Tag: framing

“Too Fat to Fight”

Mission: Readiness, a collection of retired generals, admirals and other senior military officers issued their latest report this week and the accompanying press release should draw the attention of IR scholars interested in the Copenhagen School and securitization: “Childhood Obesity Endangers National Security.” The news was particularly bad for my state:

…obesity rates among children and young adults in Kentucky are significantly higher than the national average. Weight problems have become the leading medical reason why young adults are unable to serve in the military, both in Kentucky and nationwide…

“Today, in Kentucky and across the country, otherwise excellent recruit prospects are being turned away because they are simply too overweight,” Major General [D. Allen] Youngman said.

The Louisville Courier-Journal summarized the report’s bad news for local readers:

The report says that 51 percent of young adults in Kentucky were overweight or obese in 2007-09, up from 38 percent in 1997-99. Indiana’s rates, meanwhile, rose from 37 percent in 1997-99 to 40 percent in 2007-09.

Nationally, the report found that about one in four 17- to 24-year-olds is too fat to serve in the military….

“As we look to the future, military defense will remain an important issue for our country. We are confident we’ll have the tanks and ships.…What we’re really concerned about is who will be able to join the military,” said retired Army General D. Allen Youngman of Bowling Green. “In Kentucky, we are worse off than elsewhere.”

Obviously, there are many good reasons to be concerned about childhood nutrition and obesity — particularly given high rates of childhood poverty and hunger as well. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is probably desirable policy. However, I do wonder about the need to sell the policy by framing it as a national security issue. Even a human security frame would be preferable, but that’s not likely a persuasive message in the US.

Where does US militarism end?

Given this ranking and this data, I’m expecting the new school superintendent in Louisville to be a Dean Wormer disciple.

Note: the title of this post comes from the original report issued by Mission: Readiness.


The “drug war” is over?

Over the years, the so-called global “war on terror” (or “war on terrorism”) has had its ups and downs as a foreign policy framing device. The George W. Bush administration, of course, relied upon the frame to sell virtually all its major foreign policies over a period of many years — even though the Pentagon at one point preferred “struggle against violent extremists.” Britain stopped using the phrase some years ago (at least in the Labor government).

Barack Obama’s administration allegedly abandoned the phrase very early in his term — in favor of alternatives like “overseas contingency operations.” However, with a little searching, it’s not difficult to find official spokespersons (like Robert Gibbs)  — or even the President himself — continuing to use those words after announcing that they wouldn’t.

Somehow, I missed the Obama administration’s similar early announcement that it was also going to stop using the phrase “war on drugs.” The Wall Street Journal reported this story May 14, 2009:

The Obama administration’s new drug czar says he wants to banish the idea that the U.S. is fighting “a war on drugs,” a move that would underscore a shift favoring treatment over incarceration in trying to reduce illicit drug use.

In his first interview since being confirmed to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske said Wednesday the bellicose analogy was a barrier to dealing with the nation’s drug issues.

“Regardless of how you try to explain to people it’s a ‘war on drugs’ or a ‘war on a product,’ people see a war as a war on them,” he said. “We’re not at war with people in this country.”

We haven’t discussed the “war on drugs” very much here at the Duck of Minerva, but it has long had a significant effect on public policy — especially domestic policy as recently demonstrated in a drug-themed issue of The Nation. This is an excellent summary of the costs from Ohio State Law Professor Michelle Alexander’s piece in that issue:

More than 30 million people have been arrested since 1982, when President Reagan turned Nixon’s rhetorical “war against drugs” into a literal war against poor people of color. During the past few decades, African-American men, in particular, have been arrested at stunning rates, primarily for nonviolent, relatively minor drug offenses—despite data indicating that people of all races use and sell drugs at remarkably similar rates. In some states, 80 to 90 percent of all drug offenders admitted to prison have been African-American, and when released they find themselves ushered into a parallel universe where they are stripped of many of the rights supposedly won during the civil rights movement. People labeled felons are often denied the right to vote and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits—relegated to a second-class status for life simply because they were once caught with drugs.

She put the economic cost of the war at “more than $1 trillion in the past few decades.”

Clearly, America’s “carceral state,” which Charli recently mentioned, reflects the outcome of the drug war. Of course “contact with the criminal justice system” is going to be a “significant predictor of civic and political disengagement and mistrust of government.” Felons are frequently denied the freedom to vote.

I recall more than 20 years ago thinking about writing a rhetorical analysis about George H.W. Bush’s use of the phrase “war on drugs” to rally support for his domestic and foreign initiatives. But I didn’t. The cold war was still raging, my dissertation concerned strategic defense — and I needed to find a tenure track job. Members of the IR Copenhagen School have long discussed the securitization of this issue, but few American IR scholars have taken it very seriously — even when it occasionally spilled over into “hot” rather than merely metaphorical war.

The Obama administration doesn’t use the phrase “war on terror,” but has escalated American intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The “war in Iraq” has ended, but 50,000 American troops remain to help provide security.

I suspect the decision to stop using the phrase “war on drug” will have similar policy consequences. Indeed, that recent issue of The Nation demonstrates the continued failings of U.S. policy in this area.


Overseas contingency operations

Two months ago — before the Inaugural — I blogged “The ‘war on terror’ is over.” At that time, the British Foreign Secretary said that the UK no longer used the phrase.

Now, apparently, the US will stop using the phrase as well:

The Obama administration appears to be backing away from the phrase “global war on terror,” a signature rhetorical legacy of its predecessor.

In a memo e-mailed this week to Pentagon staff members, the Defense Department’s office of security review noted that “this administration prefers to avoid using the term ‘Long War’ or ‘Global War on Terror’ [GWOT.] Please use ‘Overseas Contingency Operation.’ ”

The Washington Post story quotes some government officials who seem to be less-than-certain that this shift in rhetoric has occurred.

On February 16, a report issued by the International Commission of Jurists recommended that the US and other states back off of their war on terror. This is from their press release:

The Eminent Jurists Panel on Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights, established by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), has based its report “Assessing Damage, Urging Action” on sixteen hearings covering more than forty countries in all regions of the world.

“In the course of this inquiry, we have been shocked by the extent of the damage done over the past seven years by excessive or abusive counter-terrorism measures in a wide range of countries around the world. Many governments, ignoring the lessons of history, have allowed themselves to be rushed into hasty responses to terrorism that have undermined cherished values and violated human rights. The result is a serious threat to the integrity of the international human rights legal framework,” said Justice Arthur Chaskalson, the Chair of the Panel, former Chief Justice of South Africa and first President of the South African Constitutional Court…

The report calls for the rejection of the “war on terror” paradigm and for a full repudiation of the policies grounded in it. It emphasises that criminal justice systems, not secret intelligence, should be at the heart of the legal response to terrorism.

Plenty of domestic critics have critized the framework as well:

“Declaring war on a method of violence was like declaring war on amphibious warfare,” said Jeffrey Record, a strategy expert at the US military’s Air War College in Alabama.

“Also, it suggested that there was a military solution, and that we were at war with all practitioners of terrorism, whether they threatened American interests or not. ‘War’ is very much overused here in the United States – on crime, drugs, poverty. Everything has to be a war. We would have been much smarter to approach terrorism as the Europeans do, as a criminal activity.”

Anyone interested in Dan’s work on empire would also want to note that the “war on terror” framing made it easier for America’s disparate foes to work together. From the Post story quoted up-top:

John A. Nagl, the former Army officer who helped write the military’s latest counterinsurgency field manual, said the phrase “was enormously unfortunate because I think it pulled together disparate organizations and insurgencies.”

“Our strategy should be to divide and conquer rather than make of enemies more than they are,” said Nagl, now president of the Center for a New American Security, a defense policy think tank in Washington. “We are facing a number of different insurgencies around the globe — some have local causes, some of them are transnational. Viewing them all through one lens distorts the picture and magnifies the enemy.”

Search the Duck archives, and you’ll find ZERO uses of the phrase in the title of this post. I wonder how much that will change in the next four years?


The “war on terror” is over

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband says “for a couple of years now the British Government has used neither the idea nor the phrase ‘war on terror’.”

Miliband was in Mumbai, speaking (transcript here) at the recently targeted Taj Hotel. He made a number of points that new American leaders should embrace. For example, a “war on terror” creates an enemy that does not exist:

…ultimately, the notion is misleading and mistaken…The notion of a war on terror gave the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama Bin Laden and the organization of Al Qaeda. In fact, as India has long known, the forces of violent extremism remain diverse. Terrorism is a deadly tactic, not an institution or an ideology

…The more we lump terrorist groups together and draw the battle lines as a simple binary struggle between moderates and extremists or good and evil, the more we play into the hands of those seeking to unify groups with little in common, and the more we magnify the sense of threat.

Moreover, fighting a “war” on terror militarizes a struggle that should be handled quite differently:

the phrase “war on terror” implied a belief that the correct response to the terrorist threat was primarily a military one: to track down and kill a hardcore of extremists. But as General Petraeus said to me and others in Iraq, the coalition there could not kill its way out of the problems of insurgency and civil strife.

…democracies must respond to terrorism by championing the rule of law, not subordinating it. If we want to promote the politics of consent instead of terror and of democratic opportunity rather than fear and oppression, we must uphold our commitments to human rights and civil liberties both at home and abroad.

Why didn’t the Bush administration heed this advice years ago? Many others were offering it — since September 2001, in fact.

Actually, back in summer 2005 the Bush team did briefly appear to abandon the “war” on terror or terrorism.

Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, for instance, wanted to refer to the US policy as a “a global struggle against violent extremism” (G-SAVE). By dropping “war,” the administration could have somewhat de-militarized the conflict. As was noted at the time,

“Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the National Press Club on Monday that he had “objected to the use of the term ‘war on terrorism’ before, because if you call it a war, then you think of people in uniform as being the solution.”

The solution is “more diplomatic, more economic, more political than it is military,” Myers said.

At the time, as my blog post made clear, Karl Rove liked the “war” framing and President George W. Bush settled the issue before the end of the summer. Bush declared in August:

Make no mistake about it, we are at war. We’re at war with an enemy that attacked us on September the 11th, 2001. We’re at war against an enemy that, since that day, has continued to kill. They have killed in Madrid and Istanbul and Jakarta and Casablanca and Riyadh and Bali and London and elsewhere.

As Peter pointed out at the time, the “war on terror” language allows Bush to “claim significant powers and the mantle of a Wartime President….Bush has successfully used the language of War to legitimize much of his policy agenda.”

When he spoke of the “rule of law” and democracies, Miliband explicitly said the UK welcomed Barack Obama’s promise to close Guantanamo. This seemed like a clear signal to the incoming administration that even America’s closest ally wants change it can believe in.


NGOs as the “New Colonialists”

Somehow, last summer I missed a Foreign Policy article by Michael A. Cohen, Maria Figueroa Küpçü, and Parag Khanna, which appeared in the July/August 2008 issue. Unfortunately, you won’t find much of the article at that link unless you are a subscriber. I happened to see the piece in the November/December Utne Reader. The on-line excerpt is a bit longer there, but you still won’t find the full essay. Sorry about that.

Nonetheless, the authors’ central thesis is certainly provocative and worth discussing even if internet users cannot find the entire piece:

[T]he thin line that separates weak states from truly failed ones is manned by a hodgepodge of international charities, aid agencies, philanthropists, and foreign advisers. This armada of non-state actors has become a powerful global force, replacing traditional donors’ and governments’ influence in poverty-stricken, war-torn world capitals. And as a measure of that influence, they are increasingly taking over key state functions, providing for the health, welfare, and safety of citizens. These private actors have become the “new colonialists” of the 21st century.

Is this the logical new step beyond what Jessica Matthews called a “power shift” back in 1997? Clearly, this is not what scholars had in mind when they noted that activists had moved beyond borders.

While the authors credit NGOs with performing all sorts of beneficial — even vital — functions, they nonetheless claim “whatever the task, the result is generally the same: the slow and steady erosion of the host state’s responsibility and the empowerment of the new colonialists themselves.” Additionally, the authors imply that NGOs have a selfish agenda: “aid organizations and humanitarian groups need dysfunction to maintain their relevance. Indeed, their institutional survival depends on it.”

What are we to make of this critique?

As I said, I’m late to this discussion, so I should first point to an excellent early September post by William Felice at the HRHW Roundtable blog. Felice laments

“the way in which the language of colonialism, imperialism and empire has been sanitized and misused in the current period…Cohen, Küpçü, and Khanna fall into this revisionist quagmire by conflating colonialism solely with dependency, ignoring the most vicious and brutal components to the over 450 years of colonial domination. It should not be so easy to label an organization “colonialist.” In fact, given the real meaning of the term, it is absurd and scandalous to call the Gates Foundation “colonialist.” One would not lightly brand a group “fascist” or “totalitarian.” Yet, somehow today it is OK to talk about empire, imperialism and colonialism as if these were almost neutral terms.

Felice also takes on the claim about selfishness, pointing out that human suffering would increase to “immeasurable” levels if NGOs did not provide vital functions throughout the developing world.

On July 31, Tony Pipa of the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard wrote that equating NGOs with colonialists simply “doesn’t work…It’s like calling the Prius the new Hummer. They both get you from here to there, but the goals and values behind the design are completely different.” Pipa also references specific infrastructure projects that NGOs voluntarily turned over to governments once they had some success.

The Foreign Policy trio conclude that NGOs must be held accountable in order to assure that their goals are just and their power limited. They don’t really offer many specifics — market-style “competition among aid groups” is the most concrete suggestion.

There’s actually a very large policy and scholarly literature on NGO accountability. See, for example, this piece and this one too. Nayef Samhat and I briefly addressed some of it in our 2004 book. We argue for widespread inclusiveness, transparency, and public deliberation.

Update: Corrected a typo on Tony Pipa’s name 1/21/09.


The debate climate of the climate debate

The press has periodically made note of various allegations, but the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee just released (December 12) its full report on Political Interference with Climate Change Science Under the Bush Administration. The Committee has been gathering evidence for 16 months and examined 27,000 pages of documents from the Bush administration. It also conducted multiple hearings and interviewed key figures.

What did the Committee find? The Report’s homepage provides this summary:

The evidence before the Committee leads to one inescapable conclusion: the Bush Administration has engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming.

In 1998, the American Petroleum Institute developed an internal “Communications Action Plan” that stated: “Victory will be achieved when … average citizens ‘understand’ uncertainties in climate science … [and] recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom.’” The Bush Administration has acted as if the oil industry’s communications plan were its mission statement. White House officials and political appointees in the agencies censored congressional testimony on the causes and impacts of global warming, controlled media access to government climate scientists, and edited federal scientific reports to inject unwarranted uncertainty into discussions of climate change and to minimize the threat to the environment and the economy.

Long-time readers may recall that I’ve blogged previously about the administration’s secrecy and exclusionary practices in regard to the climate change debate.

I’m particularly concerned about the context for deliberation since it is vitally important for public truth-seeking. Debates distorted (and dominated) by powerful actors are not likely to result in legitimate outcomes.

IR scholars interested in deliberation and the public sphere might want to check out the scholarly work of James N. Druckman. For example, this is a useful article: “Political Preference Formation: Competition, Deliberation, and the (Ir)relevance of Framing Effects,” American Political Science Review (2004), 98: 671-686.

Druckman finds that distortions can be checked by elite competition and heterogeneous discussion. Thus, congressional oversight of this type potentially has tremendous political value — both procedurally and substantively.


Public diplomacy? We don’t need no stinking public diplomacy!

The BBC reports:

US President George W Bush has appealed for people to give his strategy in Iraq a chance – holding up Israel as a model for defining success there.

He said America would like to see Iraq function as a democracy while dealing with violence – just as Israel does.

Speaking at the US Naval War College, Mr Bush said success in Iraq would not be defined by an end to attacks.

His remarks come as members of his Republican party are increasingly turning against the war in Iraq.

The US president characterised the war in Iraq as primarily against al-Qaeda forces and their use of “headline-grabbing” suicide attacks and car bombings.

He said: “Our success in Iraq must not be measured by the enemy’s ability to get a car bombing in the evening news.”

The terms of success set out by Mr Bush included “the rise of a government that can protect its people, deliver basic services for all its citizens and function as a democracy even amid violence”.

Mr Bush suggested Israel as a standard to work towards.

“In places like Israel, terrorists have taken innocent human life for years in suicide attacks.

“The difference is that Israel is a functioning democracy and it’s not prevented from carrying out its responsibilities. And that’s a good indicator of success that we’re looking for in Iraq.”

Is this an unreasonable analogy? No, it isn’t. Is it a stupid &^@!)# thing to say? Hell, yes.

The Bush Administration still hasn’t figured, or at least adapted to, a basic rule of global media: US officials must assume that any messages intended for domestic consumption can, and will, be scrutinized abroad. And arguments that resonate well with an American audience may fair very, very poorly with important international audiences.

Consider that while the Bush Administration has certainly displayed a more unilateralist bent than the Clinton Presidency, the international backlash against Bush even before Iraq was far out of proportion to his substantive changes in US foreign policy. At least part of the problem was that Bush, Cheney and the gang were so relentlessly focused on their “Mayberry Machiavellianism” at home that they either didn’t pay attention to, or didn’t care, how their rhetoric–much of which worked well in the American context–would be interpreted abroad.

Which brings us full circle. Will Bush’s words be twisted in the coming days in the Arab world? Perhaps. I’d lay good odds that the coverage will not be favorable. Will they make an enormous difference? Probably not. But what’s the upside to handing your opponents a big shiny quote that the US wants Iraq to look like Israel? I think you all know the answer.

(image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Iraq


Film class — week 10

Film #10 “Wag the Dog” (1997). We viewed it Tuesday.

Reading for Thursday: Jane Kellett Cramer, “‘Just Cause’ or Just Politics? U.S. Panama Invasion and Standardizing Qualitative Tests for Diversionary War,” 32 Armed Forces & Society, Spring 2006, pp. 178-201.

The students and I are in the midst of watching a number of comedies about global politics in order to consider various critical perspectives. After all, among other virtues, comedies amplify the ridiculous and help one identify hypocrisy.

The biting satirical film “Wag the Dog” was made in 1997, but it resonated powerfully throughout the political year 1998. In January of that latter year, the Drudge Report broke the Monica Lewinsky story — though President Bill Clinton quite famously and publicly denied the nature of the relationship. In late July, the former White House intern testified to Ken Starr’s Grand Jury under immunity. On August 17, President Bill Clinton went before that same panel to give his side of the story. Clinton gave a speech later that night admitting publicly that he had had an inappropriate relationship with Lewinsky.

On August 20, American cruise missiles struck in Afghanistan and Sudan.

By December, impeachment proceedings against Clinton were well under way in the House of Representatives. The impeachment votes were held on December 19.

From December 16 to 19, the US conducted a major air bombardment campaign against Iraq (Operation Desert Fox) because Saddam Hussein was failing to comply with UN Security Council resolutions concerning weapons inspections.

Clinton critics charged that both these uses of force were diversionary. However, the scholar Ryan Hendrickson has developed four propositions for identifying diversionary wars and concludes that these two 1998 cases failed to meet the tests.

After all, missing from the above chronology are a couple of important facts from August. On the 7th, al Qaeda terrorists bombed American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing over 250 people and wounding thousands. The armed US response came less than two weeks later.

Also that month, Iraq terminated its cooperation with UN weapons inspections. The Republican-controlled Congress later passed the Iraq Liberation Act, which Clinton signed on October 31. In November, under US and British pressure, Hussein allowed weapons inspectors to return, but continued to play cat-and-mouse games with them — perhaps to give Iran the false impression that he had weapons of mass destruction. In any case, Clinton had briefed leaders of Congress about the possibility of armed response three weeks prior to the attacks — and publicly declared that the US needed to strike before Ramadan.

These events did not merely provide Clinton with a good cover story; rather, they suggest that he was using force in response to the international context.

Cramer, in contrast, concludes that George H.W. Bush did undertake a diversionary war against Panama in 1989. As I’ve previously noted, Bush the elder certainly used that odd occasion to declare an end to the “Vietnam syndrome.”

During class, the students and I discussed Hendrickson’s proposition’s (as modified by Cramer) in the context of the current Iraq war. I had asked them each to investigate at least two of the propositions vis-à-vis the current war. Given the lengthy public debate and buildup to war, it is very difficult to argue that Iraq was was a diversionary war. Plus, political scientists seldom find evidence for diversionary wars. It was easy to find evidence for a couple of the propositions — the diplomacy was seemingly cut short, the use of force seemed premature and there was great international criticism of the war.

Finally, we discussed the well-known “rally ’round the flag” effect and wondered if Presidents might be tempted to use force to build support for an otherwise unpopular political agenda — or perhaps as a means to consolidate political power. These may seem like scenarios from 1984, but sometimes it seems as if these are Orwellian times.

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Framing: Foreign Repression Edition

The BBC:

Mauritania has accused Islamic insurgents from Algeria of attacking a Mauritanian army base in the Sahara desert killing at least 15 soldiers. Defence Minister Baba Ould Sidi said the gunmen were from the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) – suspected of links to al-Qaeda…. In recent months the Mauritanian government has arrested about 50 people accused of links with al-Qaeda.

Critics accuse the government of using the US-led war on terror to crackdown on Islamic opponents.

Human Rights Watch:

Uzbek authorities deny responsibility for the killings. The government claims the death toll was 173 people—law enforcement officials and civilians killed by the attackers, along with the attackers themselves. The government says the attackers were “Islamic extremists” who had an Islamist agenda and help from abroad.

Human Rights Watch found no evidence that any of the speakers at the protest promoted an Islamist agenda. According to numerous witnesses, their grievances were overwhelmingly about poverty, corruption, and government repression. Eyewitness accounts suggest the number of dead to be far higher than the government figure.

Since almost immediately after 9/11 attacks, a good many governments have used “Al-Queda” and “radical Islam” as a cover for more general crackdowns on their political opponents. How much longer will they get away with it? I suspect Uzbekistan is shaping up to be the major test case, and current results don’t seem very encouraging for human-rights activists.

More detailed discussion of similar concerns here.

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Framing Iraq

Bill recently argued that, contra left-wing grumbling, the Bush administration has consistently embraced democratic enlargement as an element of its grand strategy. His post struck a nerve with some commentators, generating the kind of debate I hope happens more often as the readership of this blog expands.

I want to shift the debate a little bit towards the issue of “framing.” George Lakoff’s arguments about political framing have become a hot topic among liberal and left-wing bloggers. Many embrace Lakoff’s work. They believe that one of the major problems for “the left” in general, and the Democratic party in particular, is the degree to which it has been “out framed” by the Republicans. A number of prominent Democratic bloggers and pundits are less convinced. Noam Schieber, for example, argues that the problems of the party cannot be fixed by finding better “buzzwords.”

A full disclaimer: I haven’t read either of Lakoff’s two books on the subject, but the public discussion of Lakoff does seem to focus on buzzwords. This isn’t surprising, given the most frequently touted example is the “death tax.” The gist of the example is that conservatives built opposition to the estate tax by calling it the “death tax.” The phrase “estate tax” invokes a “frame” of taxing wealth (wealthy people have “estates,” which we think of as large tracts of well-manicured land with a castle-like building), while “death tax” invokes a frame of taxing “death” (we all die, most of us don’t look forward to it, so it seems unfair to penalize people for dying).

This is a fairly stilted understanding of framing. Erving Goffman’s seminal work, Frame Analysis, for example, used frames to refer to basic cognitive orderings of the world. Social movement theorists, in contrast, tend to focus on framing as a form of discursive intervention in which actors seek to represent something in a strategically advantageous ways.

This does sound like “popular” Lakoff, but framing is really more complex than choosing labels that invoke pre-given association. One way that scholars understand framing is a process whereby actors weave together a set of arguments, concepts, and associations – with the goal of linking them into a broader narrative suggesting a particular course of action.

Thinking about framing in this manner helps us to understand, I think, why the Bush administration’s supposedly changing justifications for the Iraq War (from WMD to democratization) strike liberals and left-wingers as an act of duplicity, but do not necessarily offend other people. The key issue is that the Bush administration framed Iraq in a particular way, one which many liberals and progressives never accepted.

Bill captures it pretty well in his post. If you look back at a lot of the major speeches and statements by Bush administration officials leading up to the Iraq War, you’ll see a fairly consistent set of causal logics and associations.

The frame in question logically implies that the way to (1) reduce the threat of terrorism, (2) prevent terrorist use of WMD, and (3) prevent non-terrorist WMD attacks against the US is to engage in regime change. Put more simply, tyrannical regimes are the root problem, terrorism (and related threats) are a symptom. Indeed, tyrannical regimes are, by definition, terrorist regimes. Take, for example, Bush’s speech announcing the imminent onset of the war:

Peaceful efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime have failed again and again — because we are not dealing with peaceful men.

Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised. This regime has already used weapons of mass destruction against Iraq’s neighbors and against Iraq’s people.

The regime has a history of reckless aggression in the Middle East. It has a deep hatred of America and our friends. And it has aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al Qaeda….

Today, no nation can possibly claim that Iraq has disarmed. And it will not disarm so long as Saddam Hussein holds power….

Many Iraqis can hear me tonight in a translated radio broadcast, and I have a message for them. If we must begin a military campaign, it will be directed against the lawless men who rule your country and not against you. As our coalition takes away their power, we will deliver the food and medicine you need. We will tear down the apparatus of terror and we will help you to build a new Iraq that is prosperous and free. In a free Iraq, there will be no more wars of aggression against your neighbors, no more poison factories, no more executions of dissidents, no more torture chambers and rape rooms. The tyrant will soon be gone. The day of your liberation is near….

As we enforce the just demands of the world, we will also honor the deepest commitments of our country. Unlike Saddam Hussein, we believe the Iraqi people are deserving and capable of human liberty. And when the dictator has departed, they can set an example to all the Middle East of a vital and peaceful and self-governing nation….

The United States, with other countries, will work to advance liberty and peace in that region. Our goal will not be achieved overnight, but it can come over time. The power and appeal of human liberty is felt in every life and every land. And the greatest power of freedom is to overcome hatred and violence, and turn the creative gifts of men and women to the pursuits of peace.

Here is a back-of-the-envelope diagram:


The Bush administration’s speeches on Iraq, in this light, served to create and reinforce this frame in public consciousness. They also represented Iraq as a subset of a general case. Diplomats may have had to present Iraq as sui generis when they were asked to defend contradictions in US policy arising from our failure to target other regimes, but the main thrust of the frame described Iraq as an exemplar of the general connection between the “war on terrorism” and democratic enlargement. Iraq was more pressing than other cases, but that was a matter of degree.

For those who buy the frame in its entirety, the “shift” in public justifications for the war is nothing of the sort. Moreover, the frame can easily survive the inconvenient facts that Iraq neither (1) had weapons of mass destruction nor (2) was a major safe have for terrorism. The frame makes it easy to slide between different causal narratives, and even if those lose some plausibility the underlying policy prescription is reinforced by drawing a conceptual equivalency between, for example, tyrannical leaders (particularly of Hussein’s “type”) and terrorism.

(For what it’s worth, I think that conceptual equivalency makes some sense: terrorism is a strategy used by both state and non-state actors as a way of accomplishing various objectives. Nonetheless, the US does officially define terrorism as activity by non-state actors, and the association in the frame derives its power not from this analytical point, but from a conceptual linkage between Iraq under Hussein and Al-Queda.)

UPDATE: Peter Howard has some additional comments on the issue.

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