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Juan Cole: President Bush's Incoherent News Conference

Juan Cole, in his blog (April 14, 2004):

I saw President Bush's news conference Tuesday evening. He said many things
that disturbed me, not in any partisan sort of way (and I continue to
maintain that simple partisanship makes for bad analysis), but on grounds
of ethics and clear thinking and democratic values. I got the transcript
and began arguing back, but could see it could go on for hours. And
probably others would do a better job. But, since bytes are cheap, I may as
well post what I put down; this is a diary of sorts, after all.

' THE PRESIDENT: [Referring to the analogy between Iraq and Vietnam] I think the analogy is false. I also happen to think that
analogy sends the wrong message to our troops, and sends the wrong message
to the enemy. '

If a historical analogy is offered as a cautionary tale or a form of
analysis of a contemporary situation, it has to be judged on its own
merits. Making such analogies is a form of democratic discourse, and it is
the sort of thing that the Bill of Rights meant to protect when it said
that the government shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. To
say that bringing it up"sends the wrong message to our troops" and to"the
enemy" is to attempt to prevent democratic discourse on the grounds that it
affects the morale of the democratic country's fighting forces and that it
might give encouragement to those they with whom they are at war.

But the troops are either fighting for democratic values or they are not.
If they are, then it is illogical to demand that the Republic forsake
democratic discourse because they are fighting for it. It would be like
saying that all Americans should turn in their firearms during the war, or
that Americans should cease worshipping in the religion of their choice
during the war. It is precisely the ability of American citizens to analyze
the nature of the war freely that the troops are defending. Moreover, the
"enemy" (though who exactly that is is unclear at the moment) is fighting
for his own reasons, and can hardly take any real comfort from the
existence of free and democratic discourse in the United States.

' A secure and free Iraq is an historic opportunity to change the world and
make America more secure. A free Iraq in the midst of the Middle East will
have incredible change . . . '

This premise is not necessarily true. Turkey has had relatively democratic
elections since 1950, but this development had no resonances in the rest of
the Middle East. Iran went theocratic in 1979, and Khomeini expected
everyone in the Middle East to follow suit. No one did. Saudi Arabia is
among the world's richest monarchies, but it has not spread monarchy in the
mainly republican Middle East. Middle Eastern countries are often fairly
insular with regard to politics, and every tub is on its own bottom. There
is no guarantee that a"free" and democratic Iraq will have any real
influence on the rest of the region.

At the moment, moreover, Iraq is a poster child for dictatorship. Any
Egyptian who looked at what has transpired there in the past year might
well decide that the soft dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak is altogether
preferable to taking the risk of opening up the system and possibly causing
a similar social breakdown!

' There's no question it's been a tough, tough series of weeks for the
American people. It's been really tough for the families. I understand
that. It's been tough on this administration. But we're doing the right
thing. . .. '

I find the equation of the way in which the loss of nearly 80 US troops and
the wounding of dozens has been"tough" on the American people, and the way
in which these events have been"tough" for the Bush administration to be
in bad taste.

Saddam Hussein was a threat.

It is difficult to see how a ruler whose army was so easy to defeat, and
who was reduced to hiding in a spider hole, was a threat to the United States.

' He was a threat because he had used weapons of mass destruction on his
own people. '

I should think this proves he was a threat to his own people.

' He was a threat because he coddled terrorists. '

I don't know what this means, to" coddle" terrorists. Either he sponsored
terrorist actions aimed at harming the United States directly, or he did
not. He probably did not, after 1993. The State Department did not even
list Iraq as a terrorist threat in recent years.

' He was a threat because he funded suiciders. '

Saddam Hussein never gave any real support to the Palestinian cause, and he
did not pay suicide bombers to blow themselves up. It is alleged that he
funneled money to the orphans of such suicide bombers, but I have never
seen any documentation for the claim. Supporting orphans is in any case not
the same as funding terrorism.

' He was a threat to the region. He was a threat to the United States. '

I can't see how, given the state of his military in 2003.

' That's the assessment that I made from the intelligence, the assessment
that Congress made from the intelligence; that's the exact same assessment
that the United Nations Security Council made with the intelligence. '

Key figures of the Bush administration, including the President, Vice
President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and National Security
Adviser Condi Rice consistently misled the Congress by intimating or
stating over and over again that Iraq was close to having nuclear weapons,
that it had weapons of mass destruction, and that it was responsible for
September 11 and had strong ties to al-Qaeda.

All of these allegations were completely false. Having stampeded Congress
into a hasty vote on the war in Iraq with this farrago of phantasies, to
now use Congress's acquiescence as proof that Iraq was dangerous is frankly

' I went to the U.N., as you might recall, and said, either you take care
of him, or we will. Any time an American President says, if you don't, we
will, we better be prepared to. And I was prepared to. I thought it was
important for the United Nations Security Council that when it says
something, it means something, for the sake of security in the world. '

So then would it not be equally important, if the Security Council said
"no" to a war, for that decision to be upheld by the United States? When it
says something, after all, it should mean something, for the sake of
security in the world.

' See, the war on terror had changed the calculations. We needed to work
with people. People needed to come together to work. And, therefore, empty
words would embolden the actions of those who are willing to kill
indiscriminately. '

I can't understand what this string of Bushisms could possibly mean. If
Bush needed to work with people, why did he blow off the Security Council
in March of 2003? If people needed to come together to work, wouldn't they
need to come together about launching a major war that affected the entire
world? Why then did Bush go to war virtually unilaterally (bilaterally at
most)? That wouldn't represent much in the way of"people"" coming
together." If empty words would embolden killers, wouldn't turning the
entire United Nations Charter, which forbids unilateral wars of aggression
without Security Council permission, into so much scrap paper be a way of
"emboldening" such killers?

' He also confirmed that Saddam had a -- the ability to produce biological
and chemical weapons. In other words, he was a danger. '

Saddam did not have any stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons at
all, and had no nuclear weapons program. Iraq has the same ability to
produce" chemical weapons" as all other industrializing societies do, no
more and no less. But Iraq did not have such weapons, and it is hardly a
casus belli that they had the potential to make them. So does Brazil, but
we haven't invaded it lately.

' Finally, the attitude of the Iraqis toward the American people -- it's an
interesting question. They're really pleased we got rid of Saddam Hussein. '

About half say the US presence in Iraq is a form of liberation. About half
say it is a form of humiliation..

' And they were happy -- they're not happy they're occupied. I wouldn't be
happy if I were occupied either. They do want us there to help with
security, and that's why this transfer of sovereignty is an important
signal to send, and it's why it's also important for them to hear we will
stand with them until they become a free country. '

What? I thought they were happy. Now you say they aren't happy. Which is it?