Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
April 7, 2003
WAR: Josh Marshall and the Secret Plan
I just don't buy the premise of Josh Marshall's long attack in the Washington Monthly, on the Bush Administration's alleged failure to disclose the scope of its ambitions in the war on terror. What's more than a little incoherent here is that Marshall says that the Bush Administration has a grand master plan it's not disclosing, but at the same time he continues to argue on his blog that the Administration has no policy at all.
Anyway, the core of his argument is that the American people haven't been told how long and how far the war may be expected to go:
[T]he great majority of the American people have no concept of what kind of conflict the president is leading them into. The White House has presented this as a war to depose Saddam Hussein in order to keep him from acquiring weapons of mass destruction--a goal that the majority of Americans support. But the White House really has in mind an enterprise of a scale, cost, and scope that would be almost impossible to sell to the American public. The White House knows that. So it hasn't even tried. Instead, it's focused on getting us into Iraq with the hope of setting off a sequence of events that will draw us inexorably towards the agenda they have in mind.
But this isn't true. First, polls consistently show that the American people recognize that the war with Saddam is part of the larger war on terror, which suggests an understanding from the outset that this is bigger than just conducting a criminal investigation into the direct September 11 plotters. Second, the real public launch of a war effort beyond just the Al Qaeda headquarters in Afghanistan was the 'axis of evil' speech -- and the Iraq war will leave two of the three axis members still standing. Third, President Bush has made clear that he has an ambitious plan to force some level of reform on the Palestinian Authority as a condition of negotiating, which certainly signals an intent to get into the most intractable problems of the region.
As for the rest of the agenda, how far does the other hawks' view actually constitute the Administration's policy? Marshall is right that the details are mysterious, but that may be a sign that the Administration's options are still open, and it's certainly the result of the need to build a new and different international coalition for each step of the plan. Marshall avoids this issue by pretending that we have no allies at all ("Luck, fortitude, deft management, and help from allies could bring about very different results. But we can probably only rely on the first three because we are starting this enterprise over the expressed objections of almost every other country in the world."), which is frankly false.
By the way, if it seems like I'm picking on Masrhall, it's actually because he's one of the few liberal writers who has a sufficient base of intellectual honesty to be worth engaging rather than just mocking. If you read Paul Krugman, to give an obvious counter-example, you'd think that everything Bush-related is nothing but avarice and malice. Krugman is constitutionally incapable of honestly stating a conservative position and conceding it even the slightest bit of truth or sincerity.