We fashionably compress our commemorations of 9/11 events into a neat triangle to include the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. But in accepting this, we terribly distort our history, for any link between 9/11, the present Afghanistan War and the Iraq War is patently false. To perpetuate the deceits of George W. Bush and Richard Cheney is only to delude ourselves. The attack on America did not legitimate the foreign policy debacles that have hobbled us for much of the past decade.
The American response in Afghanistan to the aerial assault of September 2001 was proper if limited to the overthrow of a regime that harbored the nation’s avowed enemies and designed to capture the perpetrators themselves. But the decade-long quagmire of the Afghanistan War (with more casualties to come and with further devastation to our economy) has little justification for the nation’s strategic or tactical needs. The original rationale for the war is long forgotten, yet it is now justified as part of a forever, ever-widening “War on Terror.”
Iraq is quite different. Bush, Cheney and their supporters (including the unlamented Tony Blair) labored mightily to link the Saddam Hussein regime and 9/11 in the face of overwhelming evidence demonstrating the antipathy and antagonism between Saddam and al-Qaida. The Bush administration also claimed that Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction. Iraq had no such weapons; Iraq had neither the capability nor any plan to threaten the United States. U.N. inspections and the American post-invasion searches for WMDs proved fruitless and embarrassing, but apparently not to Bush and Cheney, both long beyond any sense of embarrassment.
Big lies nourish big beliefs. Do we remember the lie peddled by Bush and Cheney that Mohammed Atta, the alleged leader of the bombers, had met with Iraqi intelligence operatives in Prague? Widely read New York Times columnist William Safire, no doubt working with administration-provided “evidence,” repeatedly promoted the charge, giving it widespread currency. No matter that Vaclav Havel, the highly respected Czech president, proclaimed the allegation a pure fabrication, despite his support for the American invasion. Alas! Poor Havel simply did not realize that the lie was a valuable asset for his Washington friends (and the ultimate con man, Ahmed Chalabi), again anxious to provide further “proof” of Saddam as an imminent threat to American security. Yet Congress, most of the nation and the media organs believed and promoted such lies, only at the cost of truth and our historical integrity.
We invaded Iraq more than eight years ago. President Barack Obama announced we were leaving this year, but his secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, is pressing the Iraqi government for a decision as to whether it “wants” us to remain. Are we to believe that we simply will abandon bases costing billions of dollars to build?
In Cheney’s recent memoir, and in subsequent public appearances, he maintains the validity of the allegations he passionately propagated for the Iraq invasion. Cheney has no regrets, and he insists that all his actions were appropriate. He has no misgivings for the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” Cheneyspeak for torture. He certainly knows how to promote a book, telling NBC “there are gonna be heads exploding all over Washington.” Cheney does not make promotional rounds; his journalistic interviewers come to him. But they only feebly challenge his version of events, challenges he contemptuously dismisses to reiterate his twisted, dishonest doings. Jamie Gangel played softball in a “Today” show “exclusive” interview, focusing on the state of Cheney’s health and playing pithy sound bites to discredit such former Cheney colleagues as Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.
Our intrepid media once again succumb to force majeure. The public is left with only Cheney’s rationale, one that has endured as received wisdom for the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. Truth-speaking can take some time. Self- described “liberal hawk” Bill Keller, who went from being a New York Times op-ed columnist in favor of invasion to the paper’s executive editor shortly after American troops swept into Baghdad, has now conceded his complicity in enhancing the war. He conveniently lists some of his large cast of fellow enablers.
We are ruled by the pitfalls and illusions of a post-factual world. Facts are beside the point; we are left only with the “truth” of opinions.
Remembering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside 9/11, tacitly justifying those conflicts, perverts our history.
Stanley Kutler is the author of “The Wars of Watergate” and other writings.
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