Bush's perversion of the "war on terror."

Politics and policy.
Sept. 8 2003 4:54 PM

Mission Creep

Bush's perversion of the "war on terror."

A $87 billion misrepresentation
A $87 billion misrepresentation

For more than a year, President Bush has framed Iraq as part of the "war on terror." And for more than a year, he has produced no evidence for that claim. No evidence of a link between Iraq and 9/11. No evidence of an affinity between Saddam Hussein's secular tyranny and the fundamentalists of al-Qaida. No evidence of a terrorist presence in Iraq greater than in other Arab or Muslim countries. No evidence that Iraq offered weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

In his address to the nation Sunday night, Bush offered two new arguments for declaring Iraq "the central front" in the war on terror. If you buy those arguments, he's right. But before you buy them, stop and think about how far afield they would take us from the war we embarked on two years ago.

Advertisement

Bush wants us to support his postwar Iraq policy as reflexively as we supported the war on al-Qaida in Afghanistan. That's why he delivered this speech just before the anniversary of 9/11. "Nearly two years ago, following deadly attacks on our country, we began a systematic campaign against terrorism," he recalled in his opening remarks. "America and a broad coalition acted first in Afghanistan … and we acted in Iraq."

How was our action in Iraq part of the campaign against terrorism? The old argument, which Bush repeated Sunday, was that Saddam "sponsored terrorism." But again, Bush offered no evidence that Saddam had done so in a way different from Iran, Syria, or even Saudi Arabia. Instead, Bush argued that regardless of whether terrorists in Iraq were at war with us two years ago, they are today. As Bush put it,

Five months after we liberated Iraq, a collection of killers is desperately trying to undermine Iraq's progress and throw the country into chaos. … Some of the attackers are foreign terrorists, who have come to Iraq to pursue their war on America and other free nations. … The terrorists have a strategic goal. They want us to leave Iraq before our work is done. They want to shake the will of the civilized world. In the past, the terrorists have cited the examples of Beirut and Somalia, claiming that if you inflict harm on Americans, we will run from a challenge. In this, they are mistaken. ... We will do what is necessary, we will spend what is necessary, to achieve this essential victory in the war on terror.

Second, Bush argued that ousting Arab tyrants is inherently necessary to the war on terror:

The Middle East will either become a place of progress and peace, or it will be an exporter of violence and terror that takes more lives in America and in other free nations. The triumph of democracy and tolerance in Iraq, in Afghanistan and beyond would be a grave setback for international terrorism. The terrorists thrive on the support of tyrants and the resentments of oppressed peoples. When tyrants fall and resentment gives way to hope, men and women in every culture reject the ideologies of terror and turn to the pursuits of peace.

Think for a minute about what these two arguments entail. The first justifies any war in which, as a result of our actions, terrorists attack our troops. Imagine an invasion of Cuba, whose dictator has long rankled Bush and would be easier to topple than Saddam was. No doubt al-Qaida and other terrorist groups would send agents to try to kill the occupying troops. Bush could then defend the occupation as part of the "war on terror."

The second argument is equally fraught with implications. Yes, tyranny breeds terrorism. But if the "war on terror" requires us to overthrow tyrants just because they're tyrants, we'll be at war for the rest of your life.

If you opposed the Iraq war because you saw no connection to 9/11 or because you didn't trust Bush, his creepy redefinition of the "war on terror" vindicates your suspicions. But if, like me, you supported the Iraq war for other reasons, Bush's linguistic revisionism still matters. I supported the Iraq war because Saddam repeatedly violated the disarmament and inspection agreements that constituted his probation after the Persian Gulf War, and because the U.N. Security Council showed no willingness, even at the brink of a U.S. invasion, to embrace a serious timetable for enforcing those agreements. We did what had to be done. But it didn't have to be done to protect the United States from an imminent threat. It had to be done to preserve the credibility of international law enforcement, such as it is.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.