Disappointed

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As you may have heard, President George W. Bush is disappointed that the US didn't find WMDs in Iraq:
There have been disappointments. Abu Ghraib obviously was a huge disappointment during the presidency. Not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment. I don't know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were -- things didn't go according to plan, let's put it that way.

John Stewart complains here that "disappointment" is the wrong word "TiVo not recording the Project Runway Finale is a disappointment." I tend to agree with Stewart, that "disappointment" is the wrong word, but the problem is the direction of the vector, not the magnitude (would very disappointed be better?). So, you invade and you don't find any WMDs. How should you feel? I can imagine a bunch of reactions.

Narrow Disappointment
OK, this is bad. After all, you predicated a major policy initiative on the basis of something that wasn't true. Now you look stupid, or like liars, or both. Plus, we burned money and lives for no reason.

Cautious Optimism
That's small picture thinking. It's true that some set of government officials look stupid, but look, our purpose was to get rid of WMDs and they're gone. Better yet, if there had been a WMD program, we probably wouldn't have found everything and so there would potentially be terrorists with WMDs floating around. So, all in all, this is actually better than if there had been WMDs, though of course, the best world would be if there hadn't been WMDs and we hadn't invaded. Note: this analysis relies to some extent on your original belief that there were WMDs. If you didn't believe that and were just using that as an excuse to invade, then the above analysis doesn't really apply.

Broad Disappointment
OK, so it's good news that there weren't any WMDs, but what does this say about our decision making process and in particular our intelligence apparatus if they could be that wrong? Even if you think that the Bush administration deliberately mislead Congress and the US, many people clearly did believe that Iraq had WMDs and this says something bad about our decision making process that it could get an issue like that so wrong.

Meh
Yeah, so our intelligence apparatus/decision making sucks, but it doesn't matter much whether or not there were WMDs: decisions were made based on the information we had, and whether those were good decisions or not is contingent only on the data, we had, not on how it worked out in the end.

General Equilibrium (Negative)
The real problem here isn't that we screwed up but rather that we got caught. This seriously damages the US government's credibility, so the next time we want other countries to fall in line behind us on something, other countries won't trust us without much stronger evidence.

General Equilibrium (Positive)
Wait, that's not bad, that's good. This acts as a restraint on US unilateralism, which has not always been employed in the best way possible.

4 Comments

Indeed.
If it were me, I should say that I was "disappointed to have been wrong, but very much relieved that were, in fact, no WMDs."

But, then, I'm not a deluded, God-obsessed, megalomaniacal moron.

many people clearly did believe that Iraq had WMDs

decisions were made based on the information we had

But here's the thing: Hans Blix had been saying for six months that he couldn't find any WMDs. The decision to invade based on WMDs was not taken on the best information available, it was taken based on a conscious decision to ignore the best information available. As such it says a lot about the decision-making apparatus and very little about the intelligence system.

I know this is only tangential to your main point, but it had to be said. Write Hans Blix back into the historical record!

FWIW, my guess is that Bush meant "disappointed to have made a good-faith mistake, but not disappointed in the decision".

I think a better word would be "embarrassed", rather than "disappointed". The WMD argument for invading Iraq was never anything more than a pretext. Although the consensus was that there was a significant WMD program in Iraq, it was thought to be many years away from successfully building a nuclear weapon (the only kind whose proliferation anyone really cares about).

There were strong, legitimate strategic reasons (not to mention altruistic ones), apart from WMDs, for toppling Saddam Hussein. Between his attempts to circumvent the UN sanctions and 1991 armistice conditions, his support for terrorism (e.g., the famous assassination attempt on Bush p`ere), and his military ambitions in the direction of the oil states, his regime represented a huge ongoing drain on US military and national security resources. It was believed, quite understandably, that taking him out would free up those resources for action against al Qaeda and other Islamist threats. Of course, such arguments don't muster the kind of public support that can lead to a commitment of the US military to a full invasion of another country. So the WMD issue was puffed up as a reason for urgency. Obviously, Bush can't say this now, though, so he describes the collapse of this pretext as a disappointment rather than a PR disaster.

In fact, the real primary disappointment of the Iraq war was the complete failure of the postwar occupying forces to establish a functioning government and some semblance of internal security. It's clear that the Bush administration expected the postwar reconstruction to be relatively cheap and painless, and had it been so, it's doubtful that the lack of WMDs would have ended up being a big deal. But as it turned out, Iraq became a bigger drain on US resources than Saddam Hussein would ever have been. It should be noted, though, that the Obama administration almost certainly has less to worry about from Iraq than he would have, had Saddam Hussein been left in power.

I have a feeling if he could speak freely he would say the proper emotion here is shame. That is, Bush likely felt ashamed and dismayed that they did not find WMD. The enormity of the apparatus required to go looking for it, and the not-to-rosie outlook for most of the war probably deepened this feeling. However, I think he's being genuine lately in pointing to the past year's calming as a source of pride and success. We didn't do what we said we were going to do... so we changed the dominant term in the equation (freedom) and managed to make progress.

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