Getting Bush Right

Why Did Bush Go to War?
E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
Oct. 23 2008 10:11 AM

Getting Bush Right

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Dear Ron, Bob, and Oliver:

Before I respond to Oliver, I'd like to take up Bob's assertion that we know why Bush went to war in Iraq. Bob, thanks more than anything to your four books, we do know an amazing amount about the circumstances. But I'm with Ron in thinking that basic mysteries about the decision remain. Among the questions I'd like to have answers to:

Jacob  Weisberg Jacob Weisberg

Jacob Weisberg is chairman and editor-in-chief of The Slate Group and author of The Bush Tragedy. Follow him on Twitter.

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—On what date did Bush make the decision?
—Where was he when he made the decision?
—Who else was in the room?
—What did he think his reason was at the time?

In explaining why you think Bush went to war, you mention a number of different reasons, which aren't mutually exclusive:

1) 9/11 created an atmosphere of peril.
2) Bush believed Saddam had WMD.
3) He thought the war would be easy.
4) There was a lot of momentum toward war.
5) Bush was impatient with the U.N. inspections.
6) He thinks America has a duty to liberate oppressed peoples.

Members of Bush's war council, including Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rice, and Rumsfeld, had additional reasons that may have influenced him as well. Among them:

7) They thought Saddam was helping al-Qaida.
8) They thought Saddam had supported terrorism against the United States.
9) To stop Saddam's violations of human rights.
10) To show American power and resolve.
11) To catalyze democratic change in the Middle East.
12) To prove we could win wars with better technology and fewer troops.
13) Enough with this creep already.

Others have proposed possible personal and unconscious reasons that pushed Bush toward war:

14) To protect his father and his family.
15) To get revenge on his father's enemy.
16) To fix his father's mistake in leaving Saddam in power.
17) To fix Clinton's mistake of letting the problem fester.
18) To prove himself a strong and consequential leader.

Oliver's film suggests a few more possible reasons.

19) To secure access to Iraqi oil.
20) To set the stage for an assault on Iran.
21) To create a new American empire.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. And it's likely that Bush's decision was made for some combination of these reasons (or at least of the first 18 of them). It's also possible that the conclusion was overdetermined—that Bush just thought, "There are so many good reasons for getting rid of Saddam, I don't need to decide exactly why we're doing it."

Bush's rationales have shifted over time. Unless he keeps a secret diary, I seriously doubt he could give an accurate answer to the question himself. As Rumsfeld might put it, the issue of why Bush went to war is a known unknown.