OPPORTUNITY IN IRAQ

I haven’t given up yet. My latest mood-swing in the Times of London.

THE LITTLE LIES: Two stories in the NYT this morning point to a paradox at the center of the administration’s case for war. Since, in my view, they got the big issue right, why did they get the little things so wrong? Two examples: if they knew that the captured Qaeda operative, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, was fibbing as early as February 2002, why did they include his tainted info in subsequent arguments for war? If they knew the real story behind the tragic death of Pat Tillman, why did they immediately lie about it? The same goes for the Niger connection. In my view, the case for not trusting Saddam with our security was solid without these embellishments. A candid, clear laying out of what we knew and didn’t know for sure would have won majority support for war against Saddam. So again, why these cut corners and shaded spin?

LIBBY AND LIBI: The same goes for the absurdly petty attempt to exact revenge on Joe Wilson. To put it bluntly: why did anyone in the administration give a flying turd about Joe Wilson? He was a bit-player, a liar, a non-entity, whose information did not even undermine the very carefully crafted words about Brits, uranium and Africa in the State of the Union. How paranoid, bitter, and defensive do you have to be to do what Libby did (in my view, almost certainly with Cheney’s permission)? Worse: these unnecessary fibs, spins, and deceptions have inevitably come back to haunt the very people who committed them – and to weaken public support for a war that it is still critical to win. A reader sharpens the point here:

There is an enormous difference between what you describe — “insufficient skepticism” — and what the evidence before us (some of which has been on the table for ages, some of which is now appearing to supplement the original case) suggests. You seem to think that there are only two options: willful deception and innocent “insufficient skepticism.” But there is a lot of room in between for reckless and irresponsible doctoring of the evidence. You keep mentioning the great risk (and consensus at the time) as if that justifies suppressing evidence that runs the other way. You’ve got it exactly backwards! In the face of such risk, it’s all the more important for our leaders to level with us about what they know! It’s not as if the only choices were to recklessly disregard opposing evidence or sit on our heels. The administration could have been upfront about what it knew, and what it didn’t know. It could have come forward with the opposing evidence, and made a strong case that, even despite this evidence — even despite Chalabi’s obvious lack of reliability, etc. — still the dangers were too great to do anything but invade. The public probably would have been on board — and if not, that would reflect the public’s judgment about what the right thing to do was.

Whether or not the actions were deliberately intended to deceive, or simply reflective of a reckless disregard for what the evidence showed, the upshot is that Cheney and his supporters put the entire enterprise at risk by ignoring — or attempting to suppress — opposing evidence. We are now witnessing what happens when a public feels that it didn’t get the full story about why it should send its sons and daughters to their deaths.

It seems to me that we are getting a better picture every day of how this administration screwed up its own war. They were defensive when they should have been candid; they were reckless when they should have been meticulously prepared for every outcome; they were insecure when they should have been forthcoming; they decided to divide, rather than unite the country. None of this means we should follow the anti-war movement and abort the mission. It simply means we have to be very skeptical of the key players in this war – Cheney and Rumsfeld above everyone – and try and prevent them from inflicting more damage on a noble cause.

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