A reader quotes me:
“I’m not excusing my confirmation bias, my broad brush against opponents of the war (although I refuse to accept that they were all skeptical of the WMDs’ existence; many were just anti-Bush and anti-war), or my violation of just war doctrine.”
I find your casual dismissal of the many who voiced concerns over the Iraq war rather small-minded. Many in the intelligence communities around the world were skeptical about the WMD claim, including in the US. The real reason was that many concluded that it lacked a factual basis, not because individuals were “anti-Bush” or “anti-war.” The key source of the WMD claim came from Iraqi refuge/informant Curveball, who was interviewed by German intelligence, not the US. Leading up to the Iraq war, German foreign minister Joschka Fischer publicly addressed the WMD claim, stating: “Excuse me, I am not convinced.” Germany was far from the only US ally who refrained from participating in the invasion of Iraq on similar grounds. Their position was also consistent with the findings of the UN weapons inspectors at that time, led by Hans Blix. Instead of speculating as to why some were skeptical of the WMD claim, why don’t you ask yourself why you were not?
How do you go from my criticism of my own “broad brush” in describing the Iraq War opposition to an inference that I am casually dismissing the serious critics and skeptics of the WMD argument? I was doing the exact opposite. I was distinguishing between those I should have listened to and those who were blindly against the war, fueled by the simmering resentments of the 2000 election. As to why my skepticism was completely AWOL, I’ve said I was terrorized by 9/11 and fear overwhelmed doubt. I was also marinated in a DC culture that saw Saddam’s WMDs as a bipartisan matter, backed by the Clintons and Bush. And I genuinely believed that Saddam was such a monster and so convinced of US military skill that the moral question seemed clear. I was wrong on every count. But I was wrong in good, if nearly-blind, faith. And the opposition shouldn’t be painted with a virtuous broad brush either. I went to the anti-war marches. You think ANSWER was animated by the WMD question? Another writes:
I remain fascinated not so much by why commentators I otherwise respect got the Iraq war wrong, but by why even they – in their mea culpas – so rarely mention those who got the war right (except, perhaps Barack Obama) and it ties into one of most tiresome excuses people in the Bush Administration give for not finding WMD “Everyone got it wrong.” Except, that’s not true.
Look at how you dismissed Chirac. Was he less a man of honor than, say, Dick Cheney?
One thing that I noticed during the Bush administration about the Republicans’ (and news media’s) attitude towards France was how rarely we were reminded that the French not only had better sense than to join us in Iraq, but they also foiled a jet-into-tower attack before 9/11. Bush really didn’t want people to think too much about how some leaders managed to hear and follow up on their nation’s intelligence services while he opted to go fishing. Chirac did see the kinds of intelligence of our leaders saw. He and his government must surely have subjected it to some analysis. There’s no reason to believe that a nation with that many not-fully-acculturated Muslim citizens and immigrants would have been indifferent to any probable detonation of dirty bombs or nuclear bombs by Islamists.
I was 21 when we invaded, and a few years later I was in Iraq. I watched Colin Powell give his presentation on television. I was an early skeptic of this war – why are we moving on when we haven’t found bin Laden and Afghanistan is still a mess? And why does Saddam need to go, now, when this evidence is so sketchy?. But I had tremendous respect for Powell. I also knew that he wouldn’t go before the UN without real evidence. He had too much integrity. I was ready to be persuaded.
And then he stood there before the world, and tap-danced. This was the moment for the US to show its hand, and we had nothing. And Powell knew it. He wasn’t convinced. You could see it in his face. I felt embarrassed for him and terrified for the country and ashamed that someone with such integrity would peddle something he almost certainly knew was a lie with such disastrous consequences.
To this day, more than anything else, it is Powell’s presentation I think back to when I try (and fail) to understand why so many people supported the war with such smug confidence, and such disdain for those who raised truly reasonable objections. And to read things like this now, 10 years later, after so much blood, and after the violent deaths of so many – of some I knew – makes me nauseous.
For my mea culpa, one name is burned into my brain: Judith Miller. I trusted her. I expect the government to lie to me. But I did not expect a NY Times reporter to lie like the most corrupt politician, an absolute snake in the grass. The Times carries a heavy burden of responsibility for that war.
I think you (and many others) miss a huge detail of how we got into the mess in Iraq. One of your posts highlighted how Clinton made it US policy to force regime change in Iraq … but this misses a big back story. I wrote my masters thesis on the phenomenon of foreign lobbying as a kind of covert action, both by states and non-state actors. One of my case studies was Chalabi and his efforts to push for the passage of the Iraqi Liberation Act of 1998 (which is the act that made it US policy to promote regime change in Iraq). In short, I think in many ways the United States government and media were the targets of a very shrewd effort by a foreign entity, i.e. Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress, to change US policy to its needs. It was able to do so in large part because of the lack of enforcement of US laws regulating foreign lobbying.
So beat yourself up all you want, but remember that there was a definite propaganda effort being pushed there, with a lot of help from trained intelligence professionals and professional lobbyists in Washington. The sad thing is that much of this was revealed after the WMD commission was completed, so Chalabi’s role is largely forgotten in the official history of the lead up to Iraq War.
Read the whole recent Iraq thread here.