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


  1. Ryder says

    This article leads an interesting point:

    “Apologists 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.”

    The reason this is a good lead off, is because it is true…

    The problem with it, is that it misses the point.

    The basic issues, given by both the Clinton administration and the Bush administration, was that Iraq was in clear violation of our cease fire agreement with them.

    It’s as simple as that.

    When you violate a cease fire, hostilities are *supposed* to resume. And they did.

    There was a war of aggression in the region, but it was a war Iraq started with Kuwait… a brutal taking of an *entire nation* by Iraq. The US led the liberation of Kuwait, which led to a cease fire agreement and clear terms.

    Some writers seem to want people to be ignorant about these simple facts… but when is ignorance ever a good idea?

    Some writers seem to want people to believe the conflict in Iraq was over s single thing… but it clearly wasn’t… here is a *partial* collection of stated justifications to break the cease fire and resume hostilities:

    – Iraq repeatedly violated several UN resolutions
    – Iraq violated the UN No-fly zones and attacked coalition forces
    – Iraq supported terrorism (for example, lavish payments to the families of suicide bombers in Israel following successful attacks)

    – Iraq removed UN inspectors, looking for weapons programs, preventing us from knowing if he was resuming WMD production.

    Even Bill Clinton, in a live address, cited his violations of the cease fire agreement as a clear reason to resume hostilities against Iraq.

    That there are some writers that want to re-write history, and forget the known and clear facts surrounding this important history is a sad rebuke against what journalism has become. Instead of a way to remember, it has become a way to forget… a way to fan the flames of hatred and discord.

    You have to decide if you want the writers to be your memory of the past, or if you are going to challenge their mangling of it, and be an advocate for fact and true understanding.

  2. JoeWeinstein says

    We are all losers from Iraq – not from the speedy overthrow of Saddam but from the crazy needless unending uncomprehending occupation which followed – and from the failure to do anything but wittingly or unwittingly further enable Iran’s ayatollahs. In a sense the big ‘winner’ was Barack Obama, because in the 2008 campaign Hillary Clinton idiotically did a sort of Judith Miller. She justified her pro-war vote on grounds that it was her duty as US Senator not to be an independent constitutional check but to rubberstamp Bush’s war.

    • Ryder says

      Joe – the problem with your response, as I see it, is that it is a comparison to a vacuum… by that I mean, if you compare something against… well, nothing, then it’s not a good comparison.

      “We are all losers”

      Compared to whom? The bloody era of Saddam Hussein is chronicled in a 2003 NY Times article… “Saddam Hussein, in his 23 years in power, plunged [Iraq] into a bloodbath of medieval proportions, and exported some of that terror to his neighbors.”

      Hussein is commonly reported to have killed over 500,000 people, some estimates over a million.

      And worse, the UN sanctions against Iraq… left in place throughout the Clinton years… resulted in hundreds of thousands of chilidren dead. Clinton’s secretary of state had this to say to 60 Minutes which asked: “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” and Albright replied “we think the price is worth it.”

      Without arguing the numbers… settling the conflict with Iraq, which started with Iraq’s attack on Kuwait, stopped a mass murderer, and ended brutal, lethal sanctions… with numbers easily in the range or exceeding a million people DEAD.

      Stopping Iraq, and ending the need for sanctions saved countless lives, and had Clinton acted himself, instead of waiting eight years for Bush to resolve things… those half a million children would still be with us today.

      There is no substitute for seeing the bigger picture. There is no excuse for comparisons to a vacuum.

      Bad things happened, to stop worse things from happening.

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