The Fog of Post-War: Looking at Operation Iraqi Freedom, one year later.
Thursday, March 18, 2004
Let’s remember: One year ago this week, President George W. Bush led the nation into war under false pretenses. We need to remember that the president was very clear about his reasons for attacking Iraq. “The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons,” he said.
There were two very memorable moments, just before the war, when Secretary of State Colin Powell testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and later the UN Security Council. At both of these meetings he gave only one reason for the first “preventative” war in modern US history. Powell showed satellite photographs of specific locations, told his audiences exactly what was at those locations, and declared that the war he proposed to fight was justified by the United States’ need and right to defend itself.
We should recall that Vice President Dick Cheney was even more strident, insisting that failure to attack Saddam could lead to a nuclear attack on American soil. And that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, echoing Cheney, their longtime colleague, beat the drums of war the loudest of all.
It’s important to remember that at the time, many people doubted the president and his cabinet. The United Nations was unconvinced by Powell’s testimony. The build-up to the war saw some of the biggest street protests in recent memory. Throughout, the Bush administration was unwaveringly on-message.
One year later, these men, who seem to have made a very big mistake, pretend nothing happened. It’s an astonishing display—they simply deny that the WMDs were ever that big a deal. And it seems to be working. They are not being held accountable, by the Democrats or by the media or by the public responding to polls.
At the same time that these men would have us believe that the war was really about ridding the world of a brutal dictator, or about liberating the Iraqi people, they want us to believe they were victims of “bad intelligence.” They blame the CIA. They want us to believe that they were fooled.
This is far from the truth. Thinking back to the weeks and months before the war, we can remember what happened: The hawks in the administration, like a chorus of Chicken Littles, pointed to the data and cried out for war. That was not the fault of the data.
The Bush administration had exactly the same intelligence on Iraq that the Clinton administration had. This war did not result from bad intelligence. At best, it resulted from bad judgment.
More likely, we were lied to.
The true, direct roots of the war in Iraq precede the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. They go back at least five years.
On June 3, 1997, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz helped draft a Statement of Principles for a group called Project for the New American Century (PNAC). The statement included the following:
“The history of the 20th century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire. The history of this century should have taught us to embrace the cause of American leadership.”
By “American leadership,” PNAC clearly envisioned a world dominated by the American military, in service to American (read: corporate) interests.
This neo-conservative group explicitly urged military action in Iraq, with or without UN approval. In a jointly-signed letter to President Clinton on Jan. 26, 1998, PNAC wrote, “American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council.”
And on Sept. 18 of that year, Wolfowitz urged the House National Security Committee “to pursue a serious policy in Iraq, one that would aim at liberating the Iraqi people from Saddam’s tyrannical grasp and free Iraq’s neighbors from Saddam’s murderous threats.”
These men came into office wanting to wage war in Iraq. This is a simple, crucial fact, and it would be dangerous for us to ignore it or to underestimate its significance. But there is nothing else simple about the situation we now find ourselves in.
Was the war a mistake? Yes. Is America safer? No. Was the defeat of Iraq a victory in the war on terrorism? No.
Is the world better off without Saddam? Yes. Should the United States pull out now? No. Could a post-Saddam Iraq become an anchor of democracy in the Arab world? Let’s hope so, yes.
There is no use in just flinging blame, even for such a heinous abuse of power. But it is urgent that we not be fooled into somehow forgetting how exactly we got into this mess. We deserve the truth from our elected officials.