G.W. Bush, Accidental Peacenik

If they gave the Nobel Peace Prize to thwarted hawks, he’d win it.

A crackpot Norwegian legislator named Jan Simonsen created headlines late last month by nominating President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair for the Nobel Peace Prize. “Even though they haven’t found those weapons [of mass destruction], they got rid of a dictator and made the world safe,” said Simonsen. The Bush-Blair nomination predictably sent the antiwar left into a rage against the Orwellian logic that two world leaders whose armies overthrew the government of Iraq should be given a prize meant to commemorate peace. “This nomination is an insult to peace and humanity!!!” wrote one anonymous female signatory to an online petition that to date has collected more than 100,000 signatures. Even if you’re glad the Iraq war was fought and believe that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical regime has made the subsequent chaos and loss of life worthwhile, you probably don’t want to bestow upon its architects the Nobel Peace Prize. Neither does Chatterbox. And neither, almost certainly does the Norwegian Nobel Institute, which administers the prize.

But if the award were based on peaceful outcomes rather than peaceful intent, President Bush, at least, would have a decent claim. Bush is a purveyor of peace not because he wants to be, but because circumstances he himself created—and, in all likelihood, does not yet fully appreciate—have made him so. Even if Bush wins a second term, the Bush White House will find it very difficult, and perhaps even impossible, to launch any new full-scale wars. Here are the three reasons why:

1.) He doesn’t have the troops. In the March 2004 Atlantic, James Fallows writes that it’s only “a slight exaggeration to say that the entire U.S. military is either in Iraq, returning from Iraq, or getting ready to go.” More than one-third of the Army’s active-duty troops are right now stationed in or near Iraq, and nearly half are “officially in the two lowest readiness categories.” The National Guard and the Reserves are expected to provide close to 40 percent of our troops in Iraq this year. This commitment is more than most guardsmen and reservists bargained for. The Iraq deployment is probably the main reason the Guard and the Reserves are starting to experience some difficulty with recruiting and re-enlisting; if the economy continues to strengthen those trends will likely accelerate. Simply put, the Pentagon doesn’t have enough bodies available to fight another major war.2.) He doesn’t have the money. The Bush White House’s own calculations put the deficit at $521 billion by the end of this fiscal year. Some of that, of course, reflects the end of what Republicans like to call the Clinton “bubble” and what Democrats like to call the Clinton “boom.” The economy is now making a slow, if somewhat wobbly recovery, and if that continues tax receipts will increase. But they won’t increase anywhere near as much as they need to due to the Bush tax cuts. Citizens for Tax Justice, a labor-funded nonprofit whose number-crunching is extremely reliable, estimates that in the current calendar year the combined effect of the Bush tax cuts will cost the treasury $293 billion. This will rise to $348 billion in 2006 if Congress decides to make permanent that portion of the tax cuts that was originally designated to be “sunsetted,” or ended. It will drop to a still-substantial $227 billion if it does not.Although the president’s proposed budget for 2005 boasts a 7 percent increase for defense spending and the promise of better pay and training for our soldiers, these efforts appear to be aimed only at keeping current troops happy. There is no discussion of actually increasing the size of the active-duty force, presumably because that would be too expensive.3.) He doesn’t have the credibility. When President Bush justified military action in Iraq by stating that Saddam Hussein harbored chemical and biological weapons, nearly everyone believed him. Even people who opposed the war believed him! The United Nations assumed Iraq possessed stores of chemical and biological weapons; so had the Clinton administration. But no such weapons have turned up in significant quantities, making it all but certain that this prewar intelligence was incorrect. Thus Bush’s first credibility problem: Next time, nobody will trust even the most fair-minded and dispassionate interpreters of intelligence data to weigh the danger accurately. Even though this may well mean the intelligence community will underestimate the danger, lest it repeat its Iraq mistake, the public will remember that these folks screwed it up last time.This problem will be compounded by the obvious and by now well-documented bad faith of the Bush White House itself. As Seymour Hersh explained last fall in the New Yorker, Vice President Dick Cheney, Undersecretary of State John Bolton, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz grew impatient with what they considered to be overly cautious analysis of the Iraqi threat by the Central Intelligence Agency and arranged instead to “stovepipe” undigested intelligence, analyzed by likeminded hawks on their own staffs, that more clearly supported the case for war. There was also the argument, famously included in Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address and pushed particularly hard by Cheney, that Saddam was terrifyingly close to producing nuclear weapons. This argument was made even though the CIA didn’t believe it. After it was shown to be false, Cheney rather despicably questioned the patriotism of those who said so. If Wolfowitz, Bolton, Cheney, or even Bush himself decides to argue for war with, say, Syria, their justifications will simply not be believed, even by many Republicans.

Here, then, is the silver lining for Democrats who fear that John Kerry will lose to George W. Bush: Kerry may be less inclined to take the nation into war, but Bush will be even less able to. Bush has probably done more to promote the cause of peace than any president since Lyndon Johnson, who begat the Vietnam syndrome. The Quakers should put up a statue of him.

[Update, Feb. 18: On the troops point, Chatterbox ought to have mentioned that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pledged late last month  to increase Army troop strength by 19,000 for the next four years. But that will cost $2 billion, and it’s anybody’s guess where the money will come from. No provision for or mention of  the increase was made in the 2005 budget proposal.]