"Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?" -- Groucho Marx
"We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." -- Karl RoveWe aren't talking ancient history. We aren't debating the origins of the Peloponnesian War or the War of 1812 or even the Vietnam War. We are talking about the Iraq War. We were all there. Well, we weren't all over there -- we were here, where we experienced first hand the shameful manipulation of our post-9/11 trauma by the Bush Administration, the craven capitulation of the loyal opposition and mainstream media, and the disastrous consequences.
The latest focus on the question to, and remarkably inept responses by, yet another Bush running for president as to whether, knowing what we know now -- presumably, invading a country that was not a threat to us after lying about its head of state's complicity in 9/11 and the possession of weapons of mass destruction; destroying that country infrastructure, destabilizing the region and increasing the influence of that country's neighbors; using torture and committing other human rights abuses; and causing the deaths of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis -- he would have invaded Iraq as his brother did, ignores what was known then. This conveniently lets those complicit in the debacle off the hook, and does little to inform us about the qualifications for presidency of Jeb Bush or his cohorts.
It is rapidly becoming conventional wisdom, thanks to the same vapid punditry that was so acquiescent back then, that the Bush Administration was the victim of poor intelligence -- that they were misled into war, not that they misled us into a war they wanted to launch all along. But we know this is not true. We can recall how they seized on whatever tiny shred of evidence no matter how unreliable to bolster the answers they wanted about WMDs and a Iraq-9/11 connection and ignored the vast majority of credible evidence that pointed to contrary conclusion? Remember yellow cake, aluminum tubes, mushroom clouds? Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice manipulated the intelligence to sell a war to the public.
Another revisionist trope is that everyone believed the intelligence about WMD. First, not everyone had the access to all of the intelligence that the Administration used and twisted for its purposes. Further, most members of Congress who voted to authorize the war (including Hillary Clinton) failed, as Peter Beinart points out, to read the full classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction -- a report that convinced, for example, Senators Leahy and Graham to vote against the Iraq War resolution. 21 other Senators and 133 Representatives also just said "no." And while some who voted "aye" may have done so because they believed the intelligence, most likely succumbed to coercive political pressure skillfully intensified by rhetoric out of the White House (e.g., you are "either with us or against us in the fight against terror.")
There was also some real journalism going on at the time -- from the reporters at Knight Ridder, for example -- who examined with skepticism the Bush Administrations' claims linking Saddam to 9/11 and WMDs.
As Matt Taibbi reminds us: "It was obvious even back then, to anyone who made the faintest effort to look at the situation honestly, that the invasion was doomed, wrong, and a joke."
First you had to accept a fictional implied connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. Then you had to buy that this heavily-sanctioned secular dictator (and confirmed enemy of Islamic radicals) would be a likely sponsor of radical Islamic terror. Then after that you had to accept that Saddam even had the capability of supplying terrorists with weapons that could hurt us (the Bush administration's analysts famously squinted so hard their faces turned inside out trying to see that one). And then, after all that, you still had to buy that all of these factors together added up to a threat so imminent that it justified the immediate mass sacrifice of American and Iraqi lives.But now we are having to witness a parade of the same hapless politicians, pundits and experts who told us they were certain that Saddam Hussein was hiding nuclear weapons and was involved with 9/11, that taking him out with shock and awe would be quick and painless -- for us -- that we would be greeted as liberators, and that the consequent reordering of the Middle East would bring peace and freedom. They were completely wrong about everything but are nevertheless unapologetically back on the airwaves and they are back advising Jeb Bush and the other Republican candidates. And if any of these candidates actually ascends to the White House, they would be back making and selling policy.
Instead of being asked about what they would have done in Iraq given what we know now, perhaps candidates could be asked under what circumstances they would use military force to overthrow a sovereign nation or whether they would manipulate intelligence if they believed it would convince the public to support their policy goals or under what conditions they would authorize torture.
What we knew then and what we surely know now is that the Iraq fiasco did not stem from intelligence failures but was a direct result of the reckless pursuit of a discredited neoconservative political theory. Unfortunately, none of the Republican candidates seems to have learned this or anything else that would allow them to avoid another unmitigated disaster when confronted with a national crisis.