Bush’s Big Bluff

I posted a couple of weeks ago that I find myself not believing that we truly intend to go to war. Luckily, this Blog has a limited enough reach for me to continue to share and spread this idea without undermining what I see as the administration’s big bluff.

Well, not a bluff, exactly. But a demonstration of bravura meant to make the other side flinch. As Tom Friedman explained in the NYTimes last week:

“Well, it all goes back to a well-known concept in strategic theory: how to win a game of chicken between two drivers barreling head on at one another. If you are one of the drivers, the best way to win is, before the race even starts, to take out a screwdriver and very visibly unscrew your steering wheel and throw it out the window. The message to the other driver is: “Hey, I’d love to chicken out and get out of your way, but I just threw out my steering wheel – so unless you want to crash head on, you better get out of the way.”

It’s not ‘conspiracy theory,’ as some of my readers have accused me, to suggest that Bush may not actually want to spend the lives of Americans to invade Iraq. It is quite possible – no matter how evil or misguided you believe Bush to be – that he would rather not waste a few hundred or thousand American lives, or a few hundred thousand Iraqi lives, on pipelines and additional security against nuclear/chemical/germ threat. Bush would rather do it the easy way than the hard way. He’d stand a better chance of being re-elected if he could cow Iraq into true submission without a full-scale war.

In order to do this, though, he needs to convince Saddam Hussein that he’s coming in, and that he’s coming in no matter what Chirac, Putin, or any other more “reasonable” statesman advises. He needs to appear like a chicken without a head – a driver without a wheel – careeing inexorably towards invasion. He needs Saddam to believe that America doesn’t have the mechanisms to flinch.

I think that Bush admits this strategy to the statesmen who are demonstrably on his side. Blair is surely in the loop. Putin, Chirac, and the Germans are most likely given a wink but not the nod. As is most of the United Nations. This is what they call diplomacy. It’s not a conspiracy – it’s the posturing and statement-making and info-leaking that leads to revolutions, coups, and paranoia. No, it’s not pretty – and it can easily backfire and lead to full-scale war. But it’s the way things are actually done in the big bad world of international politics.

This is not to say America won’t go to war if Hussein doesn’t back down; it would. Pre-emptively. But the current posturing and positioning is meant, I believe, as a cue to those within Iraq who might stage a coup (discontented generals, rival factions, revolutionaries) as well as one to Saddam.

Hussein can be fooled, because he has no working intelligence through which to analyze the situation. His own advisors are not in a position to advise. Loyal members of his staff are executed for no reason, just to maintain an environment of fear. This is a dysfunctional administration, paranoid to the core. Saddam is busy playing out narratives based on the son of Bush coming to avenge the father. And he has a staff of yes-men whose only ambition is to please the boss and stay alive. There’s no one to tell him that Bush means anything but war.

And that’s what Bush is counting on.

It’s fine to continue to protest the war. I’m against it, myself. But we must realize that those of us protesting are simply doing our part in the charade. By protesting the war as if it is real and inevitable, we add legitimacy to Bush’s bluff.