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Bush, Not Iraq War Critics, "Could Not Be More Wrong"

Afghanistan is the war we didn’t ask for. Iraq is the war Bush demanded.
George W. Bush’s speech to the American Legion Convention in Salt Lake City on August 31 revealed once again that he “could not be more wrong” about the war in Iraq. That was the phrase the president used to describe critics of his war, after allowing that “many,” though presumably not all, are sincere and patriotic. Whatever a majority of us conclude about Bush’s own sincerity and patriotism, we know what he says about Iraq bears increasingly little resemblance to reality.

Among the most obvious departures from the facts in the Salt Lake City speech was the claim that “we’re in a war we didn’t ask for.” The reality is that the United States is now fighting two wars because Bush and his neoconservative advisors were in such haste to invade Iraq that they refused to give the U.S. military time to finish defeating the Taliban. Afghanistan is the war we didn’t ask for. Iraq is the war Bush demanded.

Just as absurd was Bush’s assertion that the “United States, Iraq, the Middle East, and the world are better off” today without Saddam Hussein in power. The reality is that his decision to invade Iraq not only made that country a recruiting ground for al-Qaeda and sparked the civil war now killing thousands every month, but left the U.S. military stretched too thin to deal with the regional ambitions of Iran. No American president’s decision to take America to war has ever been less necessary or more counterproductive.

Equally preposterous is Bush’s description of the Iraq War as “central to the ideological struggle of the 21st century.” If that is true why is the administration waging the war in Iraq so half-heartedly? Surely a struggle of such magnitude would merit the re-imposition of military conscription and deployment of an American army three times the size of the one now in Iraq.

Then there is Bush’s assertion that “Democracies don’t attack one another or threaten the peace.” For 31 days this July and August, all of America watched the military aircraft of democratic Israel bomb the length and breadth of democratic Lebanon using weapons manufactured in the democratic United States. That war erupted only shortly after the Israeli military arrested and imprisoned half of the democratically elected members of the Palestinian Parliament and nearly all of the Palestinian Authority’s cabinet ministers.

Given that the entire Middle East only has three democracies, and that all three are at war with one another, Bush’s “Democratic Peace” rhetoric is little short of delusional.
Given that the entire Middle East only has three democracies, and that all three are at war with one another, Bush’s “Democratic Peace” rhetoric is little short of delusional.

What most Americans have yet to fully grasp is that the administration’s grand strategy of democratizing the rest of the Middle East is also a fantasy. However much we might want to share the blessings of liberty with everyone in the region, it is the last place we ought to anticipate seeing widespread democratization. The problem is that nearly all of the countries in the region are rentier states. Their governments depend not on taxes from the governed but on economic rents--revenues earned from sources other than productive labor, technical ingenuity, and capital investment—and as a consequence have no reason to tolerate dissent from a free press or seek the consent of the governed through democratic elections. Oil revenues support the governments of Algeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Gulf States and Iran. Foreign aid supports the governments of Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq and Pakistan. Money earned from soaking religious pilgrims in Saudi Arabia and Iraq and from opium growing in Afghanistan complete the picture of national economies which create little or no new wealth. This is not a region where governments are busy encouraging new investment in manufacturing or cutting edge consumer technology.

The fundamental political problem with dependence on economic rents is that it reduces all politics to a zero sum game in which tolerating dissent, negotiating compromise and choosing leaders through free and fair elections are deeply irrational behaviors for political elites. Competition for political power in a rentier state is simply too raw to be constrained by liberal institutions. That’s why some Iraqi political elites are only going through the motions of participating in the flimsy, American built democratic institutions while the rest are already openly fighting a civil war.

If Bush and his fellow Republicans wonder why Americans have lost confidence in the administration, they need look only at the obvious ways in which political rhetoric contradicts political reality. However much we might want to trust our national leaders, the inability of this president, his political appointees and Congressional Republicans to speak honestly about the war in Iraq naturally and inevitably undermines that trust.
John Hickman is associate professor of comparative politics at Berry College in Rome, Georgia. His published work on electoral politics, media, and international affairs has appeared in Asian Perspective, American Politics Research, Comparative State Politics, Contemporary South Asia, Contemporary Strategy, Current Politics and Economics of Asia, East European Quarterly, Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans, Jouvert, Legislative Studies Quarterly, Political Science, Review of Religious Research, Women & Politics, and Yamanashigakuin Law Review. He may be reached at

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This story was published on September 6, 2006.