Feith: Bush Snookered Country into War

If, like me, you have a masochistic streak and aren’t yet tired of peeling back the layers of hubris, sophistry, stupidity and arrogance behind the war in Iraq, you might want to pick up the latest copy of Political Science Quarterly, with a review essay by Robert Jervis covering George Tenet’s and Douglas Feith’s books side-by-side. (Sorry, the essay isn’t online.)

In it, Jervis wades through a lot of the sorry history we already know, but makes some interesting observations and teases out some striking inferences, particularly from Feith’s book, of which he is more critical. Perhaps the most interesting argument Jervis makes in the piece is that, by any fair definition of the verb “to lie,” Feith makes clear that the administration lied in taking the country to war:

Feith’s central justification for the war is that even without active WMD programs or ties to al Qaeda, Saddam’s regime was by virtue of its tyrannical nature and previous behavior such a menace that it had to be removed. Inspections would fail not because Saddam might hide things, but because they were irrelevant to the real problem. This makes some sense, but renders the administration’s public position dishonest, since it insisted that its target was Saddam’s WMD programs, not his regime. In Feith’s telling, even if Saddam had cooperated with the inspectors, had shown that he was not actively pursuing WMD, and had dismantled some dubious equipment, he would have remained an intolerable threat because he could have resumed his dangerous activities at some time in the future. ”President Bush had already committed his Administration to changing the regime in Iraq” (p. 305), just as the critics claimed. The diplomacy and the insistence on inspections were a charade; only by going into exile or being replaced in a coup could Saddam have avoided an invasion, and not only were these possibilities slim, they risked leaving in place the Baathist regime, which is why Feith opposed such proposals when they emanated from the CIA (p. 200). Thus, although only in January 2003 did Bush tell his cabinet that “war is inevitable” (p. 342), in fact this was implicit much earlier. While Feith is correct to say that the administration did not lie about its mistaken beliefs that Saddam had active WMD programs and perhaps believed that [he] had ties to al Qaeda, if his account is correct, these were not the essential grounds for war.


Dean Acheson justified the extreme rhetoric in the early years of the Cold War by the need to make things “clearer than truth.” This is not unusual, although not immune from criticism.  But if Feith is correct, what Bush did was much more than exaggerate and present the world in excessively vivid colors. The misrepresentation was fundamental. Feith sees the administration’s failure to clearly present its reasoning as a missed opportunity to build support for the long-term war on terrorism. I doubt it, but it does mean that if Feith’s understanding of the administration’s policy is correct, it lied to the American people about why they needed to go to war.

Jervis has done a lot of work on this topic (see here, for example), and has a book coming out on intelligence and intelligence failures. He is also the author of a (the?) text on the psychology of international politics.

How Will Barack Obama Reform Social Security?

Barack Obama says he will make entitlement reform a central part of his attempt to control government spending. Just how serious is President Obama about entitlement reform? Are private accounts for Social Security on the table? In today’s Cato Daily Podcast, senior fellow Michael D. Tanner weighs in on Obama’s plan for the future of entitlement programs.

“The fact is, of course, private investment would still be a better deal than Social Security, but you have to face the fact that people are scared of the market right now,” Tanner says. “But I think you’ve got to give Barack Obama points for political courage. In addressing the need for entitlement reform he is taking on one of the mainstays of his party.”


Who’s Blogging about Cato

A round-up of bloggers who are using Cato research and commentary in their work:

  • John Hood, who writes for National Review’s blog, The Corner, links to Michael D. Tanner’s recent article on health care reform and cites Tony Leon and Marian L. Tupy’s research on Zimbabwe’s tyrannical ruler Robert Mugabe and Steve H. Hanke’s study of hyperinflation in the country.
  • Writing about Obama’s economic stimulus plan, radio host, financial advisor and author Roland Manarin cites David Boaz’s Cato@Liberty post about John Maynard Keynes.

Opportunities for Students

Calling all student writers, bloggers, and filmmakers! Cato on Campus has just launched three new student contests, offering monthly prizes and, later in the year, a top prize of a full scholarship to Cato University 2009 in San Diego.

We are accepting work from three categories: student op-eds, YouTube videos, and school papers.

The Cato on Campus Op-Ed Contest awards students for writing high quality op-eds on issues of liberty.

Our YouTube Contest seeks to support students who combine creativity with new technology to develop short videos that promote liberty and identify libertarian students with the passion and skills to take the message of liberty into the 21st century.

The Cato-in-the-Classroom contest encourages students to integrate Cato’s vast research materials into essays submitted for course credit.

For every contest, the best submissions each month are sent autographed copies of a Cato book related to their submission. The submission of the year will win a full scholarship to the 2009 Cato University at Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego.

Also, the 2009 International Students For Liberty Conference is less than a month away. On February 20-22, students from around the world will gather at George Washington University (Washington, D.C.) to discuss how to promote liberty on campus and hear from some of the greatest advocates of liberty today. Many Cato scholars will be in attendance, including Cato chairman Robert A. Levy and senior fellow Tom G. Palmer.

The conference has already accepted more than 150 students from 15 countries and today is the last day for the third round of applications. If you can’t submit an application today, the final application round ends on February 10th.

Medicaid for All?

Back on January 8, the Wall Street Journal ran a fantastic op-ed on Medicaid by the American Enterprise Institute’s Scott Gottlieb. Excerpts:

Accumulating medical data shows that Medicaid recipients’ poor health outcomes aren’t just a function of their underlying medical problems, but a more direct consequence of the program’s shortcomings….

Now Medicaid is to receive a bolus of federal money, probably as part of the fiscal stimulus plan — the figure whispered in Washington is $100 billion — with no obligation that the program does anything to reverse its decline….

The troubling evidence about the quality of Medicaid patients’ services is a cautionary tale for Mr. Obama as he sets about to administer more of our health care inside government agencies. Turning Medicaid around should be the least we demand before turning over more of our private health-care market to similar government management.

Mitch McConnell: Do as I Say, Not as I Do

Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) gave a speech today at the National Press Club outlining his vision for the future of the Republican Party. McConnell called for Republicans to “reassert mainstream conservative philosophies.”

Given that his 2008 reelection campaign focused heavily on his ability to secure pork-barrel spending for Kentucky, those philosophies apparently do not include respect for the taxpayer or smaller government. 

Lousy, Ungrateful, Punk Kids!

Yes, the title sounds like a line from the crotchety old man in a movie, but somehow it just seems to fit. In Nevada, the college students have taken to the anger/dance party streets, outraged over a proposal to cut state higher education funding in the face of recession:

Before the rally got underway, students crammed tents to sign petitions and receive information on how to contact state legislators. Others waved signs of protest like “Impeach [Governor Jim] Gibbons” as a DJ spun music near the stage. During the event, students bristled with indignation at the mention of the cuts, while they wildly cheered calls demanding action.

Now, I believe the children are our future and all that, but let’s put this in perspective. First off, everyone has lots of things they think are valuable and for which they want to use their money. Why should they have to support UNLV, or any other college, rather than, say, buy a car? More concretely, as the attached chart from the State Higher Education Executive Officers shows, Nevada has pretty steadily increased public per-pupil expenditures on higher ed over the last few years and, indeed, kept funding pretty stable or growing over the last few decades. Meanwhile, the state’s kept net revenue from tuition pretty constant. Moreover, relative to other states, Nevada is extremely generous, with public per-pupil expenditures of $8,589 in 2007 (versus a national average of $6,773) and per-pupil revenue through tuition of only $1,798 (versus a national average of $3,845).

And so, I repeat the crotchety old man’s line — “Lousy, ungrateful, punk kids!” — with a warning that the Silver State is hardly the only place we’ll see such self-righteous student greediness in the coming months.