Questions about an unnecessary war

(The Charleston Gazette - March 29, 2003)

(Distributed nationally by the Knight-Ridder-Tribune syndicate)

By James A. Haught

WHY DID President Bush order 250,000 young Americans into the deadly peril of war, when it really wasn't necessary?

Why did he unleash hundreds of high-tech U.S. missiles (costing taxpayers $500,000 each) on Baghdad (population 5 million, half children), when it really wasn't necessary?

If Iraq has secret stashes of horror weapons, as Bush contends, U.N. inspectors could have spent years combing the nation for them. If any forbidden materials were found, world tribunals could have prosecuted dictator Saddam Hussein.

But Bush wouldn't let inspections continue. He wouldn't listen to American moderates or world leaders. Instead, he brushed aside all discussion and ordered the ultimate human horror: war.

Why? This question will hound historians for decades to come. Why did the president insist on an unnecessary war?

The answer must lie in Bush's shallow personality: his macho simplicity, his lack of wisdom, his exaggerated piety that sees everything as good versus evil.

He spent most of the winter saying he wanted to avoid war - that it would be a "last resort." He talked of disarmament conditions that Iraq might meet. But, actually, Bush had decided on war many months earlier. The latest Time magazine relates:

"'F--- Saddam. We're taking him out.' Those were the words of President George W. Bush, who had poked his head into the office of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. It was March 2002, and Rice was meeting with three U.S. senators, discussing how to deal with Iraq through the United Nations, or perhaps in a coalition with America's Middle East allies.

"Bush wasn't interested. He waved his hand dismissively, recalls a participant, and neatly summed up his Iraq policy in that short phrase. The senators laughed uncomfortably; Rice flashed a knowing smile. The president left the room.

"A year later, Bush's outburst has been translated into action, as cruise missiles and smart bombs slam into Baghdad.... The United States has launched a war unlike any it has fought in the past. This one is being waged not to defend against an enemy that has attacked the United States.... The war has turned much of the world against America."

Incredible. Bush's crude chest-thumping a year ago sounds more like beer-tavern swagger than intelligent statecraft. It reeks of immaturity and the tough-guy mentality. It certainly doesn't display intellect. It also implies that his subsequent months of diplomacy were merely a smoke screen, since he already had decided to attack.

Increasingly, thoughtful analysts are probing Bush's personality for explanations of his one-man war. They conclude that the president has a narrow vision that sees only one side of a topic, not weighing possible consequences of his actions.

Professor Katherine van Wormer of the University of Northern Iowa, an expert in addiction, says Bush has many qualities of a "dry drunk," a former alcoholic who stopped drinking but still thinks obsessively. She wrote:

"Bush's rigid, judgmental outlook comes across in virtually all his speeches. To fight evil, Bush is ready to take on the world, in almost a Biblical sense.... Bush possesses the characteristics of the 'dry drunk' in terms of his incoherence while speaking away from the script; his irritability with anyone (for example, Germany's Schroder) who dares disagree with him; and his dangerous obsessing about only one thing (Iraq)...

"Bush drank heavily for over 20 years until he made the decision to abstain at age 40. About this time, he became a 'born-again Christian,' going as usual from one extreme to the other."

Dana Milbank of The Washington Post wrote:

"The true explanation is deep in Bush's psyche... which draws sharp lines between good and evil, black and white. Bush's religious devotion encourages such distinctions. Bush implies but does not directly assert that he is doing God's work."

The latest Atlantic Monthly features "The Mind of George W. Bush" by conservative historian Richard Brookhiser, who writes: "Bush's faith means that he does not tolerate, or even recognize, ambiguity: There is an all-knowing God who decrees certain behaviors, and leaders must obey." The historian says the president is limited by "strictly defined mental horizons."

Richard Blow, former executive editor of George magazine, said:

"Certainly the president is no intellectual. He received mediocre grades at college, he's not a big reader, he lacks curiosity and he resists discussion about abstract subjects. He couldn't last 10 minutes with Bill Clinton in a debate about public policy.... And yet, this is not to say that Bush is dumb.... He makes decisions and sticks to them because he isn't interested in gray areas. Possibly Bush finds complexity intimidating; sometimes his sarcastic talk seems to mask a kind of mental insecurity.... It is this thought process that has led Bush to war."

Florida State University religion professor Leo Sandon wrote this week in the Tallahassee Democrat:

"There is a holy-war motif on the part of both the United States and Iraq. Our president believes that Saddam is evil and that the United States 'has been chosen by God and commissioned by history to be a model in the world of justice.' Saddam has assured his people that God is on 'your side' and that 'your enemies will go to hell and be shamed.'... Religion played a major role in getting us here... Remember the idolatry that is implicit in too closely identifying the will of God with national aims."

Somewhere in all this, I think, is the explanation why President Bush decided to throw 250,000 young Americans and hundreds of $500,000 missiles into an unprovoked war.