TCS Daily

Bush's Blunder

By Lee Harris - April 15, 2003 12:00 AM

When I first heard that we were announcing our attack on Iraq as a war of liberation, I was horrified.

I thought that it was possible that we could be greeted by segments of the Iraq people as liberators; but I was firmly persuaded that the attack on Iraq was justified for a whole host of other reasons, many of which I have spelled out in my articles for TCS. Hence, I reasoned, why take the risk of claiming to be liberators if we were not absolutely one hundred percent sure that we would be seen as liberators.

And how could we possibly be sure?

Yes, the Iraqi people had been subjected to decades of tyranny and brutality, but this was no guarantee that they would be happy to be free of it. And, indeed, during the first week or so of the war, we were confronted with evidence that many in Iraq were prepared to fight and die in order to keep the regime of Saddam Hussein in power.

This was alarming, and yet should it have surprised us? Men have fought valiantly for Hitler and for Stalin-why not for Saddam Hussein?

And it was at this point that I became convinced that Bush had made a terrible, and even childish, blunder-he should never have declared us to be coming as liberators until after we had actually found ourselves greeted as liberators.

Of course, in hindsight you can say, So what? We were greeted as liberators. So Bush's hunch proved right. Big deal.

But that was not the point of my criticism. What bothered me was that the Bush administration had gone so unnecessarily far out on a limb as to virtually predict an outcome that was by no means a foregone conclusion prior to the commencement of the war. Yes, it might happen; and I believed it might happen; but would I have bet the farm on it? No. But Bush did.


This question nagged me because it was the first time I had found myself thinking that the Bush administration had failed to act with sufficient political realism. Indeed, I felt that it had let wishful thinking influence its judgment.

Now while it is better to wishfully think the Americans will be greeted as liberators, like George Bush, than to wishfully think that they will be mowed down by the Republic Guard, like Robert Fisk-nevertheless, all wishful thinking is to be avoided by those who must make decisions for other people in matters of their life and death. And this is why I was so disturbed by what I regarded as a failure of judgment on the part of a man whose chief claim to our attention is his prudence.

Now for one of Bush's critics, this would present no problem. He would simply write it off to Bush's stupidity, and that's it. But I have already argued in a previous essay, "George Bush and the Cunning of Stupidity," that it is inadvisable to do this. And so, taking my own advice, I didn't, but sat down and thought about it a while.

Whereupon a revelation hit me.

It was not wishful thinking, but a carefully weighed gamble. Bush knew full well that the people of Iraq might not greet us liberators, in which case he also knew full well that he would be derided for having made such an outrageous claim. But he calculated that it was a risk worth taking for one simple reason.

He had no other choice. Not when looked at from the big picture.

What, after all, was the real aim of the war?

It was to give a shock treatment to the Arab psyche. Not through the shock and awe of the American bombing, but through the shock and awe of Saddam Hussein's collapse, to be followed by the shock and awe-and nausea and horror-that will accompany the recital of the crimes of this pathological and monstrous regime. It was all designed to make the Arab mind wake up from the somnambulistic fantasy in which it has been wandering ever more dangerously-both to us and to itself-for far too long. And can anyone possibly believe that it is a good thing for the vast majority of the Arab world to look up to a man like Saddam Hussein?

The war was a way of shouting to the Arab street: "This is what Saddam Hussein was really like. This is the man you made a hero. This is the person you marched for-the person you hailed. Look at him closely and see the magnitude of your folly."

It is a searing truth, and one that will cause immense grief and pain as all disillusionment must do. And yet, it is precisely out of this grief and pain that the Arab mind might begin to find its way back to reality-a transformation that, in the long run, will benefit it even more than it will benefit us.

And that is why Bush risked his political prestige in the pursuit of a metaphor that might well have dangerously backfired on him. He took this risk because he knew that it was the only way that the Iraqi people could bear the heavy dose of reality that had to be administered to them as the price of their freedom.

Bush was offering the imagination of the Iraqi people-both those now living and those of future generations-a way of preserving their honor. By presenting the Americans as their liberators, Bush permitted the Iraqi people to welcome them as their liberators, and without the slightest loss of dignity. Because of Bush's blunder, they were not servilely bowing before their conquerors, but gratefully embracing fellow human beings who had helped them in their hour of need.

It takes more than intelligence to think like that-it takes a gentleman.

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