George Weigel on Narratives & 'Bush Derangement Syndrome'

In an essay entitled A Campaign of Narratives in the March issue of First Things (currently behind a firewall for non-subscribers), George Weigel writes:

Yet it is also true that the 2008 campaign, which actually began in the late fall of 2006, was a disturbing one—not because it coincided with what is usually described in the hyperbole of our day as “the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression” but because of how it revealed some serious flaws in our political culture. Prominent among those flaws is our seeming inability to discuss, publicly, the transformation of American liberalism into an amalgam of lifestyle libertinism, moral relativism, and soft multilateralism, all flavored by the identity politics of race and gender. Why can’t we talk sensibly about these things? For the past eight years, no small part of the reason why had to do with what my friend Charles Krauthammer, in a nod to his former incarnation as a psychiatrist, famously dubbed “Bush Derangement Syndrome.”

Raising this point is not a matter of electoral sour grapes. Given an unpopular war that had been misreported from the beginning, plus President Bush’s unwillingness to use the presidential bully pulpit to help the American people comprehend the stakes in Iraq, plus conservative aggravation over a spendthrift Republican Congress and administration, plus that administration’s failure to enforce discipline on its putative congressional allies, plus public exhaustion with a familiar cast of characters after seven years in office, plus an economic meltdown—well, given all that, it seems unlikely that any Republican candidate could have beaten any Democrat in 2008. Indeed, the surprise at the presidential level may have been that Obama didn’t enjoy a success of the magnitude of Eisenhower’s in 1952, Johnson’s in 1964, Nixon’s in 1972, or Reagan’s in 1984.

Still, I would argue that the basic dynamics of the 2008 campaign, evident in the passions that drove Obama supporters to seize control of the Democratic party and then of the presidency, were not set in motion by the failures and missed opportunities of the previous seven years but by Bush Derangement Syndrome, which emerged as a powerful force in American public life on December 12, 2000: the day American liberalism’s preferred instrument of social and political change, the Supreme Court, determined that George W. Bush (the candidate with fewer popular votes nationally) had, in fact, won Florida and with it a narrow majority in the Electoral College. Here was the cup dashed from the lips—and by a court assumed to be primed to deliver the expected and desired liberal result yet again. Here was the beginning of a new, millennial politics of emotivism (displayed in an astonishing degree of publicly manifested loathing for a sitting president) and hysteria (fed by the new demands of a 24/7 news cycle).

[Emphasis Mine]

I think this analysis gets things exactly backwards.

Certainly, there was a contingent of people who opposed President Bush (and, also, President Obama) from day one. But Bush won convincingly in 2004, regardless of whether some voters were afflicted with the (apparently powerful) “Bush Derangement Syndrome.” The arguments of Bush’s harshest critics only began to gain traction when Bush’s “failures and missed opportunities,” as Weigel describes them, began to accumulate.

Bush’s approval rating never dropped below 45% until after Hurricane Katrina in September of 2005. Shortly thereafter, his approval rating dipped briefly below 40% during the Harriet Miers debacle, before rebounding slightly at the end of the year. Then, as the situation in Iraq worsened, his approval rating dropped into the high 30’s in 2006, then to the low 30’s/high 20’s in 2007-2009. In short, the polling data suggests events, rather than a mysterious political pathology, were responsible for Bush’s unpopularity.

Certainly, as more people came to dislike George Bush, ‘Bush Derangement Syndrome,’ spread. But blaming growing dislike of George Bush on, well, growing dislike of George Bush is a rather circular proposition, which calls for a more satisfactory causal explanation. Something is amiss with Weigel’s denunciation of ‘Bush Derangement System,’ rather than the failures from which it derived its potency.

Furthermore, Bush’s unpopularity was arguably responsible for the second trend Weigel bemoans: the lack of substantive debate in the campaign. Within a week of clinching the Democratic nomination, Barack Obama had a five point lead on McCain. Obama basically held this lead the entire race, apart from a brief window after the Republican convention and before the financial crisis. He could afford to choose his battles.

There was a good reason why, as McCain noted at the Al Smith dinner, Obama’s ‘pet name’ for him was “George Bush.” Barack Obama didn’t need to engage John McCain substantively when he could simply describe him as someone who wanted to ‘continue the failed policies of George W. Bush.’ It’s the same reason why many Democrats refuse to discuss Roe; when the status quo is in your favor, debate carries more risks than benefits.

Certainly, the picture is slightly more complicated. McCain’s apparent inability to articulate a coherent vision on domestic policy made it easier for Obama to avoid substantive debate. And the press embarked on what was, in my view, a credibility-shattering love affair with the Obama campaign; it became difficult for me to separate the official Obama campaign spokesmen from the unofficial, honorary spokesmen at our major newspapers. Finally, it must be acknowledged that Obama is a very skilled politician, and that he ran a very good campaign. Nevertheless, I would argue Bush’s failures (real and perceived) were a sine qua non for everything from McCain’s primary victory (who really liked McCain, anyway?), to Obama’s play-it-safe campaign, to the spread of the ‘Bush Derangement Syndrome’ this past campaign season.

Later on in the article, Weigel bemoans the post-modernist tendency to describe campaigns in terms of narratives without reference to underlying issues. In this way, he argues, cynical manipulation takes the place of substantive debate:

The American people elected a young president with less governmental experience than any major-party nominee since Wendell Willkie, because—well, because he was the winner on American Idol: The 2008 Election Edition. We all hope and pray that President Obama is far more than that. We should not delude ourselves on this point, however: Narrative, not substance, is what put the forty-fourth president into the White House.

I think Weigel is right about the dangers of narrative over substance, and I agree that narrative played an important role in the 2008 election (and most recent elections, for that matter). But I think the ‘Bush Derangement Syndrome’ narrative Weigel attempts to create above is typical of the postmodern approach he criticizes. It is a narrative of victimhood rather than responsibility. It reflects an unwillingness or inability to recognize that yes, in fact, George Bush’s actions had a profound impact on the most recent election, and that his unpopularity was an important reason the campaign lacked substance. The primary lesson to be taken from the 2008 election is not that irrational syndromes sometimes take hold of electorates. It is that poor governance has consequences. To discuss those (allegedly) suffering from ‘Bush Derangement Syndrome’ without discussing the merits of their complaints, is to favor the type of narrative-over-substance account that Weigel rightly decries elsewhere in the article.

35 Responses to George Weigel on Narratives & 'Bush Derangement Syndrome'

  • Christopher says:

    Good post. Ultimately, this defeat may in fact be the best thing for the Republican Party as it embarks on a return to principles and examines what led to the public’s dissatisfaction.

    On a tangential note, your observation that “the press embarked on what was, in my view, a credibility-shattering love affair with the Obama campaign; it became difficult for me to separate the official Obama campaign spokesmen from the unofficial, honorary spokesmen at our major newspapers,” ABC’s Jake Tapper blogged an interesting story on former-journalists-turned-Obama-appointments.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    John Henry,

    good post. I’m not sure about this though:

    In short, the polling data suggests events, rather than a mysterious political pathology, were responsible for Bush’s unpopularity.

    If we examine the actual events which led to his popularity drop, many of them really are not justified. The liberal media’s hatchet jobs had their intended effect. That is not to say there weren’t PR and real blunders, but not anywhere near what could legitimize the rage.

    Look at the “One’s” blunders in his first weeks, and yet nary a peep of rage at him… Harriet Meiers may have been unqualified as a SC justice, she at least, as far as we know, paid her taxes.

  • Gerard E. says:

    Spot on by Prof. Dr. Weigel. But would go back further to that ghastly Tuesday night in November 2004 when both Houses of Congress went into hands of Wascally Wepublicans. Unhinged the Dems big time- power as a matter of their sheer force of righteousness. Setting stage for hanging chads nonsense with led to Bush Derangement Syndrome. Which will account for the rushrushrush to move Porkapalooza Bill down assembly line. In fact may be release of pent up energy building up far back as 1965- Great Society, War on Poverty, etc. Perhaps even waaay back to 1933. Note that when Messiah of Hope and Change signed Porkapalooza into law, among casualties was that grabbag of regulations known as Welfare Reform. Agreed to by Slick Willie in summer of 96 before boarding plane to Chi-Town Convention. Gone gone gone. More lifetime serfs dependant on Federal subsidies for very existence. Took some cold logical thinking in the midst of BDS to insert those clauses into Porkapalooza.

  • John Henry says:

    Chris,

    Thanks for pointing out that story; I hadn’t seen it. Given the financial state (and the politics) of the journalism industry, I suppose it’s not very surprising (although I wonder why anyone would want to work as part of Joe Biden’s communications team).

    Matt,

    I think it’s true that Bush received harsher coverage than a similarly-situated Democratic President would receive. At the same time, I think that type of thing moves the approval rating from 50% to 46-47%, rather than from 50% to 30%. Bush, after all, was re-elected in 2004. Events drove the difference in perception between 2004 and 2008.

    Gerard,

    Your comments almost invariably make me laugh; I think we have to agree to disagree here. I certainly acknowledge that something akin to ‘Bush Derangement Syndrome’ exists; what I dispute is that ‘the basic dynamics of the campaign’ were set in motion by it rather than Bush’s (very real) mistakes.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    events drove the difference in perception between 2004 and 2008.

    Of course without any events it would have been much harder to drive the perception, but that does not explain it without a massive and misleading campaign by the liberal media.

  • I cannot believe George Weigel is still defending the Iraq war, and his infamous “charism of political discernment” (“Bush’s unwillingness to use the presidential bully pulpit to help the American people comprehend the stakes in Iraq”). Shame of Weigel for going against the Church on this from the beginning, and even bigger shame on him for not repenting his earlier mistake.

    Plus, he’s a good friend of notorious torture defender Charles Krauthammer????

  • I’m not clear why defending the Iraq War now would be less tenable now than it was four years ago. From a just war perspective, it was either just or it wasn’t in the first place. Some Catholics such as Weigel (and I) thought and continue to think that removing Hussein from power was a worthy and just cause of war. Some, such as you and apparently John Paul II and Benedict XVI, did not think the war was justified.

    But there’s not a specific position of the Church as a whole on the topic, and I’m not clear why the passage of time would necessarily make Weigel’s position any different than it was in the first place.

  • Christopher says:

    Plus, he’s a good friend of notorious torture defender Charles Krauthammer????

    “Morning’s Minion” — Honestly, I think I’d be more understanding if you voiced similar outrage about somebody’s being a good friend of “notorious defenders of” Roe v. Wade.

  • Darwin:

    Many who supported the Iraq war did so because: (i) they believed Saddam presented an imminent threat, based on his WMDs; (ii) they believed the war would be quick and costless, as the Iraqis would welcome the invasion. For a Catholic, (i) would take care of the “last resort” criterion and (ii) would address “proportionality” from a just war perspective. I would argue (and did argue) with these interpretations but there was at least the semblence of an argument there. And, honestly, given the lies and obfuscation of the last regime, I can understand why somebody would fall for (i)– unaccustomed to being told lies of this magnitude, I believed it myself at first.

    But we now know that both (i) and (ii) proved false, and that the war has been a disaster– up to a million Iraqi deaths, a quarter of the population displaced, God hows how many future terrorists nurtured on the killing fields of Iraq. So, yes, I would expect Mr. Weigel and others who take just war teaching seriously to show just a little remorse and humility. Is that really too much to ask for?

  • And, honestly, given the lies and obfuscation of the last regime, I can understand why somebody would fall for (i)– unaccustomed to being told lies of this magnitude, I believed it myself at first.

    I guess I’m a little confused by this, since as a war supporter I did not at all think that Hussein and his potential weapons presented an imminent threat to the US. Nor did I think that the administration presented a very strong case that he did. The case that I did and do think was strong was that Hussein was an illegitimate ruler who had already invaded several of his neighbors, who did not abide by the treaty that ended the Gulf War (which should unquestionably have gone all the way go Bagdad) and who had been almost unimaginably cruel to his people. He had also made it clear he was unwilling to leave power of moderate his tyranny, thus making it obvious that nothing short of a war would remove him from power. So clearly, war was a last resort when it came to removing Hussein from power.

    As to proportionality — anyone who thinks any war will be quick and costless is not only a fool, but a dangerous fool. If someone thought such a I thing, I think he was very wrong to. But at the same time, it seems to me that your approach to proportionality here is rather flawed. The decision to overthrow Hussein’s regime pretty clearly did not directly result in all the civilian deaths and displacement that occurred. (I think the numbers you’re citing are incorrect, but it’s not a numbers game so that’s irrelevant.) Most of that death and displacement was caused by attacks on the Americans and especially on the general population made by factions within Iraq that were unhappy with the sort of government that came into being after the invasion. It was (as I recall you pointed out on more than one occasion) a civil war. Now I think that many in the DOD and administration were very much to blame for the fact that things became sufficiently destabilized after the invasion to get to that point, but one can hardly cite the methods of civil war factions within Iraq as reasons why the original decision to get rid of Hussein via an invasion was disproportionate.

    I could certainly see supporters of the war wishing that it had been run better, and bitterly regretting the amount of unnecessary destruction which resulted from poor planning for the post invasion period. But I really can’t see why you’d think this would change one’s assessment of whether the invasion itself was just. (Though it might make people more inclined to be realistic about the capabilities of military power, which is always a good thing.)

  • Now I’m confused, Darwin. If that is the reason you supported the removal of the pesident of Iraq by force, then I could probably come up with maybe 20 equally odious regimes that nobody would miss. Do you really want to go down that road?

    As for proportionality, I think you are missing the point. I never said the US was directly responsible for the carnage that ensued. But by storming into this tempest, without heed for history, culture or context, it bears responsibility for what happened in the aftermath. And there were many voices warning that this was going to happen (including from the Vatican), but they were ignore.

  • Now I’m confused, Darwin. If that is the reason you supported the removal of the pesident of Iraq by force, then I could probably come up with maybe 20 equally odious regimes that nobody would miss. Do you really want to go down that road?

    I’d have to hear the examples, but I might well consider it to be entirely just for one to wage a war to remove any one of those regimes. The fact that it would be just certainly does not mean that one absolutely must do it. (Or at least, I would assume that you don’t argue that simply because it would be just to wage a war in a given circumstance, that it would thus be immoral _not_ to.)

    For example, I would consider it entirely just for the US to intervene in Darfur in order to protect civilians from government backed militias — but the fact that one would be justified in doing so does not necessarily mean that one _must_ or that it would be evil not to.

    As for proportionality, I think you are missing the point. I never said the US was directly responsible for the carnage that ensued. But by storming into this tempest, without heed for history, culture or context, it bears responsibility for what happened in the aftermath. And there were many voices warning that this was going to happen (including from the Vatican), but they were ignore.

    The just war criteria is that the wrong being addressed must be proportionate to the evils that inevitably result from war. That’s different from the instigators of the war being responsible for every possible resulting occurrence.

    Also, I think you’re eliding the fact that simply removing Hussein did not necessarily have to result in nearly the problems that did in fact happen. The incredibly bad decisions made by Gen. Tommy Franks and Ambassador Bremmer (among others — and of course Rumsfeld and Bush in that they approved those decisions and picked those decision makers) make things far, far worse than they need have been. For that I do have a lot of regret, but it’s not regret that the war took place at all, but rather than the follow through was so poor.

  • John Henry says:

    I guess I’m a little confused by this, since as a war supporter I did not at all think that Hussein and his potential weapons presented an imminent threat to the US.

    I may have misunderstood Just War theory, and the Catechism is necessarily a simplification, but it says that “governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed,” and when it sets forth the conditions, it says “The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration…” If you don’t believe the U.S. had a legitimate claim to acting in self-defense (as I didn’t), doesn’t that preclude the invasion regardless of proportionality?

    For example, I would consider it entirely just for the US to intervene in Darfur in order to protect civilians from government backed militias

    I think there is a distinction between a humanitarian intervention to protect citizens within a country, and a situation like Iraq, where it was frequently argued that Iraq was a military threat to the United States. There was some language about humanitarian intervention in the run-up to Iraq, but my recollection is that this consideration was a distant second or third to other objectives. I do not think it is accurate to characterize the invasion of Iraq as motivated primarily by humanitarian concerns, and I didn’t think the U.S. had a strong case for self-defense.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    John Henry,

    you don’t believe the U.S. had a legitimate claim to acting in self-defense (as I didn’t), doesn’t that preclude the invasion regardless of proportionality?

    Legitimate defense can apply to the defense of others, including the population of the country itself. I don’t believe anyone argued that Iraq was a direct military threat to the US. They were in no means capable of attacking the continental US, and nobody argued it. What was argued (irrefutably), was that Iraq was a threat to it’s neighbors and by extension to legitimate US security interests. It’s apparent attempt to develop WMD only heightened the level of that threat.

    do not think it is accurate to characterize the invasion of Iraq as motivated primarily by humanitarian concerns

    correct, but this justification doesn’t require us to have this primary motivation as the primary goal (provided the end itself is not immoral).

    I didn’t think the U.S. had a strong case for self-defense

    How many National Security briefings were you privy to? The same number as the Holy Father, and the USCCB? I’m not saying you don’t have a right to your opinion and voice, we all do, and must express them. At the end of the day, we are not aware of much of the information that the president has. Even conservative commentators have stated that Bush was no longer best equipped to make such judgments the day after he took office.

  • John Henry says:

    What was argued (irrefutably), was that Iraq was a threat to it’s neighbors and by extension to legitimate US security interests. It’s apparent attempt to develop WMD only heightened the level of that threat.

    Well, part of the difficulty with Just war theory is that the standards are unavoidably ambiguous. At a high level of generality I suppose Iraq was a threat to its neighbors in the same way Iran is a threat to Israel, and Israel, Iran; the same way India is to Pakistan and Pakistan is to Israel; and the same way that Russia is to its former satellites. But my interpretation is that the threat should be more imminent than the general threat that exists any time countries have long-standing animosities and military capability, otherwise Just War theory is basically a green light to attack whenever you feel ‘threatened’ in some sense. To me Iraq was not sufficiently distinguishable as an imminent threat, and this rendered our response illegitimate. It’s hard to argue it was in ‘self-defense’ or even defense when no attack was imminent.

    How many National Security briefings were you privy to? The same number as the Holy Father, and the USCCB?

    Judging by the reliability of some of the pre-war intelligence, one may have been better off not being in those briefings…

  • Matt McDonald says:

    John Henry,
    Well, part of the difficulty with Just war theory is that the standards are unavoidably ambiguous. At a high level of generality I suppose Iraq was a threat to its neighbors in the same way Iran is a threat to Israel

    Generality? So training and funding terrorists to blow up school buses and markets is just a “general” threat? You’re joking right?

    and Israel, Iran

    Israel is only a threat to Iran because of it’s own attacks by proxy against Israel. The threat is by no means “general”… if Iran gets to close to it’s bomb, Israel will attack, be assured of that.

    the same way India is to Pakistan

    It’s a different situation there, far different, and not “general” either. There is a threat though, and under the right theoretical circumstances either party may be justified in attacking, of course those circumstances couldn’t exist because of proportionality.

    It’s hard to argue it was in ’self-defense’ or even defense when no attack was imminent.

    Aside from the attacks which were ongoing against our aircraft performing a legitimate humanitarian and security function?

    I think part of your problem here, is that you are trying to deal with all of the justifications in isolation from the other, that is not giving you the whole picture. Iraq was violating the terms of the truce, the whole purpose of a truce is that it prevents the offender from being able re-arm and pursue it’s agenda again.

    How many National Security briefings were you privy to? The same number as the Holy Father, and the USCCB?

    Judging by the reliability of some of the pre-war intelligence, one may have been better off not being in those briefings.

    You and I are STILL not in a good position to know everything the president knew, nor do either of us know if Syria is now in possesion of Iraqi WMD materials or technology. Even IF the intelligence was as bad as you might think, it doesn’t change the the moral justification if it was reasonably believed to be accurate.

    Mark D,

    did you think that Iraq had missiles, bombers or warships capable of attacking US soil? I never heard anyone claim such, but maybe you have different sources than I.

  • While I don’t necessarily agree with every detail of what Matt said above, I think he’s pretty clearly right that no one serious claimed that Iraq was a direct military threat to the US back in the lead up to the war. There was a lot of discussion of Iraq’s potential to cause trouble for us in Afghanistan or to provide aid to terrorists who would in turn attack us directly, but aside from shooting at our planes in the No Fly Zone, Iraq wasn’t really capable of being a direct military threat to us.

    Thus, if one takes just war as only applying in situation which are directly self defensive in nature, than I would see a pretty clear argument that the way isn’t just. It doesn’t seem to me, however, that just war must always be defensive. I already pointed out the possibility of “humanitarian” wars, and I would tend to consider removing a manifestly aggressive and oppressive regime that was destablizing the region as a reasonable casus belli in certain situations.

    At root: I think that getting rid of Hussein’s baathist regime was the right thing to do in 1991, and short of it massively changing its way of behaving (which it clearly hadn’t) I continued to support removing it at any point thereafter.

    It’s perhaps key that the Vatican opposed the original Gulf War as well (which strikes me as odd, in that that struck me as a pretty classic example of a just war) and so I’m hardly surprised that they opposed continuing it to its logical conclusion.

  • John Henry says:

    It doesn’t seem to me, however, that just war must always be defensive…

    Is this view in tension with Just War theory as it is presented in the Catechism? Granted, the CCC is a starting point rather than the definitive understanding, but it seems to suggest that ‘self-defense’ is the primary consideration, and when it sets forth the Just War conditions it says: ‘the strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force…’.

    I already pointed out the possibility of “humanitarian” wars,

    I think the use of force for humanitarian intervention can be justified under the right circumstances, but I do not think Iraq was understood to be primarily a humanitarian enterprise. This is a different type of ‘defense,’ but it is still defense.

    At root: I think that getting rid of Hussein’s baathist regime was the right thing to do in 1991, and short of it massively changing its way of behaving (which it clearly hadn’t) I continued to support removing it at any point thereafter.

    Well, I guess the point is moot now, but while I think this justification works theoretically, it’s always left me cold. I tend to think there was an end to the hostilities in the original Gulf War, and that the renewal of large-scale military activity required a separate justification. That said, aside from diplomatic considerations (the appearance of Vatican-sanctioned Christians v. Muslims), I’ve always thought the original Gulf War was basically a slam dunk case for military intervention. The U.S. was not directly threatened, but they stepped in, along with much of the international community, to assist in the restoration of Kuwaiti sovereignty. I’ve always been puzzled by the Vatican’s opposition to the original Gulf War.

  • Wj says:

    How can anybody seriously claim that Iraq was bit presented as a direct threat to the US in 2002-2003? Doesn’t anybody remember that the imminent threat of Iraq justified preemptive war?

  • John Henry says:

    Matt,

    Here’s George Weigel, for example, in January 2003:

    As recently as the Korean War (and, some would argue, the Vietnam War), “defense against aggression” could reasonably be taken to mean a defensive military response to a cross-border military aggression already underway. New weapons capabilities and outlaw or “rogue” states require a development of the concept of “defense against aggression.” To take an obvious current example: it makes little moral sense to suggest that the United States must wait until a North Korea or Iraq or Iran actually launches a ballistic missile tipped with a nuclear, biological, or chemical weapon of mass destruction before we can legitimately do something about it. Can we not say that, in the hands of certain kinds of states, the mere possession of weapons of mass destruction constitutes an aggression—or, at the very least, an aggression waiting to happen?

    This “regime factor” is crucial in the moral analysis, for weapons of mass destruction are clearly not aggressions waiting to happen when they are possessed by stable, law-abiding states…If the “regime factor” is crucial in the moral analysis, then preemptive military action to deny the rogue state that kind of destructive capacity would not, in my judgment, contravene the “defense against aggression” concept of just cause. Indeed, it would do precisely the opposite, by giving the concept of “defense against aggression” real traction in the world we must live in, and transform.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    John Henry,

    this citation does not suggest that the threat is directly against the US. In fact it’s clear from his use of the Korean War, and Vietnam that Weigel is not necessarily concerned with direct military threats to the US, but also with with threats against neighbors and threats against US interests.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    John Henry,

    “…it makes little moral sense to suggest that the United States must wait until a North Korea to attack South Korea or Japan, or Iraq to invade Kuwait again, or Saudi Arabiaor Iran…” attack Israel.

    Now, the scenarios I listed are all eminently more realistic than the idea that Iraq attacking the US directly. The scenarios are also very real threats to US and world security.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    John Henry,

    The scenarios are also very real threats to US and world security.

    Exactly the point. It was argued that preemption was necessary to protect against “real threats to US” security.

    Ok, so what do we disagree on? I’m simply arguing that an unrealistic direct attack by Iraq on the US was not the used to justify the invasion, but a very real threat of Iraq attacking other nations in the region causing instability and a serious impact to US security.

    We can disagree on the level of threat or whether it provides sufficient justification, but it has to be based on an acknowledgment of the facts. Iraq was a serious threat to the region and indirectly to the US.

  • John Henry says:

    Matt,

    It seems to me that Weigel himself suggests that the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iraq could constitute a direct threat to the U.S.. I don’t know why you thought it was particularly relevant to alter his phrasing to add other countries; he only mentioned the U.S.

    Here’s Bush in the 2003 State of the Union, suggesting Iraq could provide such weapons to terrorists:

    Our nation and the world must learn the lessons of the Korean Peninsula and not allow an even greater threat to rise up in Iraq. A brutal dictator, with a history of reckless aggression, with ties to terrorism, with great potential wealth will not be permitted to dominate a vital region and threaten the United States….

    And this Congress and the American people must recognize another threat. Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of Al Qaeda. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/onpolitics/transcripts/bushtext_012803.html

    Iraq was described as a threat to the United States, often a direct one, and a preemptive attack was justified on those grounds.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    John Henry,

    Weigel did not say ““…it makes little moral sense to suggest that the United States must wait until a North Korea or Iraq or Iran…” to attack the US.

    What did he mean? It’s entirely likely he meant attacking neighbors in the region. Which is an indirect attack (as would, say putting a nuclear weapon in the hands of Al Queda).

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