After each war, historians sift through the record to discern its real causes. Invariably, they divide into two camps: the court historians who defend the war leaders and the revisionists who prosecute them before the bar of history.
After World War II, the evidence that FDR had steered us into war, while asserting he was doing his best to avert war, was so massive even his court historians admit he lied. Wrote Thomas A. Bailey in FDR’s defense, “He was like the physician who must tell the patient lies for his own good.”
Roosevelt had cut off Japan’s oil, sent the Flying Tigers to China and sought to tempt Japan into attacking a line of picket ships. He had lied about German subs torpedoing U.S. destroyers and Nazi plans to conquer South America and replace the Christian cross with the swastika. This mattered in 1950. For, with Stalin triumphant in Europe and China, it appeared – in Churchill’s phrase – that we “had killed the wrong pig.”
But today, with the immense focus on the Holocaust, the question is no longer, “Did FDR lie?” But, “Why did we not declare war sooner?”
Vietnam was, in Reagan’s phrase, “a noble cause.” But because it was a lost cause, it is now said and believed we only went to war because LBJ had misled us about the Tonkin Gulf incident.
The war in Iraq is being portrayed by the president’s men as a just and necessary war that removed a mortal peril. But if our victory turns to ashes in our mouths, and we discover that we have inherited our own West Bank in Mesopotamia, the White House will have to explain again why we went there.
In his speech from the deck of the Abraham Lincoln, President Bush told the nation, “With those attacks (of 9-11), the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States. And war is what they got” – i.e., the invasion of Iraq was payback for the killers of Sept. 11.
But is this the truth? For this war on Iraq was not sold to the nation as retribution for 9-11. Indeed, the ties between Iraqi intelligence and the al-Qaida killers turned out to be bogus War Party propaganda.
We were told, rather, that Saddam had gas and germ weapons and was working on nuclear weapons. And once he had them, he would use them on us, or give them to Osama. “Do you want to wait for a nuclear 9-11?” Americans were asked.
Trusting the president, believing that he had information we did not, a majority of Americans approved of pre-emptive war. But where, now, are the thousands of artillery warheads and terror weapons the president and secretary of state told us Saddam had?
We have scoured Iraq for a month. No Scuds have been found. No chemical or biological weapons. No laboratories or production lines. No evidence that Iraq was building nukes or seeking fissile material.
“Every statement I make today is backed up by … solid sources,” Colin Powell told the United Nations. But since then, his case has crumbled. Were he a district attorney, Colin Powell would be under investigation today for prosecutorial incompetence or possible fraud. One British document he relied on turned out to be a 10-year-old term paper by a graduate student. The documents from Niger proving Iraq was seeking “yellowcake” for nuclear bombs turned out to be forgeries – and crude ones at that.
Who forged them? Why have we not been told? Does the secretary who put his integrity on the line not want to know?
If our occupation of Iraq turns sour and U.S. troops are being shot in the back, a year from now, Americans are going to demand to know. And President Bush could face the charge thrown up in the face of FDR by Clare Boothe Luce, that he “lied us into war.”
Both the president and Powell are honorable men. If they misled us, surely it is because they themselves were misled. It is impossible to believe either man would deliberately state as fact what he knew to be false. But the president must find these weapons – or find the men who told him, with such certitude, that Iraq had them.
For there is something strange here. If Saddam had these weapons, why did he not surrender them to save himself? If he did not give them up because he intended to use them on us, why did he not use them on us? And if they were destroyed before the war, why did he not simply show us where, and thereby save himself, his family and his regime?
Last fall, Congress abdicated, surrendered its war-making power to a president who demanded that Congress yield it up. If Congress wishes to redeem itself, it should unearth the truth about why we went to war. Was the official explanation the truth, or was it political cover for an American imperial war?