Back in early April, during a rumination on some remarks I’d heard by the indescribably stupid Senator Joseph Biden as cross-referenced to a Victor Davis Hanson essay on public perception of American wars, I made this comment about how the Bush administration had not done well communicating about the war in Iraq:
There is such a rush to condemn everything about the war for the rottenest of political reasons that itâ€™s difficult to pick the real bits of good critcism out of the background noise.
And you know what? A lot of the problem here is the fault of the Bush administration, which has never done a good job communicating about the war, especially in the department of countering antiwar propaganda.
Douglas Feith, one of Rumsfeld’s civilian hands at the Pentagon, and himself a frequent target of war critics, was likewise disappointed by the White House attempts to explain the war in the aftermath of the invasion, with particular reference to the endless carping by critics about the missing WMDs:
Electoral politics aside, I thought it was important for national security reasons that the president refute his critics’ misstatements. The CIA assessments of WMD were wrong, but they originated in the years before he became president and they had been accepted by Democratic and Republican members of Congress, as well as by the U.N. and other officials around the world. And, in any event, the erroneous WMD intelligence was not the entire security rationale for overthrowing Saddam.
WMDs were simply the most tangible asset that would make the case that Hussein was extremely dangerous. The bigger picture was that after 9/11 geopolitics had shifted, to the extent that it would be unwise to any longer leave the psychopath in place. The underlying point was that Hussein was capable of anything. But it would have been better if a multiple count indictment had been laid out before the war, with WMDs more co-equal with Saddam’s terrorist connections and policy of assassinating Iraqi dissidents abroad, his destabilizing effect on the region, and the nature of his desire for revenge against the U.S. And I’ve yet to see anything included in the pre-war analysis that suggests the post-war finding that the Iraq regime had become internally incoherent and that regime stalwarts often told an increasingly isolated Saddam only what they thought he wanted to hear in the hope that they would not be murdered by incurring his displeasure.
Feith’s entire article (he has a book out too, which I should have) deals with the very simple question of the administration’s rhetorical choices. I agree with him to a great extent, although I think that the Bushies were always thinking ahead and were less inclined to defend themselves than they were to always be looking for another angle of tactical advantage vis a vis Iraq’s insurgents and terrorists. That’s another story (for instance, I don’t think that “bring it on” was a verbal misstep any more than calling Iraq “the central front in the war on terror” was spoken without purpose), but I think that the administration did neglect the war at home. Whether that’s a direct function of Bush’s thinking or the product of his advisors, it sometimes seems that the Bush administration, determined to stay the course in Iraq, nonetheless withdrew from the acrimonious debate stateside.