Most Americans yet believe President Bush did the right thing in ridding Iraq and the world of Saddam Hussein. Yet, how we were persuaded to go to war raises grave questions about the character and competence of those who led us into it.
As we now know, Iraq had no tie to Osama, no role in 9-11, no nuclear program, no weapons of mass destruction, no plans to attack us. Its people did not threaten us and did not want war with us.
By what right, then, did we invade their country, destroy their army and inflict thousands of casualties upon their people?
Comes the answer: We acted under the Bush Doctrine, under which we will not permit the world’s worst dictators to acquire the world’s worst weapons. To eliminate such threats before they go critical, we reserve the right to take pre-emptive military action and to wage preventive wars.
We cannot wait for tumors to become malignant before cutting them out, Bush was saying. After 9-11, most of America agreed.
But why did Bush choose Iraq? Why not Iran, whose hand in terror attacks was more demonstrable and whose missile and nuclear programs were more advanced? Why not North Korea?
The neoconservatives – Wolfowitz, Perle & Co. – we know, had been plotting war on Iraq and propagandizing for a U.S. invasion for years. But why did Bush sign on? Why did he make Iraq the first target of his doctrine? There was no tie between Saddam and 9-11, and Iraq seemed neither a grave nor an imminent threat.
What appears to have happened is this. Sometime soon after 9-11, the neocons persuaded the president that invading Iraq was the next crucial step in winning the war on terror and evil in which Divine Providence had chosen him to be the Churchill of his generation. And if the country and Congress were unconvinced of the need for war, it was his job to convince them.
And here is where the administration began to cross the line. To persuade us that Saddam was a mortal threat to which the only recourse was war, they needed evidence. But, apparently, there was little or no hard evidence to be had. No smoking guns. Saddam had been corralled in his box for a dozen years. America had flown 40,000 sorties over his country without losing a plane.
The only case that could be made was by extrapolating from the weapons Iraq had had before the Gulf War, which the U.N. had failed to find before it left in 1998. What seems to have happened is this.
Frustrated hawks in the Pentagon, impatient with the CIA’s inability to find the evidence to clinch the case for a war they had already decided on, began demanding access to raw intelligence.
They set up their own intelligence unit in the Pentagon, the Office of Special Plans. They solicited foreign intelligence agencies and Iraqi exiles to discover evidence that Saddam not only had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, he was working on nuclear ones.
First, they decided on war. Then they sent everyone out on a global scavenger hunt to find the evidence to prove we had no alternative but war. And though the information that came back was suspicious and the sources suspect, at least it pointed, as desired, in the right direction.
And, so, the hawks fed it to their propagandists in the press and “stovepiped” it to the White House, where it soon began to appear in the statements and speeches of the president and his War Cabinet.
Thus, we were told an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague had met with Muhammad Atta before 9-11, that Saddam was buying raw uranium for atomic bombs in Africa, that Iraq was testing drones and fitting them with biological weapons.
Vice President Cheney told “Meet the Press” that Saddam “has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.” Condi Rice warned us that if we waited too long for proof it might come in a “mushroom cloud” over an American city.
Upon such “evidence,” the White House stampeded Congress and the country into war, a war we now know was utterly unnecessary. We were misled, and the only question that lingers is: Were we deceived?
For if Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld and the president were truly relying on the ambiguous intelligence the CIA was providing, whence came their absolute certitude as to the gravity and immediacy of the threat? For the CIA was saying there was no imminent threat.
History will record this as Bush’s War. And he seems content with that judgment. But the price of victory has been the lost trust of many of his countrymen and of much of the world. The credibility of yet another administration has been compromised. Was it worth it?
And if it was not the weapons, what was the real reason America went to war on Iraq?