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Bashing Bush with Greenspan

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'While there are significant long-term risks associated with such contractual arrangements, the well-informed actor, motivated by some historically recognized intangibilities -- maximization of regalement, binary association, et al -- finds that those outweigh the downside risks. To wit, would you -- exigencies and externalities permitting -- enter into a matrimonial association of indefinite duration with me?"

That's not a direct quote, of course, just my speculation. But on Sunday's "60 Minutes" profile of Alan Greenspan, we learned that the former Fed chairman dated NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell for 13 years before he asked her to marry him. "He used Fed-speak," Mitchell recalled. "Who knew he was proposing? I couldn't figure it out."

Greenspan observers were similarly befuddled by a seemingly plain-spoken statement in his memoir, "The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World."

Greenspan wrote that the Iraq war was "largely about oil," according to an excerpt in the Washington Post on Saturday. The statement quickly raced around the globe, with headlines like this one from Britain's Daily Telegraph: "Iraq was about oil -- Greenspan attacks U.S. motivation for war." The Independent began its own editorial by declaring: "The credibility of President George Bush's policy on Iraq has suffered another devastating blow. It is all the more powerful for having come not from a political enemy but from someone who was showered with plaudits by the administration."

The quoted phrase ran through the Sunday news shows and the blogosphere like a bad intestinal virus. On CNN's "Late Edition," Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Burlingame) was asked if he agreed with Greenspan. "To a very large extent I agree with him, and I think it is very remarkable that it took Alan Greenspan all these many years and being out of office [to state] the obvious."

Well, that is very interesting. But first we should clear the air about something. Greenspan claims that the quote was taken out of context. Greenspan called the Post -- Bob Woodward, no less -- to say that, in fact, he didn't think the White House was motivated by oil. Rather, he was. A Post story Monday explained that Greenspan had long favored Saddam Hussein's ouster because the Iraqi dictator was a threat to the Strait of Hormuz, through which much of the world's oil passes every day. Hussein could have sent the price of oil way past $100 a barrel, which would have inflicted chaos on the global economy.

In other words, Greenspan favored the war on the grounds that it would stabilize the flow of oil, even though that wasn't the war's political underpinning. "I was not saying that that's the administration's motive," Greenspan told Woodward, "I'm just saying that if somebody asked me, 'Are we fortunate in taking out Saddam?' I would say it was essential."

So let's get back to Lantos, the California congressman who agreed with the misconstrued Greenspan that it was "obvious" we went to war for oil. What's funny -- though not really ha-ha funny -- is that Lantos voted for the war. If it was so obviously a war for oil, why did he vote for it? Unless, of course, he thinks it's hunky-dory to go to war because of oil -- though that didn't sound like what he was trying to say.

As several other politicians and officials noted over the weekend, no White House briefer ever told Congress that this was a war for oil. The debates in Congress didn't say this was a war for oil. Bush never gave a single speech saying this was a war for oil. (If oil was all Bush wanted, he hardly needed to go to war to get it.) So why is it so "obvious" to Lantos that it was a war for oil?

Perhaps the answer is that when it comes to bashing Bush about the war, no accusation is inaccurate -- even if it contradicts all the accusations that came before. Some say it's all about the Israel lobby. Others claim that Bush was trying to avenge his dad. Still others say Bush went to war because God told him to.

Which is it? All of those? Any? It doesn't seem to matter. It's disturbing how many people are willing to look for motives beyond the ones debated and voted on by our elected leaders.

The last time Greenspan made a gaffe of sorts, his comment about Wall Street's "irrational exuberance" sent worldwide markets into a tizzy. This gaffe is more ironic because it was so plain-spoken, but it also managed to call attention to a case of irrational exuberance -- among Bush-bashing war opponents.

jgoldberg@latimescolumnists.com

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