Who’s Right About Iraq: Frank Rich or Christopher Tyreman?

I just finished reading NY Times columnist Frank Rich’s The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina. While it’s a good recap of the last six years, there isn’t much that’s new in the book (if you’ve been paying attention), until you hit the last chapter where Rich lays out why he thinks the Bush administration pursued the Iraq War and Occupation.

Rich claims that the decision to go to war in Iraq was mostly motivated by political concerns. After a momentary popularity surge following the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush was beginning to receive damaging criticism from two sources:

1) FBI agent XXX Crowley’s accusations that much more could have been done to prevent the attacks.
2) Letting Osama bin Laden escape at Tora Bora because we outsourced his capture to Afghan drug lords (historical note: the U.S. military wanted to go after bin Laden with a Ranger battalion but this plan was nixed by the administration. If we had captured bin Laden, I personally think we would have never wound up in Iraq. Chew on that, conspiracy theorists.)

Rich argues that invading Iraq was a way to deflect attention away from these failures. In other words, Iraq was largely Rove’s brainchild combined with Bush’s innate sense for self-preservation (perhaps his only talent, like all aristocrats). The neocon ideology, according to Rich, is secondary in importance. Rich recapped this idea in his most recent NY Times op-ed.
Another book I’ve read recently is God’s War by Christopher Tyreman, a history of the Crusades. Every single crusade. 922 pages worth. In God’s War, Tyreman argues that the false ‘either-or’ scenarios of the motivations underlying the Crusades are incomplete. Rather than the Crusades either stemming from ideological zealotry or temporal venality (i.e., acquiring territory and wealth), the situation is far more complex. Tyreman argues that, in a period where Crusades were viewed as just, the acquisition of temporal wealth was a just reward. To make a modern analogy, profitable contracts from the Coalition Provisional Authority do not undermine the purpose of the Iraq War, but, instead, should be viewed as the consequence of doing the right thing. Think of it as “doing well by doing good”, but with guns.
Tyreman, a good historian, also recognizes that the Crusade ‘ideology’ (my word, not his) existed as long as it served a political purpose. In many ways, the Crusades smoothed over political differences in Europe: rebels could be reincorporated into society by taking the vow, the power of central monarchs could be solidified, and so on. When crusades no longer served this purpose, their appeal declined. But the ideology of Crusading should not be downplayed, and was vital for popular support.
So, I’ll ask you readers, who do you think is right about Iraq: Rich or Tyreman?

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9 Responses to Who’s Right About Iraq: Frank Rich or Christopher Tyreman?

  1. hibob says:

    The motive was definitely political, but Rich’s explanation doesn’t take into account the pressure that was brought to bear on the intelligence services to blame Iraq for 9/11 – beginning on the morning of 9/11. Rumsfeld complained that Afghanistan wasn’t a “target rich environment” on 9/12, and the ball was rolling well before Bush’s surge of popularity had begun to fade.

  2. Ed S. says:

    I do not see any reason why both arguments cannot be true and correct. There is a certain mind-set that extends the meaning of “Doing well by doing good” to doing as well as one can for one’s self by lying one’s ass off.

  3. Mark says:

    I have seen another explanation for Gulf War 2. In this scenario, GWB is a habitual screwup, recognized as such by everyone including his father. GW 2 was GWB’s way of showing that 1) his father GHWB screwed up in not pursuing and deposing Hussein in Gulf War 1 and 2) the son could do what the father could not. Unfortunately GW 2 only showed that GWB is, indeed, a screwup. That explanation is appealing, if a little pop-psych. I fear we will never know the real reason GWB engaged in GW 2.
    The potential of reaping great benefits from invading Iraq was, I believe, secondary in the decision. If anything, that part is closer to Tyreman’s explanation, but I do not think it was the primary motivation for GW 2.

  4. There are multiple causes behind any war, and no war I’m familiar has ever come down to a single cause or a single man. The neocons certainly took the initiative after 9/11 to ramrod their previously marginal agenda into the mainstream. Bush certainly had ambitions to greatness and Churchillian pretentions. There was politics, there was money, there were natural resources. It all came together to produce a big, fat disaster.

  5. bigTom says:

    While I won’t go as far as Tyler (I assume he meant ALL wars have multiple causes), I think most of multiple causes. There clearly was a strong desire within both the neo-con camp, and the administration that wanted to do Iraq -even before 9-11. Perhaps they would have found a way to sell it -even if 9-11 hadn’t happened.
    In any case there were plenty of reasons why a “successful” operation would have been considered desirable -many of them stated as justifications either before or after the invasion. The question in my mind is not which reason was the real one, but how much weight the decider gave to each one.

  6. Richard Paul says:

    I incline more toward the Tyreman theory. 9/11 represented a handy opportunity for the Bush camp to advance the causes they considered important/moral/just – for GWB and the Christian right, a crusade against Islam to attenuate the partition in this country between church and state; for GWB’s buddies in the oil business a chance to preserve their profits for a few more years by removing an erratic, hostile dictator sitting on top of 25% of the world’s proven oil reserves; and for Cheney et al a chance to expand the power of the executive branch (and diminish that of Congress and the judiciary) by claiming extraordinary wartime powers with the support of a cowed populace desperately seeking safety from the terrorist threat and the “weapons of mass destruction”. All of these purposes required the establishment of a public perception of a connection between the 9/11 perpetrators and the regime of Saddam Hussein, and the truth was therefore consciously and massively subverted to the need for justification. This explains not only the necessity to invent the word “truthiness”, but the hysterical defensive reaction embodied in the Plame affair. Furthermore, it must be admitted that significant “progress”, if that is the word for it, has been made by the current administration toward at least some of these desired goals. In this sense, (and only in this sense)the Bush regime’s repeated claims that the war in Iraq has been a success are true. Without these agendas, the destruction of the World Trade Center could have and should have been dealt with as what it was – not an act of war, but an act of criminality, and the loss of American civilians would not have been compounded by the now considerably greater loss of American soldiers.

  7. Jorg says:

    Thanks for the book tips; sadly, PDX library does not have Tyreman, but I put it on my Amazon wishlist…On Crusades, do you know if Zoe Oldenburg’s book is good? I’ve read Runciman…a long time ago, and your post, along with the ridiculous political situation have inspired me to dig into the subject a bit more.
    Of course, a “just reward” has been a feature of Protestant mythology for a long time: i.e., Calvinist predestination.
    And, if I may return a recommendation favour (albeit on a different subject): I just finished Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto, and, I must say, it was quite a potent read. Definitely worth checking out.

  8. Joe Shelby says:

    I think they’re both wrong.
    My impression is that Iraq was always a target in this administration’s mind, going back long before 9/11. However, it was not a target merely for its own sake, nor for the sake of being a distraction due to early failures in Afghanistan.
    Iraq and Afghanistan BOTH were key to getting Iran to back down. Both were relatively easy targets, Afghanistan being too disorganized to offer direct resistence; Iraq having a military suppressed by concessions as part of the ’91 truce agreement (consessions that worked more than the administration could publically admit, since the violation those concessions was one of the reasons to go to war).
    Both were supposed to be “easy wins”, in order to show strength of force to get Iran to back down on its nuclear ambitions diplopmatically. The “argument from strength and success” appeal.
    If neither nation had gone through the insurgency and we’d been able to set up bases there as we had in post-war Europe, we’d be surrounding Iran on 3 sides (Iraq, Afghan, and the Gulf itself) with enough firepower, leverage, and most importantly vet combat experience, to pretty much guarentee their destruction in a fight with minimal losses of our own. This would have brought Iran to the negotiating table on our terms rather than theirs.
    The whole reason that the aftermath of Iraq nad Afghanistan were never considered in any pre-war plan was because they were never the targets in the first place. Afghanistan was attacked early and hard, and rightly so – the Taliban and the camps had to be stopped. I fully supported our action there (though I condemned the early withdrawal and the ignorance that country has seen from us since).
    Iran was the target all along, but blowing Iran to shreads would have been too devistating to the oil industry, so the alternate was to get them to back down under threat of force. Iran wouldn’t take it seriously, we knew, so instead Iraq was targetted to be that show of force, as well as to give us geographic leverage.
    No religious crusade, no weapons of mass destruction, no bringing freedom to the masses.
    Just a big bully, new to town, picking on the weakest target around in order to get a little more fear and respect from the biggest bully already there. Yes, I really do see it as a childish immaturity contest played out by powerful men who has we have seen in multitudes of examples elsewhere, care little for the consequences of their actions.

  9. Melanie says:

    Have you read Project for a New American Century? Iraq was on the neocons plate going back to 1998.

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