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?
- the risks are grave
- the benefits are dubious
- the costs are enormous
- domestic support is soft
- foreign opposition is overwhelming
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
- he's playing chicken
- to silence political opponents
- to distract the voters
- a personal vendetta
- tribal politics
it's an oil grab
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.
- the Middle East has the oil
- the U.S. needs the oil
- Bush is putting troops on the ground to secure oil supplies
he's playing chicken
Thomas Friedman thinks
that Bush is playing
chicken with Hussein. This is possible, but it's getting to be an
And—of course—there's the risk that Hussein won't blink.
- it's costing billions of dollars
- he's squandered all the good will the U.S. ever had anywhere in the world
- other problems—like the U.S. economy and North
Korea—are going critical while Bush tries to stare down a cat
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
- a faltering economy
- high unemployment
- massive budget deficits at the federal, state, and local levels
- health care
- the War on Drugs
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
- more power for Republicans
- more money for rich people
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.
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
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.
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.
- He's a fool
- He's a true believer
The bungling and then neglect of the North Korean problem support
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
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.
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
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 /
2003 March 10