Politics & Prose October 2004

Letter to a Republican

The case against a vote for Bush
Also in Politics & Prose:

"Letter to a Democrat" (October 22, 2004)
The case against a vote for Kerry. By Ramesh Ponnuru

A vote for George W. Bush will make you an accomplice after the fact in the death of thousands and the maiming of thousands more—an infliction of suffering unexcused by justice or necessity. As theologians argued before the invasion of Iraq, preventive war is justified only on grounds of self-defense. But we know now, through the President's own inspector, Charles Duelfer, that Iraq posed no threat to the United States, or to its neighbors. In saying he would launch the war knowing everything he knows now, President Bush has endorsed a principle that most Americans would denounce if other countries espoused it: Might makes right.

Bush could (but doesn't) claim he was misled by bad intelligence into believing that Saddam possessed WMD. But you know better. In voting for Bush now, you would be taking a position you would not have taken before the war—that even if Iraq had no WMD and no connection to 9/11, the U.S. should invade and occupy it; that even without justification, we should kill from ten- to twenty-thousand Iraqis; that even though self-defense does not require it, we should will the death of over 1,000 U.S. servicemen and women and the wounding of 7,000 more. Bush is stuck with that position. He is a politician; you are not. He is asking you to endorse all that has happened knowing that none of it was necessary. Won't that be worse than endorsing what the Pope called the war before it began—"a defeat for humanity"? Won't it be more like endorsing a crime against humanity?

But, you say, Saddam is in jail. His regime is gone. The Iraqis are free. Toppling his regime, however, was not an end in itself but a means to the end of securing Iraq's WMD. Which did not exist. Such threat—faint, almost notional—as Iraq posed was contained before the war. And now? Osama Bin Laden wanted to provoke Western intervention in an Arab country and Bush played into his hands. How much will Iraq help Bin Ladenism? We can't know. But, from the point of view of U.S. security, the cost of removing Saddam exceeds the short-term benefit, and weights the odds against realizing any long-term gain by way of "democracy" in Iraq.

As for the Iraqis, they are free of Saddam, but at what cost? Put it this way. The U.S. population is roughly twelve times Iraq's. How would you feel if, in liberating us from an oppressive government, a foreign invader killed 120,000 Americans? If your son or daughter was among those killed, your loss would be absolute; beyond balance by any future gain for the country. That is how it is for many of the Iraqis we have "liberated." Life was hard under Saddam, but it was life nonetheless. Saddam was not perpetrating genocide, which would have given the intervention a humanitarian justification, allowing us to claim we killed thousands to save hundreds of thousands. But you know better.

A vote for Bush promises the absolution of denial—and that, I think, explains his otherwise inexplicable hold on the electorate. The President cannot face the truth, but his moral blindness won't excuse yours. Our soldiers have done their duty. No dishonor attaches to them. It attaches to Bush; and it will attach to you if you vote for him.

Presented by

Jack Beatty is a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly and the editor of Colossus: How the Corporation Changed America, which was named one of the top ten books of 2001 by Business Week. His previous books are The World According to Peter Drucker (1998) and The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley (1992). More

Jack Beatty"The Atlantic Monthly is an American tradition; since 1857 it has helped to shape the American mind and conscience," senior editor Jack Beatty explains. "We are proud of that tradition. It is the tradition of excellence for which we were awarded the National Magazine Award for General Excellence. It is the tie that binds us to our past. It is a standard we won't betray."

Beatty joined The Atlantic Monthly as a senior editor in September of 1983, having previously worked as a book reviewer at Newsweek and as the literary editor of The New Republic.

Born, raised, and educated in Boston, Beatty wrote a best-selling biography of James Michael Curley, the Massachusetts congressman and governor and Boston mayor, which Addison-Wesley published in 1992 to enthusiastic reviews. The Washington Post said, "The Rascal King is an exemplary political biography. It is thorough, balanced, reflective, and gracefully written." The Chicago Sun-Times called it a ". . . beautifully written, richly detailed, vibrant biography." The book was nominated for a National Book Critics' Circle award.

His 1993 contribution to The Atlantic Monthly's Travel pages, "The Bounteous Berkshires," earned these words of praise from The Washington Post: "The best travel writers make you want to travel with them. I, for instance, would like to travel somewhere with Jack Beatty, having read his superb account of a cultural journey to the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts." Beatty is also the author of The World According to Peter Drucker, published in 1998 by The Free Press and called "a fine intellectual portrait" by Michael Lewis in the New York Times Book Review.

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