Why Bush Didn’t Lie

My latest column, published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, explains why it doesn’t make sense to believe that Bush lied about WMD in Iraq. The gist:

One thing that never ceases to amaze me about the “Bush lied” crowd is that when it comes to Iraq, they ignore the fact that President Bush is a political animal. On other issues, they are quick to attribute Bush’s actions to Rovian political calculations, but when it comes to Iraq, they pretend that the president has no interest in winning elections…

Bush’s critics would have us believe that in a desperate attempt to gain support for the war, he began to exaggerate intelligence and outright lie to make it seem as though Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. But this requires believing that Bush knew that no WMD would be found in Iraq after the war. Why would Bush make false claims about WMD while advocating regime change – the one policy that would conclusively prove that all of his claims were untrue?

It’s one thing if Bush made a passing reference to WMD. But instead, his critics argue, he set himself up for further humiliation by making WMD the central rationale for the invasion of Iraq. As Bush’s critics have reminded us, his administration spoke of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and exploited the image of a “mushroom cloud.”

If Bush knew that these claims were false, why would he subject himself to global embarrassment with the 2004 presidential election approaching?

Viewed from a raw political perspective, the only explanation for Bush’s prewar statements that makes sense is that Bush did believe that Saddam had WMD that would be found once he was toppled. This would have bolstered Bush’s image as a war leader.

Read the whole thing here.

Chomsky v. Dershowitz, Continued…

Some defenders of Noam Chomsky have used the comment section to take issue with my post about Chomsky’s debate with Alan Dershowitz, and I’d like to respond. Although I don’t expect to convert anybody who shares Chomsky’s worldview, I would like to address some of the points, because they are often repeated in debates about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I give you fair warning that this is going to be a long one.

Chomsky’s defenders have criticized me because I accept Bill Clinton and U.S. negotiator Dennis Ross’s accounts of the 2000 peace process, in which they blame Arafat for the collapse of negotiations. During Tuesday’s debate, Chomsky scoffed at this view, instead blaming Israel for rejecting peace and he cited the scholarship of Israeli Ron Pundak, who was not present at Camp David during the negotiations. In an odd bit of logic, Chomsky’s defenders in my comment section argue that Pundak is a reliable source precisely because he wasn’t there–the people who were present were “?interested parties.” However, commenter Matt also says Pundak was “?in the background, involved in the negotiations” and that he was “?an ISRAELI source close to the Labour Party, i.e., the people who made the “historic offer.”” So, if Pundak was close to the people who made the offer and “?involved in the negotiations,” doesn’t that make him an “?interested party” too and therefore disqualify him as an objective source? I mean, it makes perfect sense that a liberal scholar such as Pundak, who favors more Israeli concessions, would argue that peace failed because Israel did not make Palestinians a good enough offer.

Furthermore, Chomsky makes a big deal of the fact that Pundak is Israeli, as if to say, “?see, even an Israeli recognizes that his own country was at fault.” But the fact that he is an Israeli scholar criticizing his own government demonstrates that Israel a free and open society where many different points of view are tolerated. In Arab countries, scholars cannot criticize the government so openly.

Also, Matt links to this article as reliable. Benny Morris, who Chomsky often cites as an authoritative source, responded to it here with an article based on an interview with Ehud Barak, who was the Israeli Prime Minister during the 2000 peace process.

Matt said that Dershowitz accused Chomsky of spreading conspiracy theories to dodge Chomsky’s points about Israeli atrocities. But what actually made Dershowitz accuse Chomsky of spreading conspiracy theories was Chomsky’s assertion that the U.S. media covered-up reports of a major transfer of U.S. helicopters to Israel at the outbreak of the Second Intifada. I think Chomsky said that it was the largest deal of its kind in ten years and that it was reported in Jane’s Defence Weekly. Unfortunately, Jane’s is a very expensive publication that I don’t have access to, so I cannot confirm if the deal happened or if it was as huge as Chomsky asserted. I will say, however, as somebody who has worked for a global news organization, Reuters, and who knows plenty of critics of Israel in the mainstream media, I find it hard to believe that this story would be intentionally suppressed. And since Chomsky presented no direct evidence of a media cover-up (i.e. in the form of, say, memos from news executives ordering reporters to ignore the story) it is perfectly valid to categorize Chomsky’s assertion as a theory.

I was also asked to respond to the statistic Chomsky cited about more Palestinians than Israelis being killed during the Second Intifada. For the sake of argument, I will give Chomsky the benefit of the doubt. Again and again, Israeli critics use this “?disproportionate death” argument to indict Israel and portray Palestinians as the victims. But I’m not sure what such a statistic is supposed to prove. In an armed conflict, why should the side that has suffered the most deaths automatically be deemed to be morally superior? During World War II, Germany suffered far more deaths than America did, does that mean that the Nazi regime was in the right? Now, I’m not saying that the country with the least deaths is automatically in the right either. What I am saying is that the relative number of deaths is not the ultimate arbiter of moral culpability in an armed conflict.

The casualty issue is extremely complex. Many of the statistics on the Palestinian death toll that get cited include suicide bombers, for instance. Furthermore, Palestinian terrorists specifically target innocent civilians with suicide bombings, whereas Israelis target terrorists. There’s something disingenuous about using statistics that equate the death of a terrorist leader with the death of an innocent Israeli child who was intentionally killed by a suicide bomber.

Israel’s policy of targeted assassinations against terrorist leaders receives a lot of criticism, but it is the most humane way conceivable to fight terrorism. Unfortunately, a lot of innocent Palestinians die because terrorists hide among Palestinian civilians, using their own people as human shields. Israel goes to great lengths to prevent civilian deaths, and terrorists know this, which is precisely why they hide among civilians. They know that Israelis have too much respect for life to indiscriminately carpet bomb cities, which Israel has the military capability to do. So, while Palestinian terrorists will intentionally put their own civilian populations at risk, Israelis do everything in their power to protect life. They thwart terrorist plots and planned suicide bombings, and have among the most sophisticated emergency medical response workers in the world, who, sadly, became quite adept at reacting to suicide bombings. (For more about Palestinian terrorists’ ideology of death see this prior post.)

Given the military superiority that Israelis have over Palestinians, Israel should be commended for exercising the restraint that it does. If Hamas possessed Israel’s Air Force, would it hesitate to indiscriminately carpet bomb Israeli cities? Israel has a nuclear arsenal that it has never dipped into. If Hamas had such an arsenal, would it restrain itself from using a nuke to wipe Israel off the map? After all, Hamas’s stated goal is the destruction of Israel. The terrorist group has already demonstrated that it is willing, even eager, to sacrifice the lives of its own people to achieve this goal.

In closing, I’d like to address another point that Chomsky made during the debate. He said that he intentionally choose to start his discussion with 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza during the Six Day War. That is very convenient for him. By doing so, he ignores the fact that Arab possession of those territories pre-1967 did nothing to prevent three out of the four major Arab-Israeli wars. The bottom line is that the occupation issue is and has always been a red herring. Now, I’m not saying that the occupation has been great for Palestinians. What I am saying is that it is not the root cause of the conflict. The conflict is and has always been about the desire of Arab leaders to destroy Israel. With Arafat out of the picture, and as a result of Israeli vigilance, there have been some signs that the tide is turning. Let’s hope that it does, and that Israelis and Palestinians can live peacefully next door to one another.