Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Both Thomas Friedman and Maureen Dowd devote their columns today to the issue of whether or not it matters if we find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Friedman claims that the "real reason" for the war was to send a message that the United States had the will to fight a war against the underpinnings of terrorism, and to send a message of brute American strength to people who only respond to force, and that the Bush Administration dared not say that so openly or so graphically. (This reinforces the points and the static around the Wolfowitz/ Vanity Fair interview).

I agree with Friedman as far as it goes. In addition, it is likely that the Pentagon culture and the supporting "think-tanks" supported war way before 9/11, and were intellectually ready to go to war as soon as they found a pretext. I don't think they expected a pretext as graphic as 9/11, but they had every reason to expect an incident such as the Cole, or the bombing of an American embassy overseas. Friedman goes on to say that although Bush's credibility may be hurt if it turns out that he was complicit in the WMD issue, America's credibility, both internationally and historically, will only be based on its ability to create a new Middle East.

Dowd repeats the canard that "for the first time in history, America is searching for the reason we went to war after the war is over." A related fallacy is that the United States has never fought an offensive war.

The Mexican War was an offensive war, and the young Abraham Lincoln was amongst the leaders in demanding that the Polk Administration disclose the "spot" in which the Mexican hostilities began. Lincoln's opposition to the war was one of several factors that turned him into a one-term Congressman, and was be splendid grist for Douglas during the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

The Spanish-American War was an offensive war that was sold to "Remember The Maine," but the real causes of that ship's explosion were never clear.

The "Tora Tora Tora" school believes that the FDR administration knew more about Pearl Harbor then it let on. (Remember how Bob Dole complained that World War II was a "Democratic War," as if Hirohito and Hitler had nothing to do with it.)

The events surrounding the Gulf of Tonkin have always been rather vague.

Although I'm leaning rather hard on Maureen Dowd, who I agree with more often than not, there are two points I want to make here. The first is that historically, the American people are profoundly reluctant to go to war, and that leaders, both from the left and the right, have had to drag the United States into wars that had to be fought. The second point is that knowledge of history is so lacking that anytime a politician uses a historical reference to make an argument, the media is forced to go along, since neither the media nor the audience has the background to notice whether the reference is true or not.

I note in passing here, John Judis's argument against imperialism in this week's New Republic. This strengthens my argument that the Bushies were just waiting for their chance to go to war. It also gives good ammunition to those who think that the smashing of international institutions and the building of an American Empire by the Bushies is a bad idea. I think there is a place for international institutions, even for those who agree that the American way is the best way.