Blowing in the wind

by Russ Roberts on February 8, 2008

in Politics

I’m writing a piece on how politicians use rhetoric to win votes but ignore that rhetoric when they’re in office. Here’s a beauty, a quote from George Bush in a debate with Al Gore on October 3, 2000:

I would take the
use of force very seriously.  I would be guarded in my approach.  I
don’t think we can be all things to all people in the world.  I think
we’ve got to be very careful when we commit our troops.  The vice
president and I have a disagreement about the use of troops.  He
believes in nation building.  I would be very careful about using our
troops as nation builders.  I believe the role of the military is to
fight and win war and therefore prevent war from happening in the
first place.

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{ 50 comments }

Chris Meisenzahl February 8, 2008 at 12:03 pm

Ouch! ;-)

Bruce Boston February 8, 2008 at 12:31 pm

Perhaps you could do a follow-up article on "how men use rhetoric to win brides but ignore that rhetoric when they're in office."

-bruce

Buzzcut February 8, 2008 at 12:33 pm

Ironic, yes.

But that was then. This is now. Things changed on Sept. 11th.

And still, we didn't send troops to Dharfur, so at least Bush was being somewhat consistant. He was really speaking about Kosovo in that original quote.

lowcountryjoe February 8, 2008 at 12:48 pm

Like it or not, Public Law 107-243 explains quite a bit on why the president flip-floped on this. Where as…just kidding.

But seriously, our (collective 'our') unwillingness to enforce our the conditions of the cease fire for so long a period of time, probably signaled weakness to the crazies in that region.

Go on, Professor Roberts, read the P.L. and then comment.

Eric February 8, 2008 at 1:28 pm

I agree with Buzzcut that there is partial consistency here. At least at the beginning, that was largely due to a lack of interest, which could be interpreted as using "care" in our assignment of troops to nation-building roles.

I also agree that things changed on 9/11. They went from a ridiculous policy of 'containing' a tin-pot dictator to a shockingly dishonest policy of turfing him out of office because the political support for kicking Arabs around was suddenly available. The result: a big win for global stability in the near- to medium-term. Wait…

It is odd that people appear to be fully aware that politicians often lie, but they also appear to believe that the individual politicians they support are honest and good.

By the way, thanks, lowcountry, for linking to the Public Law.

FreedomLover February 8, 2008 at 1:40 pm

Mr. Roberts:

I take it your a Nine-Tenner? You realize circumstances change with events and stupid consistency is not a mark of character?

indiana jim February 8, 2008 at 1:43 pm

Buzzcut wrote:

"that was then. This is now. Things changed on Sept. 11th."

Yes, or as a famed court justice put it:

"Circumstances alter cases."

The U.S. was reluctant to enter WWII as well as I recall. Go back before Pearl Harbor (a less lethal attack on the homeland of Americans) and you'll probably find politicians saying vastly different sorts of things than afterward. Finding this, would you, Professor Roberts, sarcastically chalk this up as a "beauty" of an example of political hypocrisy? Its so easy to jump on the anti-Bush bandwagon that the baby seems to have gone out with the bathwater.

Chris February 8, 2008 at 1:44 pm

The real Iraq problem was that the president listened to Don Rumsfeld and not Colin Powell. Powell said, basically, if you want to go into Iraq, you have to do it with overwhelming force. Rumsfeld wanted to do it "on-the-cheap." Because we never really deployed enough forces, the insurgency got a foothold. With an active insurgency, many of our allies got cold feet and pulled out, hurting the effort even more.

In 20/20 hindsight, it's easy to say "there never were weapons of mass destruction; we never should have gone in." But, as has been reported lately, Hussein was trying to scare off the Iranians by keeping the world guessing about what he actually had. He fooled them, and he fooled us, to his detriment. If we had found an active nuclear program or stockpiles of chemical weapons, then it would be a lot harder to criticize the war now.

Mcwop February 8, 2008 at 1:56 pm

Regardless, it should be a lot harder to go to war than it currently is. It was too easy for Bush to march into Iraq.

Sam Grove February 8, 2008 at 1:57 pm

Of course, if Saddam had WMD, the time to use them would have been when U.S. forces were invading.

Russ, if you want to get down on inconsistency, then U.S. foreign policy should prove fertile ground without having to deal with the 9-10/9-11 issue.

IAC, the reason for obeying the constitution here is to keep congress accountable and prevent influences such as the PNAC group from determining actions such as invading Iraq; which no one has shown having anything to do with 9/11 attacks.

Martin Brock February 8, 2008 at 2:14 pm

For an incredibly prescient analysis of the Iraqi occupation, you really need to see this one, if you haven't.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BEsZMvrq-I

Sam Grove February 8, 2008 at 2:24 pm

Russ, if you want to get down on inconsistency, then U.S. foreign policy should prove fertile ground without having to deal with the 9-10/9-11 issue.

Not to mention Republican support for smaller government.

Martin Brock February 8, 2008 at 2:25 pm

Its so easy to jump on the anti-Bush bandwagon that the baby seems to have gone out with the bathwater.

I was on the Bush bandwagon until the Axis of Evil speech and his transformation into a global policeman and the architect of a domestic, Federal police state, well after 9/11. I can link posts, from all these forums wasting my valuable time, to show it. I supported Bush in 2000, and I supported him after 9/11. I supported a limited action against bin Laden and his forces in Afghanistan, like most of the rest of the world, including streets packed with sympathetic Iranians. 9/11 doesn't justify any conceivable policy following it.

Sam Grove February 8, 2008 at 2:26 pm

For an incredibly prescient analysis of the Iraqi occupation

Another fine example for Russell.

Eric February 8, 2008 at 2:42 pm

Martin — I had totally forgotten about that. Thanks for linking to it.

Indiana — At Pearl Harbor we were attacked by the Japanese. (And we declared war on Germany after they declared war on us.) On 9/11 we were attacked by a group of individuals, not a state. That group was neither supported by nor supportive of the Iraqi regime. By the Pearl Harbor analogy, say the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor and we responded by invading… Iraq.

jorod February 8, 2008 at 2:45 pm

See George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language," 1946

Flash Gordon February 8, 2008 at 2:49 pm

Not only did 9/11 happen after this statement, there is also the axiom that no battle plan [or foreign policy strategy] survives first contact with the enemy.

More fertile ground for this study might be on domestic issues, where Bush, like his father before him, violated nearly every campaign pledge he ever made.

Max February 8, 2008 at 3:23 pm

Dear Sam,

After Being attascked by the Japanese in Hawaii and having the Germans declare war, the United Statesd responded by attacking…

the French…

in Morocco.

Go figure.

As to the 9/11 attackers being non state actors, welcome to the wonderful new world of asymmetrical warfare. Get smart or die.

Sam Grove February 8, 2008 at 3:58 pm

Max

Are you sure I'm the one wou want to respond to?

Russ Roberts February 8, 2008 at 4:04 pm

I didn't say anything about whether it was a good idea to attack Iraq.

I'm only pointing out that once Bush was in office, the appeal of nation-building was evidently irresistible, despite his emphatic indictment of it in 2000.

Perhaps his opposition in 2000 was strategic rather than heart-felt.

Russ Roberts February 8, 2008 at 4:06 pm

I didn't say anything about whether it was a good idea to attack Iraq.

I'm only pointing out that once Bush was in office, the appeal of nation-building was evidently irresistible, despite his emphatic indictment of it in 2000.

Perhaps his opposition in 2000 was strategic rather than heart-felt.

Martin Brock February 8, 2008 at 4:10 pm

the French…

in Morocco.

That was Vichy France, the fascist state allied with Germany following Germany's military defeat of France. There was no similar relationship between bin Laden's Islamist fanatics and Baathists in Iraq. The two were bitter enemies.

FreedomLover February 8, 2008 at 4:12 pm

Russ:

No doubt that Bush was trying to be the anti-Clinton while running, but rushed to embrace Clinton-type policies when reality reared its ugly head. That's just politics, and Bush is nothing special in that regard. That liberals have so inflated him to Hitler-lite status is mind-boggling to me. I don't exaggerate it, liberals that I socialize with actually call him that.

Floccina February 8, 2008 at 4:13 pm

Defenders of Bush could use Sadaam's non compliance with the post gulf war conditions to justify entering Iraq to get him. I cannot justify the USA troops being in Iraq still.

Martin Brock February 8, 2008 at 4:14 pm

In fact, the only state in the world, including the Islamic world, recognizing the Taliban government sheltering bin Laden in Afghanistan before or after 9/11 was Pakistan, where bin Laden resides today by most accounts.

Libertarian February 8, 2008 at 4:28 pm

Geeze O Peets, people. Why is anyone with a room temperature IQ STILL confusing 9/11 with the invasion of Iraq????? The world did not change on 9/11, just your perception of it. But even if it DID, you're rationalizing the invasion of a country half way around the world because 19 men hijacked four airplanes?!?!

By the way, I assume that the VP that Bush referenced in that quote was Gore, not Cheney, right? Right?

Eric February 8, 2008 at 4:29 pm

Right. It was a 2000 presidential debate.

Flash Gordon February 8, 2008 at 4:35 pm

Sometimes politicians don't even wait until they have won the office they seek before they betray their own rhetoric.

Even though John McCain has missed many votes in the Senate in the last year, he made a point to show up and vote for the idiotic stimulus package less than 24 hours after telling his audience at the CPAC convention that he will be a big pork buster and spending hawk.

lowcountryjoe February 8, 2008 at 4:41 pm

Great video digging, Martin.

So what changed in the decision-making.? A need to hunt and kill al-Qaeda in order to try and prevent additional attacks here in the U.S.? How do you do that? Well, one must topple the ragtag Tailban government in Afghanistan so that al-Qaeda's protection is no longer present. Was going into Afghanistan the wrong thing to do? Not many will have the stones to say no to that skirmish. But there was less of a U.N. and U.S. mandate for toppling the Taliban than there was a case for re-entering into conflict with Iraq.

Just think of it this way: if Hussein had continued to flip us and the U.N. Security Council a bird on weapons inspections and this behavior went unchecked — giventhe timing of the behavior — what kind of message would we have been sending? Answer that question honestly and/or offer up an alternative method to enforce the cease-fire agreements, and i'll be glad to listen.

FreedomLover February 8, 2008 at 4:47 pm

joe:

Many did not think it was valid to enforce the ceasefire agreement. Many thought the first Iraq war was not legit. How do you deal with that?

indiana jim February 8, 2008 at 4:53 pm

"9/11 doesn't justify any conceivable policy following it"

Obviously true, so what? Argumentation by sweeping generalities is useless; its the disingenuous way to try to diminish alternative perspectives. Although, it does seem to be working quite well on a number of talk radio shows.

lowcountryjoe February 8, 2008 at 4:59 pm

Many did not think it was valid to enforce the ceasefire agreement. Many thought the first Iraq war was not legit. How do you deal with that?

That is a far more principled stance to have: just let nation staes fend for themselves. But, here's the problem with that, we (collectively, through our asshat elected representatives) made "law" regarding the use of first the first time and the second time and even in between the first and second times (particularly with the cease-fire).

We also have the so-called Monroe Doctrine in place. In order to just take a "let things happen as they do" approach around the world, we'd also should do this for the Americas if we are to remain principled. And, if we take a "let things happen as they do" approach to the Americas, we'd better be prepared, right now, to denounce the Monroe Doctrine and say that it is no longer in effect. Because if we don't, and something happens, we're sending some dangerous signals once again – like a frustrated parent who says that they're going to be consequences and then never doles out the punishment when the rotten behaviors occur [sorry to take the parental tack, but it is the only analogy that i felt would make the point].

Martin Brock February 8, 2008 at 5:10 pm

Correction: UAE and Saudi Arabia also recognized the Taliban government but withdrew recognition after 9/11, leaving Pakistan as the only state recognizing the Taliban government.

But there was less of a U.N. and U.S. mandate for toppling the Taliban than there was a case for re-entering into conflict with Iraq.

Although it offered some humanitarian aid to Afghanistan through NGOs during Taliban rule, the U.N. never recognized the Taliban government, and the Taliban government didn't much recognize the U.N. either. International support for some U.S. action against the Taliban after 9/11 was overwhelming.

Just think of it this way: if Hussein had continued to flip us and the U.N. Security Council a bird on weapons inspections and this behavior went unchecked — giventhe timing of the behavior — what kind of message would we have been sending?

That we aren't the world's policeman? That we don't give a flip about Hussein's gestures? That toppling the dictator of an already defanged and feckless state is not worth a trillion dollars and thousands of U.S. lives and tens of thousands wounded, never mind tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives and countless wounded?

lowcountryjoe February 8, 2008 at 5:25 pm

That we aren't the world's policeman? That we don't give a flip about Hussein's gestures? That toppling the dictator of an already defanged and feckless state is not worth a trillion dollars and thousands of U.S. lives and tens of thousands wounded, never mind tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives and countless wounded?

Fair enough. Just know this, Martin, if I ever read anything from you that discusses humanitarian aid, subsidies, or general interefrence into the afairs within another country's borders (to include meddling in Darfur, giving vaccines to Africa without market compensation), I'll ask you about why this time playing the world's cop is different. Because now that you've possibly placed yourself in a corner, any reference to policing the world will be met with a Internet equivelent of purple finger from me…and, no, it will not be a thumb.

Randy February 8, 2008 at 5:42 pm

It does seem to me that the thing most lacking from US foreign policy is cost/benefit analysis. My guess is that in a great many cases we would be better off to throw dollars at problems rather than the military. So Iraq doesn't want to allow inspectors in. Pay them $100 billion for an account that we can cut off if they don't comply with the inspection requirement. Savings in dollars: $400 billion and counting. Savings in lives: Many… and counting…

FreedomLover February 8, 2008 at 5:44 pm

joe:

the fallacy of letting "nations" fend for themselves is the West(including Japan) have a very important oil interest in the Middle East. "Leaving them alone" is not an option unless we can replace 100% of Mideast oil. Unless you have answer for that, you're whistling Dixie.

FreedomLover February 8, 2008 at 5:49 pm

Randy:

If Obama/Hillary gets elected and doesn't immediately withdraw the troops, I can never take your side seriously again. Your side promised that if ONLY you got a liberal in the White House, the troops would ALL come home. I'm not holding my breath.

Martin Brock February 8, 2008 at 5:50 pm

Fair enough. Just know this, Martin, if I ever read anything from you that discusses humanitarian aid, subsidies, or general interefrence into the afairs within another country's borders (to include meddling in Darfur, giving vaccines to Africa without market compensation), I'll ask you about why this time playing the world's cop is different.

Humanitarian aid, advisable or otherwise, is not equivalent to playing the world's cop. Conflating all of these things demonstrates nothing. Opposing an incredible policy does not disqualify anyone from advocating a more credible policy. I supported some action in Afghanistan after 9/11. I ceased supporting Bushniks after the Axis of Evil speech, where Bush used tired, worn out rhetoric somehow to make a W.W. II-style alliance threatening the globe out of two bitter enemies (Iran and Iraq) and the ever-Islamo-fascist … North Korea.

Because now that you've possibly placed yourself in a corner, any reference to policing the world will be met with a Internet equivelent of purple finger from me…and, no, it will not be a thumb.

Your gross over-generalization places me in no corner. Your thumb is no more hazardous to my health than Hussein's bird, but you won't find me advocating much military intervention anywhere. Ron Paul is right on this score, even if you mistakenly think him left.

Sam Grove February 8, 2008 at 5:51 pm

the fallacy of letting "nations" fend for themselves is the West(including Japan) have a very important oil interest in the Middle East. "Leaving them alone" is not an option unless we can replace 100% of Mideast oil. Unless you have answer for that, you're whistling Dixie.

I guess you're not familiar with world oil markets. Of course, with all the inflation, we're paying more now for that oil.

Randy February 8, 2008 at 5:56 pm

FreedomLover,

I don't think it matters who gets elected, the US is not going to withdraw its forces from Iraq within the next several decades. Iraq was an entrance strategy, our forces are positioned as desired, and the people who are talking about an exit just haven't been briefed yet.

lowcountryjoe February 8, 2008 at 6:07 pm

My guess is that in a great many cases we would be better off to throw dollars at problems rather than the military.

But there's an unseen item at play that most people do not think of. I spent some time on active duty in the Marine Corps so I can attest. Some others who post here may have to and can attest.

Many military members actually enjoy combat — or at least think that they will before finding themselves in it. So, you have a Armed Service that is seemingly very motivated to engage in warfare. And, there are too many people in the Armed Services for a garrison (or peace time) scenario. So, the training is left wanting because the funding just isn't there. But, if we were to allocate an appropriate amount of service members for peacetime it leads to not having enough trained members on-hand to answer the call when we need them to.

The two tensions make for a predisposition to engage in warfare…because many of the advisors who persuade presidents into warfare, were themselves a part of the military and have these same predilections for combat action.

lowcountryjoe February 8, 2008 at 6:19 pm

Humanitarian aid, advisable or otherwise, is not equivalent to playing the world's cop.

You're right, it is even less equivlent than the stopping the horrors that the Iraqi regime were unleashing on the people of Kuwait. You principled bubble just popped! I did expect it to happen within an hour but I knew it would happen. You're a fraud.

I supported some action in Afghanistan after 9/11.

Why? Please explain this double standard of yours.

Your gross over-generalization places me in no corner.

Not anymore. You're no longer confined to any corners, Martin, because you can be selectively principled. But, just don't think that you have any right to claim the high ground when discussing this issue. You're own words and views have dropped any pretenses of the fraud that you are.

Your thumb is no more hazardous…

I told you that it was NOT a thumb. In fact, looking down at my hand right now (from the top), it kind of resembles an F-16.

…to my health than Hussein's bird, but you won't find me advocating much military intervention anywhere.

Except in Afghanistan in 2002…that was okay, right?

Martin Brock February 8, 2008 at 7:16 pm

… meddling in Darfur …

http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=3259

Martin Brock February 8, 2008 at 7:46 pm

You're right, it is even less equivlent than the stopping the horrors that the Iraqi regime were unleashing on the people of Kuwait. You principled bubble just popped! I did expect it to happen within an hour but I knew it would happen. You're a fraud.

I expressed no general principle remotely like the one your straw man proposes. The fraud is entirely yours.

Not anymore. You're no longer confined to any corners, Martin, because you can be selectively principled. But, just don't think that you have any right to claim the high ground when discussing this issue. You're own words and views have dropped any pretenses of the fraud that you are.

Nonsense. "Selectively principled" suggests that I've described some general principle applicable to a limited action in Afghanistan and also applicable to an occupation of Iraq while applying the principle only to Afghanistan. I never express this general principle at all. You're the one generalizing from one to the other, and your generalization is incredible.

…to my health than Hussein's bird, but you won't find me advocating much military intervention anywhere.

Except in Afghanistan in 2002…that was okay, right?

Like I said, you won't find me advocating much military intervention anywhere. Given credible evidence of their involvement in the 9/11 attacks, a limited action against bin Laden and his training camps in Afghanistan is a measured, targeted response. He's practically confessed on tape, so the evidence is not much in doubt.

Inventing an "axis" of states bitterly opposed to one another, declaring a global war on "Islamo-fascism" while including North Korea in the axis, evoking World War III and occupying nations to establish a beachhead for indefinite regional policing, at the cost of a trillion taxpayer dollars, is not a measured, targeted response.

The principle is a measured, targeted response. This principle applies to the terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and does not apply to Iraq and global "war on terror".

lowcountryjoe February 8, 2008 at 7:47 pm

Martin,

You simply post a link and add no further comment as to whether or not you agree with the thrust of the piece — a piece that, as of yet, I've only skimmed.

Then there are the conspicuously absent answers to my previous questions. What's up with that? You do not have to answer, of course, but by not doing so, you have no creditability in my book…and quite possibly in the books of others here.

Mesa Econoguy February 8, 2008 at 7:50 pm

George W. Bush did not ignore his own rhetoric by invading Iraq; he is too ignorant. But this is where I take Professor Roberts (my economic mentor) to task.

The fundamental economic principle is opportunity cost, or “what we should have done instead” (more efficient deployment of assets).

What is and was in play was an “opportunity cost” of not invading. Specifically, as observed above, given the prior 9/11 attacks, and Clinton Administration evisceration and overt politicization of the intel services, Bush had an extremely difficult choice: 1) don’t invade, and risk major potential physical and economic damage, or 2) invade, and expect a very messy and potentially drawn-out presence, and major potential political (and other) damage.

Pick your poison.

I part with Prof. Roberts and other libertarians here. You cannot be ambiguous in policy when exogenous parties threaten your existence/trade/lives. This is not a market paradigm.

Decent execution, horrible side effects, awful subsequent decisionmaking, but given the potential damage that might have occurred had we done nothing and given our highly imperfect knowledge at the time, not nearly as bad as it could have been, had we pursued the naïve libertarian line of “trade solves everything….”

muirgeo February 8, 2008 at 8:12 pm

"…but given the potential damage that might have occurred…"
Mesa

What damage? Were they gonnna fly over on Uday and Qusay's gliders and drop spit wads on us??? Were they gonna swim over in rafts with knives between their teeths and take over our country? Boy oh boy did you ever buy the farm. TERROR TERROR..BE AFFRAID…9/11…Islamofascist..terror..terrorist….terrorist…danger Will Robinson…

lowcountryjoe February 8, 2008 at 8:24 pm

What damage?

The potential damage that we will never know about, the unknown…sort of like you and the subject of economics.

Let's assume we do nothing. Nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons ambitions just go away on their own. Dictators, tyrants, and madmen just decide to be peaceful to one another and America's newfound lack of involvement — in the face of its past involvement, postures, threats and agreements — leads to harmony around the globe. Like puppies and wildflowers on warm, sunny days, nothing is ever damaged again and everyone lives with the liberties their Creator grants without government standing in the way.

Yeah, I've probably took liberties on your views, but asking "what damage?” when the course of history has changed (and we'll never know what presumably good things that could-have-been), is the sort of naivety that invites such ridicule.

Sam Grove February 8, 2008 at 8:33 pm

Bush had an extremely difficult choice: 1) don’t invade, and risk major potential physical and economic damage, or 2) Bush had an extremely difficult choice: 1) don’t invade, and risk major potential physical and economic damage, or 2)Bush had an extremely difficult choice: 1) don’t invade, and risk major potential physical and economic damage, or 2) invade, and expect a very messy and potentially drawn-out presence, and major potential political (and other) damage.

I doubt that it was all that difficult. Regime change in Iraq was established under Clinton and the PNAC boys had everything ready for the invasion. Intel was cooked up to help justify, etc. There was wide support for taking out al Queda, and that was done.

and point 2 needs editing: 2) invade, and expect a very messy and potentially drawn-out presence (they claimed otherwise), and cause major economic damage.

FreedomLover February 8, 2008 at 8:37 pm

Ah why did I bother with this loser-tarian blog? Just a bunch of angry, loser, losertarians raging about GW Bush about Iraq. Yes, I know you hate Jewish neocons. Get over it.

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