Iraq: A Ten-Year Anniversary We’d Rather Forget

shock and aweApologists for the war of aggression against Iraq that President George W. Bush launched ten years ago claim the United Nations and various European nations’ intelligence services “believed” Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction.” We constantly hear from former Bush officials that “everybody got it wrong” on Iraq when it came to whether or not Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs and we should therefore accept their sincerity in getting it “wrong” too. Yet they ignore the July 23, 2002 “Downing Street Memo,” which someone in Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government leaked to the public in the spring of 2005. The Memo, (actually, the minutes of a British cabinet meeting), states that George W. Bush had already decided to go to war with Iraq and that the intelligence on WMD was being “fixed” to “fit the policy.”

So if “everybody got it wrong” why did the intelligence agencies report to Blair that the WMD story was being “fixed?” And if getting it “wrong” mattered so much to U.S. policy makers why did most journalists in the United States greet the Downing Street revelations with a collective yawn when in the U.K. and throughout Europe it was a major scandal?

It’s worth remembering that the New York Times subsequently dumped Judith Miller, who was the Bush Administration’s chief stenographer at the Times, and in early 2004 even offered the unprecedented gesture of a mea culpa for its terrible reportage on the WMD controversy. The Washington Post followed with its own acknowledgement of its flawed coverage of the WMD story and even had its media reporter, Howard Kurtz, pen a lengthy critique of the Post’s coverage. Official sources lied repeatedly and some of the most prestigious members of the Fourth Estate eagerly lapped it up. That phenomenon is a far cry from “getting it wrong.”

Judith Miller then offered these immortal words that should be required reading for journalism students:

“My job isn’t to assess the government’s information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of the New York Times what the government thought about Iraq’s arsenal.”

Miller has since found her rightful place inside the stable of right-wing pundits at Fox News. “[P]olitical language,” George Orwell observed, “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) surveyed the nightly news during the first three weeks of the invasion in March and April 2003 and found that on NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, CNN, and Fox, pro-war U.S. sources outnumbered antiwar sources by twenty-five to one. With a 25 to 1 ratio of warmongers versus critical voices on the nation’s dominant news shows it’s no surprise that people came to believe the Bush Administration’s hype about WMDs. These news sources also assiduously avoided giving much coverage to the massive anti-war demonstrations that took place across the United States in the lead up to the war, including the 15 million strong global rally for peace on February 15, 2003.

We also hear the “argument” that Saddam Hussein was such a bad guy we had no choice but to invade and occupy Iraq, kill over 100,000 Iraqi civilians, and send over 4,400 American soldiers to their deaths. But at the time the world had plenty of human rights violators, including many, like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, who were for decades considered faithful U.S. allies. The warmongers ten years ago brushed off the observation that the United States armed and aided Saddam Hussein’s government throughout the 1980s in his war of aggression against Iran, which was the period when he committed some his most heinous acts. (Remember the 1983 footage of Donald Rumsfeld warmly shaking the tyrant’s hand?) To this day, on occasion, we hear Condi Rice or Ari Fleischer or some other defender citing the litany of villainy that Saddam Hussein was responsible for as an ex post factojustification for Bush’s war of aggression against Iraq.

Even if human rights were an issue (or WMDs) there were plenty of alternative paths to take that didn’t involve invading and occupying the country for eight years. And if it was Saddam’s treatment of his own people that was such a motivating factor for the U.S. war why did the Pentagon, the Bush Administration, and most mainstream American journalists become so dismissive and uninterested in reporting the Iraqi death toll after the war began?

Neo-conservatives like Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol, and Douglas Feith got what they wanted: The elimination of a potentially strong Arab state that could cause problems down the road for Israel. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld got what they wanted: A further privatizing of the military (begun under George H.W. Bush), and the fat profits on the government’s dime that flowed to Cheney’s old company, Halliburton/KBR and the hundreds of other well-connected parts of the military-industrial complex that President Dwight Eisenhower tried to warn us about in 1961.

Karl Rove got he wanted. His pet political project, George W. Bush, who lost the popular vote in 2000 would run for reelection in 2004 as a “wartime” president pushing the idea that switching horses midstream during a war would be bad for “national security.” (He also used the war scare in October 2002 to limit the losses of House Republicans in the midterm election.) John Bolton and the United Nations bashers got what they wanted. By defying the U.N. Charter in favor of unilateral military action they further cemented the precedent for the United States to go it alone.

The authoritarians and “unitary executive” enthusiasts, like John Yoo, got what they wanted. The drawn out “War on Terror” (of which the Iraq War was a key component) gave President Bush sweeping new powers. The war prolonged the crisis atmosphere of 9/11 and allowed for the further eroding of civil liberties as well as the strengthening of the Executive Branch vis-à-vis the Congress. As James Madison pointed out in 1793: “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

Fox News loved the Iraq War because it allowed the network to beat the war drums, shout down any opposition to a Republican Congress and Administration, and boost ratings in the grand tradition of the “Yellow Press” in America.

And whenever a rational voice managed to emerge out of the ether (like Phil Donahue whose MSNBC television show was canceled for being “anti-Bush” and “anti-war”), calling for restraint the mainstream news media would drown it in a deafening blare of martial reportage and commentary.

In the superb documentary, Leading to War, there is a series of public statements made by Bush Administration officials beginning with Bush’s State of the Union Address in January 2002 where he denounces Iraq as part of an “Axis of Evil” (thank you David Frum). The documentary is effective because of its starkness. These officials weren’t saying they had “suspicions” that Iraq had WMDs, and they weren’t saying they had an “interpretation of the data” that suggested there might be WMDs in Iraq. They were pulling specific numbers of barrels of botulism toxin and warheads filled with nerve agent straight out of their asses all the while assuring us there was “no doubt.” Amidst the WMD hype there was no room to have an adult conversation about the wisdom of invading and occupying a large Arab state in the heart of the Middle East.

What’s done cannot be undone. We cannot hit “rewind.” Who knows what forms the “blowback” will take from the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Today, Iraq’s Shia-dominated government is far more allied with Iran than would have been possible had the Sunnis remained in power. The sectarian bloodletting the U.S. unleashed in Iraq continues and has spread into Bahrain and Syria. Even without an occupying power Iraq is as unstable and fractured as it ever was in the post-World War Two period.

Ten years ago our “leaders” in the government, the corporate media, and the “national security” establishment assured us that invading Iraq was in our national interest. They promised us everything from “democracy” breaking out in the Middle East, to progress in ending the Israel-Palestine conflict, to the reduction of “terrorism” and having access to cheap oil.

joseph palermoThe American people, we were told, if they bore this burden would be rewarded in the long run with a safer world. Most of all they assured us that Iraq wouldn’t become another Vietnam. An all-volunteer military force could meet the challenge, they promised, for relatively little cost in human lives and U.S. treasure.

But the whole thing was a very Big Lie.

And after throwing away so many lives and so much money we’re now being told (by many of the same people who sold us the Iraq War) that we have no resources left to ensure that our children get a good education, or that our elderly can retire in dignity, or our poor people are given hope for a better future.

Joseph Palermo
Joseph Palermo’s Blog

Monday 18 March 2013

Published by the LA Progressive on March 18, 2013
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About Joseph Palermo

Joseph Palermo is Professor of History, California State University, Sacramento. Professor Palermo's most recent book is The Eighties (Pearson 2012). He has also written two other books: In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (Columbia, 2001); and Robert F. Kennedy and the Death of American Idealism (Pearson, 2008). Before earning a Master's degree and Doctorate in History from Cornell University, Professor Palermo completed Bachelor's degrees in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Master's degree in History from San Jose State University. His expertise includes the 1980s; political history; presidential politics and war powers; social movements of the 20th century; the 1960s; and the history of American foreign policy. Professor Palermo has also written articles for anthologies on the life of Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J. in The Human Tradition in America Since 1945 (Scholarly Resources Press, 2003); and on the Watergate scandal in Watergate and the Resignation of Richard Nixon (CQ Press, 2004).