Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Why George Bush decided to invade Iraq

This subject remains largely unresolved in the current debate. I will make no attempt to justify his actions, which I believe to have been one of the greatest strategic blunders in American history, regardless of any moral arguments. I will, however, attempt to delve into his mind a bit to figure out what was going on and what logic he used to make the decision. Remember, understanding why someone does something is not the same as justifying it or making it somehow “okay.”

If we are to believe Barber’s typology is a useful method for examining a president, then it would appear that he is a “passive-negative” personality. He clearly handles much by delegation and his religious approach to life lends an ability to trust in things outside of himself. It has been argued that he appears to not enjoy the office, not to say he hates his job. The jabs he takes on late night comedy sketches as a man who is anxious for his term to be ended appears to be based on some truth, albeit not the exact angle Saturday Night Live would have us believe. Thus, according to Barber, he is the rarest version of presidential psychology. This sort of person is motivated by a sincere sense of duty.

Assuming we are correct in this analysis, we can then begin to understand why he reached certain decisions. In this way, the presidency of George W. Bush appears to not be significantly different than others, particularly those of presidents with strong personal views as to the nature of the world and the role that duty plays in determining the correct response to that nature. Following the events of September 11, 2001, he became convinced that to accept the status quo in the Middle East was to accept future attacks on American (and democratic) interests. He decided that the status quo had to be modified and took active steps in that venture. Taking the responsibilities of the office of the Presidency seriously, he was convinced that it was his duty to defend it by all means necessary. To do less was to violate the very words of his oath of office, i.e., to “…preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. (US Constitution, Article 2, Section 1).

With the quick and seemingly cheap successes in Afghanistan, it is not a long leap of logic to assume that one can do similar things in Iraq, to remove a thorn in the American side and an individual who seemingly was going to continue to bring about unrest in the region. Additionally, with lingering doubts at the time as to whether or not Saddam Hussein actually had nuclear weapons (or chemical or biological weapons), the conservative response would be to assume and plan for the worse situation. (Remember…every intelligence agency in the world was reasonably certain that if he did not actually have nuclear weapons, he had the capability to manufacture them quickly and were certain he had chemical weapons.)

If a nuclear weapon in the hands of Saddam and possibly the terrorists is even possible, let alone probable, by this intense sense of duty it would be unthinkable to not take action. Vice President Cheney’s discussions of the “one percent doctrine” point this out. To ignore even a small chance that something terrible was possible was tantamount to incompetence and malfeasance. ''Whether Cheney's innovations were tailored to match Bush's inclinations, or vice versa, is almost immaterial….It was a firm fit. Under this strategic model, reading the entire N.I.E. would be problematic for Bush: it could hem in the president's rhetoric, a key weapon in the march to war. He would know too much (Suskind 2006).''

By changing the status quo, he would increase the odds that long-term intractable issues in the Middle East could be moved from their seemingly unshakable bases and take a new, hopefully more beneficial, course for the future. Indeed, there is not much doubt that the status quo has been changed, although it appears that we will not know to what end for some time, perhaps decades.

In this matter, then, it appears that George W. Bush is not so different than Ronald Reagan. Reagan was attacked roundly for his aggressive language and actions vis a vis the Soviet Union. He was convinced, however, that the Soviet Union was evil incarnate and that to do nothing was unthinkable. Bush is certainly convinced that extremist Islamic terrorism is evil incarnate. His word and actions tell us that. Reagan was lucky that the Soviet empire eventually collapsed. Bush, like Reagan, may have to wait decades to learn if his actions started the necessary mechanisms rolling in the right direction. Just as Reagan experienced, pundits and the opposition party are quite sure Bush is wrong. Bush is quite sure he is right, even in the face of unpopularity.