Ten years ago, as President George W. Bush took the final, fateful steps to launch the United States’ invasion of Iraq, Christopher Cerf and I were pulling all-nighters, feverishly putting the final touches on our anthology The Iraq War Reader. Having done a previous well-received anthology on the Gulf War, the campaign led by Bush Senior to push Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait back in 1991, we felt we had no choice but to offer a sequel. After all, we joked to ourselves, if Junior thought he had to “finish the job,” we did too.
Both of our books were designed to be comprehensive, readable guides to the history, documents and opinions that swirled around these events. We took care to provide a fair and balanced mix of points of view, to let readers make up their own minds about what they thought about the wisdom and justice of these wars.
But truth be told, both Chris and I were deeply skeptical of the proponents of war, having seen with our own research how often government and military officials lie. And so we made sure to include in our second book plenty of evidence from the first Gulf War of how we had been lied to about things as small as the supposed efficacy of the Patriot Missile (it mostly failed to shoot down Scuds) to the monstrous and false claim that Saddam’s troops had ripped babies out of Kuwaiti hospital incubators.
But 10 years ago, it was not a good time to be a war skeptic in America. It rarely is. The vast majority of “smart” and “serious” people had convinced themselves that in the face of Saddam Hussein’s alleged stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction, the prudent thing to do was to go to war to remove him from power.
Skeptics who tried to argue that it was better to let UN weapons inspectors continue monitoring his efforts while maintaining sanctions that hemmed in his regime were deemed foolish and naïve. Regional experts who warned of the danger that a post-Saddam Iraq would collapse into civil war, that Iran would be strengthened, or that any American occupation would be costly and futile, were dismissed as worrying about hypotheticals. Those were seen as abstractions compared to the “reality” that Iraq was on the verge of getting a nuclear bomb, presumably against us.