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And it's 1,2,3 - what are we fighting for?

Did we go into Iraq to (a) spread democracy, or (b) protect ourselves? Instapundit offers a “link-rich refutation” of the “revisionist history” that says the answer is (a). His “refutation” is a beautifully persuasive and artful use of the ellipsis.

He gives the following quote from the 2003 state of the union address:

Different threats require different strategies. In Iran we continue to see a government that represses its people, pursues weapons of mass destruction and supports terror.

We also see Iranian citizens risking intimidation and death as they speak out for liberty and human rights and democracy. Iranians, like all people, have a right to choose their own government, and determine their own destiny, and the United States supports their aspirations to live in freedom. . . .

And tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country.

And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation. . . .

Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world; it is God's gift to humanity.

Huh, that's not what I remember at all from 2003. So, shall we look a little at what's inside those dot,dot,dot's ?

First, before the excerpt: 3,435 words on domestic issues, Afghanistan, peace between Israel and Palestine, AIDS in Africa, Al Qaida, leading into the statement: "The gravest danger facing America and the world, is outlaw regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical and biological weapons." Then, 194 words about why this is bad, and then: "We have called on the United Nations to fulfill its charter and stand by its demand that Iraq disarm."

Two sentences about the IAEA and controlling nukes, and then that scary means-justify-the-ends sentence that made my spine tingle: "In all of these efforts, however, America's purpose is more than to follow a process. It is to achieve a result: the end of terrible threats to the civilized world."

Then three more sentences supporting a policy of attack with or without the UN's blessing: "All free nation have a stake...Yet the course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others. Whatever action is required..." all leading up to the first two sentences Glenn Reynolds picked:

Different threats require different strategies. In Iran we continue to see a government that represses its people, pursues weapons of mass destruction and supports terror.

We also see Iranian citizens risking intimidation and death as they speak out for liberty and human rights and democracy. Iranians, like all people, have a right to choose their own government, and determine their own destiny, and the United States supports their aspirations to live in freedom. . . .

And then, inside that first ellipsis, we find 196 words on North Korea, and 1,026 words on Iraq. Wow! 1000+ words, almost 20% of the speech, and almost half the content on non-domestic issues. Let's look at a few of those words:


...chemical, biological and nuclear weapons...utter contempt for the United Nations...biological weapons materials ... kill several million people....subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure....500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent....30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents....mobile biological weapons labs...an advanced nuclear weapons development program...design for a nuclear weapon...sought significant quantities of uranium...attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production...build and keep weapons of mass destruction....aids and protects terrorists, including members of Al Qaida....imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans, this time armed by Saddam Hussein...

And ending the WMD buildup, a few lines (64 words) on how nasty Hussein is. Then Instapundit's next snippet:

And tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country.

And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation. . . .

And in the second ellipsis: "America will not accept a serious and mounting threat...Powell will present information and intelligence about ... Iraq's illegal weapons programs...and its links to terrorist groups."

So: did we go to (a) spread democracy, or (b) protect ourselves? that 2003 SOTU speech was mostly (b), with just little of (a) thrown in---there's about as much emphasis on bringing freedom to Iran than to Iraq.

Just enough freedom rhetoric to stitch together into one very nice quotation, if you pick and choose very, very carefully. Any other claim is just...revisionist.

So if we were told that the reason for war was self-defense, why is the right so keen on bragging about the "success" of the Iraq war in spreading democracy through the Middle East? If western-style democracy is indeed spreading - which is arguable, with terrorist groups like Hamas coming to power - and if the US presence in Iraq did indeed promote, rather than discourage it also arguable - it still isn't much to crow about. At best it's dumb luck - a spin-off of our panic-stricken, poorly-judged jump into war. Or maybe what we were told about the threat was just manipulation, and the real reason was to "spread democracy" - or project American military power, or (insert your favorite conspiracy theory here). In which case the whole enterprise was based from the beginning on deceit and lies.

Posted by William Cohen at May 7, 2005 9:00 PM