January 13, 2004

Dan Drezner? He's the One with the Arrows Sticking Out of His Back

Daniel Drezner puts on his war bonnet, gets out his tomahawk and bow and arrow, and joins the war party harassing Paul O'Neill and Ron Suskind. Drezner's claim? That Paul O'Neill is distorting reality when he says that practically from Day 1 the Bush administration's policy was one of overthrowing Saddam Hussein by whatever means necessary. Drezner says that it was Colin Powell and his policy of containing Saddam Hussein--"smart sanctions plus"--that was dominant in the Bush White House over Rumsfeld and his policy of "regime change" in those halcyon days back before September 11, 2001. And that it was 9/11 that produced the big change to a policy of overthrowing Saddam Hussein by force and violence.

Unfortunately for Dan, George W. Bush is standing right behind him, with drawn bow...

George W. Bush: "The stated policy of my administration toward Saddam Hussein was very clear -- like the previous administration, we were for regime change," Bush told a joint news conference in Monterrey, Mexico, with Mexican President Vicente Fox.

Now we know that there is at least one lie in what George W. Bush says. The Clinton administration's policy was not one of "regime change" in the Rumsfeldian sense--one of overthrowing the government of Saddam Hussein by force and violence. Clinton's policy was very much like that preferred by Colin Powell: containment, sanctions, and closing your eyes and wishing really really hard that something would happen to make Saddam Hussein just go away. At least one of Bush's assertions of continuity between Clinton and Bush pre-9/11 and between Bush pre-9/11 and Bush post 9/11 is false. Right now Bush seems to want to get into as close an embrace with Clinton on policy toward Saddam Hussein as he can, and is saying what serves that purpose rather than reflecting on the evolution of policy. So perhaps Drezner is right--even though Bush says he isn't.

Nevertheless, face-down in the mud with arrows in your back is not a comfortable position to be in.

UPDATE: This is now highly amusing. The Suburban Guerrilla notes that the Rashomon-like dance continues, with Paul O'Neill now saying that early Bush administration policy was not a break but "a continuation of work that had been going on in the Clinton administration with the notion that there needed to be regime change in Iraq," while some nameless Bush cabinet-level official or his or her deputy dismisses the "Clinton administration's halfhearted attempts to overthrow Hussein without force," and claims that from inauguration day Bush "went beyond" what the Clinton administration had been willing to contemplate, and began "to explore the military options, including use of ground forces."

So now we have a rather large number of Bush administration officials of one stamp or another, all trying to be helpful to someone by telling pleasing lies.

Posted by DeLong at January 13, 2004 06:15 PM | TrackBack


Note that Clinton's main policy was to get bin Laden.

Can you say: "Operation: Ignore"?

Posted by: MattB on January 14, 2004 09:59 AM


Just 'cause MattB brought it up:

"While Clinton never got bin Laden, [Andrew] Sullivan cannot honestly fault him for lack of zeal. In 1998, he authorized an intensive, ongoing campaign to destroy al-Qaida and seize or assassinate bin Laden by signing a secret National Security Decision Directive to that effect.

Several attempts were made on bin Laden's life, aside from the famous cruise missile launches that summer, which Sullivan and other Republicans reflexively denounced as an attempt to deflect attention from the Lewinsky scandal."

That's from Joe Conason, in Salon: http://archive.salon.com/politics/feature/2002/01/15/clinton

Posted by: Anno-nymous on January 14, 2004 01:38 PM


Anything in Suskind about National Security discussions concerning Al Qaeda pre 9/11? If they did give immediate priority to Saddam, after being warned by Clinton that Al Qaeda was #1 (and had after all, attacked us), then it makes the pre-9/11 negligence all the more criminal.

Posted by: Bob H on January 14, 2004 05:44 PM


> Clinton's policy was very much like that preferred by Colin Powell: containment, sanctions, and
> closing your eyes and wishing really really hard that something would happen to make Saddam Hussein
> just go away.

And allowing $97m (i.e. 0.1% of the cost of the war) to go to training Iraqi opposition groups (i.e. Chalabi). Most people who cite the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 obviously haven't read far enough to the final clause, which explicitly doesn't authorise the use of US armed forces.

Posted by: ahem on January 14, 2004 06:13 PM


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