The imminent threat of silly obfuscation

So, people have criticised the decision of the “Coalition of the Willing” to go to war with Iraq. Said criticism is often based on the fact that Iraq did not pose an imminent threat. From this, a conclusion is drawn by some anti-war types that the Coalition misled us, because the Coalition based their argument for war on the idea that Iraq was an imminent threat, when it wasn’t.


The jump in the reasoning here is pretty obvious. As the pro-war pundits ask, when did anyone in the Coalition say Iraq was an imminent threat? Indeed, said pundits do even better, citing this quote from George Bush’s State of the Union address:



Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.

On this evidence, they say, Bush is “clearly conceding that the threat from Saddam was not imminent”, therefore, anti-war types are wrong to say we were misled.


Except “clearly conceding” may perhaps be overstating it. Indeed, it’s kind of fun to apply somewhat pedantic standards to the Bush quote. Bush did not say that “Iraq is an imminent threat”. He did not say that in the State of the Union speech, and he in fact never said that. However, Bush at no point said that “Iraq is not an imminent threat”. The State of the Union quote is not a clear statement on what the administration thought with respect to the imminence of any Iraqi threat; it’s merely a representation as to what “some have said”.


Splitting those hairs, I think that you can cite the State of the Union quote to show that, at least in that address, Bush did not explicitly base his case for war on the imminence of the threat. But the quote is equivocal on the question of whether the Coalition did in fact characterise Iraq as an imminent threat. Those are quite different issues.


On my reading, the quote simply says that, since “terrorists and tyrants” do not in general put “us on notice before they strike”, the only way to find out if the threat is imminent is the hard way. In other words, this quote is a variation on Bush’s “mushroom cloud” remark:


Knowing these realities, America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof — the smoking gun — that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

This quote is about Iraq, and it would appear to indicate an imminent threat.


Furthermore, it’s not the only such quote. There’s more in that same “mushroom cloud” speech of October 7, 2002:


Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists. Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints.

He goes on to say that Iraq is “a threat whose outlines are far more clearly defined” than Al Qaeda.


Donald Rumsfeld, testifying on September 18, 2002 before the House Armed Services Committee:


There are a number of terrorist states pursuing weapons of mass destruction — Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria to name but a few. But no terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people and the stability of the world than the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.



Some have argued that the nuclear threat from Iraq is not imminent, that Saddam Hussein is at least five to seven years away from having nuclear weapons. I would not be so certain.



But we should be just as concerned about the immediate threat from biological weapons. Iraq has these weapons. They’re simpler to deliver and even more readily transferred to terrorist networks, who could allow Iraq to deliver them without Iraq’s fingerprints.

You’ll remember this from the first British “dossier“:


Iraq’s military forces are able to use chemical and biological weapons, with command, control and logistical arrangements in place. The Iraqi military are able to deploy these weapons within 45 minutes of a decision to do so.

Which sounds fairly imminent to me. Also, from the White House press briefing of May 7, 2003:


Q Well, we went to war, didn’t we, to find these — because we said that these weapons were a direct and imminent threat to the United States? Isn’t that true?

MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely. One of the reasons that we went to war was because of their possession of weapons of mass destruction.

Or maybe you prefer October 16, 2002:


Q Ari, the President has been saying that the threat from Iraq is imminent, that we have to act now to disarm the country of its weapons of mass destruction, and that it has to allow the U.N. inspectors in, unfettered, no conditions, so forth.

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.

While the Ari Fleischer quotes don’t show that Bush said the threat was imminent, they do show a certain ease in allowing people to make this assumption.


In view of this, it’s no surprise that, as Tim Blair puts it [referring to an “‘imminent threat’ myth”]:


Jesse Jackson believes it…So does Gary Sauer-Thompson…And, going back a few months, Tim Dunlop, too.

Indeed, many people think “…the Bush Administration believe[d] that [Saddam] posed an imminent danger”, or that Bush and Blair “certainly articulated” a “case for urgency”. Or so said David Horowitz and William Kristol. Will Andrew Sullivan add them to his “imminence watch“?


Also, a funny compendium of the Bush administration’s greatest hits.

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cs
cs
2022 years ago

Well put together Roop. About time someone collected these quotes up.

Mork
Mork
2022 years ago

Great post, Roop. Blair and Sullivan seem to be engaged in some very peculiar hair-splitting.

I wonder what they would have said in the lead-up to the war if you told them that six months later, they’d be devoting their intellectual energies to trying to prove that no-one actually said that Iraq was a threat.

How the world turns!

W
W
2022 years ago

Good grief. Quoting Harper’s? Getting praise from Chris Shiel and Mork? Well, wog, we know what side of the fence you’re standing on.
No need to read further.
Cripes, what a descent this site has undertaken. And not cos it’s filled with lefties, Ken.
Cos it’s filled with stupid lefties.

Harper’s. I mean, puhlease. You’re not in Jim Nolan’s league, Roop.

Harper’s. Jeez.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Having got all that out w, you wouldn’t actually happen to have a substantive point perchance?

Mork
Mork
2022 years ago

W, no doubt Chris would be very amused to think that someone believes that he and I have similar political beliefs.

You seem to fall into that certain class of person that thinks of politics as a team sport in which you only criticise things that your ideological opponents say, and, conversely, that any criticism of your side must be ideologically motivated.

If I’ve said something critical of something written by you or one of your little heroes (Tim Blair, perhaps), it’s far more likely that I did so because I thought it was idiotic, not because it was an expression of any philosophy that I oppose.

But the distinction is probably too subtle for you to comprehend.

mark
2022 years ago

Great post (and well said, Mork).

Gary
2022 years ago

A refreshingly plausible case that Bush/Blair and Howard misled the public, Roop. Unfortunately spoiled by certain commentators using the same tactics that they charge there opponents with. I did and still do think there was an imminent not immediate threat if sanctions were lifted considering Saddams previous behaviour and the Kay report. Remember there was lobby groups and UNSC members trying to lift the sanctions in the late 90’s.

roop
2022 years ago

to W; look, i might be missing something here, cause it makes very little sense. but “wog”? am i seriously being called that?

i suppose i would take offence, if it wasn’t so funny. i mean jeebus, no one has called me that since prior to the 3rd grade, wherein the kids learnt that the correct term of derision for someone of an indian background is “curry”, or maybe “paki”. boy, you took me way back.

“Cripes, what a descent this site has undertaken. And not cos it’s filled with lefties, Ken.”

yeah ken, the real problem is those wogs.

James Russell
2022 years ago

Cripes, what a descent this site has undertaken.

Well fuck off and read something else then…

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Roop,

Yes I saw the word “wog” the second time I read “w”‘s comment, and could hardly believe anyone, however ignorant, could actually write such a thing. He/she probably refers to “niggers” as well (and wops, chinks, dagoes etc). It just lets us know that this is a person best treated with complete contempt.

craig
craig
2022 years ago

An escapee from Tim Blair’s site.

Gary
2022 years ago

If you did a little research I think you’ll find its a case of a pot calling a pot pot in W’s case, skippy’s.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Yes Ken … that was so far below the bar, I also missed it – or, I sort of saw it, and sort of didn’t believe it, and therefore sort of missed it – amid the ugly flow. Not to worry, with James’ safe hands and sure boot at fullback.

May the Wallabies mix their execution with such economy tomorrow. For armchair coaches (is that OK Wayne?), the thing to watch, I reckon, is the Flats-Bourke-Morts (aka ‘The man On The White Horse’) puzzle … although now I talking across too many posts …

nardo
2022 years ago

hey, for some people ‘wog’ is a compliment okay! best I ever got…

aj
aj
2022 years ago

Splitting those hairs, I think that you can cite the State of the Union quote to show that, at least in that address, Bush did not explicitly base his case for war on the imminence of the threat. But the quote is equivocal on the question of whether the Coalition did in fact characterise Iraq as an imminent threat.

I thought that early this year we all thought that (a) we weren’t sure if Iraq was an imminent threat – that was what the inspections were meant to determine, and (b) we all suspected there were reasonable odds that it could be, albeit only locally.

Given that, it seems completely unreasonable to expect Bush to tell people there isn’t an imminent threat, when not only does no one know, but everyone suspects there probably is. And the leap from “allowing people to mislead themselves” to “lying” seems to lower the bar way too much.

There’s a reasonable argument to be made that pre-emptive wars are dangerous and worrying. But as far as I remember, this war was always billed as being one of those, and pretending now that it wasn’t — that it was justified as being a necessary response to imminent aggression (ie, self-defence) just doesn’t seem honest. I might be wrong, but my understanding was that if it had been justified as that, the UN resolutions would have been irrelevant — it would have been a simple case of self-defense.

(I also really don’t like the obsessive focus on portraying Bush, Blair and Howard as “liars”. It smacks of ad hominem and emotional appeals. There’s important things to think about here, like whether the doctrine of pre-emption does make any sense — does the cost/benefit analysis of freeing Iraq make sense, given how much lower the costs turned out to be than most people expected? doesn’t it make sense to give Iraqis (or Zimbabweans) a chance at freedom, democracy, and globalisation if none of our troops die? does it make enough sense that we should be willing to make a real commitment to forcefully removing dictators and abusers of human rights given certain tactical/strategic situations, even when we might lose hundreds of troops, and spend months or years rebuilding the country? I know the neo-con view on this, and it seems to make sense, but when you get a lefty onto the topic, they start screaming about oil, and lying liars who lie, and well, whatever.)

wen
wen
2022 years ago

W is Wog of Wogblog fame….you can be certain he was casting aspersions on your ideas, Roop, & not your background.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

Ah! Does being called a wog by The Wog amount to racial abuse? Or is it more like a term of solidarity-invoking endearment?

I imagine it could be seen the same way as me calling another poof, a poof………or Ken calling another lawyer, a lawyer….