March 19, 2013

The Iraq Invasion, Ten Years On

The decision to invade Iraq in 2003 is not itself a mystery: Dick Cheney worked with Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith and their Office of Special Plans, that new department in the Pentagon with the Orwellian name, to "stovepipe" unvetted intelligence on Iraq to the White House, free of any complicating involvement of the CIA or other agencies trained in evaluating information.  This was "goal-seeking" intelligence work, designed to prove the case for an invasion of Saddam Hussein's Iraq.  President George W. Bush was only too happy to go along, since it provided the opportunity to play out a Freudian drama, the wastrel, prodigal son completing the manly work his unmanly father was unwilling to finish while Bush the Elder was President.

To sell the war to the public, it was cast as an act of self-defense.  We were told that Saddam Hussein was loaded to the gunwales with weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, nerve gas and biological contaminants, and we were reminded endlessly that Hussein "had used poison gas on his own people," the Kurds of the north.  I confess that for a while the Administration had me going: surely they couldn't be lying about all of this.  I did not buy the argument that Hussein had anything whatsoever to do with the terrorist attacks of 9/11, that line of baloney pushed especially hard by Dick Cheney and Richard Perl, with their "Iraqi agent in Prague" ruse.  In this respect, I differed from about two-thirds of my fellow American commoners.

Several months before the invasion, I became convinced that the WMD argument was also complete bullshit, and to draw my own historical line in the sand, I marched in February, 2003 in San Francisco in a demonstration against the war.  I remember telling my companion on the trip (a ferry ride to San Francisco, then the long hike up Market Street to Civic Center in the company of hundreds of thousands of other demonstrators) that the invasion itself was a foregone conclusion, but it was a nice way to spend a Sunday.  By the time Colin Powell destroyed his reputation once and for all with his unbelievable act of cowardice and complicity in his "United Nations" speech, I was pretty sure the entire WMD case was a fabrication from the ground up.

Contrary to the revisionist history that became popular after the invasion, and the failure to find any WMD in Iraq whatsoever, that "everybody thought" Hussein had such weapons, there was always ample evidence available to the general public that the rationale was a complete hoax.  That, indeed, is the amazing part.  Granted, the official organs of propaganda, including the New York Times and its Administration-aiding mouthpiece Judith Miller, sold the war with a vengeance.  A positive feedback loop of self-reinforcing bullshit was set up in which Cheney & Co. would leak stovepiped information from the Office of Special Plans to Judith Miller, who would dutifully write it up as fact-based narrative; then Cheney or Wolfowitz or Feith would appear on a compliant Sunday morning talk show to discuss the latest "findings" in the Times

Nevertheless, William Arkin, the chief defense writer for the Washington Post, stated categorically before the invasion that it was "almost certain" that Saddam had no WMD.  Scott Ritter, the UN weapons inspector, said much the same thing.  The UN inspector actually in Iraq before the invasion, Hans Blix, stated over and over that he could find nothing.  Blix was attacked by the truly awful Charles Krauthammer of the Post, both professionally and personally, and Bush & Co. belittled everything he had to say on the theory that Saddam was leading him around by the nose.  It occurred to me, in light of corroborating reports and the simple reality that Iraq had been hobbled by crippling sanctions for over ten years since the first American invasion, that maybe the reason Blix could not find any WMD was because there weren't any.

It was, as Lillian Hellman said about another era, a "Scoundrel Time."  For people who look at history and reality a certain way, the prelude to the Iraq War marked the death of trust in official organs of information, such as the national media of newspapers and television, and the birth of increasing reliance on alternative sources of information, mainly the Internet.  It was scary to contemplate, however, just how easy it was to convince a substantial majority of the American people of the truth of demonstrably false propositions, and it remains unsettling to think about the implications of such a truth for the viability of democracy.

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