Contrary to what Jeb Bush says now, it wasn’t actually that hard to see through the propaganda barrage that led the United States to invade Iraq in 2003. Key aspects of the Bush administration’s case for war were transparently false, so false that it would have been comical if the consequences hadn’t been so terrible.
Ancient history: “The administration’s strategy of loudly proclaiming that Iraq poses a dire threat to U.S. security while making a public show of massing troops along its border as if it were scarcely capable of self-defense,” I wrote in a February 2003 column, “makes no sense.”
A single “mushroom cloud,” of the kind Condoleezza Rice warned about, and military catastrophe would have resulted. To me, it followed that Rice was simply blowing smoke.
And so, he’s since basically admitted, was Secretary of State Colin Powell.
“War fever, catch it,” was my sardonic response to Powell’s ballyhooed 2003 speech to the United Nations on the dire threat supposedly posed by Saddam Hussein.
“To skeptics who remember ‘intelligence’ hoaxes of past decades,” the column continued, “it wasn’t clear that Powell’s presentation answered any of the objections his own surrogates like former national security advisor [under George H. W. Bush] Brent Scowcroft have put forward.
“Key parts of Powell’s presentation were dubious on their face.” The column listed several examples, including the disingenuous term, “weapons of mass destruction,” which Americans were encouraged to believe included nuclear bombs, but mostly referred to leftover nerve gas weapons that we had sold to Saddam in the first place. (And which he had used to attack the Kurds and Iran — for anybody seeking a clue about why the Middle East is what it is today.)
In reality, we’ve learned, Saddam had no WMDs of any description.
“The crucial thing about Powell’s speech wasn’t evidence or logic,” I wrote at the time, “but who gave it. The Secretary of State has surrendered to the hawks. War it is. President Junior’s ‘credibility’ demands it.”
Yes, I called George W. Bush a satirical name. Even before his comic opera “Mission Accomplished” aircraft carrier photo op, I thought the president was posturing like the hero of a Bruce Willis action/adventure film.
Many opinion writers reacted differently, as I wrote:
The allegedly “liberal” Washington Post responded editorially with a one-word headline. “Irrefutable.” […] Joining the stampede was New York Times editor Bill Keller, who noted that “The I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk Club includes op-ed regulars at this newspaper and The Washington Post, the editors of The New Yorker, The New Republic and Slate, columnists in Time and Newsweek.”
There were honorable exceptions, such as Knight-Ridder reporters Jonathan Landay, Warren Strobel, and Joe Galloway. But the professional skepticism journalists boast of was rare.
Basically this was because the safest place in any stampede is the middle of the herd. In his book Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush, Eric Boehlert counted 26 pro-Iraq War columns in the Washington Post between September 2002 and February 2003.
You’ve probably forgotten that Bush promised to put the matter to a vote in the U.N. Security Council, and then changed his mind as arms inspectors kept not finding Saddam’s imaginary weapons. Instead, he ordered the inspectors out of Iraq. “Alas,” I wrote, “there’s no sign Bush has the guts for peace.”
Meanwhile, fools were busy pouring Bordeaux wine into gutters, ordering “freedom fries,” and destroying Dixie Chicks CDs because, like the French foreign minister, the singers expressed doubts about Bush’s big war. (I made a coarse joke about “Freedom Ticklers.” Months later a friend emailed me a photo of a truck stop vending machine selling them.)
Journalistic skepticism abandoned, much of the “embedded” news media rode along as if invading Iraq were the world’s biggest Boy Scout Jamboree. The short-term outcome of the fighting was never in doubt. And patriotic Americans can always be counted upon to rally behind the troops.
In the longer term, I doubted that Americans had the appetite for the wars of empire that Bush’s “neoconservative” advisors had in mind.
See, that’s the part Jeb Bush in particular wants everybody to forget. Invading Iraq had little or nothing to do with the 9/11 terror attacks. Instead, it was the brainchild of a close-knit group of foreign policy visionaries who styled themselves the “Project for a New American Century.”
Ideological delusion — the dream of a worldwide “Pax Americana” — gave birth to bad intelligence, rather than vice versa.
Signatories to a 2000 PNAC position paper urging preventive war and “regime change” in Iraq included Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney, Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and, yes, Jeb himself.
“This isn’t conservatism,” I wrote. “It’s utopian folly and a prescription for endless war.”
The point isn’t to pat myself on the back. Contrarianism comes naturally to me. Also, having no ambitions involving Washington or New York, I felt no pressure to conform.
Rather, the point is that the same crowd has every intention of peddling a revised script on the same crackpot themes in 2016.
My question is, are you buying?
Photo: World Affairs Council via Flickr