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June 25, 2015 / Sandy Asher


While there may be no such thing as a stupid question, there is such a thing as a question that begets irrelevant answers.  I have in mind the American media recently asking confirmed and potential presidential candidates, “Knowing what you now know, would you have ordered or supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq?”

What we now know is that at the time Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, was not allied with the Taliban or Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and had not sought significant amounts of uranium from Africa.

Predictably all respondents to date have answered in the negative, though Jeb! (who has apparently traded his family’s name for an exclamation point) took four days  to “just say no,” probably out of filial loyalty, and Marco Rubio momentarily got tongue-tied.  Predictably we ended up with the candidates agreeing they wouldn’t have tried to topple Saddam Hussein if there was no evidence his behavior posed a serious threat to American national security.

I don’t know about you, but I’m overjoyed to learn that if any of these folks becomes president, he or she won’t order a large scale invasion absent a compelling reason or conclusive evidence of imminent danger.

Why did the media ask this question, one that allowed respondents to give a simplistic answer – yes or no – to a complicated situation, instead of posing more nuanced queries that would have compelled them to elaborate on their views of the complete Bush rationale?

The answer to that question is the media didn’t want to reopen the whole can of worms, thereby allowing to wriggle out its own wide-spread support – from Fox neocons to New York Times columnists – that downplayed the bullying tactics, historical ignorance, and ethnocentric mindset exhibited by the Bush war hawk brain trust.

Easier to keep the focus on the decision to attack, thereby providing mass media patrons with the kind of brief, uncomplicated answer they prefer and at the same time reassuring them that this sort of blunder will not happen again.

Restricting the line of inquiry to a single aspect of a subject, and a hypothetical one at that, also provided the media with immunity against accusations of anti-Bush partisanship.

That is why more meaningful, open-ended questions compelling more detailed information about each of the candidates’ grasp of foreign policy were not put forward. At the risk of sounding like a history professor (which I am) preparing a final exam (which I’m not), I offer two examples.  Neither is a true/false or multiple choice question.  Essays are required.

  1. Given ethnic divisiveness among Shia, Sunni, and Kurd and artificial boundaries inherited by Iraqi territories drawn up by the WWI victors, why didn’t these crucial limitations – Iraq was not and is not a country — play a major role in the President’s deliberations?
  2. Given that Saddam Hussein was an enemy of the Afghani Taliban and al-Queda, both responsible for 9/11, why was his enmity papered over or denied in the decision to punish Iraq for the Trade Center attacks?

Failure to ask the right questions led to the worst American foreign policy decisions of the 21st century, perhaps the twentieth as well. The assumption that we could change Iraq into a democracy to serve as a model for the region’s collection of failing states proved to be wrong-headed and arrogant.  An ill-conceived, undefined “war on terrorism” led to a series of continuing and expanding religious and ethnic conflicts still raging and without an end in sight.

So what do our current candidates have to say about that?

Not all questions elicit the answers we need to understand a situation fully and to act wisely.  Too often, members of the media – and politicians themselves – use the wrong kind to hide or blur the truth.  Question the questions.


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