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    Ten Years After Iraq: Top-Down Leadership

    The decision to bring "democracy" to Iraq displayed a deep and obvious contempt for democracy itself. George W. Bush considered the decision to begin a war his personal prerogative, and both the political establishment and the media establishment treated it that way. The war was inevitable; the decision had already been made. Not supporting the war was treated as foolish (because futile) and unpatriotic (because patriotism was defined as supporting the President's decisions). James Fallows has a reconstruction of how the Bush Administration moved toward the war without any concern about Congressional approval, and John Judis recalls what it was like to be one of the few journalists asking real questions about the war (h/t Historiann). They're sobering reads. Imposing democracy when you think of democratic process as an inconvenient hindrance was never going to work. And refusing to let the Maximum Leader be gainsaid on the important decisions is a great way to make Maximum Mistakes.

    George W. Bush was ceded powers that George Washington himself did not want or believe he should have. The Constitution entrusts the power to declare war to Congress. That isn't simply because few of Washington's successors have Washington's military judgment. It's because it's a mistake to rely on any single man's judgment for something as serious as declaring war. That, the Framers, insisted, should never be an executive decision.

    Ten years after the debacle in Iraq War began, our country is still gripped by a cult of executive leadership, the fantasy that a single unchallenged leader makes the best decisions. We glorify CEOs and imagine them as succeeding best when they are sole decision-makers. People talk wistfully about business stars as political candidates, "running" the government the way they are imagined "running" their business. And, as I've blogged about my own industry, there is a cult of CEO-style university governance, reducing the normal checks and balances to rubber stamps. The thinking is that shared, deliberative decision making is just a pain, that things go better when the process is simple and one person is empowered to make all the decisions. It is the Myth of the Efficient Dictator.

    But history establishes that this is bunk. Dictators make decisions efficiently. But they also make bad decisions efficiently, and since no one can talk them out of their mistakes, the consequences can be absolute disaster.

    You can't find a national leader with better military sense than Napoleon. But empowering Napoleon to make all the decisions ultimately leads to crushing military defeat. Napoleon's very real successes eventually convinced him he was invincible, and that conviction made his destruction inevitable. And since no one could tell the Emperor that invading Russia was a bad idea, everyone had to go along.

    We narrate history as the story of brilliant individual leaders. But the actual record shows autocratic regimes doing very poorly, both on their own account and when pitted against societies with a broader distribution of decision making. Democracies are not always right, and free debate does not always produce the best answer; nothing always produces the best answer. But a democracy has the chance to draw upon the intelligence of many, many minds. A dictatorship can never be smarter than the dictator. An FDR with a recalcitrant Congress to keep happy turns out to be a better war leader than a Hitler who cannot be contradicted by his subordinates. In fact, an FDR with a Congress to keep happy might even be a better leader than and FDR without one.

    And if you really want to appreciate the glories of Efficient Dictatorship, contemplate the Pyramids. A wonderful achievement by unquestioned kings who commanded armies of slaves and were worshiped as gods. Those pyramids are what is left of their regime, because those projects bankrupted Egypt's Old Kingdom: a huge slice of the GDP went into building every Pharaoh's big geometry-project tomb.

    The dirty secret about fascism is that the trains don't actually run on time. You're just not allowed to say that they're late. And by the time that train goes off the rails, it's too late to say anything.


    I hereby render unto Doc the Dayly Line of the Day Award for this here Dagblog Site, given to all of him from all of me for this gem:


    The dirty secret about fascism is that the trains don't actually run on time. You're just not allowed to say that they're late. And by the time that train goes off the rails, it's too late to say anything.

    This has got to be one of the best lines I ever read!

    Honest to God!

    Thank you, Richard. That's very nice of you to say.

      Congress did authorize the wretched war, so I don't think  Captain Bushy ignored Congressional  authority,

    What Congress authorized was basically military threat as pressure for Hussein to comply, putting misguided trust in Bush to use force as needed.

    This authorization was a couple months before inspectors were allowed back in & 5 months before Bush declared war (in violation of UN rules).

    What from my mind sucks is that military pressure *was* needed to get the inspectors in, and a halfway authorization would have given Hussein wiggle room. Knowing the status of Hussein's weapons program was important - it wasn't clear where he stood in Sept 2002. So then we found out. But went to war anyway.

    Congress authorized the possible use of force. Bush misused the terms, and fudged the facts.

    It gets a bit foggy now that we no longer officially proclaim That a State of War Exists Between The Government and the People of the United States and [INSERT ENEMY].

    But I would say that Congress was at the very least complicit. And more to the point, I would say that our problem was not that we had a renegade dictator who abused his authority. Our problem was the usual problem of war fever. We got suckered.

    Napoleon did not defy the will of the French people when he made war on Europe. Nor did Hitler defy the will of the Germans. Both leaders were wildly popular because of their warmongering, not in spite of it.

    And I'm sad to say that our own dear George W. attained the height of his popularity when he went all Napoleon on Saddam Hussein. Congress could have stopped it if they'd tried. But they didn't try, not most of them. They had the war fever just like the rest, or else they were too afraid of the war fever to act.

    Agreeing, but don't know if we were even suckered. We all knew at the time that Georgie wanted to avenge that attack on his daddy. The way the AUMF was written, you figured there was no way in hell Bush was coming back to update/ask for new permission - but what was there to do?

    In this case, Congress should have split the baby, been willing to review progress before commiting to full assault. Yeah, because a schmuck in office.

      In justice to Napoleon, I have to mention that in about half of the wars that bear his name, it was France that was attacked.

    Alors...a Napoleon apologist!


      Not an apologist, mon ami, just someone concerned with historical truth.

    Speaking of which, evidently Napoleon did not suffer from a Napoleon complex. At 5'7", he was slightly taller than average for his time.

    'The people supported me all the way' is a defense for crimes against humanity? Are you kidding? This isn't reality television we are talking about.

    They don't look at retrospective polling data, whether at the Hague, or at Nuremberg. (Could Radovan Karadžić get off by saying the Serbs supported his acts of genocide overwhelmingly?).

    George W. Bush gave the order as President and Commander in Chief, and he and he alone was first and foremost responsible for starting the Iraq War.  As much as I admire the acumen and cogent commentary at Dag, on the Iraq War I would defer on this topic to Benjamin Ferenccz:

    Bush and Saddam Should Both Stand Trial, Says Nuremberg Prosecutor
    by Aaron Glantz August 26, 2006

    A chief prosecutor of Nazi war crimes at Nuremberg has said George W. Bush should be tried for war crimes along with Saddam Hussein. Benjamin Ferenccz, who secured convictions for 22 Nazi officers for their work in orchestrating the death squads that killed more than 1 million people, told OneWorld both Bush and Saddam should be tried for starting "aggressive" wars--Saddam for his 1990 attack on Kuwait and Bush for his 2003 invasion of Iraq.

    "Nuremberg declared that aggressive war is the supreme international crime," the 87-year-old Ferenccz told OneWorld from his home in New York. He said the United Nations charter, which was written after the carnage of World War II, contains a provision that no nation can use armed force without the permission of the UN Security Council.

    Ferenccz said that after Nuremberg the international community realized that every war results in violations by both sides, meaning the primary objective should be preventing any war from occurring in the first place.

    He said the atrocities of the Iraq war--from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the massacre of dozens of civilians by U.S. forces in Haditha to the high number of civilian casualties caused by insurgent car bombs--were highly predictable at the start of the war.

    'The people supported me all the way' is a defense for crimes against humanity? Are you kidding?

    This article I have just read over at Foreign Policy is basically arguing just that, among other things, and quite convincingly:

    The Kenyatta Affair
    What Kenya and its allies can learn from Austria’s Nazi legacy.
    By James Vernini March 20, 2013

    The summary paragraph:

    What Kenyatta's foreign critics, like Waldheim's, failed to concede -- this may be the most valuable lesson -- is that countries will confront their pasts, or not, only on their own terms. In post-conflict societies, many public figures have blood on their hands. Kenyans are as aware of this now as Austrians once were. They can take it. What they don't want is sanctimony. They'd far rather see defiance, even if it entails a certain sadistic hypocrisy. So, like the Auschwitz survivors who voted for Waldheim, Kenyans who saw family and friends killed after the last election voted for Kenyatta, though they knew he may have ordered those deaths. No, because he may have ordered those deaths. He allied with Ruto not to avoid these dark imputations, but to drive them home. Though tribe was the watchword of this election, their alliance, and their victory, was nationalistic, not tribal -- just as Waldheim's was. Their unspoken but resounding message was this: Yes, we killed. We killed for you, for Kenya. And we'd kill again. It's the most seductive platform in politics.

    The article you cite is talking about voters and politics, Ferenccz is talking about dispensing justice for war crimes.

    The "cult of executive leadership, the fantasy that a single unchallenged leader makes the best decisions" in the USA applies only to a Republican President.

    Anyway, one need not go to the highly paid criminals/propagandists like Wolfowitz at AEI or George W. Bush to hear how the war was definitely worth it, none other than Army torturer Lynndie England believes that "Iraqi's got the better end of the deal".

      Here is the text of the Iraq War Resolution.

      It seems to me that the members of the House and Senate who voted for the resolution deserve a full share of the blame for the war. They can't claim that they didn't give Bush his license to kill.

    Don't buy it. Whether Bush or Gore was in office, post-9/11 we had unacceptable uncertainty about Hussein's WMD program & compliance with UN resolutions. Even Hans Blix in 2002 thought Hussein had a secret WMD program going on (biological/chemical, unlikely the nuclear portion)

    The US started troop preparations in August/September, and Congress signed the AUMF in October (with a number of closed-room lies to support it).

    The AUMF discussed supporting UN resolutions, and a further UN disarmament resolution was passed in November as the US moved troops into Kuwait for pressure.

    US troop buildup in Kuwait starting in October likely drove Hussein to accept the return of inspectors.

    UN inspectors returned in November, and Hans Blix discussed some cat and mouse games, and dissatisfaction with compliance in December & January. By March, he & El Baradei (IAEA) were much more content with progress, and content that there was no nuclear, biological or chemical program or weapons, though the verification process would take "months" - not surprising in a country the size of Iraq.

    This, under a sane administration, is exactly how the process should have gone. Since the Democrats were in a minority, they also couldn't much influence the process or the text of the resolution. They would be remiss to ignore the danger of Hussein in a post-9/11 world,

    Note the measures for diplomacy & complying with UN resolutions first below. Bush should have simply been impeached as a result.

        The Congress of the United States supports the efforts by the 
    President to--
                (1) strictly enforce through the United Nations Security 
            Council all relevant Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq 
            and encourages him in those efforts; and
                (2) obtain prompt and decisive action by the Security 
            Council to ensure that Iraq abandons its strategy of delay, 
            evasion and noncompliance and promptly and strictly complies 
            with all relevant Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.
        (a) Authorization.--The President is authorized to use the Armed 
    Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and 
    appropriate in order to--
                (1) defend the national security of the United States 
            against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and
                (2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council 
            resolutions regarding Iraq.
        (b) Presidential Determination.--In connection with the exercise of 
    the authority granted in subsection (a) to use force the President 
    shall, prior to such exercise or as soon thereafter as may be feasible, 
    but no later than 48 hours after exercising such authority, make 
    available to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the 
    President pro tempore of the Senate his determination that--
                (1) reliance by the United States on further diplomatic or 
            other peaceful means alone either (A) will not adequately 
            protect the national security of the United States against the 
            continuing threat posed by Iraq or (B) is not likely to lead to 
            enforcement of all relevant United Nations Security Council 
            resolutions regarding Iraq; and
                (2) acting pursuant to this joint resolution is consistent 
            with the United States and other countries continuing to take 
            the necessary actions against international terrorist and 
            terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, 
            or persons who planned, authorized, committed or aided the 
            terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.



      But the Resolution said he could use force to enforce the United Nations resolutions--if he thought it was necessary--and it said he wasn't obliged to use peaceful means alone. It seems to me that Congress gave him permission to kick ass.

    Sadly, if there had been a requirement to go back to Congress to do any attacks, Hussein would have likely relied on that extra cycle to slow down compliance. I do think having a crazy cowboy raring to go made Hussein compliant. Unfortunately, we didn't rein the cowboy in. But again, blame the Republicans who controlled that process in Congress - they weren't exactly asking Democrats' opinion at the time, too busy accusing them of treason and being soft on terror.

    I had no intention of excusing the members of Congress who voted for the resolution, or claiming that Bush violated the letter of the Constitution. Neither, for that matter, would I accuse Bush of violating the freedom of the press, or excusing any of the journalists and publishers who beat the war drum so relentlessly.

    Those reporters and politicians bear their individual blame. But one of the things I blame them for is giving up their responsibility to our democratic system. They acted as if the right thing to do was to behave the way they would in a banana republic. Congress chose to be the President's rubber stamp. The press chose not to behave like a free press, acting critical questions, but to function as the Dear Leader's propaganda machine, methodically shouting down dissenters.

    Bush planned the war for over a year before he asked Congress, however ambiguously, if he could fight the war. And Congress acted as if their proper role were to line up behind him and support his decisions. That is not their role in a democracy. That is their role in an entirely different form of government, and when they behaved that way, they were expressing their preference, in clear practical terms, for that different form of government. And shame on them.

    It's a republic, if we can keep it. But keeping it involves doing our patriotic duty to question, negotiate, and argue.


     Not to excuse Congress one iota, as a group they were  a combination of wrong, inept, and chickenshit, but I consider a bunch of people between Bush and Congress to be more responsible for that war.  They were mostly part of an identifiable group that had a plan that needed a war and wanted the beginning of that war to be Iraq. They took advantage of the blood lust so many of us [Americans] had after 9/11. They pumped the fear and loathing, lied every time it was handy, and otherwise played dirty. They set the tone and a hell of a lot of people not in government jumped on the bandwagon.

    Anyone outside of the United States is on fair ground to say that our entire country is responsible. But, the entire country didn't decide to invade Iraq because of 9/11. The Iraq war would not have happened except for the lying scumbags that first wanted it to happen as a first step. They bear the first level of responsibility. They got their dirty war.

     What sort of odds would you guess Vegas would put on whether or not we attack another country when it could have been intelligently avoided? Plenty of mongers still out there working hard.

    Exactly, they were complicit and if they didn't know what was about to happen they were also incredibly naive. Nice blog Doc, nice blog.

    Thanks for the link & for your excellent analysis.  I completely agree that we are under the sway of demonstrably poor but charismatic leadership everywhere in the U.S., even in our universities.  The Underpants Gnome theory of national security/moneymaking/university leadership is so much more fun to believe in than policies that would actually work but are far more complicated and require much more work and time. 

    Thanks, historiann. Sorry if you had trouble posting your comment.

    Solid post, doc. I suppose the anniversary is a good time to revisit the marketing of the Iraq War, but it hurts my head and churns my gut when I think how little has been learned. That string of wars hasn't yet ended, and the same bunch of warmongering losers are sallivating about the next one.

    A Letter to Paul Wolfowitz, over at In the News, makes a good companion piece to your post. The long comment (on the actual Bacevich letter) by a guy named Johnston is thought-provoking.

    It's interesting to dissect why and how the U.S. went to war in 2003, but the bigger question is why war is the default option for U.S. foreign policy. The question answers itself. You're a handyman who has collected a workshop full of top-of-the-line, expensive power tools. Every now and then, the wife will wonder aloud why you still haven't put up those bathroom shelves. So off you go. Having a ridiculously massive military is itself an incentive to use it. Again and again.

    For some reason, the obscure, near-forgotten 1983 invasion of tiny Grenada (pop: 19,000) comes to mind. A coup had just installed a leftist government. The government it deposed was a leftist government that had also taken power by a coup. But never mind.

    Ronald Reagan cited three rationales for invading: Grenada's close ties to the Soviet Union and Cuba, its construction of an airport that could accommodate big Russian military planes, and the danger to Americans studying on the island. All totally bogus: the overthrown (and murdered) prime minister had also been friendly with Cuba and the Soviets; the new airport was designed to take tourist jumbo jets the existing field could not; and the students were in no danger until the U.S. troops landed (and not even then).

    In passing, the longer airstrip was being designed and built, not by Commie troops, but by Canadians. (A fine distinction, I admit.) Coincidentally, the Grenada invasion came just days after the Marine barracks in Beirut were blown up, as intervention followed failed intervention.

    The list, long and dispiriting, goes on: Haiti, Panama, Serbia, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Yemen. In some cases, there are no U.S. boots on the ground, just drones in the air or funding and arms for insurgents. And in some, rationalizations can be found for why the policy is justified and necessary. But the bottom line is that the American military is a hungry beast, and it needs meat.



    "the American military armaments industry is a hungry beast, and it needs meat and tons of cash"

    Fixed that for you.

    I see the U.S. military-industrial complex as the world's biggest, greediest vertically integrated mega-corporation -- with the actual armed forces as the subsidiary that tests every overpriced toy it rolls out to destruction, then orders newer models (with big colored buttons that light up) after the old stuff gets blown up.

    I never tire of reminding people that when Eisenhower made his speech warning against the military-industrial complex, one original draft read "military-industrial-congressional complex." Aides talked him into fudging the text.

    As it has not been mentioned yet, let us remember that the administration of the Iraq war was a clusterfuck.

    The infighting between the Departments and Agencies responsible for their part in the operations not only pettifogged the halls of power in the U.S. but played out on the battlefield, consuming many lives.

    The element of managerial incoherence, without regard to the other politics involved but without dismissing their importance, will piss me off until I die.

    It was less top-down and more bottoms-up.

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