Why Did Bush Bomb?

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The Clinton administration helped train us to never believe the official rationale for a bombing of a foreign country, particularly an impoverished one. In the 1990s, foreign policy had more to do with domestic woes than with actual international threats, no matter what Clinton or his spokesmen said. But when it comes to providing something believable in place of the truth, the Bush administration seems even less competent than its predecessor. All the Bush White House could come up with for why it is bombing and killing people in Iraq was "self defense."

Look: Americans know what self defense is. It’s when you shoot the guy who has broken into your home to attack you. It’s when you blast the fellow who’s trying to mug you or steal your car. It’s a violent action taken to prevent an aggression against your person or property. Transfer the idea of "self defense" to national policy: it is something a nation undertakes when its borders are attacked or its embassies blown up.

The US military was not defending itself when it dropped bombs outside Baghdad, even if you believe that Iraq was bolstering its anti-aircraft capacities. When you are standing on Iraqi soil and look up to see US fighters zooming around your airspace, and you look around and see that the country has been beaten to a pulp by ten years of cruel sanctions, and you notice that these planes drop bombs on a regular basis to correspond with US political priorities, you too might consider bolstering your defenses.

Let’s call the US bombing what it was, not defense but aggression, an extension of a decade of aggression that has taken both economic and military forms. There is no moral code, no religious tenet, no traditional accepted rule of international law under which such a policy can be seen as anything but immoral. What’s more, it has undermined US credibility yet again, just at the time much of the world was willing to give Bush the benefit of the doubt.

What is it about the office of the US presidency that leads men who would never kill anyone in their capacity as individuals to believe that doing so is fine so long as you use a weapon of mass destruction funded by the taxpayer? What does George W. Bush think when he sees pictures of dead Iraqi civilians and wounded women and children? Is he really (like Madeline Albright) prepared to say it is "worth the price"? Under what system of ethics, what rule of law?

We know W. as a man of compassion, someone who reaches across the aisle to befriend even sworn enemies. He’s turned the other cheek many times, in the election and since becoming president. He likes to put the past behind him.

What then are we to make of his behavior toward Saddam, which seems designed to make a lifetime enemy at a time when relations were moving toward normalization? He wouldn’t lift a finger to punish Clinton’s gang for trashing the White House, but let Iraq try to protect itself from armed American warplanes and Bush starts shooting and bombing people he’s never met.

Listening to the pundits, reading discussion boards, scanning opinion columns, you can take your pick of what you think is the REAL reason he gave the go ahead. The number one theory says that Bush is settling old family business, continuing a war begun by his father. In this scenario, both the president and the vice president are simply pursuing a vendetta against Saddam Hussein. But it’s a heck of a way to do it, since every bomb that falls on Iraq only strengthens Saddam’s political standing in Iraq and the entire Arab world.

Other explanations are more creative. The Bush administration is in hock to the oil interests who want to keep Iraq crippled in its producing capacity, and thereby keep prices high and give monopoly profits to their friends in Texas. This theory notes that Iraq has dramatically increased its oil production in the last quarter — possibly becoming a competitive threat to American oil interests.

Another theory has partisans of Israel within the administration attempting to take the focus off the investigation of the Marc Rich pardon. Or maybe Bush just wanted to bomb someone to show everyone in the world, including our allies, who is boss. There are other stories of splits within the administration, of conspiracies left and right.

Whatever the case, the official rationale is not believed, either at home or abroad. The stock market, hurting from very bad inflation reports, tanked the day of the bombing. The question everyone is asking is: do we have another warmonger in the White House? How tragic when Americans can understand the meaning behind a cartoon that appeared this week, showing Bush dropping bombs and saying "now I feel like a real president."

Bush has shown himself willing to learn from the mistakes of his father’s administration. He should remember most of all that his dad’s war glory was short lived. It brought him 90 percent approval ratings that lasted only as long as the bombs fell. Later, he lost his reelection bid.

The greatest legacy that his son could leave is different, one even greater than cutting taxes: peace. It’s not too late to reverse this very bad first step. Stop the bombs. Pull the troops out. Start friendly trading relations. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama. He also edits a daily news site, LewRockwell.com.

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