Right Hook

State of the Bush doctrine: Iraq-war hawks wonder whether administration distortions of prewar intelligence now cast an "ugly shadow" on U.S. foreign policy. Plus: "Dean Loses It."

By Mark Follman
January 22, 2004 3:40AM (UTC)
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A year ago in his State of the Union address, President Bush inveighed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction that posed "a serious and mounting threat to our country," effectively setting the U.S. on the path to war. In his annual speech before Congress and the country on Tuesday night, Bush continued to champion his doctrine of preventive war against global terrorism and "rogue nations" that abet terrorists. But the weapons Bush warned about a year ago have yet to be found in post-Saddam Iraq; and increasingly, some supporters of Bush's war on Iraq are worrying about just how much damage prewar exaggerations and overstatements have done to American credibility -- and security.

In the January/February issue of the Atlantic Monthly, former CIA analyst and National Security Council luminary Kenneth Pollack -- a mainstream Democrat and former Clinton administration advisor whose book "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq" gave Bush some cover to his left -- now raises some serious doubts about the Bush administration's rationale for the invasion. Pollack kept a noticeably low profile in the media following the fall of Baghdad. The administration's interpretation of U.S. intelligence had Pollack, like many other Washington hawks, convinced that U.S. forces would uncover a vast, deadly arsenal there. But while he continues to believe Saddam had to go, Pollack now sees severe consequences resulting from the Bush administration's Machiavellian policymaking:


"The one action for which I cannot hold Administration officials blameless is their distortion of intelligence estimates when making the public case for going to war ...

"The President is responsible for serving the entire nation. Only the administration has access to all the information available to various agencies of the U.S. government -- and withholding or downplaying some of that information for its own purposes is a betrayal of that responsibility ...

"The case for war -- and for war sooner rather than later -- was certainly less compelling than it appeared at the time. At the very least we should recognize that the Administration's rush to war was reckless even on the basis of what we thought we knew in March of 2003. It appears even more reckless in light of what we know today."


Pollack calls on President Bush to address the issue directly, for the sake of American credibility and future foreign policy.

"The U.S. government must admit to the world that it was wrong about Iraq's WMD and show that it is taking far-reaching action to correct the problems that led to this error. Iraq is not going to be the last foreign-policy challenge in which we must make choices based on ambiguous evidence. When the United States confronts future challenges, the exaggerated estimates of Iraq's WMD will loom like an ugly shadow over the diplomatic discussions. Fairly or not, no foreigner trusts U.S. intelligence to get it right anymore, or trusts the Bush Administration to tell the truth."

Pollack is equally critical of the administration's "fatally flawed" postwar planning -- and he's not alone among Washington war hawks. Weekly Standard editor in chief William Kristol, who has previously spanked the administration for equivocating about postwar complications, suggests the White House needs to reassess its policies if the reconstruction of Iraq is to succeed: "There have to be adjustments on anything on the scale of Iraq. The problem is that the Bush administration has an aversion to admitting that they are changing course."


And war supporter Kenneth Adelman, a member of the Pentagon's Defense Advisory Board, told the Washington Post this week that the mirage of WMD in Iraq could debilitate Bush's national security policy when it comes to future threats from ostensibly hostile nations such as Iran and North Korea.

"'The foreign policy blow-back is pretty serious,' [Adelman] said. He [added that] the gaps between the administration's rhetoric and the postwar findings threaten Bush's doctrine of 'preemption,' which envisions attacking a nation because it is an imminent threat.


"The doctrine 'rests not just on solid intelligence,' Adelman said, but 'also on the credibility that the intelligence is solid.'"

"Dean Loses It"
Much of the media, not to mention conservative commentators, spent the weeks leading up to the Iowa caucuses trying to tear down Democratic front-runner Howard Dean. It comes as no surprise, then, that right-wingers quickly seized on Dean's hoarse, fiery battle cry in Iowa late Monday night, once again looking to cast him as inherently angry, unstable and unfit to lead. In a piece titled "Dean Loses It," Byron York, White House correspondent for the National Review, first feigned sober analysis, but then couldn't help flirting with cartoonish character assassination:

"Dean's speech, delivered at his headquarters in Des Moines, stunned even some observers used to his displays of anger on the campaign trail. And in the days after the caucuses it is sure to spark discussion of Dean's emotional intensity and whether such intensity should be a disqualifying characteristic for a potential president.


"The speech didn't start badly ... [Dean put] a perfectly reasonable gloss ... on the unfavorable election results. But Dean quickly took on a red-faced, shouting, teeth-baring, air-punching demeanor unlike any of his performances during the campaign ...

"He let out a strange, extended, yelp that seemed to come from deep within him: 'YAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!'..."

York concludes that Dean must simply be out to lunch, or has cracked under all the pressure:


"At times in his speech, Dean's demeanor seemed that of a man who was not aware of how he looked to outside observers. In the last days of the Iowa contest he had undergone the extreme stress of a candidate losing control of a campaign he had once dominated."

York's colleague at the National Review Online, contributor David Frum, addresses what is perhaps a more pressing issue for conservatives regarding Dean's performance in Iowa -- that his poor showing could mean a tougher race for President Bush:

"From a purely selfish partisan point of view, I'm sorry that Dean did not do better: He was and remains the most beatable of all the major candidates. But partisanship isn't everything. The Democratic voters of Iowa spotted the worst candidate and the worst man in the race, and soundly thrashed him."

TV comedian turned terrorism hawk
Dennis Miller, whose strange career path winds from "Saturday Night Live" to host of ABC's "Monday Night Football" to Fox News pundit, explains to the New York Times why he has abandoned the political left in favor of his own offbeat brand of conservatism.


"'I've always been a pragmatist,' [Miller] said. 'If two gay guys want to get married, it's none of my business. I could care less. More power to them. I'm happy when people fall in love. But if some idiot foreign terrorist wants to blow up their wedding to make a political statement, I would rather kill him before he can do it, or have my country kill him before he can do it, instead of having him do it and punishing him after the fact. If that makes me a right-wing fanatic, I will bask in that assignation.'

"Mr. Miller said he remained socially liberal. 'I think abortion's wrong, but it's none of my business to tell somebody what's wrong,' he said. 'So I'm pro-choice. I want to keep my nose out of other people's personal business. I guess I fall into conservative when it comes to protecting the United States in a world where a lot of people hate the United States.'

"The Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Miller said, changed him. 'Everybody should be in the protection business now,' he said. 'I can't imagine anybody not saying that. Well, I guess on the farthest end of the left they'd say, 'That's our fault.' And on the middle end they'd say, 'Well, there's another way to deal with it other than flat-out protecting ourselves.' I just don't believe that. People say we're the ones who make them hate us because of what we do. That's garbage to me. I think they're nuts. And you've got to protect yourself from nuts.'"

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Read more of "Right Hook," Salon's weekly roundup of conservative commentary and analysis here.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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2004 Elections Howard Dean Iraq Middle East State Of The Union