US was ‘lied’ into war so finding out truth about Iraq still matters
The Iraq War wasn’t an innocent mistake – the Bush administration wanted a war
Jeb Bush’s foreign policy team is led by people who were directly involved in concocting a false case for war. Photograph: Alvin Baez/Reuters
Surprise! It turns out there’s something to be said for having the brother of a failed president make a run for the White House. Thanks to Jeb Bush, we may finally have the frank discussion of the Iraq invasion we should have had a decade ago.
But many influential people – not just Bush – would prefer if we did not have that discussion. There’s a palpable sense right now of the political and media elite trying to draw a line under the subject. Yes, the narrative goes, we now know invading Iraq was a terrible mistake, and it’s about time that everyone admits it. Now let’s move on.
Well, let’s not, because that’s a false narrative, and everyone who was involved in the debate over the war knows that it’s false. The Iraq War wasn’t an innocent mistake, a venture undertaken on the basis of intelligence that turned out to be wrong. The US invaded Iraq because the Bush administration wanted a war. The public justifications for the invasion were nothing but pretexts and falsified pretexts at that. We were, in a fundamental sense, lied into war.
The fraudulence of the case for war was obvious even at the time: the ever-shifting arguments for an unchanging goal were a giveaway. So were the word games: the talk about WMD that conflated chemical weapons (which many people did think Saddam had) with nukes and the constant insinuations that Iraq was behind 9/11.
And at this point we have plenty of evidence to confirm everything the war’s opponents were saying. We now know, for example, that on 9/11 itself – literally before the dust had settled – secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld was already plotting war against a regime that had nothing to do with the terrorist attack. “Judge whether good enough [to] hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] . . . sweep it all up things related and not”; so read notes taken by Rumsfeld’s aide.
Did the intelligence agencies wrongly conclude that Iraq had chemical weapons and a nuclear programme? That’s because they were under intense pressure to justify the war.
Did prewar assessments vastly understate the difficulty and cost of occupation? That’s because the war party didn’t want to hear anything that might raise doubts about the rush to invade. Indeed, the army’s chief of staff was effectively fired for questioning claims that the occupation phase would be cheap and easy.
Why did they want a war? That’s a harder question to answer. Some of the warmongers believed that deploying “shock and awe” in Iraq would enhance American power and influence around the world. Some saw Iraq as a sort of pilot project, preparation for a series of regime changes. And it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that there was a strong element of wagging the dog, of using military triumph to strengthen the Republican brand at home.
Whatever the precise motives, the result was a very dark chapter in American history. Once again: we were lied into war. Now, you can understand why many political and media figures would prefer not to talk about any of this. Some of them, I suppose, may have been duped which doesn’t say much about their judgment.
More, I suspect, were complicit: they realised the official case for war was a pretext, but had their own reasons for wanting a war or they allowed themselves to be intimidated into going along. There was a definite climate of fear among politicians and pundits, one in which criticising the push for war looked very much like a career killer.
But truth matters – and not just because those who refuse to learn from history are doomed in some sense to repeat it. The campaign of lies that took the US into Iraq was recent enough that it’s still important to hold the guilty accountable. Never mind Jeb Bush’s verbal stumbles. Think, instead, about his foreign policy team, which is led by people who were directly involved in concocting a false case for war.
So let’s get the Iraq story right. Yes, from a US national point of view, the invasion was a mistake. But (with apologies to Talleyrand) it was worse than a mistake, it was a crime. – (New York Times service)