Ron Suskind’s book “The One Percent Doctrine” documents the Bush Administration’s radical way of thinking about making the case for war, a sentiment echoed in the film “Fair Game.” As a result, it will probably be a long time before Americans will support military action abroad, perhaps even in the face of another 9/11 attack.
In making the case for war, the Bush Administration sought to convince us that the burden of proof did not lie with those making the case for war. Rather, the burden was all on the backs of those opposed to conflict.
In other words, instead of offering proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons, opponents of war had to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Saddam Hussein didn’t have nuclear weapons. If there was a one percent chance that he did, it was worth fighting him.
Of course, there was a time where much less proof was required of Americans when making the case for conflict. Even a frequent critic of American foreign policy like French President Charles de Gaulle said he didn’t need the trove of evidence the Kennedy Administration provided from U2 flights that detected Soviet missiles in Cuba. “The word of the American President is enough for me,” he reportedly said.
That word was seriously called into question after President Lyndon B. Johnson engineered a war in Vietnam over an incident in the Gulf of Tonkin where the facts didn’t match up with the rhetoric. But only two Senators voted against the resolution authorizing American action, and paid the penalty in some respects.
Since then, the American public awoke to the fact that the story we get in the news may not be so accurate. Tough questions could be asked about our involvement in Lebanon and Nicaragua during the Reagan Administration. Even when it was pretty clear what Iraq did to Kuwait, you still had liberals suspicious that our real interests were more about oil than freedom or even the well-being of the Kuwaiti people.
Sometimes, Americans got the initial report, but not the update. Most supported the humanitarian mission in Somalia, but didn’t understand the rationale behind stopping the warlords who were disrupting the aid shipments worse than any famine could. They didn’t know the objective changed until bodies of American soldiers were dragged through the streets.
And sometimes, when there was a good reason to go in to prevent massacres in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the public was naturally pretty suspicious, showing a reluctance to approve of anything until it was too late, or nearly too late.
But the bitterness of the betrayal in Baghdad may have been the final straw that may propel America into its greatest period of isolationism since the 1920s and early 1930s. And this time, antiwar liberals are joined by new antiwar conservatives, a group that just a decade ago was chomping at the bit to make Syria the next target after Iraq just for having WMDs, not even for using them. Their actions may ironically seal the fate of any Syria mission, and possibly lead to the biggest military drawdown since that post-WWI period.