Myth and meaning

Peter Wehner, deputy assistant to the president and director of the White House’s Office of Strategic Initiatives, sucessfully takes on four myths about the war in Iraq. The myths are (1) the president misled Americans to convince them to go to war, (2) the Bush administration pressured intelligence agencies to bias their judgments, (3) because weapons of mass destruction stockpiles weren’t found, Saddam posed no threat, and (4) promoting democracy in the Middle East is a postwar rationalization.

As with most myths, these four are interesting mostly for their origins and important mostly for what they tell about the people who hold and promote them. All four myths tell us that the promoters have little regard for the truth. In addition, the first two myths are, in part, an attempt by Democrats to compensate for their cynical posture during the run-up to the war. The likes of John Kerry supported an action they didn’t really believe in because they feared the political consequences of opposing the war. They now attempt to excuse this outrageous breach of their duty by manufacturing claims that they were misled.

The fourth myth — that promoting democracy is a post-war rationalization — strikes me as quite interesting. If those who promote it mean that we would not have taken military action in Iraq merely to promote democracy, they may be correct. If they mean that the administration didn’t regard promoting democracy as part of the extremely beneficial things we could accomplish through military action, then they are plainly wrong, as Wehner shows.

Although the analogy is not perfect, one can compare this situation to our Civil War. Lincoln did not go to war with the South in order to end slavery, but instead to preserve the Union. However, this does not mean that he didn’t regard freeing the slaves as a potential and highly desirable outcome. And it certainly doesn’t mean that Lincoln doesn’t deserve great credit for bringing slavery to an end.

In the case of Iraq, those who argue that, because the desire to promote democracy may not alone have impelled us to go to war, this accomplishment should be discounted as a rationalization are again revealing much about themselves. Mostly, they are revealing their indifference to democracy — if it mattered to them, they wouldn’t be obsessing over its precise role in the administration’s pre-war thinking. Some probably also recognize deep down that through our brave efforts in Iraq we may ultimately accomplish something monumental (in history’s eyes, if not their own), and they are desperate to deny President Bush credit for it.

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