Why Bush is going to war

Bad reasons and scary reasons

A bad idea

It looks like we're going to war. And it looks like a bad idea If it's such a bad idea, you have to wonder, why are we going to war? The short answer is that we're going to war because George W. Bush wants to have a war. But that just begs the question, why does Bush want a war?

Bad reasons

I think that Bush has reasons for wanting a war, in the sense that he isn't acting from whimsy or caprice. In fact, I think that Bush's drive to war is overdetermined: he has many reasons for wanting a war, and those reasons overlap and interlock in complex ways.

Here are six reasons that Bush is going to war

it's an oil grab

In Oil and War, John Robb argues that Maybe he wants the oil for America; maybe he wants it for his friends and family who make money in the oil business.

he's playing chicken

Thomas Friedman thinks that Bush is playing chicken with Hussein. This is possible, but it's getting to be an expensive game And—of course—there's the risk that Hussein won't blink.

to silence political opponents

Pretty obvious, and dismayingly effective. The only people who dare to question Bush's rush to war are either

to distract the voters

The United States faces many domestic problems Despite all this, Bush's domestic agenda can be summarized as If the American people actually understood this, they would object, and it would be harder for Bush to get what he wants. So it serves Bush to keep the voters distracted—for example, with a foreign war.

a personal vendetta

Bush has made statements suggesting that he has some personal animosity for Saddam Hussein. It's hard to understand why; I don't believe he's ever met the man.

His father fought a war with Hussein; perhaps the son feels some family obligation to pursue that conflict.

tribal politics

The Religious Right is one of Bush's largest and strongest constituencies. He needs to maintain their support. And the politics of the Religious Right aren't local, or ethnic, or national; they are tribal.

Humans evolved in tribes; it is one our oldest and most basic forms of social organization. Functionally, a tribe is a group of people united for the common good. But psychologically, a tribe isn't held together by its members' appreciation of their mutual self-interest. Psychologically, a tribe is held together by fear of outsiders.

We are the one, the true, God's chosen people. Those others, they are outsiders; they are dirty, dangerous; they worship false gods; they will invade our territory, kill our people, corrupt our youth. We must fight a holy war against the infidels, etc, etc

Bush's Axis of Evil plays directly to the Religious Right. A War Against Evil would be even better.

Scary reasons

These are reasons to fight a war, but they are bad reasons. In fact, they are bad enough that they can't be the ultimate reasons. There has to be some further explanation to account for why Bush is going to war for such bad reasons. I can only think of two I don't think that Bush is stupid. Stupid people don't succeed at the national political level. But I am starting to worry that he is a fool, which isn't quite the same thing.

The bungling and then neglect of the North Korean problem support this theory.

He's a true believer

Bush espouses a very black-and-white, good-versus-evil, us-against-them view of the world. It is possible that this rhetoric isn't just for the benefit of the Religious Right: he may really believe it.

This is perhaps the scariest explanation. When you are a true believer, no cost is too great; no risk unacceptable. How could it be, when the ultimate triumph of Good over Evil is at stake?

News reports describe Bush as being calm under pressure; untroubled by the momentous decisions that he faces. But why would he be troubled? He knows he's right.


I don't think that Bush is stupid.
But Bruce Bartlett does. At Revenge of the Reality-Based Community: My life on the Republican right—and how I saw it all go wrong, he writes
As I wrote the book, however, my utter disdain for Bush grew, as I recalled forgotten screw-ups and researched topics that hadn't crossed my radar screen. I grew to totally despise the man for his stupidity, cockiness, arrogance, ignorance, and general cluelessness.

Steven W. McDougall / swmcd@world.std.com / 2003 March 10