Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
November 28, 2005
WAR: The Vendetta

When the history of the decision to go to war in Iraq is written, there's one fact that I have to believe will get more attention than it does today: the fact that Saddam Hussein hired terrorists to murder George H.W. Bush.

On one level, it's not hard to see why this hasn't been a larger part of the story. War supporters, focusing on the case for war in our broad national interests, have been loathe to focus on a casus belli of uniquely personal interest to the president. War opponents have two motives: those who ascribe the war to ideological or pro-Israel neocon perfidy or to "blood for oil" can't bear to admit that the wrongdoing of Saddam Hussein played a greater role, and besides, admitting that a terrorist attack by Saddam's regime was one of the causes of the war requires opponents of the war to admit the very thing they have consistently contended was unthinkable: Iraqi planning and initiation of a cross-border terrorist attack.

The Bush Administration has likewise mostly shied away from this storyline, with the notable exception being aSeptember 2002 GOP fundraiser where Bush referred to Saddam as "the guy who tried to kill my dad." Even personality-driven commentators like Maureen Dowd have tended to focus on the connection of the war to Bush's father as being more about unfinished business from the first Gulf War than about revenge for attempted murder. As to the Arab world - well, many parts of Arab society remain traditionally clannish and patriarchal, and in such a society, it's hard to think of a better reason to go to war than an attempt on the life of the patriarch of the family. Thus, to denounce the war on terms agreeable to many Arabs, it's necessary to gloss over this fact.

The basic facts are essentially undisputed, and laid out in detail in Stephen Hayes' masterful book The Connection: in 1993, Saddam's regime sent two assassins, Iraqi nationals, into Kuwait with explosives and orders to set off bombs with the hope of killing Bush (and, presumably, lots of bystanders in the process). One of the men even carried a suicide bomber's belt. President Clinton said at the time - in a nationally televised speech - that there was "compelling evidence" of the plot, that it "was directed and pursued by the Iraqi Intelligence Service," and his Secretary of Defense stated that "[t]he evidence is very conclusive" that the plot "would have had to have been approved by the highest levels of the Iraqi government." Of course, while the men were presumably picked to provide deniability to the Iraqi government - one was a Shiite who had been involved in an anti-Saddam uprising - their subsequent capture and exposure carried the obvious lesson that using domestic Iraqi nationals still made such operations too easy to trace.

Now, the decision to go to war is, and should be, a decision made in the nation's interest, and not for the satisfaction of the president's personal grudges. And, like most supporters of the war, I'm content to justify it on those grounds, and think it unlikely that the many grounds for war were somehow a pretext. (Although some might say that Bush has unique moral authority on the subject of the dangers of the Iraqi dictator as a result of the targeting of his family) But realistically, you would expect the attempt to blow up the president's father to affect the decisionmaking process. Put yourself in Bush's shoes: if you were asked to decide whether Saddam Hussein would ever get involved with terrorism, wouldn't it affect the way you looked at the evidence that Saddam had already attempted a terrorist attack designed to kill a member of your family? And isn't that, in fact, an entirely logical and natural way to approach such a question?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:21 AM | War 2005 | Comments (21) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

I have seen this mentioned many times. Usually by Bush critics. Usually cited in a demeaning, not positive way. (ie. he started the war as revenge for "daddy" and as part of a personal vendetta to the detriment of the nation.")

Posted by: dcpi at November 28, 2005 12:57 PM

Actually, whether Saddam had plans to assasinate President Bush has been disputed, most prominently in a New Yorker article from a decade or so ago (that I, unfortunately, cannot locate on the Internet right now).

Posted by: MR at November 28, 2005 4:22 PM

Comment from Devin McCullen - I'm testing to see why it got blocked

Well, as an opponent of the way the war's been fought, I'm going to cry foul on this. It wasn't terrorism in the sense it's usually meant - killing civilians in order to instill fear in the larger population. It was an assassination attempt carried out using terroristic means. (I'd guess, although neither of us knows, that this had more to do with what they felt was the easiest way to target Bush Sr. than a desire to kill bystanders.) I don't think you can really describe an ex-President as a civilian in this context.

Look, the issue is not, and never was, whether Saddam was a sick and vicious man who would use any tactic he could to advance his goals. Of course he was. (I for one don't take Michael Moore at all seriously.) The question was whether we could have rationally expected him to carry out a major terror attack against the West (and whether he had the resources to do so). I don't think this speaks decisively on that question.

A heinous act? Yes. A justification for war? I wouldn't dispute that. An act of terrorism? I think if you call it that, you're a lot more concerned with means than with ends, and that's not the best way to decide which battles you should fight.

Posted by: The Crank at November 28, 2005 4:29 PM

Dan: I guess at some level I'm not surprised that you stoop to this level, but....really....do you still believe this? Iraq tied to the 'terrorism' that got us definitively into this war (Al-Qaeda)?

It's always informative stopping by....

Posted by: TFD at November 28, 2005 6:49 PM

Revenge for a threat against his dad? As any sort of justification for a war?

Imagine - what if the threat had been against an ambassador to some other middle east nation? Or an Assistant Secretary of State? Or an embassy guard somewhere? Is that reason enough for war? Is that something that should "get more attention than it does"?

I fear you are running out of justifications and/or things to write about.

But how 'bout dem Sox?

Posted by: Jack at November 28, 2005 10:59 PM

Jack,

You asked: "Imagine - what if the threat had been against an ambassador to some other middle east nation? Or an Assistant Secretary of State? Or an embassy guard somewhere? Is that reason enough for war? Is that something that should "get more attention than it does"?"

Actually, yes the attacks on our embassies and the USS COLE in the 90's constituted acts of war and we should have had a stronger response than just making a speech saying we will find the responsible party and then forgetting about it. 9/11 may not have happened if we had taken action after the earlier acts. They were emboldened by our passive responses.

Posted by: LargeBill at November 29, 2005 9:59 AM

Forget this whole "terrorist" contortion. An attempted assassination of a former president seems like an act of war. Wars have been fought over much more trivial insults.

What if the plot had succeeded? How could the United States not declare war and maintain any credibility? What would anti-war types think if Saddam had Clinton killed in early 2001?

Posted by: AT at November 29, 2005 12:01 PM

Saddam was evil incarnate; anyone who disputes this should not be taken seriously.
He and his sons tortured and raped whomever and whenever they chose.
He gassed his own people. He invaded neighboring Kuwait.
Adding ‘Attempted Assassination of an outgoing US President’ to his list of discretions doesn’t make him any worse, does it?
The world already knew Saddam was a threat, a weasel, scum, a madman, etc.
Nobody should have doubted Saddam would have relished exacting revenge from the United States for chasing him out of Kuwait.
He would have most preferred to do this before they succeeded.

Ignoring Saddam would have been foolish to the extreme.
That is why the Clinton administration joined Congress in labeling him an enemy of the United States and establishing the goal of removing him from power.
That is why we never stopped flying warplanes over his country.

But none of this justifies invading the country in March of 2003.
Saddam was probably less of a threat that month than in any of the prior 15 years.
The United States military had Iraq surrounded.
Weapons inspectors were crawling all over the country.

What could Saddam have done? Why couldn’t we have waited until the weapons inspectors finished the job, or until we enlisted more international support?

That is the question that George Bush must answer. He can’t blame Congress – they had voted almost six months earlier.
To say, they had all the facts he had in March when they voted in October is ludicrous.

Granted, the more important question is what we should do going forward, but the President should be held accountable for his actions. Especially since he was all too eager to take credit for the successes back in May of 2003.

Posted by: pat_rick at November 29, 2005 12:02 PM

Fellas, let's not forget that it is CONGRESS that declares wars, not Presidents. Presidents make their presentation to CONGRESS and then it's up to them to make the declaration.

An awful lot of international intelligence helped make the case that we, as a nation, should put an end to Saddam's regime.

Years from now, the actions of this President will be seen in a far more positive light by analysts and historians than the current Democratic Party and its MSM affiliates view them.

BTW, a "war" is composed of numerous "actions" or "missions", sometimes called "battles", it is appropriate to declare "mission accomplished" when one of those actions has been successfully completed.

Posted by: joated at November 29, 2005 1:31 PM

Congress authorized the President to invade Iraq in October, 2002. The President ordered the invasion in March of 2003. The final decision was in the hands of our Commander in Chief. For him or any of his supporters to deny this, is revisionary.

Posted by: pat_rick at November 29, 2005 1:56 PM

"none of this justifies invading the country in March of 2003" pat_rick

The political military cycle dictated that the war start in the spring of 2003. That was after the November 2002 elections and way before the November 2004 elections. The time was right. In March 2003 it was now or never. Personally I had the Ides of March in the office pool.

Disclaimer: I own stock in Boeing, Northrup Grumman, and Raytheon.

Yes, it is going to be a mess getting out of Iraq. We have NOT had the January 1968 Tet Offensive moment in the Iraq War. I am a pessimist on how this will turn out. I do not foresee large scale reductions until 2009 under the next presidential administration.

My March 2003 forecast of how many U.S. troop fatalities we would have was between 350 and 3,500. The high end was in consideration of Iraq's possible use of chemical or biological weapons. Fortunately in the three weeks (I thought it would take two months) it took to occupy Iraq US losses were about 350. I do not see the 3,500 killed level being reached until late 2007.

Walter Cronkite once stated that U.S. opinion polls drop 15% when US KIA go up by a factor of ten. I believe that 15% drop won't occur until US deaths have gone from 1,000 to 10,000. Than bridge will not be crossed until well into the next presidential administration.

Any picks on when Saddam Hussein will be executed? I will pick the Ides of March 2006.

Yetijuice

Posted by: Yetijuice at November 29, 2005 2:48 PM

Personally, I have no problem with setting a precedent that any head of state who tries to arrange the murder of a current or former President of the United States is going to wind up wearing a toe tag in short order, whether by a sniper's round or by large amounts of explosives and shrapnel. When the individual in question is Saddam--who should have been removed in 1991 in any event--it's really a no-brainer, however much a bunch of snotty moonbat punks (obviously, I'm not talking about you here, Crank) want to mouth off about GWB's alleged paternal issues. One of the best things that Clinton ever did was order a bombing retaliation for the conspiracy against Bush the Elder--the only fault I found with it was that it stopped before Saddam and his sons were blown into hash.

Posted by: M. Scott Eiland at November 29, 2005 8:09 PM

none of this justifies invading the country in March of 2003. Saddam was probably less of a threat that month than in any of the prior 15 years. The United States military had Iraq surrounded. Weapons inspectors were crawling all over the country.

This argument is nonsensical. Yes, Saddam was not a threat as long as the country was surrounded by a huge military buildup and crawling with weapons inspectors. But if you think that was a sustainable status quo, you are crazy. I mean, you can prevent street crime if you put a cop every 15 feet on a particular street. It does not follow that this is a workable permanent strategy for policing a city. We simply couldn't keep massive numbers of troops on high alert in Kuwait and other surrounding countries for years, decades on end. The weapons inspectors would eventually have gone home, with no reasonable prospect of assuring us they'd looked everywhere.

Posted by: The Crank at November 30, 2005 9:38 AM

Anyway, I've never said the attempted bombing of GHWB (and of Laura Bush - a commenter at RedState reminded me that George W.'s wife was in the delegation as well) was a casus belli in itself. But when you add it to the rest of the list, it's a factor. And it certainly should have colored George W's view of the rest of the evidence.

Posted by: The Crank at November 30, 2005 9:42 AM

Crank-

In all fairness, there are enough legitimate reasons in favor of the decision to go to War (or not, if one is inclined to disagree). But personal enmity simply should not factor into the calculus.

Enough reasons for war? Go, whether one's father was attacked or not.

Not enough reasons for war? Do not go, even if one's father was attacked.

George W. is the Commander-in-Chief of the US military. His personal relationships do not, and should not, factor in.

Posted by: Mike at November 30, 2005 10:16 AM

Surrounding the country for 3.5 years is heck of a lot easier than occupying it for 3.5 years (and counting).

I was part of the 92 percent of the country that supported GWB through his administration's brilliant execution of the War in Afghanistan. Militarily and diplomatically, they got an A+.

I was also proud GWB was our president in March of 2003 when the president had the country's boot firmly on the throat of Saddam Hussein, pinning him down like nobody ever had.

But when he sent in the fighter jets to bomb Iraq and followed with our troops, even though Turkey wasn't with us, even though NATO wasn't with us, even though the UN wasn't with us, even though the Hans Blitx hadn't found anything, I thought, "Wow, I hope this guy knows what he's doing."

I think you'd agree history has shown sadly that he had no idea what he was doing.

Posted by: pat_rick at November 30, 2005 10:26 AM

pat_rick,

He, along with the neo-con set, won't agree with you. Amazingly there are people who believe this thing is going along just terrifically and that one day this will all lead to a democratic Middle East. In their minds everything is, has been and was justified, they believe this helps us win the war on terror (in his most recent speech about what is going on in Iraq it took Bush less than 30 seconds to say "9/11") despite ample evidence and opinion to the contrary, they believe that there is no monkey business going on with the money that vanishes over there, etc., etc. etc.

Most assuredly they do not agree with your statement.

Posted by: jim at November 30, 2005 12:05 PM

"I was part of the 92 percent of the country that supported GWB through his administration's brilliant execution of the War in Afghanistan. Militarily and diplomatically, they got an A+."

I smell revisionism. Just before the invasion of Afghanistan, opinion polls showed support for the deployment of ground forces at about 60%. Just before the invasion of Iraq, opinion polls showed support for the deployment of ground forces at about 60%.

You'll excuse me if I don't take you at your word.

Posted by: AT at November 30, 2005 4:07 PM

A.T. said "Just before the invasion of Afghanistan, opinion polls showed support for the deployment of ground forces at about 60%. Just before the invasion of Iraq, opinion polls showed support for the deployment of ground forces at about 60%. "

Huh?

Here is an article describing 92% support for the President and the war in Afghanistan:
http://abcnews.go.com/sections/politics/DailyNews/STRIKES_poll011010.html

Here is a listing of Bush's job approval ratings throughout his term:
http://www.pollingreport.com/BushJob1.htm

You'll see he enjoyed job approval above 85% throughout the fall of '01.

Did you have a point or are you just interested in spreading misinformation?

Perhaps you're accusing me of saying I supported one effort and not the other becuase..., I don't know, one is less trendy these days. Ok buddy. Sure thing!!

Not that it really matters which efforts I supported, but as I posted, when we first struck Iraq - you may remember it was a few hours before the world expected and it was intended to literally take out Saddam - like the most of the country, I hoped our President knew what he was doing.

No I didn't rush outside and join peace protesters causing traffic jams around the country, but I was nervous. And in hindsight, maybe the President should have been a little more nervous.

Shortly after the invasion, the President told reporters he'd been sleeping like a baby. When asked to comment on that, Colin Powell replied, "Yeah I've been sleeping like a baby too. I wake up screaming every few hours."

Posted by: pat_rick at November 30, 2005 4:59 PM

A.T. said "Just before the invasion of Afghanistan, opinion polls showed support for the deployment of ground forces at about 60%. Just before the invasion of Iraq, opinion polls showed support for the deployment of ground forces at about 60%. "

Huh?

Is there something about this you don't understand? What I wrote was clear: support for the use of ground forces in both Afghanistan and Iraq was about 60% JUST BEFORE the invasion.

Afghanistan: http://www.pollingreport.com/terror7.htm

Iraq:
http://www.pollingreport.com/iraq9.htm
http://www.pollingreport.com/iraq8.htm

Here is an article describing 92% support for the President and the war in Afghanistan:
http://abcnews.go.com/sections/politics/DailyNews/STRIKES_poll011010.html

Here is a listing of Bush's job approval ratings throughout his term:
http://www.pollingreport.com/BushJob1.htm

You'll see he enjoyed job approval above 85% throughout the fall of '01.

Did you have a point or are you just interested in spreading misinformation?

That answered my question. Thanks for providing absolutely nothing to rebut my point that support for a land invasion before it happened was about 60% in each case. What do job approval ratings have to do with support for a ground war? I'm starting to think you're deliberately being obtuse.

Perhaps you're accusing me of saying I supported one effort and not the other becuase..., I don't know, one is less trendy these days. Ok buddy. Sure thing!!

No, but pretty close. I'm accusing you of being a consequentialist who wasn't enthusiastic about the invasion of Afghanistan before it happened, but later claimed he totally supported the entire campaign because it's trendy to say you supported the war Afghanistan. Then you think you have more authority to criticize the war in Iraq. You ARE trying to make that argument -- supported Afghanistan, opposed Iraq -- in behalf of the American people as a whole, with your irrelevant "92% approval rating" factoids. The truth is that the American people supported invasions in similar numbers before they actually happened. I guess you don't remember all that whiny pundit talk about the failures of the British and Soviet invasions of Afghanistan and the shouts of "winter quagmire!" at the first perception of trouble.

Not that it really matters which efforts I supported, but as I posted, when we first struck Iraq - you may remember it was a few hours before the world expected and it was intended to literally take out Saddam - like the most of the country, I hoped our President knew what he was doing.

In a metaphysical sense, no it doesn't matter at all. In a practical sense, it matters, because you can't both be a consequentialist and expect people to take you seriously when you talk about whether the war was justified.

Posted by: AT at December 1, 2005 11:19 AM

AT writes: **I guess you don't remember all that whiny pundit talk about the failures of the British and Soviet invasions of Afghanistan and the shouts of "winter quagmire!" at the first perception of trouble. **

You’re correct. A lot of liberal defeatists were quick to question the War in Afghanistan. Specifically, I remember reading a Frank Rich column in the New York Times in which he detailed why the whole operation was a disaster. I was disappointed at the time because normally I savor his columns. I am not sure if it was a coincidence, but shortly after that period, he disappeared from the Op Ed pages for a few years. Maybe he started second guessing himself.

I always thought the campaign enjoyed wide support from the American people, but I won’t quibble with you about different polls. The reason I pointed to GWB’s high approval ratings was that I think the more complex any poll question is, the less reliable it is.

But anyway, let me explain why the Administration deserved an A+ for its execution of the invasion of Afghanistan. Maybe that will convince you (not that I really care), that I didn’t just decide it was pretty cool. Also, perhaps you can see why the invasion of Iraq deserves less than an A+.

1) The president announced what the Taliban Regime had to do to avoid an invasion: hand over all Al Queda members under their control and allow us to further dismantle any operations in the country. And waiting a month for their response required patience, but it paid off enormously, giving us an even higher moral high ground and allowing us to fully prepare.

2) The world was on our side. NATO treated this invasion as a legitimate response to the only attack on a NATO Member in its history – 9/11. Hence, they acted as if anyone of them had been attacked. (who would have thought in 1945 that the US would be the first NATO country to suffer an attack). We even got Pakistan on our side, which was invaluable and no easy task, considering it was practically an extension of Afghanistan.

3) Secretary Rumsfield put together an air tight military strategy, incorporating the Northern Alliance into our efforts from the very beginning. To this day, I don’t think the attacks on Secy Rumsfield are fair. Both military campaigns conducted under his leadership were brilliant, and that my friend, was what he was hired to do. It’s the nation building b.s. that GWB and Dick Cheney thought would take care of itself in Iraq that has turned out to be such a disaster.

As a bit of sad irony, if the Bush Administration didn’t handle this campaign so brilliantly, likely, more folks would have spoken up before we invaded Iraq. But that’s they way it goes….

Posted by: pat_rick at December 1, 2005 1:04 PM
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