During the months before the invasion of Iraq, the United States
was consumed by a war over the war. Every medium of civic discourse
obsessed on it, from city councils to the United Nations Security
Council. Despite this overwhelming fixation, one prominent theme
was the charge a discussion wasn’t taking place at all. No public
figure presented a clear, complete case for war, and so a credible,
non-radical response was never formulated. This process prevented
the choice of war or peace from being an educated, consensual value
decision. What happened? To understand, it’s necessary to examine
the real reason for war to see why it was presented in such a way
and why naysayers developed such conspiracy theories as the
machinations of a cabal of Straussians or an oil grab.

WMDs mixing with terrorism was the secondary reason for the war.
Policymakers thought Saddam had some, and Resolution 1441 was a
manifestation of unanimity. Also, many in the intelligence
community did believe in an Osama-Saddam axis. Baathist and Qaida
ideology both include hatred toward the United States. Yet CIA
reports indicate they signed a non-aggression pact, a group named
Unit 999 went to Afghanistan to help poison-gas training and the
existence of a Qaida subgroup supported by Saddam. Rumsfeld’s
argument was that after 9/11, the devastating result of this
connection bearing fruit made a lower level of confidence needed
for action and that dismissal of this possibility was due to a
Schelling-like poverty of expectations.

Yet the primary focus was geopolitical. Saddam wanted to
dominate his region and had shown his carelessness. As Kenneth
Pollack at the Council on Foreign Relations said, “The assertion
that he is not intentionally suicidal may be true, but … he has
frequently proven inadvertently suicidal.” A nuclear Saddam would
have been a nightmare, while a progressive Iraq could invalidate
the Islamic fundamentalist Sayyid Qutb’s assertion that
fundamentalist Islam is the key to resurgent power, hurting
terrorists, but more importantly, undermining the Ayatollahs. The
war could give the Oslo peace process a second shot in the arm (the
first one being Gulf War I) by eliminating a crucial security
threat and exerting pressure on states that support Palestinian
militants. Iraq was a chance to throw our weight around before
being curtailed by a new power, perhaps in the Far East.

Because these complexities do not fit easily in a sound bite,
the Bush administration tried to make the Pentagon one-sided and
not five, and simply griped about WMDs and the need to “liberate
the Iraqi people.” Why? Simplicity and a penchant for secrecy.
Simply, as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz stupidly put
it, “bureaucratic reasons,” or, a point everyone could agree on.
But also, here the “Straussian” conspiracists have stumbled onto
some truth. Wolfowitz, wanting to persuade other policymakers of
his decision on Iraq, directed some people in Pentagon Special
Plans, who called themselves the Cabal, to be the shock troops in
the debate and sideline the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency.
Members of the group were febrile students, along with Wolfowitz,
of Leo Strauss, a man who said that “certain” people should tell
lies because only they see the truth. One CIA expert said they’re
convinced everybody else in the government is a fool. They tried to
pawn a clearly forged nuclear order from Niger. They wrapped the
final package in a flag.

The Left, being shut out of the decision-making process, blindly
took the Freudian psychological step of assuming that a conspiracy
took place. How, other than through a Star Chamber scheme, could
they not be consulted? It was a way of coping that inadvertently
made debate even more garbled. The war in Iraq was no longer a
disagreement; it was another prism through which Bush’s stupidity
could be perceived. It drove many into lunatics like the political
dissident Noam Chomsky, who whined, “These hawks are the same
people in the same situation as the First Gulf War … therefore
they can’t think for themselves and are evil,” (although a supposed
war conspiracist, conservative intellectual Bill Kristol, attacked
Bush I for being evil). They clung to the refrain of the far Left,
“No blood for oil,” although arch-dove former President Jimmy
Carter himself admitted of oil, “I can assure you that’s not the
policy of my government.” Too much Iraqi oil would drive down
prices, hurting Bush’s friends in Texas, and OPEC would probably
stabilize any change anyways. And Saddam would sell us all the oil
we wanted.

I am not attempting to be an apologist for either the Left or
the Bush administration. It is both of their faults that any chance
of a legitimate dialogue was hijacked by politics. Individual
support or opposition to the war was determined by clich�s
of patriotism or peace. Radicals on both sides served to discredit
their more reasonable colleagues, while all the centrists were
running for president. It was not a question of whether or not the
geopolitical earthquake of a progressive Iraq outweighed a world
outraged by unilateralism, or if the loss of Iraqi civilians was
more important than a preemptive drive to avert a world-wide
catastrophe. It was simply a clash of preconceived notions.

Torigian is an LSA sophomore and a member of the Daily’s
editorial board.

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