Are any other Americans out there shaking their head in dumb amazement over George W. Bush’s latest statements about why he ordered a war of aggression on Iraq in March, 2003? The Bush administration initially sold that war on the grounds that it was required for our protection. We needed to attack, Bush argued, to stop a reckless Iraqi regime that was a serious threat to assault us and/or our allies with “weapons of mass destruction [WMD].” That regime, the administration claimed, was linked somehow to 9/11, al Qaeda, and extremist Islamic terrorism in general.
Never mind that Iraq was an imaginary danger. Thanks in large part to the initial Gulf War (1990-91) and subsequent U.S.-led sanctions, Saddam Hussein’s government was a terribly weakened state. It was hardly a threat to even its immediate neighbors. Its capacity to engage in significant military action, with or without WMD, was minimal. It’s supposed awesome stockpiles of unconventional weaponry were non-existent, as Scott Ritter and numerous other knowledgeable observers reported.
Never mind that there was no discernible connection between Saddam’s secular Baathist regime and al Qaeda or other Muslim terror network. Osama bin-Laden were in fact bitter enemies and the White House’s notion of the latter “handing off” nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons (even if he had such weapons) – to the former was frankly outrageous.
And never mind that it would have been suicidal for Saddam to attack the U.S. or one its allied states in the region. There was no evidence to suggest that Iraq’s calculating dictator had abandoned his famous instincts of self-preservation.
Bush’s justifications for war were outlandish, something that was well understood around the world and which is now widely acknowledged even here in the U.S.
Seeking to recover from the domestic public relations fiasco that his war on Iraq has become, Bush is now saying two peculiar things about why he ordered invasion.
His first claim is that “much” of the “intelligence” he received about Iraq in 2002 and early 2003 “turned out to be wrong. As president,” Bush acknowledged Wednesday, “I’m responsible for the decision to go to war with Iraq, and I’m also for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities.”
Never mind that millions across the planet were fully aware from the start that the WMD argument was bogus.
The second curious thing that Bush says now is that the “wrong intelligence” he received on Iraq wasn’t actually why he invaded that nation anyway. In an interview with FOX News Wednesday, “Bush said he ‘absolutely’ would have invaded Iraq [even] he had known then that Mr. Hussein did not have banned weapons” (Richard W. Stevenson, “Bush Says U.S. Needs Patience on Iraq War; Admits Errors,” New York Times, 15 December 2005, p. A18).
That is a fascinating thing for the president to say to anyone who is familiar with what he said in early 2003. During his Saturday morning radio address of March 8th that year, to give one exmaple, Bush justified a war he had already decided on by insisting that “Saddam Hussein has a long history of reckless aggression and terrible crimes. He possesses,” Bush elaborated, “weapons of terror. He provides funding and training and safe haven to terrorists who would willingly deliver weapons of mass destruction against America and other peace-loving countries.”
“The attacks of September the 11, 2001,” Bush continued, “showed what the enemies of America did with four airplanes. We will not wait to see what terrorists or terror states could do with weapons of mass destruction…. And, as a last resort, we must be willing to use military force. We are doing everything we can to avoid war in Iraq. But if Saddam Hussein does not disarm peacefully, he will be disarmed by force.”
Now how are we supposed to interpret these and numerous other similar and related statements by Bush and his officials during late 2002 and early 2003? Did Bush invade Iraq because of “bad intelligence” or didn’t he? Did the White House select or otherwise “cook” the “intelligence” to favor its supposed real project of spreading “freedom” to Iraq? Did the White House find it necessary to invent a new pretext (the export of “freedom”) when the (supposedly surprising) absence of WMD became apparent? Did it, as most of the world thinks, invade Iraq for reasons that had little to do with either WMD or spreading its notion of liberty and more to do with Iraqis’ enormous strategic stockpile of, well, oil?
The most depressing thing is the calm way that dominant (“mainstream”) media relays Bush’s latest rhetorical spin on why he “went into Iraq.” Bush’s bold statement that he would have ordered the occupation of Mesopotamia even without evidence of Iraqi WMD is reported in remarkably un-astonished terms at the end of an article on the 19th page of a recent edition of the “liberal” New York Times. The respectful title of this item is “Bush Says U.S. Needs Patience on Iraq War; Admits Errors.”
A more morally responsible and truthful title would have been this: “Bush Says False Rationalizations Were Irrelevant to War’s Launch.”
The Times and other “mainstream” media outlets may have apologized for their initial “gullibility” in covering Bush’s initial WMD claims. But excessively uncritical, power-serving, and deception-normalizing Never Mind War Coverage is still all-too entrenched at the commanding heights of the news industry.
Apologies are nice but what people really want after they’ve been wronged is a change of behavior.
One good way for the media to show real remorse for uncritically relaying Bush’s original war pretexts would be to critically attack the administration’s current claim that it wants a free and independent Iraq. That’s the last thing the Bush White House and its powerful corporate allies and sponsors want to see since such an Iraq would be thoroughly unwilling to allow its economy to put for sale to foreign capital and to let the U.S. maintain a permanent military presence on Mesopotamian soil.