As one gentleman lamented in a recent post to the ZNet Blogs:
We present arguments against the war as if it were possible to make arguments in favor. War is always wrong.
Gravely important issues are bound up within these two little sentences. Both for the Americans and for the rest of the world.
There are no just wars.
Now. Compare the point of view of the Chicago Tribune, whose editorial voice, in its god-awful The Road To War series, continues to defend the Bush regime’s military seizure of Iraq, some two-and-three-quarter years after the fact:
In putting so much emphasis on weapons, the White House advanced its most provocative, least verifiable case for war when others would have sufficed. With his support for Palestinian and other terrorists, Hussein was a destabilizing force in the Middle East. His ballistic missiles program, which threatened such U.S. allies as Israel, Kuwait and Turkey, grossly violated the UN’s last-chance Resolution 1441—as did his refusal even to divulge the status of his weapons programs. Worse, with the UN failing to enforce its demands, Hussein freely perpetuated the genocidal slaughter of his people.
Based on Hussein’s indisputable record, the president had ample cause to want regime change in Iraq. Put short, the bumper-sticker accusation that “Bush lied—People died” would be moot today if the president had stuck to known truths.
—- “What we know today,” November 20, 2005
The opponents of military action could not seriously argue that Hussein had complied with the UN’s repeated demands. Nor could they point to brighter days if only the U.S. and other nations held their fire. This particular argument for war, one of nine advanced by the White House, was not disputable. Iraq had rebuffed the world, and the UN had failed to respond.
—- “Iraq rebuffs the world,” November 25, 2005
The Bush administration inherited from President Clinton’s administration a U.S. policy of regime change in Iraq–and multiple intelligence warnings that Saddam Hussein had designs on nuclear weaponry.
In March 2002, Robert Einhorn, Clinton’s assistant secretary of state for non-proliferation, described for the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee the alarming assessment of Iraq that the intelligence community was relaying to the White House during Clinton’s second term:
“How close is the peril of Iraqi WMD? Today, or at most within a few months, Iraq could launch missile attacks with chemical or biological weapons against its neighbors (albeit attacks that would be ragged, inaccurate and limited in size).
“Within four or five years it could have the capability to threaten most of the Middle East and parts of Europe with missiles armed with nuclear weapons containing fissile material produced indigenously–and to threaten U.S. territory with such weapons delivered by non-conventional means, such as commercial shipping containers. If it managed to get its hands on sufficient quantities of already produced fissile material, these threats could arrive much sooner.”
Einhorn spoke at a time when the Bush White House was smarting from the accusations that it might have prevented the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, had it accurately assessed the threat to the U.S. from Al Qaeda. What would be the consequences for Americans if the administration now ignored years of dramatic intelligence warnings about Iraq’s nuclear capabilities?
The difficulty, of course, was that a White House responsible for protecting this country from assault had little choice but to rely on the same agencies that grossly underestimated Iraq’s nuke program before the Gulf war.
Remember, the consensus of those agencies was that Baghdad had been reconstituting its nuclear program since 1998 and that, with fissile material, Iraq could have a workable bomb in short order.
Today we know that those assessments reflected manifest failures of U.S. and European intelligence agencies. Kay criticized the flawed work of those agencies on Jan. 28, 2004, before the Senate Armed Services Committee. But he also had the grace to highlight how difficult it is for analysts to discern other governments’ deepest secrets.
On multiple points, such as the murky accusations about Iraq’s quest for uranium and aluminum tubes, the administration spouted assertions that were at best dubious. Each of us is free to conclude whether that represented a hyping of what little was known about Iraq’s nuclear capabilities–or a determination to protect this country and its allies in the region.
That said, assertions that the Bush administration strong-armed intelligence analysts in 2002 and 2003, or misled the nation in making its nuclear case for war, challenge logic.
During and after Clinton’s presidency, the intelligence community repeatedly warned the White House that Iraq was one cache of fissile material and one year short of wielding a nuclear bomb.
If the White House manipulated or exaggerated that intelligence before the war in order to paint a more-menacing portrait of Saddam Hussein, it’s difficult to imagine why. For five years, the official and oft-delivered alarms from the U.S. intelligence community had been menacing enough.
—- “The quest for nukes: What we know today,” November 30, 2005
Citizens of this nation have the right, and the responsibility, to debate whether their government should act pre-emptively against threats it suspects but cannot prove.
But citizens also have the right, and the responsibility, to demand that their leaders protect this nation, its overseas interests and its allies from terror attacks.
The gravity of those rights and responsibilities should deter our respective zealotries, whatever their bent. The cost of being wrong–of taking the nation to war for uncertain causes, or of underestimating foes until the day they murder thousands–is daunting. We Americans demand that our policymakers act, or be willing to accept the consequences of their inaction.
On Nov. 14, the 9/11 Commission issued a progress report on its earlier recommendations: what has been accomplished, what still needs to be done. The progress report’s first section, labeled “Nonproliferation,” suggests that commission members think our collective concern about future terror attacks is little better than it was on Sept. 10, 2001.
In wording more pointed than in its landmark 2004 report, the commission members now state: “Preventing terrorists from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction must be elevated above all other problems of national security because it represents the greatest threat to the American people.”
Had those words washed across the U.S. in 2002, they would have convinced some Americans of the urgent need for an attack on Iraq. The same words would have convinced other Americans of the need for more certainty that Iraq, not some other enemy, was a real proliferation threat.
So two questions hang in midair: Would an Iraq still ruled by Saddam Hussein have reconstituted its deadly weaponry or shared it with terror groups? Or was that possibility sufficiently remote to declare America safe from those threats?
The Bush administration argued before the invasion that the answers were yes to the first, no to the second.
Of the nine reasons the White House offered in making its case for war, the implications of this warning about Iraq’s intentions are among the most treacherous to imagine–yet also the least possible to declare true or false.
—- “The once and future threat,” December 4, 2005
The Bush administration portrays conflict in Iraq as part of a challenge to terror prompted by Sept. 11, 2001. Years from now, will the war in Iraq be judged a blow to global terror–or a foolish diversion that allowed it to flourish?
Historians easily will discern that coalition and Iraqi forces prevailed against radical Islamists mounting their Alamo moment against the advance of liberal democracy–or, conversely, that the extremists scored a galvanic victory by forcing the Great Satan to retreat.
Iraq has served as a unifying cause for Islamist extremists, many of whom have been killed or captured there. That said, those who survive will carry what they’ve learned about jihad and terror to their homelands. The ultimate answer to whether the war is a blow to global terror likely pivots on who prevails: the troops or the terrorists.
The bottom line on Hussein as a past and probable instigator of global terror: The administration’s case reflected the intelligence community’s evidently exaggerated surmise–and the administration’s convictions–beyond the less bombastic facts on the ground.
Without proof that Hussein armed, or would arm, global networks, how could an American president assert that the possibility of such ties was a compelling argument for war?
One man’s thoughts:
“After 9/11 … if you had been president, you’d think, Well, this fellow bin Laden just turned these three airplanes full of fuel into weapons of mass destruction, right? Arguably they were super-powerful chemical weapons. Think about it that way. So, you’re sitting there as president, you’re reeling in the aftermath of this, so, yeah, you want to go get bin Laden and do Afghanistan and all that. But you also have to say, Well, my first responsibility now is to try everything possible to make sure that this terrorist network and other terrorist networks cannot reach chemical and biological weapons or small amounts of fissile material. I’ve got to do that.
“That’s why I supported the Iraq thing. … You couldn’t responsibly ignore [the possibility that] a tyrant had these stocks. I never really thought he’d [use them]. What I was far more worried about was that he’d sell this stuff or give it away.”
Bill Clinton has since hedged his support for his successor’s war in Iraq. But it is hard to read Clinton’s you-are-there parable in the June 28, 2004, issue of Time magazine without sharing, if only for a moment, the burden every American president will carry from this era forward.
—- “Did Iraq export terror?” December 7, 2005
The fledgling reformation of Mideast politics could collapse as abruptly as it began. But the U.S. is now on record as insisting that democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq not be lonesome for company. In a remarkable June speech, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice startled Egyptian and Saudi leaders accustomed to having their way with Washington: She said Bush’s pressure for a more democratic Middle East applies not only to rogue governments, but to America’s allies as well.
Rice rejected the timid U.S. diplomacy that let so many Lebanons fester. “For 60 years my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East–and we achieved neither,” she said at Cairo’s American University. “Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.” She confessed that the U.S. has “no cause for false pride” and “every reason for humility” in advancing that agenda. “It was only in my lifetime,” Rice said, “that my government guaranteed the right to vote for all of its people.”
Decades will pass before we know all of the Iraq war’s ripple effects. That said, the ouster of hostile regimes in Kabul and Baghdad clearly curbs some threats previously faced by such U.S. allies as Turkey, Israel and Kuwait. And for remaining terror regimes, the Middle East is now a smaller place.
In April 2004, Mideast-oriented Web sites sizzled with excerpts from an influential speech (which begat a book, “A View from the Eye of the Storm”) by Haim Harari, the former president of Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science. Harari, a physicist, had isolated an intriguing finding from a different field of academia, geography:
“As a result of the conquest of Afghanistan and Iraq, both Iran and Syria are now totally surrounded by territories unfriendly to them. Iran is encircled by Afghanistan, by the Gulf States, Iraq and the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union. Syria is surrounded by Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Israel. … I do not know if the American plan was actually to encircle both Iran and Syria, but that is the resulting situation.”
The Bush administration’s case for war included arguments, particularly about illicit weapons, that proved dead wrong. The White House was correct, though, that democracy in Iraq could spark revolutions of rising expectations. As a result, several other regimes have faced the question, “Why not us?” Rulers who have survived by fomenting hatred of the Great Satan now confront the aspirations of their people.
The oft-stated belief here is that this side effect of the war is as welcome as some others are tragic: For one repressive head of state after another, Al Jazeera’s coverage of U.S. soldiers protecting eager Iraqi voters makes for unpleasant viewing.
—- “‘The virus of democracy’,” December 11, 2005
(Quick comment: Wish that I could reproduce the exact same version of the photo that the Trib published on the editorial page of its December 11 edition to accompany this democracy-spreading installment in its Road To War series (Perspective, Sect. 2, p. 10). Still. Here is the same Associated Press photo, though with a slightly different cut:
As you can see, it depicts a young woman, with both her arms extended outward from her shoulders, each of her hands holding the national flag of Lebanon, and is reminiscent of one of those “Fight or Buy Bonds” posters from around the time the Americans seized the First World War:
In the Trib‘s rendition of the same, the woman looks Madison Avenue all the way. I’m sure she has spent at least as much of her short life on the dance floors of European discothèques as she has the streets of Beirut. The photo’s caption reads: “Lebanese protestors demonstrate against Syria in Beirut in March. The next month, Lebanon was liberated from 29 years of Syrian military occupation.” A “Cedar Revolution” indeed.)
The White House was correct, after Sept. 11, to pursue Iraq as a likely suspect. Subsequent investigative reports have faulted the U.S. intelligence community, and two administrations, for not better using their imaginations to protect this country by pressing for better intel.
Iraq was a likely suspect. Its chronic refusal to heed United Nations mandates made it more so.
President Bush also was correct to demand that no rogue state be allowed to ally with Al Qaeda. To do less–to accept the UN Security Council’s refusal to enforce crucial demands on Iraq–invited catastrophe.
As the 9/11 Commission said about U.S. tolerance of bin Laden before the attacks: “Since we believe that both President Clinton and President Bush were genuinely concerned about the danger posed by Al Qaeda, approaches involving more direct intervention against the sanctuary in Afghanistan apparently must have seemed–if they were considered at all–to be disproportionate to the threat…. It is hardest to mount a major effort while a problem still seems minor. Once the danger has fully materialized, evident to all, mobilizing action is easier–but it then may be too late.”
But by stripping its rhetoric about Iraq and Al Qaeda of the ambiguity in the intel data, the White House exaggerated this argument for war.
Bush synthesized a better argument, properly invoking Sept. 11, during an Oct. 6, 2004, campaign stop in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. He said that given the dictator’s prior use of illicit weapons, his record of aggression, his hatred for the U.S. and his identification by Democratic and Republican administrations as a terror sponsor, “There was a risk–a real risk–that Saddam Hussein would pass weapons, or materials, or information, to terrorist networks. In the world after September the 11th, that was a risk we could not afford to take.”
That argument, before the war, would have lacked the impact of implying that Iraq played a role in attacking America. It would, though, have had the virtue of being true.
—- “Iraq and Al Qaeda,” December 14, 2005
The risk in considering body counts this large, cruelties this ghoulish, is that at some point the victims seem more like statistics than individual men, or women, or children.
In detailing how Saddam Hussein’s regime had mistreated his people–and mocked United Nations Security Council Resolution 688–the Bush White House was spot-on, even reserved. Few if any war opponents, in this country or elsewhere, have suggested that the administration exaggerated this argument.
Nor have the opponents asserted that an unmolested Hussein would, out of gratitude, have eased his repression. Those UN inspectors who, for a time, supposedly contained his menace? Their specialty was searching for weapons sites, not exhuming mass graves.
—- “Butchery in Baghdad,” December 18, 2005
The Bush administration invested this nation’s blood and treasure in a radical conviction: that the greater Middle East could be ruled less by wild furies than by the citizens of many lands who have the greatest stake in its future.
Iraq is that conviction’s fiercest crucible. If the country’s alloy of rival groups does not melt, the peoples of more nations may be tempted to embrace self-rule. We are in an era in which history is hostile to despots.
Thus far, that alloy has survived terrorist attempts to provoke a civil war, to intimidate Iraqi democrats, to drive out the U.S. troops who shield a fledgling government.
Over time, Americans in uniform will leave Iraq. The hope here is that they come home with tremendous pride in a mission they truly have completed.
Only when our soldiers are gone, when Iraqis alone must nurture this new Iraq, will we learn whether that U.S. blood and treasure have enabled a treacherous patch of Earth to liberalize and thrive.
We cannot yet know if this Iraq–by its example to other nations or by the envy it provokes in them–will be the democracy that transforms a region of primitive governments. But freedom now has a foothold where it had none before–in a region that has spawned many hatreds. Given that history, this nation and its allies will likely be safer now that free Iraqis have a promising future to grow and protect.
—- “‘Your liberation is near’,” December 21, 2005
Anyone detect a pattern here? Hands-down, the Chicago Tribune is officially apologetic with respect to its favorite state’s March, 2003 war of aggression.
The Trib promises that, one week from today, December 28, it will share with readers its “verdicts on each of the Bush administration’s arguments”—of which, by the Trib‘s count, there have been nine in all. Like a kid staring at his presents under the Christmas tree before the official day arrives, I can hardly wait to open next Wednesday’s Trib and see what’s inside. I don’t believe that even the regime itself responsible for this criminal enterprise pretends to have made as many as nine different arguments for the military seizure of Iraq.
(Quick aside. For a fortuitously timed counterpoint to all of this bunk, yesterday’s important report from Michigan Representative John Conyers, the ranking minority member of the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives: The Constitution in Crisis: The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, and Coverups in the Iraq War, December 20, 2005. (For the PDF version of the complete report.))
And now, having completed the nine installments in its The Road To War series, what verdict has the editorial voice of the Chicago Tribune finally shared with its readers?
Did President Bush intentionally mislead this nation and its allies into war? Or is it his critics who have misled Americans, recasting history to discredit him and his policies? If your responses are reflexive and self-assured, read on.
On Nov. 20, the Tribune began an inquest: We set out to assess the Bush administration’s arguments for war in Iraq. We have weighed each of those nine arguments against the findings of subsequent official investigations by the 9/11 Commission, the Senate Intelligence Committee and others. We predicted that this exercise would distress the smug and self-assured–those who have unquestioningly supported, or opposed, this war.
The matrix below summarizes findings from the resulting nine editorials. We have tried to bring order to a national debate that has flared for almost three years. Our intent was to help Tribune readers judge the case for war–based not on who shouts loudest, but on what actually was said and what happened.
The administration didn’t advance its arguments with equal emphasis. Neither, though, did its case rely solely on Iraq’s alleged illicit weapons. The other most prominent assertion in administration speeches and presentations was as accurate as the weapons argument was flawed: that Saddam Hussein had rejected 12 years of United Nations demands that he account for his stores of deadly weapons–and also stop exterminating innocents. Evaluating all nine arguments lets each of us decide which ones we now find persuasive or empty, and whether President Bush tried to mislead us.
In measuring risks to this country, the administration relied on the same intelligence agencies, in the U.S. and overseas, that failed to anticipate Sept. 11, 2001. We now know that the White House explained some but not enough of the ambiguities embedded in those agencies’ conclusions. By not stressing what wasn’t known as much as what was, the White House wound up exaggerating allegations that proved dead wrong.
Those flawed assertions are central to the charge that the president lied. Such accusations, though, can unfairly conflate three issues: the strength of the case Bush argued before the war, his refusal to delay its launch in March 2003 and his administration’s failure to better anticipate the chaos that would follow. Those three are important, but not to be confused with one another.
After reassessing the administration’s nine arguments for war, we do not see the conspiracy to mislead that many critics allege. Example: The accusation that Bush lied about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs overlooks years of global intelligence warnings that, by February 2003, had convinced even French President Jacques Chirac of “the probable possession of weapons of mass destruction by an uncontrollable country, Iraq.” We also know that, as early as 1997, U.S. intel agencies began repeatedly warning the Clinton White House that Iraq, with fissile material from a foreign source, could have a crude nuclear bomb within a year.
Seventeen days before the war, this page reluctantly urged the president to launch it. We said that every earnest tool of diplomacy with Iraq had failed to improve the world’s security, stop the butchery–or rationalize years of UN inaction. We contended that Saddam Hussein, not George W. Bush, had demanded this conflict.
Many people of patriotism and integrity disagreed with us and still do. But the totality of what we know now–what this matrix chronicles– affirms for us our verdict of March 2, 2003. We hope these editorials help Tribune readers assess theirs.
—- “Judging the Case for War,” December 28, 2005
Yes. You read these paragraphs correctly, friends. Incredibly, as late as December 28, 2005, the editorial voice of this major American newspaper can still argue that, “After reassessing the administration’s nine arguments for war, we do not see the conspiracy to mislead that many critics allege”! And it can still conclude that:
Seventeen days before the war, this page reluctantly urged the president to launch it. We said that every earnest tool of diplomacy with Iraq had failed to improve the world’s security, stop the butchery–or rationalize years of UN inaction. We contended that Saddam Hussein, not George W. Bush, had demanded this conflict….[T]he totality of what we know now…affirms for us our verdict of March 2, 2003.
Well. At least in denying that its investigation uncovered any evidence of a conspiracy to mislead on the part of the regime that launched the war in March, 2003, the Chicago Tribune was honest enough not to assert that the principals behind this late 2005 exercise in defense of the American aggression were free of any similar conspiracy.
Now that really would have been too much to stomach.
And it only gets worse, I’m afraid, much worse, as we move from the States-based warrior classes to the life-negating point of view of the American political leadership, and to the legions that it assembles, even today, to carry out its mission of ruling the world by force:
“President Outlines Strategy for Victory in Iraq” (the President’s Speech at the U.S. Naval Academy), White House Office of the Press Secretary, November 30, 2005
“National Strategy for Victory in Iraq” (for the PDF version of the complete document), White House Office of the Press Secretary, November 30, 2005
“Fact Sheet: Training Iraqi Security Forces,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, November 30, 2005
“Bush in Iraq, Slouching Toward Genocide,” Robert Parry, ConsortiumNews.com, December 1, 2005
“Victory, Mr. President?” Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, December 1, 2005 (as posted to Truthout)
“Bush Speech Offers ‘Clear Strategy’ – For Victory or Disaster?” Ray McGovern, Truthout, December 1, 2005
“Profusion of Rebel Groups Helps Them Survive in Iraq,” Dexter Filkins, New York Times, December 2, 2005 (as posted to Truthout)
“Bullet Points over Baghdad,” Paul Krugman, New York Times, December 2, 2005 (as posted to Truthout)
“Probe into Iraq coverage widens,” Rick Jervis and Zaid Sabah, USA Today, December 9, 2005
“All the News That’s Fit to Buy,” Alexander Cockburn, CounterPunch, December 10/11, 2005
“Military’s Information War Is Vast and Often Secretive,” Jeff Gerth, New York Times, December 11, 2005 (as posted to Truthout)
“‘Intelligence’ and the Invasion of Iraq,” ZNet, April 1, 2005
“‘Scrutinizing Bush’s Record’?” ZNet, July 14, 2005
“Iraq and the Chicago Tribune,” ZNet, November 20, 2005
“War and the Warrior Classes,” ZNet, December 1, 2005
“Propaganda — Overt and Covert,” ZNet, December 5, 2005
Postscript (January 13, 2006): In the editorial reproduced below from today’s Chicago Tribune, the Trib bids us to “remember how Iran has challenged the world, again and again, and the world has blinked, again and again.”
Letters to the Editor: [email protected]
Chicago Tribune, Editorial
January 13, 2006
Iran and the art of appeasement
The British, French and German foreign ministers acknowledged Thursday what has been obvious for months, if not years: Negotiations with Iran over its nuclear ambitions have reached a “dead end.” The ministers called for Tehran to be referred to the UN Security Council, which could impose sanctions.
Yes, this sounds familiar. For two years, Iran has broken its agreements and defiantly batted away deal after deal to blunt its nuclear programs. It has proven the Europeans were utterly foolish in their faith that they could reason with the radical regime.
Iran is betting that the Europeans can be made to look even more foolish. After the foreign ministers spoke on Thursday, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said Iran’s top nuclear negotiator told him in a phone call that Tehran wants to resume negotiations with the Europeans, this time with a deadline.
Iran is back in the bomb-making business. It was probably never out of business. On Tuesday, with international inspectors watching, Iranian officials ripped the seals off equipment and began work on enriching uranium, the key to building a bomb. Such a move, International Atomic Energy Agency director Mohamed ElBaradei has said, is a “red line for the international community.”
So in reference to Iran, the Nobel Peace Prize winner has moved from “failed to meet its obligations” (ElBaradei, 2003) to “confidence deficit” (ElBaradei, 2004) to “losing patience” (ElBaradei, 2005) to the crossing of a red line. Yes, the mullahs are having peaceful nights.
The rest of the world should be having fitful nights. Once Iranian scientists master the intricacies of enriching uranium on a large scale, there will be nothing to stop them from making material for bombs. Iran probably already has nuclear warhead designs. There are reports that Iran is scouring Europe for nuclear weapons components and is seeking to extend the range of its missiles, which already threaten Israel.
One U.S. official described the move to refer Iran for sanctions as “do-or-die diplomacy. If we fail to get broad support on this, there will be few options left for the international community to curb Iran’s program.”
The U.S. and the Europeans are lobbying Russia and China to accede to a referral of Iran to the Security Council. That move is likely to happen, possibly at a meeting in early February.
Only a unified Security Council ready to isolate Iran economically from the rest of the world has any chance of stopping the Iranian bomb program. But the chances that the council will vote tough sanctions remain bleak. The Russians are loath to lose lucrative trade with Tehran, as are many European states. The Chinese depend on Iran for 13 percent of their oil imports.
There are reports that Israel is planning a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear sites. (Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.”)
If it happens, if Israel or some other nation launches a military response, the condemnation from some quarters will be expressed in harsher terms than “losing patience.” But if it happens, remember this week. And remember how Iran has challenged the world, again and again, and the world has blinked, again and again.