So now Jeb Bush has admitted that when it came to his brother’s 2003 invasion of Iraq and the subsequent occupation, “mistakes were made.” It must have been hard throwing his brother under the bus like that.
But as Josh Marshall writes, Republicans are now spinning the fiasco as simply a good faith mistake, rather than a deliberate effort by the Bush administration and its cronies to lie their way into war.
As the GOP has quickly settled into a new consensus that the decision to invade Iraq was – at least in retrospect – a mistake, it has come with a willful amnesia bordering on a whole new generation of deceit about exactly what happened in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. To hear Republican presidential candidates tell it, Americans believed Saddam Hussein had a stockpile of Weapons of Mass Destruction which justified and necessitated the invasion. Since he didn’t, there was no reason to invade. The carnage and collateral effects we’ve seen over the last dozen years only drives home the point: knowing what we know now, the invasion was a mistake. We wouldn’t do it again.
While it’s welcome to see the would-be heirs of President Bush, including his own brother, acknowledging the obvious, this history is such a staggering crock that it’s critical to go back and review what actually happened. Some of this was obvious to anyone who was paying attention. Some was only obvious to reporters covering the story who were steeped in the details. And some was only obvious to government officials who in the nature of things controlled access to information. But in the tightest concentric circle of information, at the White House, it was obviously all a crock at the time.
After summarizing the lies claiming that Saddam possessed a stockpile of nuclear weapons and that he was behind the 9/11 attacks, Marshall writes:
There you have the two pillars of the grand deception: Saddam with nuclear warheads and in active alliance with the reviled figure who had just pulled off a brutal and devastating terror attack on one of America’s biggest cities. Now that both 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq 18 months later have receded somewhat into history and we can see the events of that time with some distance and perspective, it’s no mystery that connecting these two dots would prime the country for almost anything. After all who would want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud?
It is very important to remember that before we invaded, Saddam Hussein actually did allow inspectors back into the country, thus undermining the key argument for following through with the threat of invasion in the first place. But the critical point is that we didn’t invade Iraq because we had “faulty” intelligence that Iraq still had stockpiles of sarin gas. The invasion was justified and sold to the American public on the twin frauds of the Iraq-al Qaeda alliance and the Saddam’s supposedly hidden nuclear program. As much as the White House and the key administration war hawks like Vice President Cheney tried to get the Intelligence Community to buy into these theories, they never did. And to anyone paying attention, certainly anyone reporting on these matters at the time, it was clear at the time this was nonsense and a willful deception.
There was of course still more involved. The White House insisted – over the vociferous disagreement of the Pentagon’s uniformed leadership – that the occupation would be quick and could be managed with a light force. We would, as the painful cliche had it, be greeted as liberators. It is probably true that if the insurgency had never happened and Iraq had become a stable and strong US ally, as predicted, the collapse of the original premise for the invasion would have been largely forgotten. It is the mix of immense costs of the invasion (human and financial) and the chaos in Iraq we are still wrestling with today combined with the collapse of any clear rationale for the invasion in the first place that explains why it remains such a charged and explosive issue even today.
The story we’re hearing today is: Yes, it was a mistake. We wouldn’t do it again knowing what we know now. But we acted on information that just turned out to be wrong. But that is quite simply a crock. The Bush administration was at best in deep denial about the true costs of the invasion. And it lead the country to war based on claims that were quite simply willful deceptions – lies. It may be too much to say that it was obvious to everyone at the time. But to reporters working the story and certainly anyone in the government, it was clear that the White House was involved in a mammoth exaggeration. Only later did it emerge that there was even more willful deception than those following closely realized at the time. Looking back and looking at the time it has always been somewhat difficult to find the bright line where flagrant lying met willful self-deception. But the truth is painful and clear: Iraq wasn’t a good faith mistake. It was a calamity based on lies and willful deceptions. Much of that was clear at the time. It’s all clear now.
And let’s remember that among Jeb Bush’s 21 foreign policy advisors, 17 worked in his brother’s administration, including such stalwart “thinkers” as Paul Wolfowitz, who was wrong about virtually everything having to do with Iraq. These people need to be called out. They were a disaster for the country and the Middle East. Yes, mistakes were made.
In a follow-up post, Marshall, who was closely reporting on the lead-up to the war back in 2002-3, delves further into the Bush administration’s motivations. Just why would they lie their way into war?
On the chaos that engulfed the country not long after the invasion, I think this was much more a matter of extreme negligence and self-deception – but with one exception. The architects of the war knew that equipping the invasion and occupation in a way that would ultimately prove necessary would dramatically up the costs of the endeavor and make it a much tougher sell. So let’s chalk this up to self-interested self-deception and culpable negligence. The key was to get in and make it happen, create a fait accompli. Once that happened there’d be no easy getting out. So the key was simply to get it, create a fact on the ground.
So why did they want to do it? At some level I think it had simply become an idee fixe for many of these people. Because for many of them, when I would have frank conversations with them, they had a difficult time getting past the rationales, even in what I think were off-the-record and unguarded conversations. The real underlying reason, to the extent there was one, was the notion of creating a transformative event, a democratizing wave in the region that would get away from managing and on to ‘solving’ deep and lingering obstacles to American power.
In this sense, chaos wasn’t a problem. It was actually the goal. They just ended up getting a very different kind of chaos from what they expected – not a wave of destabilization pushing out from Iraq and crashing over enemy states in Iran, Syria and even Saudi Arabia but one crashing in on the architects and the US and its military itself. I explored the idea in some depth in this 2003 article in The Washington Monthly, ‘Practice to Deceive’.