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Zen and the Art of Iraqi Regime Change


What does it mean to overemphasize the presence of what is absent? That Zen-like question arises from an interview the Associated Press recently published with Douglas Feith, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s departing chief policy advisor. Feith told the AP the Bush administration “overemphasized” the matter of weapons of mass destruction as the rationale for invading Iraq and overthrowing the government of Saddam Hussein

That has to be the understatement not only of the young century, but of the last several centuries.

Reality to Mr. Feith: There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Feith seems to have a clue to the problem: “Anything we said at all about stockpiles was overemphasis, given that we didn’t find them.” Yes, at the risk of sounding Zen-like again, any emphasis would have been overemphasis.

He added, “Our intelligence community made, apparently, an error, as to the stockpiles.” Considering that we taxpayers pay a good bit of change for that intelligence “community,” the mind boggles at the idea that it could have made such an “error” innocently. Isn’t it more likely that it was accommodating the higher-ups who were spoiling for war even before 9/11? This suspicion is hardly undercut by the fact that other countries’ intelligence agencies and even the Clinton administration thought Saddam had WMDs.

In his interview with the AP, Feith said, “It would have been better had we done a better job of communicating in all of its breadth the strategic rationale for the war.” Which was what? According to the AP summary, “The broader rationale, Feith said, included the danger posed by Iraq’s potential to resume building chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons — know-how that the Iraqi regime developed before the 1991 Gulf War.”

It is doubtful the American people would have supported an invasion of Iraq on the grounds that Saddam might some day try to develop weapons. Why should he use them against the United States? Without provocation he’d have no reason to commit personal and national suicide.

The administration realized that people had to be panicked into supporting the war. That’s why, as former defense official Paul Wolfowitz conceded, the various parts of the administration agreed to build its case on the alleged WMDs rather than other issues. That case was spiced up with hints that Saddam had something to do with 9/11, though he did not. Feith approved this strategy: “Had Saddam Hussein not been a supporter of terrorism and a guy who developed and used WMD, I don’t think that simply saying he’s a tyrant and we have a chance to replace a tyrant would have motivated the war.”

But Saddam had no record of supporting terrorism against the United States. His efforts were confined to helping Palestinians who are under occupation. (Not that this excuses his encouraging the murder of innocents.) As for Saddam’s development and use of WMDs (i.e., poison gas), that occurred during Iraq’s war with Iran, when he was a U.S. ally. Memories are fleeting: the Reagan administration supplied Saddam with WMD materials back then. Rumsfeld was a special envoy in the effort.

Feith told the AP he is annoyed that people think the lack of weapons means there was no reason to go to war. According to the AP, such people “ignore the broader reasoning, he said, which included the dangers posed by Saddam’s record of aggression against Kuwait, hostility toward the United States, a ‘rhetorical and financial support’ for terrorism and a weakening of the world’s resolve to contain his ambitions.”

But how could these have been good reasons for the American people to be forced into a war of conquest, which, as predicted, has spawned violence not only in Iraq but in Spain and England, with the United States perhaps next? America cannot be a prosperous and peaceful place if its government insists on policing the world. Empire is expensive. Protecting far-flung “interests” costs money and, inevitably, lives. Do you want to know the price of empire? It’s random searches of subway passengers in New York City. And that’s just the beginning.

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.