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10 Years After Iraq


Fallows has some reflections. All are worth reading, but two particularly good ones:

2) Accountability. For a decade or more after the Vietnam war, the people who had guided the U.S. to disaster decently shrank from the public stage. Robert McNamara did worthy penance at the World Bank. Rusk, Rostow, Westmoreland were not declaiming on what the U.S. should and should not do.
After Iraq, there has been a weird amnesty and amnesia about people’s misjudgment on the most consequential decision of our times. Hillary Clinton lost the 2008 primary race largely because she had been “wrong” on Iraq and Barack Obama had been “right.” But Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Bremer, Rice, McCain, Abrams, and others including the pro-war press claque are still offering their judgments unfazed. In his post-presidential reticence George W. Bush has been an honorable exception.
I don’t say these people should never again weigh in. But there should be an asterisk on their views, like the fine print about side effects in pharmaceutical ads.
3) Honor. Say this for Al Gore: He was forthright, he was early, and he was right about Iraq.

This period was, among other things, a period of remarkable media incompetence — the inept, trivia-obsessed, dishonest coverage of the 2000 campaign segueing nicely into Judith Miller’s disgraceful propaganda. And, as I’ve said before, this is why I had no use for the Dowd/Rich “Gush/Bore” who belatedly discovered that the Iraq War was a really terrible idea after doing everything they could to make it possible.

In his own reflections on Iraq after 10 years, Corey Robin argues that “it’s important to remember that George W. Bush did not always lie about Iraq and the threat it posed…Bush and his allies did something far subtler—and more disturbing—and what they said was actually well within the canon of national security discourse, both on the left and the right.” Well…I half agree. Certainly, much of the case for Iraq was dissembling rather than outright lying, although (particularly at key moments like the phony precision of Powell’s UN performance) the distinction is not of any moral difference that I can see. I am reminded of two great blogposts on this point. The first, dsquared’s inner-circle Hall of Famer, responds directly:

Fibbers’ forecasts are worthless. Case after miserable case after bloody case we went through, I tell you, all of which had this moral. Not only that people who want a project will tend to make innacurate projections about the possible outcomes of that project, but about the futility of attempts to “shade” downward a fundamentally dishonest set of predictions. If you have doubts about the integrity of a forecaster, you can’t use their forecasts at all. Not even as a “starting point”. By the way, I would just love to get hold of a few of the quantitative numbers from documents prepared to support the war and give them a quick run through Benford’s Law.

Application to Iraq This was how I decided that it was worth staking a bit of credibility on the strong claim that absolutely no material WMD capacity would be found, rather than “some” or “some but not enough to justify a war” or even “some derisory but not immaterial capacity, like a few mobile biological weapons labs”. My reasoning was that Powell, Bush, Straw, etc, were clearly making false claims and therefore ought to be discounted completely, and that there were actually very few people who knew a bit about Iraq but were not fatally compromised in this manner who were making the WMD claim. Meanwhile, there were people like Scott Ritter and Andrew Wilkie who, whatever other faults they might or might not have had, did not appear to have told any provable lies on this subject and were therefore not compromised.


We also learned in accounting class that the difference between “making a definite single false claim with provable intent to deceive” and “creating a very false impression and allowing it to remain without correcting it” is not one that you should rely upon to keep you out of jail. Even if your motives are noble.

The last point is particularly important; while any individual statement could be too-charitably parsed as not claiming that there was an imminent threat from Iraq’s balsa wood drones of doom, the collective discourse of the Bush administration leaves no doubt that they were trying to argue that there was an imminent threat. And given the bad faith that can be inferred, dissembling in this case is worse than outright lying.

I also agree with Robin that a lot of this dissembling fit within broader mainstream security discourses (Walzer’s reputation, to put it gently, did not survive the last decade intact.) This worked in another way — throwing in arguments about democracy that became retrospectively more important as the lies about the “threat” posed by Iraq became too obvious to ignore. Which brings us to Julian Sanchez:

I should be beyond surprise of this sort, but it’s still a little striking to see self-righteous dudgeon and disingenuous horseshit combined in such close proximity and copious quantity. Glenn’s reminding everyone of his “link-rich refutation” of the “revisionist” claim that democracy promotion wasn’t part of the rationale for invading Iraq.

Since most of his readers presumably were, like, alive and paying attention in the run-up to the war, I can only assume that this is a case of self deception, in which case it’s a fairly heroic instance of the phenomenon. The argument appears to be this: Since the value of ousting a despot and incubating a democracy was mentioned as a fringe benefit of removing this dire and immediate threat to American national security, anyone who regards the emphasis placed on it now as an ex-post rationalization for a mistaken policy is engaged in “revisionist history.” Look at all the speeches we can link to where Bush used the words “democracy” and “Iraq” in the same sentence!

Seriously now. We all know that this was advanced as a benefit of the invasion, but gimme a break. If someone sells you “a Porche with a nice stereo system” and you then discover you’ve actually bought a Dodge Dart, are you supposed to be mollified because it actually has had a nice stereo system installed? Democratization was supposed to be a happy side effect of eliminating the WMDs—that was why we had to do this right the fuck now before the “smoking gun” came in the form of a “mushroom cloud,” why we couldn’t keep pushing for a diplomatic solution. Anyone else remember that?


And as a commenter reminds me, of course, we effectively offered all along to do nothing military if Saddam “disarmed.” How does that square with democratization being a significant reason (as opposed to a fringe benefit) for the invasion? Our own government was pretty explicit about it not being a good enough reason on its own: No WMD meant no invasion.

While his arguments were obviously far less influential than his buddy Judy Miller’s, I hope somebody is working on the greatest Iraq-related moments of Instahackery.

UPDATE: A good compilation in re: the final request. That is a truly impressive quality and quantity of hackery.

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  • I don’t know that I’d call it media incompetence. For the most part, they wanted a war, they worked hard drumbeating for the war, and they got the war they were craving. They were quite competent — they were just competent at getting stuff they never should’ve wanted in the first place.

    That’s part of the reason why the media warmongers still have their jobs and people like Phil Donahue and Ashleigh Banfield are still on the outside.

    • Lego My Eggo

      I guess that depends on how you define “incompetence” and what you think reporters and pundits are supposed to being doing.

      If your job is to do A, and you’re doing a shitty job at A, but you’re doing a good job of B instead, you’re still doing a shitty job of A.

      • proverbialleadballoon

        Since the media’s function is no longer A, informing the public, and has become B, obfuscating the facts and disinforming the public in order to maintain the status quo of the rich getting richer, I’d say the media quite competently performed their job.

        • witless chum

          Can we talk about things without harking back to some kind of golden age, please? Joe McCarthy says hello, for one.

          All anyone ever wants to talk about is Murrow and Friendly going after Tailgunner Joe, but that happened after the media abetted Himism shamelessly, for years, by treating his fantasies as news because they came from a U.S. senator and not checking up on them anymore than they do on the average girlfriend of a weird Mormon linebacker. And it happened once CBS’ brass had determined standing up to McCarthy was safe because he’d started to annoy important people.

          The media needs to be held to its ideals, full stop.

          • proverbialleadballoon

            Right, it’s about accountability, from the top of this post. No one is accountable for their past actions, and that goes from being some sort of idealistic, right-vs-wrong notion, to an actual, real-life problem, when not only those at fault are not held accountable, but those not at fault pay the price. So when teachers’ unions were held at fault for crashing the economy (again, the media, allows it to be framed/framed it for us that way), and retirees thirty years from now (me) have to pay the price for a bullshit war and more money for the wealthy, which are the drivers of the debt (again, the media, no one in the entire national media is able to say ‘well, the national debt is 15 trillion dollars, and 1 trillion of that came from the top end tax cuts, another 2 (at least) from Iraq, and another 3 (at least) just to pay the interest, because W Bush (remember him?) didn’t actually pay for the war at the time, for the first time in American history, he borrowed the money from China. So, you know, make of that what you will.’ No one can say that? They’re complicit), then we got a real problem, not just stuff like ideals. The first against the wall when the revolution comes-type problems.

            • Cody


              I agree completely. The biggest problem I have with all this debt talk is how OBAMA is to blame. Oh, he’s had 4 years to fix all the debt he got from Bush, that’s just an excuse!

              But when Bush caused all this debt, no one said anything in the media. And now Obama owns all this debt, and people in the media are suddenly noticing how much we owe. And it of course must be the current President’s fault, as he is the current President and the media only remembers what happened 10 minutes ago.

              • Actually, I would argue that the American people have come off looking pretty intelligent on that one. Not only did Obama get reelected, but polls actually show that Americans blame Bush more than Obama for the economy.

    • Chatham

      I remember them salivating for “Shock and Awe”, the massive bombing of Baghdad. The days leading up to the bombing were filled with questions like, “When will we see Shock and Awe? Was that Shock and Awe? Is Shock and Awe coming soon?”

      • Jon H

        The only surprising thing is that when it did happen, their rooftop video of the explosions wasn’t set to the patriotic sounds of John Phillip Sousa.

        • That actually happened. Fox, of course, ran an outro during the initial phase of the war showing the Baghdad skyline and explosions from aerial bombardment, with a classical music soundtrack.

          Unfortunately, when I try to search for the clip on YouTube, I keep getting an Outkast video.

      • Shakezula

        One of the more nauseating periods in the history of U.S. reporting.

    • War feeds the 24 hour news cycle perfectly. It’s ongoing, has battles day and night, and there’s always cool video of shit exploding.

      I mean, who wouldn’t want war? Like Hearst after the Maine, it sells advertising.

      • Shakezula

        Exactly. And your already low standards of accuracy can take a hike because war is so chaotic.

        • This also allows for some punditry to slip through as news reporting.

          Like Saddam was responsible for 9-11…

          • Shakezula


            Also, the continuing search for the WMD that every single intelligence agency on the planet managed to miss until some clearly unbalanced burger flipper told the U.S. about it. Since we have removed the last vestige of critical thinking and common sense from our skulls to make room for more groovy sounding war terminology, we accept these claims without a second thought.

            “Well I coulda been an actor, but I wound up here.
            I just have to look good, I don’t havta be clear.”

            (No offense.)

            • None taken. One of my favorite songs. John McEnroe and Vitas Geruliatis can play a mean guitar.

    • timb

      Do you remember reading about the ratings spike the news networks received in 1991? Another venture which promised to put asses in front of TV’s and hits on webpages?

      I’m sure that had nothing to do with it

    • DrDick

      I would agree with this. They went full William Randolph Hearst on this. I am not sure exactly why, but they clearly wanted this war passionately.

      • Shakezula

        Afghanistan was too messy. They wanted a clearly ID’d Evil Leader. Plus the narrative appeal of the son following in the footsteps of the father must have been really high.

        • DrDick

          True. I suspect it is the prospect of revenue churning headlines that drove this (a la Hearst) in the press.

  • witless chum

    Actually, I think the most important is the Iran section, because many of the same morons and con artists want to fight a war with Iran for similar reasons they wanted to fight a war with Iraq. And, while I think the president is mostly bullshitting so as not to antagonize the Israel lobby and hawks in general more than he has to, the claims about OMG Iranian nukes are treated seriously even by a Democratic administration that’s really been pretty good on foreign policy. (Yes, stupid drone war, but I give Obama a lot of credit for not lifting a finger to help any non-Bahrain tyrant.)

    • timb

      Man, that would be a fiasco. Short of a draft, there is no way to pacify Iran after invasions and the “collateral damage” around the Middle East would be horrific. A shut down Persian Gulf, world oil prices spiking, Hezbollah attacking Israel, a full on Iraqi civil war (rather than the low key, unreported one they have now), and those are the ones I can think of.

      Any doubt President McCain would have ignored the Pentagon and attacked anyway?

      • FMguru

        Whenever I find myself shaking my head at some bit of foolishness, illiberality, or capitulation on the part of the Obama administration, I just think about how we could have had Treasury Secretary Phil Gramm and Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and suddenly everthing’s all better.

    • You think we’re broke now? Wait until we attack Iran.

      You thought you knew what broke looked like.

      • Cody

        We’re going to have to bust so many Unions to pay for the Iranian war!!!

    • the claims about OMG Iranian nukes are treated seriously even by a Democratic administration

      The potential of a nuclear Iran to set off a chain reaction of proliferation throughout the region is a legitimate worry. The administration has made nuclear non-proliferation a top-tier foreign policy objective (Kerry-Lugar, NEW START), and that’s probably a good thing.

  • c u n d gulag

    I was living in Chapel Hill, NC, while all of this BS was going on, and I wasn’t sure whether to laugh, or cry.

    This was the period of time when I stopped relying on the NY Times, and instead on the local McClatchy (then Knight Ridder) paper out of Raleigh.
    They weren’t part of the DC Village mindset, and didn’t interview everyone inside the Village to get information, and pass it off as “news.”
    And so, instead of inbred “news,” I got a more realistic appraisal of what was going on, and what could happen.
    And so, I knew the NY Times, and almost everyone on TV news was full of sh*t.

    There were three points where I was sure the Bush Administration had “jumped-the-shark,” and people would ‘see the light:’
    -The mushroom cloud, line.
    I laughed!
    WAAAY over the top, kids!
    -The little, itsy-bitsy Iraqi airplanes, dispensing clouds of pure evil, all across the US.
    I laughed.
    Surely, no one bought that BS?
    -Then, the TV news coverage of people Saran-wrapping their homes, like THAT was going to save people from the itsy-bitsy Iraqi airplanes, dispensing clouds of pure evil, all across the US.
    I laughed again.
    Surely THAT was SOOOOOO over the top, that the whole house of lies, would topple!
    People couldn’t be stupid enough to forget that, no matter how many times your wrapped your home in plastic, you still needed Oxygen, and the wrapping wouldn’t stop Anthrax, or some chemical or biological aerosol agent, no matter how much you were told it would, if there was enough of it, and/or you were close to it.

    But, TV news kept propelling the propaganda, and no matter how many times I pointed out the absurdity of what was going on to other people, we went right on into Iraq, a country that had as much to do with 9/11, since it was a secular Muslim country, as China did with the attack on Pearl Harbor.
    It’s as if, after December 7th, 1941, the Roosevelt Administration looked to attack China, and justified it by saying, “Hey, they got slanted-eyes, too, don’t they? And the Opium will pay for the invasion!”

    And then, Afghanistan being bad enough, when we went into Iraq.
    I cried.
    And I’ve been crying ever since.

    I did my part to help right things, as much as I could.
    I was an anti-war, anti-torture, anti-rendition, organizer in Fayetteville, NC (home of Fort Bragg), after my job took me to that city.
    I don’t know what that accomplished, but at least I wasn’t home, sitting on my fat ass, watching TV news, and crying.

    The whole Bush Adminstration should be tried for War Crimes.
    But, sadly, that’ll never happen.

    • Chatham

      Well, as the administration kept pointing out, Ansar al-Islam was in Iraq prior to the invasion. So it’d be like Roosevelt bombing the Nationalist Chinese after Pearl Harbor because of the presence of Imperial Japanese in their country.

      Anyways, yeah, chalk me up as one of the “never thought the US would actually invade Iraq all of a sudden for no reason” crowd. Even in late 2002 I didn’t think people would be that crazy/complacent.

      • There were a lot of people who weren’t that crazy or complacent. The anti-war rallies were gigantic. And they largely got ignored by the media because Rumsfeld was so sexy.

        Nowadays, they’ll film any gathering of a half-dozen dipshits in tricorner hats like it’s the most important thing ever. I wonder if there’s some connection…

    • Warren Terra

      no matter how many times your wrapped your home in plastic, you still needed Oxygen

      I remember those days of duct tape and plastic sheeting, when we were being told by the DHS, with its ever so politically conveniently timed gradations of terror alerts, that upon their signal we were to go into a room of our homes, seal all the cracks, and learn to go without oxygen. It never did make any sense.

      • This seems like a good place to post this.

        If you’ve become a radiation mutant with a deformed hand, remember to close the window. No one wants to see that.

        • c u n d gulag


          Thanks, I needed that.

          And how did I ever miss that, back then?

        • Shakezula

          Oh, that was the only good thing to come out of that time period.

          If you hear the Backstreet Boys, Michael Bolton or Yanni on the radio, cower in the corner or run like hell.

      • As I said at the the time, “My country went to war in Iraq and all I got was this lousy rainbow of terror.”

        • c u n d gulag

          Ah yes, “the rainbow of terror,” which covered the color gamut from “Forget The Cooler Colors,” we’ll start with, “Orange – A Color So Bad Nothing Rhymes With It,” to “RED! SOON 2 B DEAD!”, to “HOLY SHIT RED! THINGS COULDN’T POSSIBLY BE ANY FUCKING WORSE !! VOTE REPUBLICAN ‘RED! OR WE’RE ALL DEAD!!!”

        • Shakezula

          Ah yes. The best part was we were in Code Yellow with frequent upticks to Orange for ages and it quickly became meaningless. But, we also had air quality alerts which in the summer were often Red.

          I think they should have been various shades of brown to represent the staining of underwear experienced by people living nowhere near D.C. or N.Y.C. or any place even remotely likely to be the focus of an attack by furrin bad guys.

          • c u n d gulag

            Ah, yes, my other favorite thing was the way DHS money got scattered to all Congressional districts, or at least those who supported the damn war, with some ‘Petting Zoo’ in Da Real ‘Murkan Hartlan’ somwhere getting more per-capita money, than NY City – you know, a place that actually WAS attacked.

            I found that rather amusing, too.
            Or would have, if I wasn’t crying over the stupidity of it all.
            This was also the time that police agencies across the nation got all sorts of new high-tech war gear, and added or got new SWAT teams, as if “Ali Baba and his 40 Terrorists” were going to stage a terrorist attack in some rural sh*thole one stop-sign town in Kansas.

            • Shakezula

              I was pretty horrified when a friend in some agency or other explained what it was doing to police departments. The very best officers got headhunted by a national agency such as the Feeb. This meant everyone left behind took one step up. Into the hole at the bottom walked or fell or slithered people who would normally be excluded from law enforcement.

              And that was before it became clear that the National Guards weren’t coming back, which resulted in the loss of police, fire fighters, first responders …

            • I called that the “Red Dawn Fantasy”

      • cpinva

        the DHS never made any sense. for a political party that blathers on about how it’s for “small government & balanced budgets”, it’s never done either, whenever it’s had the power to do so. and yet, the media and populace buy into this blatant BS all the time. of course, this is the same media and populace that’s bought into the need for the DEA, since it came into existence.

        • Anonymous

          Well, the DHS has been a gold mine to a bunch of companies, so there’s that.

  • Peter

    Remember Mike Kelley, the reporter that got himself killed cheering on the war? The Atlantic gives out some prize in his memory. I think it ought to be repurposed as a kind of Nobel, where it goes to the persons who do the most good in penance for their war cheer leading. That’d be a start.

    • TT

      Kelly’s piece attacking Al Gore following the latter’s prescient September 2002 Commonwealth Club speech in which he announced opposition to invading Iraq remains arguably the single most disgusting and vicious pile of shit published in an American newspaper this century. It assures Fred Hiatt’s place in hell all by itself.

    • witless chum

      That would be the place I disagree with Fallows. Michael Kelly getting killed in a war he championed vociferously and assholishly for is not a particular big tragedy in the scheme of those unleashed by the Iraq War.

      • timb

        I always feel guilty that I basically shrugged my shoulders when that happened and, still, ten years later, I just cannot be made to care. He was a terrible person who got what he deserved.

        I feel guilty because I know he had a wife and kids used to that upper middle class lifestyle that comes with being a highly paid provocateur, but even then, I can’t get beyond that “twinge” of guilt for celebrating the death of a man (whose only crime was being loudly and influentially wrong).

        Perhaps, if I remember all the Iraqi children who have no fathers because of Kelly’s attacks on Gore and then cheer-leading for the invasion, I can get over that twinge?

        • I feel that way about David Bloom. Much like Breitbart, who also left rugrats, Kelly merely got hoist on his own petar.

          • (cf Stephen Glass)

          • timb

            Oh, I don’t feel bad about Breitbart. Breitbart had a million warning about his health from his doctors and refused to comply. All he had to do was change his diet, exercise, and take his meds and I’m not sure he did ANY of those things. His heart was a time bomb and the fuse was set by himself. And, it actually had nothing to do with his job or politics

            • Jon H

              He probably would also have needed therapy for his rageaholism, possibly combined with some kind of stress-reducing meditative practice.

              Basically he would have had to become someone else.

            • I would give short odds that the stress of making shit up and then waiting for it to hit the fan was a major factor in his death.

              So yea, his job and politics was a heavy influence in his heart problems, exacerbated by the drinking he had to do to control the psychic pain he was in.

      • Jon H

        The tragedy is that he wasn’t disfigured and painfully maimed instead.

        I wonder if he’d still get invited to Village cocktail parties if he didn’t have any limbs and was horribly burned.

        • Considering he was treated as a doormat previously anyway…

        • timb

          Right, because he also missed being wrong

          • Jon H

            And if he kept going to Village parties, he would be an unavoidable reminder of how wrong they all were, and the human toll of thinking of war as simply making a country “suck… on… this”.

            And if he wasn’t invited anymore, for being a human buzzkill, that would also be useful information about the vileness of his fellow Villagers.

            • I had a friend who was invited to similar parties regularly. You know, the kind that get written up in society pages with names like Binky and Muffy?

              Anyway, he suffered a stroke and lost about half his brain, but still would get invites because of his family name. He showed up a few times, so the story goes, until he realized that he was being conspicuously manuevered over by the dip to avoid depressing other guests.

              I never understood why they treated him like that, but it definitely is part of the social war that is the cocktail party.

              • Cody

                That’s not surprising. This is human nature, right?

                Being reminded of my mortality or seeing people who are suffering certainly ruins my cocktail party.

                • Which then begs the question: why invite him in the first place? Being polite? Then go whole hog.

            • Timb

              This does imply a fact not in evidence: that Kelly had any insight or self-awareness. His history up to the time of his death suggests otherwise

      • Barry

        “That would be the place I disagree with Fallows. Michael Kelly getting killed in a war he championed vociferously and assholishly for is not a particular big tragedy in the scheme of those unleashed by the Iraq War.”

        I think that it was the better for the world that he died when he did. The odds are well against him ever reforming, so he’s no loss.

  • In addition to covering their own butts over the WMD scam, the determination to retroactively put democracy* promotion at the fore of the Bush administration’s public case for war stems from another source: democracy* promotion was at the forefront of the administration’s internal case for the war, and that of most of the pro-war intelligentsia. They actually believed in this reverse-domino theory, if only we could put our Risk pieces on the Iraq space. The stories about WMDs and al Qaeda connections were just something they threw together Strauss-style to sell the war to the public.

    *used here in the Bush sense: “our son-of-a-bitch, who lets us base troops in his country, and who doesn’t carry out massacres too frequently.”

    • That should be,

      The stories about WMDs and al Qaeda connections were just something they threw together Strauss-style to sell the war to the public, as recommended by Dick Gephardt.

    • timb

      The understated goal of the successful war was the leaving of bases in Iraq under a friendly government. W knew we couldn’t leave troops in Saudi Arabia any longer (after that’s what started part of the 9/11 mess), so we were gonna move next door. Who would mind?

      • I remember National Review being quite open about their desire to eliminate the “provocative” bases in “the land of the two holy cities” being a core purpose of the war.

        The used to squeeze that point in between denunciations of the appeasers who wanted to give into al Qaeda.

  • Shakezula

    Well you know how it is. One day you’re shooting the shit with some buddies and one of them says “Hey, I bet you can’t launch a ground invasion of a country that we have no reason to invade.” Well, of course you have to take him up on the dare …


  • bobbyp

    War of 1812
    Mexican American War
    Spanish American War
    Viet Nam

    Same old sh*t, different time & place.

    • rea

      Although I missed the part where Saddam was conscripting our sailors .. .

      • Look, just because it was never proved doesn’t mean he didn’t try. Remember yellowcake????

      • bobbyp

        Well that and the part about taking Canada “back” from the British. That Saddam was indeed a sneaky guy!

    • timb

      First, there were good reasons for the War of 1812. Just because it was terribly mismanaged by a country in shape to fight it AND almost caused secession was no reason not to fight to defend commerce.

      Secondly, at least the hawks were correct about the next two tragedies.

      The last one is not like the other three

      • bobbyp

        was no reason not to fight to defend commerce.

        So. The sanctions imposed on Iraq were not an infringement on a sovereign state’s right to conduct commerce? Were we not giving aid and comfort to Britain’s great enemy, France prior to the War of 1812? Please clarify.

        As for the hawks “being correct about the next two tragedies”, you can’t be serious.

        Remember the Maine!!!

    • cpinva

      “War of 1812”

      have to disagree with you on this one. the british navy was blithely putting our merchant ships under the gun, and forcibly taking sailors from them, to crew their vessels. done to make up for losses suffered, during the ongoing napoleanic wars in europe.

      so yeah, madison had a legitimate reason there.

      • witless chum

        The Brits were also intriguing with Tecumseh, et al, to try to limit the U.S.’s westward expansion, which was the issue for the congressmen from places like Ohio and Kentucky. The U.S. had received the Upper Midwest in the Treaty of Paris, but for some odd reason, the people who lived there hadn’t heard and needed to be conquered. Many also thought Ontario needed to be the 16th or 17th state. Impressment was a small issue compared to that, methinks.

        The main result of the war was that the Brits gave up that bit of foreign policy and abandoned their former allies as part of being okay with the U.S. existing.

      • That wasn’t really the main reason – only the given reason. Kind of like “WMDs were what we could all agree on”.

        The states that pushed for the war weren’t the states actually suffering under the British taking sailors.

        It was the states that wanted the West opened up for expansion.

        The US and Britain tied and the Indians lost.

  • Not only did Cheney/Bush gin up a pretext, the media reported the pretext without any attempt at thought of analyzing it critically. The worst offender was probably the NYTimes, and it was clear even then that the Times was taking the Administration’s line because it did not want to relinquish access. Just as bad was the fact that after the pretext for the war was exposed as a fraud was the fact that everybody went along with the new pretexts that were ginned up on the fly. Nobody– not Powell, not Judith Miller, and certainly not Bush– has ever fessed up, and I doubt that they ever will. Powell has come the closest– he says he was duped. I say bullshit to that– there is no way that someone with Powell’s background could have looked at what was being proffered as evidence and bought it.

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      I recall that time quite vividly: Sept 2002 up until the invasion.

      Each week, Monday morning, another scare story on the front page: mobile biolabs, model airplanes, “Uran” from Turkey, aluminum tubes, Atta in Prague. Typically debunked, quietly on page B17, around Wednesday or Thursday.

      Some of the bogus stories got a second run, a month or so later. I guess it was too hard to come up with a genuinely new fantasy threat each and every week. They even said: you don’t roll out a new product in August. It was all PR, marketing, LIES.

      Yet, strangely enough, anyone that noticed the pattern was automatically a DFH, even though the connection was inescapable: if this was the BEST that they had, they had NOTHING.

      Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld & Co are war criminals. May they rot in Hel.

      • mds

        May they rot in Hel.

        +1 for maintaining consistency with your pseudonym.

    • Chatham

      The Washington Post had some good front page articles about how the administrations claims were exaggerated or incorrect, or that the administration was hampering the efforts of the inspectors when they arrived. They also had some front page stories uncritically parroting those claims (I’ve heard murmurs of an internal struggle among the editors).

  • Medrawt

    For the last five years or so I’ve had the low level fear that when I’m sixty (I’m thirty now) and I say things like “a full recount of votes cast in Florida would’ve seen Gore in the White House and btw all the disenfranchisement …” or “they lied us into Iraq on ridiculous charges of WMDs that they knew were wrong” I’ll be looked at the way I look at people who say things like “JFK was really assassinated at LBJ’s behest” and “FDR let Pearl Harbor happen” (something my grandfather believed, quite bitterly).

  • SteveHinSLC

    Unfortunately, Gore wasn’t completely right:

    We know that he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country.

    • Well to be fair to Gore, he did presumably have access to real intelligence to that effect not all that long prior to 2002-03.

    • Considering that

      1. everybody believed that, since Saddam had used them before

      2. Gore mentioned those presumed stores to advance the argument against the war:

      Moreover, if we quickly succeed in a war against the weakened and depleted fourth rate military of Iraq and then quickly abandon that nation as President Bush has abandoned Afghanistan after quickly defeating a fifth rate military there, the resulting chaos could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam. We know that he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country.

      We have no evidence, however, that he has shared any of those weapons with terrorist group. However, if Iraq came to resemble Afghanistan – with no central authority but instead local and regional warlords with porous borders and infiltrating members of Al Qaeda than these widely dispersed supplies of weapons of mass destruction might well come into the hands of terrorist groups.

      3. pretty much exactly what Gore said would happen with those weapons happened to everything else on the ground in Iraq, including our own shit,

      it’s really hard to fault him for saying that.

      • seriously?

        1. everybody believed that

        i expect this sort of zombie lie on meet the press, not here.

      • Barry

        “everybody believed that, since Saddam had used them before”

        Bullsh*t. Some people believed that. Remember that we had been beating the h*ll out of the country and running inspectors through it for years by that point.

        • I was dead-set against the war, but even Hans Blix stated that the manifests didn’t match what he was seeing. I didn’t think Iraq was any sort of a threat to the U.S. or even its neighbors, nor did I believe that Iraq had a nuclear program, but I was surprised (and thankful, partly for the reasons Gore laid out and partly so Bush never got anything that even feebly confirmed his administration’s propaganda) that no chemical weapons were found.

          • (Re: Blix, I should of course note that he found the Iraqi government to be highly cooperative and was against invading.)

          • I assumed that U.S. forces would eventually find some warehouses full of gas shells dating to before the 1991, and the hawks would all yell “A-ha! In your face!” and everyone would accept that as the “WMDs.” I’m still surprised the administration didn’t try to sell the old stuff it did find that way.

            • Scott Lemieux

              I was definitely in the “some derisory but not immaterial capacity” camp.

            • This.

              The Bush/Cheney hackocracy was so hackish they didn’t even plant any false evidence. Once you start lying, I don’t see why they stopped except they were lazy (more likely) and/or stupid (also more likely).

              Nixon would have had contingency ‘evidence’ staged at some CIA black site well before the invasion. Then placed it at the scene with booby traps to ‘destroy’ the ‘evidence’ but let it be found in some obscurely identifiable state by someone from Faux News. The fog of war confusion (in Iraq/at home) would have taken care of the rest.

              • Hubris.

                They assumed that they’d accomplish a quick and decisive victory, Iraq would bloom like Eden, and nobody would care about the cover story they used to sell the war.

    • Well, if Bush had been honest, Gore wouldn’t have said that.

  • At least Iraq shows that W kept one campaign promise from 2000: he wasn’t going to “nation-build.”

  • Don’t forget all the great music:

    Now it might be a smart bomb,
    they find stupid people too.
    If you stand with the likes of Saddam,
    well, one might just find you.
    Iraq, I rack ’em up and I roll,
    I’m back and I’m a hi-tech GI Joe.
    I got infrared, I got GPS,
    I got that good old-fashioned lead.
    No price too high for freedom,
    so be careful where you tread.
    Now you can come along
    or you can stay behind

    or you can get out of the way.
    But our troops take out the garbage
    for the good old USA.
    Iraq, I rack ’em up and I roll.
    for the USA.

    • Scott Lemieux

      And also:


      Did Ray Stevens write a shitty pro-Iraq song too?

      • Yikes. I wonder if they’re still so enthusiastic when they perform it these days.

        • Barry

          I love “No price too high for freedom,
          so be careful where you tread.”
          from motherf-ers who didn’t have to drive around checking for IED’s the hard way.

    • Kurzleg

      Ray Stevens is one thing, but Clint Black? Not exactly a low-profile fringe musician. Gee-Zus.

  • tonycpsu

    I don’t always read Greenwald, but when I do, I prefer Frum Flambé.

    • pete

      When Greenwald aims at a target I’m glad he’s hitting, it’s a lot of fun. But he is still constructing an argument in a way that leaves me feeling a bit queasy, even with a sneaking sympathy for his victim. Pity about that. For instance, that Frum (a) boosted Chalabi and (b) claims to have been more skeptical than Cheney are not, pace Greenwald, incompatible. That Frum was wrong, well now, that’s incontrovertible.

      • tonycpsu

        I think Frum was trying to point out that “more skeptical than Cheney” is the faintest of praise, and that the National Review piece is evidence that he wasn’t a skeptic in any sense of the word.

        Frum’s been doing a lot online and on TV to paint himself as a GOP truth-teller, and certainly it’s good to get the perspective of an apostate now and then, but it’s also important to realize how terribly wrong these people were, and how sure they were that they were right.

        • pete

          Your third word is presumably meant to be Greenwald. I don’t disagree with you, and I don’t essentially disagree with the substance of what he said. But his habits of rhetorical overkill and selective quotation undermine the force of his argument, and I can see that even when I do agree with him. Which is a shame.

          • tonycpsu

            Yeah, I meant Greenwald, and you’re correct that his schtick gets old. In this case, though, Frum’s paper trail has more than enough to ridicule without stretching the evidence to make a point, and since Frum’s been on an image rehabilitation tour over the last year or so, it’s good to have a reality check.

            I don’t remember Frum giving a true mea culpa, either. The Beinarts and Yglesiases of the world had the decency to admit they were wrong for the wrong reasons, whereas Frum, when he has pointed out his remarkable wrongness, always seems to have excuses for why it was someone else’s fault.

  • Kurzleg

    The sad thing is that all of the arguments used to support invading Iraq apply far more accurately to Iran. And so I have little doubt that many of the same mouthpieces will take to the airwaves to make the case for war with Iran, their wrongness about Iraq be damned. The best part will be when someone trots out the “they’ll welcome us as liberators” line without a hint of irony.

  • And as a commenter reminds me, of course, we effectively offered all along to do nothing military if Saddam “disarmed.” How does that square with democratization being a significant reason (as opposed to a fringe benefit) for the invasion? Our own government was pretty explicit about it not being a good enough reason on its own: No WMD meant no invasion.

    This is something that’s bothered me for the last ten years. In September ’02, Saddam invited inspectors back in, and Rumsfeld basically said he could go fuck himself, because we were invading. So, yes, they were saying that disarmament would prevent our invasion, and yes, they were lying when they said that. But they weren’t trying very hard, and any reasonable person would have known they were lying.

    Which goes back to the semantic question that characterized the Clinton impeachment: if you’re lying–and your audience knows you’re lying–and you know your audience knows you’re lying–has any actual deception taken place?

    • We would have just kept moving the goalpost so that they never could have satisfied our demands.

      The invasion was a done deal as of fall 2002 and probably as early as spring 2002.

      We don’t move 150,000 troops and all the required logistics for an invasion halfway around the world as a show of force.

      A show of force is a couple carrier battle groups and maybe a detachment of bombers.

      When we start moving the big stuff, you know there’s going to be a war.

      • Reilly

        The invasion was a done deal as of fall 2002 and probably as early as spring 2002.

        Spring 2002 is correct. In March of that year Time reported that Condi was having a meeting with several Senators about how to deal with Iraq through the U.N. when Bush stuck his head in the door of Condi’s office and said “Fuck Saddam, we’re taking him out.” Even though it was reported in a high visibility mainstream publication, it never really got any traction until after the war started.

      • The commitment to invade Iraq was made the day Scalia and cronies selected Bush in 2000. The promise to invade was made by PNAC in the 1990’s and was going to be redeemed, one way or another.

        That commitment to invade was in search of a pretext. Then 9/11 happened. Cue Goehring here. And actually there was barely any manipulation required.

        The public deserves most of the blame, the majority was far from reluctant. They wanted a dog to kick after 9/11 and Cheney gave them Saddam.

        “An ABC News/Washington Post poll taken after the beginning of the war showed a 62% support for the war, lower than the 79% in favor at the beginning of the Persian Gulf War.”

        While the press was criminally negligent in 2002/3, the supporters of the war in the general population were actual accomplices with the Bush perps conducting the actual war crimes.

        Way too easy to transfer all the blame to the journalists.

        Criminal political leadership by the governing party,
        Massive abdication of the responsibilities of citizenship by the majority of the public and some of the political opposition,
        Incompetent, negligent enabling by the press

        Vocal minorities tried to stop the insanity, but they were steamrolled by the controlling majority in every instance. Which is mostly how a democracy works, even when it’s dysfunctional.

  • Instapundit Classics

    Heh. Indeed. We’re winning in Iraq! Dude, where’s my recession?

  • I don’t agree with Fallows on his view that Vietnam was less of a mistake. It’s just further away.

    The real consequences were more severe (he acknowledges), the pretext (Gulf of Tonkin) for the escalation was just as deceptive, and the decision regarding Diem’s assassination was just as dumb as anything the Bush hackocracy did.

    The only difference I can tell is that the JFK/LBJ team was smarter and their motivation was different. But the outcome isn’t better because smarter people with better intentions made essentially the same mistakes.

    • rea

      “Hegel remarks somewherethat all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

      Vietnam is to Iraq as Napoleon I was to Napoleon III

      • Malaclypse

        And as McNamara was to Rumsfeld.

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  • I personally think the big lesson nobody’s learned is about US imperialism.

    Essentially, it is always possible to dress any imperialist project up as anti-terrorist or anti-rogue state or pro-democracy. And liberal hawks routinely fall for this stuff. Meanwhile, the anti-war left (and to the extent there is one, the smaller anti-war right), which criticizes US imperialism, is constantly marginalized. Consistently opposing war means you “just got lucky” that this one turned out bad, instead of any sort of acknowledgement that maybe opposition to war is an intelligent response to the murder, lies, indefiniteness, torture, and terrorist blowback that results from them.

    In other words, the biggest lesson of the Iraq War that has gone unlearned is that we need to listen to the anti-war left and its critiques of US power. And be very skeptical especially of “liberal” justifications for murdering foreigners and ignoring national sovereignty. Because if we aren’t, there will be more Iraqs, just as not listening to the anti-war left after Vietnam helped lead us to the Iraq disaster.

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  • Trulee_Pist

    How in the Sam Hill could you (and the estimable Fallows) leave Richard PerleBeforeSwine from the recrimination? HE WAS ON NPR MORNING EDITION this morning, still self-delusional after all these years.

    “It’s easy a decade later to say, well, it turned out this fact and that presumption was wrong, but blah blah blah you had to deal with the information that’s available to you…”


    • Sort like you “dealt with” the information about Soviet military capabilities back in the 70s, eh Mr. Perle?

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