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Commentary

Is the Real Problem “Isolationism” or Bipartisan Aggression?


     
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President George W. Bush and Democratic and Republican luminaries broke ground recently at the future gleaming home of the United States Institute of Peace on the National Mall. After absorbing the speeches and, on the same day, the rather partisan Senate Intelligence Committee’s report that concluded the Bush administration lied to the United States regarding its ill-fated invasion and occupation of Iraq, one needs to dig just a bit to see what a bipartisan policy of interventionism the United States really has. The existence of bipartisan support for meddling in the business of other countries stands in stark contrast to the President’s remarks, which stated that he feared the U.S. was becoming “isolationist and nervous.”

Despite attending the launch of a government-funded organization ostensibly dedicated to peace, former Republican Secretary of State George P. Shultz praised President Bush’s policy of preventive war, saying, “In your time, I think this is one important idea that has real legs and staying power.”  But the international community has long dreaded such wars because threats are often invented or wildly exaggerated to justify questionable “preventive” aggression, as demonstrated by the Senate Intelligence Committee’s findings about the inflated threats during the run up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

At the groundbreaking, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) made an attempt to make us believe the two parties have opposing foreign policies.  Quoting Democratic President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 words, “The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war,” was a veiled jab at the President’s Iraq policy. Of course, Pelosi didn’t mention that in 1961, Kennedy himself orchestrated the botched CIA attempt to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro. Later, in 1962, he nearly initiated a nuclear world war for no strategic reason after the Soviets installed missiles in Cuba, a move intended to counter future U.S. invasions of the island.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the Bush administration’s misuse of intelligence—a Democratic project signed by two Republicans—correctly criticized the administration for fabricating a connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Additionally, the government lied about the likelihood that Saddam would give weapons of mass destruction to anti-U.S. terrorists. Finally, the administration falsely claimed that many such weapons were stored underground in Iraq and could not be destroyed by air attacks alone, implicitly suggesting the necessity of a ground invasion.

The report also rightly pinged the administration for failing to reveal greater skepticism by some members of the U.S. intelligence community regarding the claimed existence of Saddam’s chemical arsenal and nuclear weapons program. 

The alleged connection between al Qaeda, an organization dedicated to attacking corrupt secular regimes in the Middle East, and Saddam, a corrupt secular dictator, was always far fetched. Hussein’s alleged willingness to transfer unconventional weapons to anti-U.S. terrorists was debunked by the U.S. intelligence community before the invasion and was made public at that time. Finally, even in an absolute worst case scenario, if the Iraqi leader obtained a few nuclear weapons and long-range missiles to deliver them to the United States (which no one believed he had), the U.S. could have deterred an attack with its massive nuclear arsenal, just as it did with the more radical Mao Tse-tung when he got nuclear weapons in the 1960s. In short, no one bothered to ask what real threat Saddam posed to the United States—instead focusing on his much lesser threats to U.S. allies and vague notions of “U.S. interests” and “stability” in the Middle East.

The problem with the Democratic Intelligence Panel’s critique is not its criticism of administration lying, which is if anything understated.  Partisanship arose when the report failed to mention that key Democrats, some of whom ran for president in the 2008 primaries, also made pre-war statements echoing the administration’s line that Saddam’s unconventional weapons were a threat to the United States.

Although it’s true that the Bush administration instigated the flawed Iraq invasion and subsequent occupation, most Americans—politicians of both parties and the public—looked the other way as the administration marched the nation over the abyss. Of all the many crimes of this administration, its success in blatantly lying the nation into war may have done the most to undermine the principles of the Republic. 

Unfortunately, Nancy Pelosi and John F. Kennedy were wrong. Especially in the post-Korean War era, the United States has departed from the founding principles of the country, adopting a bipartisan militaristic foreign policy and starting and participating in many unneeded wars. Thus, the real danger is not that the United States is becoming “isolationist and nervous” as the President frets, but in fact, quite the opposite.


Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.

New from Ivan Eland!
NO WAR FOR OIL: U.S. Dependency and the Middle East

The grab for oil resources has been a major factor behind many conflicts and military deployments because of its perception as a strategic commodity. This book debunks the notion that oil is strategic and argues that war for oil is not necessary to secure the flow of petroleum. Learn More »»






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