So the GOP is airing its first campaign ad of the new election season, and it urges people at one point to “support the president’s policy of pre-emptive self defense.”
Now, I do understand what point they’re trying to make, but I’ve also got to say that this is a pretty damned strange way of describing it. In fact, if I heard someone using that phrase (“pre-emptive self-defense”) in the street, I’d probably try to get clear of them rather quickly.
OTOH, it’s rather interesting that this seems to be the first tack the GOP campaign is taking. The heavy Sept. 11th references are no surprise, (that being – IMHO – the one saleable point of the entire administration to a mainstream audience) but they seem to be considering the Iraq war as a subject to build a campaign around. This is a risky strategy – it’s asking the American public to continue to support a war beyond its initial honeymoon phase, as costs continue to mount with no clear end in sight.
(NB the President’s statement yesterday that he hasn’t committed to any reduction in troop levels over the coming year, that deployments will be determined by needs on the ground. This is a completely correct statement and a good idea – but it reflects the fact that this war is getting worse, not better, and is going to require immense investment of both human and financial resources to carry through)
On the subject of pre-emptive self-defense as a whole — I don’t think this policy worked. I think it failed because it was never well thought-out. Countries pose a potential threat in the future? Let’s invade them! But: A lot of countries pose a potential threat in the future. We don’t have the resources to invade all of them. Invading one strengthens the others, at least by drawing our resources elsewhere, and so unless the marginal improvement in our security from that invasion is very significant, this move is an overall loss. Once we’ve invaded, of course, there’s the whole question of what to do next – how to hold and maintain a country full of people who range from neutral to hostile.
Despite all the assurances I’ve received to the contrary, I don’t believe that there was ever adequate planning for the postwar situation. The Pentagon seems to have had a rosy-eyed view of the future, with Iraqis strewing American troops with flowers and gladly setting up representative democracy the next week. The State Department was more conservative, and more or less completely ignored – that department is visibly not in the Inner Circle of the administration, and this president doesn’t listen to people outside his inner circle.
And finally, I’m increasingly unconvinced that the highest-level policy decisions to go to war with Iraq had anything whatsoever to do with “pre-emptive self-defense.” I believe that our intelligence services are competent, even if understaffed – I don’t think that the much-vaunted reports of nuclear and biological weapons, which proved to be so remarkably far removed from the actual situation, were the products of bad information. I believe that there was a decision made at rather high levels to selectively publicize and encourage certain parts of the intelligence picture at the expense of others, distorting the results of the community to paint a picture more favorable for a war that was pre-planned for other reasons. (The “Office of Special Plans,” whose task was to plan an invasion of Iraq, was set up by this administration well before September 11th, much less any WMD frenzy)
So okay, if the administration really wants to fight an election campaign based on the Iraq war… let’s see what they’ve got.