Justifications for the Iraq War as Incoherent Discourses


This is the beginning to an academic article I’ll be submitting later this weekend.

Queer theorist David Halperin argues that disputing the lies of homophobia is pointless. His argument is not that homophobic discourses are irrefutable, but on the contrary, that they are endlessly disputable because they are based on series’ of mutually contradictory double binds. Halperin uses the legal debate over homosexuality as an “immutable characteristic” to illustrate such a double bind whereby if homosexuality is inborn, it justifies medical and legal discrimination on the basis of biological difference, or alternately, if homosexuality is a choice, then medical practitioners and politicians can restrict and punish homosexual behavior as a matter of volition.[1] Theoretically describing this discursive problematic, Halperin draws on the work of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s “Epistemology of the Closet” to argue that since “homophobic discourses contain no fixed propositional content,” they “operate strategically by means of logical contradictions” whose infinite substitutability empowers those discourses while simultaneously incapacitating queers through incoherence.[2] For Halperin, following Sedgwick, the consequence is that homophobic lies are easily falsifiable when taken one at a time, but refuting them one by one “does nothing the strategic function of discourses that operate precisely by deploying a series of mutually contradictory premises in such a way that anyone of them can be substituted for any other as different circumstances may require, without changing the final outcome of the argument.”[3]

The Bush Administration’s case for the Iraq War, with its many divergent justifications, expresses a discursive incoherence similar to homophobia. President Bush’s ex post facto justification for the war was quite vague, “that the Iraqi people are much better off without Saddam,” yet as policy analysts Daalder and Lindsey argue, the wide berth of this justification relies on the “basic but highly salient fact that there would not have been a war without his argument that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction posed an unacceptable threat that was both immediate and serious.”[4] Restoring clarity to the Bush Administration’s initial claims about WMDs seems hardly probable, however, given the incoherence of the discourse through which the justifications for war were presented. As public policy professor James P Pfiffner points out, administration officials made WMDs a moving target, with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz claiming that the verifiable presence of WMDs was not the paramount issue for policymakers while Secretary of Defense Collin Powell was asserting its centrality.[5] Pfiffner concludes that even while President Bush made “few untrue statements” and accepted some widely shared claims, his statements were also systematically misleading, gave false impressions, and defied the better judgment of others.[6] Continue reading “Justifications for the Iraq War as Incoherent Discourses”