Going on the attack
By Allan Saxe
Special to the Star-Telegram
Criticism of President Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq based on that country's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction continues without abatement.
The Downing Street memo recently surfaced in Britain. It implied that Bush wanted the war no matter what and that he used the WMD issue as a pretext.
Having been criticized for a lack of post-war planning, Bush ironically is being chastised for a surfeit of pre-war planning.
Nations have always used various reasons -- usually dramatic, oversimplified and visual -- as pretexts for war. This simple, sound-bite approach often obfuscates real and more complicated motivations.
The Declaration of Independence specifically mentions a variety of grievances in support of the revolution against Britain. However, some Tories believed that these were mere excuses to break away from Britain and place power in other hands.
The Declaration was not entirely accurate in describing situational realities. But its language inspired and motivated those fighting against the British empire.
The Civil War was about slavery. One of President Lincoln's concerns was to keep the "peculiar institution" from spreading to Western territories. But Lincoln also wanted to bring the South back into the Union, stabilize national government and fully assert national sovereignty.
Earlier in U.S. history, border skirmishes ostensibly led to the Mexican-American War. Adding to the war fever was the incorporation of Texas into the United States and defining the border between Texas and Mexico. The outcome was an expanded United States that would alter our political geography forever. Was this the main underlying reason for the war?
The sinking of the battleship Maine was used to mobilize the nation for the Spanish-American War in 1898. However, the sinking may have been a cover for American power expansionism in the face of a debilitated and weary Spanish empire.
And so it goes with Bush.
A simple justification was given for the war in Iraq, one that the public could comprehend easily: weapons of mass destruction. Bush and his advisers believed that Iraq could be defeated swiftly and made into a base for American power. Look at the geography: Iraq is bordered by Jordan, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
It is easy to understand the temptation to intervene in a nation that had given us troubles for many years, the underlying reasons obscured.
But for Bush, even without the weapons of mass destruction, the decision to go to war in Iraq was a strategic move to have a major presence in Iraq: to spread democracy, protect oil in the region, provide an object lesson and keep a watchful eye on Iran.
It's easier to mobilize a nation to war with simple sound bites than with complicated geopolitical scenarios. This does not mean that all wars are unnecessary or completely contrived.
The story of Iraq is still a long way from the concluding chapters.
Despite historically oversimplifying calls to war, the world is still much better off with a powerful United States of America.
Allan Saxe is an associate professor of political science at UT-Arlington. (817) 548-5558
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