Donald Trump threw down the gauntlet at the last GOP presidential debate with his declaration that the Bush administration lied us into war, and the reverberations are still roiling the political waters on both the right and the left. If his candidacy does nothing else, it will have performed a great service to the nation by re-litigating this vitally important issue and drawing attention to the outrageous lack of accountability by the elites who cheered as we turned the Middle East into a cauldron of death and destruction. Trump has ripped the bandage off the gaping and still suppurating wound of that ill-begotten war, and the howls of rage and pain are being heard on both sides of the political spectrum.
On the neoconservative right, Bill Kristol’s sputtering outrage is a bit too studied to be taken at face value: is he really shocked that no one is coming to the defense of himself and his fellow neocons, who elaborated (with footnotes) the very lies that led us down the primrose path to what the late Gen. William E. Odom called “the worst strategic disaster in our history”?
Kristol’s Weekly Standard magazine promoted every conceivable narrative pointing to Saddam Hussein as the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks, no matter how fantastic and bereft of evidence. Here he is accusing the Iraqis of being behind the dissemination of anthrax through the mails. Here is his subsidized magazine denying that the forged Niger uranium documents – the basis of George W. Bush’s claim in his 2003 State of the Union that Iraq was building a nuke – were an attempt to lie us into war. Here is neocon propagandist Stephen Hayes retailing a leaked “secret” memo to give credence to the debunked story of a meeting between 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence.
Every single one of these tall tales has been so thoroughly disproved that it’s enough to recall them in order to embarrass the perpetrators beyond redemption. Kristol & Co. served as a clearing house for these outright fabrications, which were then utilized by the Bush administration to make the case for war. And yet we have Peter Suderman, a senior editor over at Reason magazine, deriding Trump’s calling out of George W. Bush and his neocon intelligence-fabricators as a “conspiracy theory” on a par withbirtherism and the weirdo 9/11 “truth” cult:
“[H]e is flirting with a kind of 9/11 trutherism when he accuses the Bush administration of having knowingly lied in order to push the country into war in Iraq, as he did in Saturday’s GOP debate.
“Now, as Byron York wrote on Twitter yesterday, you can reasonably interpret that charge as a general nod toward the idea that the Bush administration hyped the war effort beyond what the actual evidence could support, that the case for the war was, well, trumped up and ultimately misleading, built on insufficient proof, overconfidence, and mistaken assumptions. But Trump’s attack also leaves room for more radical, less grounded conspiracies about Bush and the war as all, and I suspect this is not an accident.
I would respectfully suggest that it is Suderman who needs “grounding” in the facts of this case. I would refer him to a project undertaken by our very own Scott Horton, whose radio program is essential listening for anyone who wants to be so educated: Scott has prepared a reading list on the occasion of the anniversary of the Iraq war, one that Suderman might want to make use of.
Of special interest is Seymour Hersh’s account of the Office of Special Plans, run by Abram Shulsky. This denizen of the murkier depths of the US intelligence community is a devotee of the philosopher Leo Strauss, who believed – as one scholar cited by Hersh put it – “that philosophers need to tell noble lies not only to the people at large but also to powerful politicians.” The OSP set up in order to do an end run around the official intelligence community, specialized in retailing the tallest tales of Iraqi “defectors,” later proven to be self-serving fiction.
In another account of the administration’s tactics, Hersh describes how raw (and cherry-picked) “intelligence” marked “secret” was “funneled to newspapers, but subsequent C.I.A. and INR [State Department] analyzes of the reports – invariably scathing but also classified – would remain secret.” Hersh points out that when the crude forgeries known as the Niger uranium papers – the basis for George W. Bush’s contention that Iraq was seeking uranium in “an African country – were exposed by the IAEA, Vice President Dick Cheney went on television and denounced the UN agency as being biased in favor of Iraq. Is this someone who was concerned with the truth?
Karen Kwiatkowski, who worked in close quarters with this parallel intelligence operation, says “It wasn’t intelligence‚ – it was propaganda. They’d take a little bit of intelligence, cherry-pick it, make it sound much more exciting, usually by taking it out of context, often by juxtaposition of two pieces of information that don’t belong together.” Those who didn’t toe the neocon party line were purged and replaced with compliant apparatchiks.
So was this simply ideological blindness, or outright lying? Robert Dreyfuss and Jason Vest, writing in Mother Jones, cite neoconservative foreign policy expert Edward Luttwak, who “says flatly that the Bush administration lied about the intelligence it had because it was afraid to go to the American people and say that the war was simply about getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Instead, says Luttwak, the White House was groping for a rationale to satisfy the United Nations’ criteria for war. ‘Cheney was forced into this fake posture of worrying about weapons of mass destruction,’ he says. ‘The ties to Al Qaeda? That’s complete nonsense.’”
Yet the American people didn’t know that at the time. The pronouncements of the Bush administration, and the War Party’s well-placed media network, led 70 percent of them to believe that the Iraqi despot was behind the worst terrorist attacks in American history – to the point that even after this canard had been debunked (and denied by the White House) a large number of Americans still believed it. Not only that, but they believed the Iraqis had those storied “weapons of mass destruction,” and that the Bush administration was entirely justified in launching an invasion.
This is what Max Fisher’s account of the Trump-generated imbroglio fails to take into account. Fisher, who analyzes foreign policy issues for the left-of-center Vox.com, writes:
“Trump’s 10-second history of the war articulated it as many Americans, who largely consider that war a mistake, now understand it. And, indeed, Bush did justify the war as a quest for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, which turned out not to exist.
“The other Republican candidates, who have had this fight with Trump before, did not defend the war as their party has in the past, but rather offered the party’s standard line of the moment, which is that Bush had been innocently misled by ‘faulty intelligence.’
“But neither version of history is really correct. The US primarily invaded Iraq not because of lies or because of bad intelligence, though both featured. In fact, it invaded because of an ideology.”
“…This is perhaps not as satisfying as the ‘Bush lied, people died’ bumper sticker history that has since taken hold on much of the left and elements of the Tea Party right. Nor is it as convenient as the Republican establishment’s polite fiction that Bush was misled by “faulty intelligence.”
Fisher’s long account of how the neoconservatives agitated for war in the name of an “idealistic” ideology that sought to transform the Middle East into a “democratic” model is accurate as far as it goes. Yet the idea that the neocons were – or are – above fabricating evidence to make their case is naïve, at best. “If the problem were merely that Bush lied,” says Fisher, “then the solution would be straightforward: Check the administration’s facts. But how do you fact-check an ideology …?”