush is faulty intelligence.

    I would instead criticize his almost complete lack of diplomacy, and lack of preparation for a post-war Iraq.

    You should hold your arguments up to the same standard and level of scrutiny you are applying to Bush and the war.

    This whole debate depends on a "complete" fabrication? Ridiculous.

    Sucker bet.

    posted by: PJ on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    >Second, if there is a threat which must be dealt with NOW without waiting, then that threat is imminent.

    You are only proving beyond doubt that you have no hope of ever understanding the basic meaning of some rather simple words.

    I knew eventually the anti-Bush cabal would back off the "imminent" thread, and move on to some other inane claim. So what will it be now?

    >I would instead criticize his almost complete lack of diplomacy, and lack of preparation for a post-war Iraq.

    Please compare the current progress in Iraq to ANY other attempt to install a democracy after toppling a dictator. How many years did it take in Germany before the former nazis stopped taking potshots at Americans? How many years before the anarchy and looting stopped in liberated Europe?

    Fortunately, we had Truman at the helm then. Somebody with the guts to stick it out because he sees the big picture.

    Have you any clue of the "progress" the almighty UN has been making in the Balkans?

    This country has done something remarkable, and the Democrats have made a fatal error in declaring "not in my name." Fine. You won't be on the plaque. And don't expect to get elected.

    The President has been amazingly resolute, despite the negativity from the nihilist marxists from ANSWER, and the weak, desperate democrats who think that's the side their toast is buttered on.

    posted by: Mick McMick on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    I think you need to step back Mick and not lash out at anyone expressing concerns about Bush/Iraq.

    I was in favor of removing Saddam, but Bush has made major mistakes both in the leadup and follow through of the war.

    If he was able to negotiate foreign troops to lock down the borders with Syria, Iran, SA. If Bush took a crash program to increase the ranks of police and the army as quickly as possible. If he could provide enough security to encourage some of the NGO's to return, the situation will improve dramatically.

    Bush is at least addressing the problem instead of all the Democratic canidates looking to see who can cry "the sky is falling" the loudest.

    I can't believe Lieberman is the best moderate Democrat available.

    posted by: PJ on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Sorry, but I believe we did try for a long time, too long in my opinion, to get assistance from the surrounding countries. Do you really think there was any way Syria was ever going to be anything other than a terrorist conduit and Baathist escape route?

    I don't think we should make defense decisions based on permission from those that hate us.

    And "stepping back" when idiots come out with their "Bush lied" conspiracy theories is not going to put them in any better perspective.

    posted by: Mick McMick on 10.20.03 at 11:05 PM [permalink]

    Post a Comment:


    Email Address:



    Remember your info?