Why Did We Go To War With Iraq?
President Bush should be held accountable for misleading Americans with a politicized agenda.
by Scott Teresi
© Copyright 2005
The U.S. War with Iraq was Morally Wrong
Written April 2005
Nowadays, Bush's praises are sung for bringing democracy to the Middle East. There is no question that we must support the best outcome possible for the citizens and government of Iraq. But we should not overlook how we arrived at this point. Should we hold our government accountable for the supreme crime, condemned at Nuremburga war of aggression?
Bush probably did use benevolent arguments saying something like we need to 'plant democracy in the Middle East,' and the best way to begin is by attacking Iraq. It definitely wasn't something he said very often compared with the WMD line, but he probably did give this as a reason. Many people now believe that Bush's "over-marketing" of the WMD angle was despicable, but the more hidden reasons of democracy and liberation were still good reasons, so he's given a vote of support for that. And it may turn out to be true, that we were able to spread democracy throughout the Middle East this way (or perhaps despite this atrocitymost likely there are much more productive and humane methods to go about that agenda).
Regardless of all this, however, the argument should be whether we were justified to use that reason. And as far as I know, no country is justified in attacking another just to "liberate" it and "spread democracy." The only moral justification you can give for starting a war, is your security is under threat, and you have completely no other options. So regardless of any other nuanced motivations you might have, or even legal justifications such as breaking some suddenly-important U.N. resolutions, you have to have a pretty airtight case on the "security" front before you can start a war.
We know today in hindsight that the "security threat" justification was a stretch, if not utter BS spouted by Bush, Powell, and the administration. Iraq was not a threat to us unless your threshold for threatening dictators is pretty low. We know this now in hindsight, and I would argue we should've known this well enough then, because any number of smoking guns were not presented. Not only that, but most wars turn out to be illegal and unjust, and the pattern leading up to this one was textbook. With very few exceptions, wars are fought for other reasons than a direct security threat, usually for control over resources, and in violation of legal structures. And sure enough, the vast majority of people on this planet were not fooled by the rhetoric of an Iraqi threat.
I think it is best to have a healthy mistrust of all power structures, not the least of which should include the most powerful one in the world, our government.
(For more thinking along these lines, check out a great Noam Chomsky lecture on foreign policy here on this site.)
Cultivating a Hidden Agenda
Written March 2004
In this article, published by the independent news outlet Salon.com, a high-ranking military officer reveals how Defense Department extremists suppressed information and twisted the truth to drive the country to war. The article is really long but paints the picture of how the Pentagon created a special office, the Office of Special Plans, which manipulated intelligence data on Iraq and WMDs. The meat of the story starts on page 3, after sections which talk about specific individuals and their backgrounds and credentials.
We should be holding Bush and Cheney and his cohorts accountable for ignoring the lack of hard intelligence in the run-up to the war. We were always told the intelligence information was solid and came from secret sources which can't be revealed. Yet with so few specific facts given about the Iraqi threat, there was strong reason to believe the sources were entirely politicized. In fact, the intelligence info that Bush kept repeating was derived from talking points produced by a new Pentagon office, the Office of Special Plans. It was lead by a narrow band of neoconservatives and had a politicized objective. And this new office was excluded from examination by Bush's self-appointed commission to investigate if intelligence was manipulated before the war. Americans deserve more from their leaders than collusion to exploit the institutions we depend on to be nonpartisan.
What A Pre-Emptive Policy Means for Our Future
Written Aug. 2003
Though Iraqis did not ask to be freed by Americans, they will no doubt be better off without Saddam Hussein in power. However, the method our administration took to bring us to this point did not serve our country and was not democratic. If we had been fighting for a moral cause, for democracy and against tyranny, Bush would not have needed to use manipulative evidence and play to the public's fears, and such a worthy cause would have garnered more worldwide support as previous wars have.
The war with Iraq was part of our government's continuation of a dangerous precedent of forcefully overthrowing non-threatening sovereign nations. (See my list of U.S. imperialist actions.) This can be termed colonialism. My friend Frank Lesko (alias Bill Cheatham) has written an excellent essay on a peaceful and democratic foreign policy (appearing in a GreasyLake.org Bruce Springsteen discussion forum about politics). The essay explains why more peaceful and democratic international objectives on the part of the United States would prevail in sustaining humanity on this earth and sustaining the United States as a world powermuch better than military coercion would, which is how every other world power has met its end. Here is an excerpt.
It's important that we learn from history and not repeat the mistakes we find there. History is very clear as to what it does with colonial empires. All empires that rise, also fall. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Every empire that has worked to exploit and oppress people (because they can) has ended up falling when the people of that oppressed group rise up. All uprisings aren't successful, but given time they eventually break though. The growth cycle of an empire is a pretty predictable pattern. ...
[There are much better means for obtaining healthy relationships with "distasteful" countries besides military leverage.] Let me draw a parallel. The government of the Soviet Union could not understand how to maintain stability and relative "peace" in its own country without strongarming the population, by whatever means necessary in some cases. Even if some people got abused along the way, it was for the overall good of the nation, they probably thought. They probably didn't really believe that Americans have the kinds of freedoms we have. ... The genius of American society rests in the paradox that the less you control the population, the tighter the national bond is going to be! Brilliant. People won't want to leave or corrupt the system because its so good. We have the freedom to go anywhere yet we choose to say where we are. We don't need armed guards on our border keeping us in! No sense wasting resources on controlling a population that doesn't need it and actually works better without it. I have not seen a good reason yet why we can't practice that internationally as well as nationally. Its more of a work-in-progress, sure, but still a worthwhile thing to shoot for.
In much the same way, we can and should encourage democracy elsewhere in the world. Not by forcing it, because that's not democracy. But treating others democratically and letting it take root by our example. We don't need to put down every questionable rebellion in every country in order to keep the deck stacked exactly like we want it. We don't have to protect America by destabilizing other parts of the world. In other words, if we [were] so damned good no one would want to screw us. With our current Homeland Security scam and foreign wars, we will end up like the Sovietsattempting to control everything, actually controlling nothing (in the long run, at least).
The only true defense against terrorism is to melt away anti-US sentiment. No other method can work. The Romans fell to terrorism. The Brits were kicked out of every country they conquered due to terrorism. No empire has yet found a military solution to terrorism that works long term. Short term, yesyou can squash uprisings. Long term? Hasn't been done yet. [Frank Lesko, GreasyLake.org politics forum]
A Misleading Case for War
Written Feb. 2004
The President took us to war based on repeatedly hammering assertions which he knew were untrue and manipulative. The summary below was provided by MoveOn.org.
David Kay, after resigning from his post as Bush's chief weapons inspector in Iraq: "I'm personally convinced that there were not large stockpiles of newly produced weapons of mass destruction," and "We don't find the people, the documents or the physical plants that you would expect to find if the production was going on." 
A CIA report in February 2003 said: "We do not have any direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since  to reconstitute its Weapons of Mass Destruction programs." 
Secretary of State Colin Powell became alarmed at the level of intelligence distortion. When he read the first draft of his speech to the UN -- prepared for Powell by Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff -- he was so upset that he lost his temper, throwing several pages in the air and declaring, "I'm not reading this. This is bullsh--." 
A new poll says "a majority of Americans believe President Bush either lied or deliberately exaggerated evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction in order to justify war."  A recent Newsweek cover asks "Will Anyone Pay?" 
The fact is, President Bush was planning for war with Iraq from his first days in office.  Having made that decision, he ran a campaign of misinformation, hype and hysteria that led us into war.
Before the war, Bush was repeatedly told there was no definitive evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.  He knew Iraq was not a nuclear threat.  He knew there was no Iraq connection to 9/11.  Iraq posed no imminent danger to the United States. There was no case for a pre-emptive war.
Yet Bush relentlessly led us into a war that has cost 500 American lives, left 3,000 seriously injured, and wasted tens of billions of dollars. Thousands of Iraqis have been killed as well.
President Bush has betrayed our trust, and there must be consequences.
 New York Times: "The Struggle for Iraq: Intelligence; Ex-Inspector Says C.I.A. Missed Disarray in Iraqi Arms Program," Jan. 26, 2004
 MSNBC: "No Direct Evidence of Iraqi Weapons," Oct. 24, 2003
 U.S. News and World Report: "Truth and Consequences: New questions about U.S. intelligence regarding Iraq's weapons of mass terror," June 9, 2003
 Washington Post, "Most Think Truth Was Stretched to Justify Iraq War", 2/13/04 (formerly here)
 Newsweek, Cover, 2/9/04
 Former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill, 60 Minutes, 1/11/04
 "The Selling of the Iraq War: The First Casualty," The New Republic, 6/30/03 and Defense Intelligence Agency Report, 6/13/03
 International Atomic Energy Agency Report, 10/8/98 and Washington Post, "Bush Aides Disclose Warnings from CIA", 7/23/03
 Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "Bush: No Link to 9/11 Found", 9/18/03
More evidence that we were misled and even outright lied to: Uncovered: The War on Iraq. Example: "We know they have biological and chemical weapons." Vice President Dick Cheney (from an official transcript of a press conference at WhiteHouse.gov, March 17, 2002).
Why the Evidence Cited for War was Wrong
A detailed description of the lies which the Bush administration fed the public
Written July 2003
We knew Saddam recently had biological and chemical weapons in violation of the United Nations, but no intelligence revealed to date shows that we knew he still had them, ready to use. And without a method to deliver them to the U.S., they werent very threatening to us. The countries needing the most defense against such a weapon would be Iraqs neighbors. But none of them were coming to us for protection. According to Noam Chomsky, "There is no country where Iraq is regarded as a threat to their security. Kuwait and Iran, which were both invaded by Iraq, dont regard Iraq as a threat to their security. Iraq is the weakest country in the region...." [Collateral Language: An Interview with Noam Chomsky]
Why did we wait so long to send in more weapons inspectors before the war? "An internal CIA review of prewar intelligence on Iraq... has found that the evidence collected [by our government] after 1998 was mostly fragmentary and often inconclusive." [In Sketchy Data, White House Sought Clues to Gauge Threat] Our intelligence had been collected by the previous weapons inspectors. Little more was known since they were withdrawn in 1998, though Paul Wolfowitz made public statements in January 2003 describing our intelligence as not only convincing but up-to-date. The weapons inspections "aided intelligence agencies directly, by providing witnesses' accounts from ground level and, indirectly, by prodding the Iraqis and forcing them to try to move and hide people and equipment, activities that American spy satellites and listening stations could monitor." Why would we forgo the chance for such useful information when all we had were hunches drawn from 5-year-old data?
Were we really serious about the threat Saddam posed to the world? "Paul Wolfowitz admitted to Vanity Fair that weapons of mass destruction were not really the main reason for invading Iraq: 'The decision to highlight weapons of mass destruction as the main justification for going to war in Iraq was taken for bureaucratic reasons.... [T]here were many other important factors as well.' Right. But they did not come under the heading of self-defense." [The Bush Administration's Top 40 Lies about War and Terrorism]
If Saddam had a nuclear program, it could be very dangerous to the world if used as a bargaining chip. Yet to start a war, the burden of proof was on us to uncover such a program. The best concrete evidence we could come up with were some imported aluminum tubes and an order for Nigerian uranium. Such precious concrete evidence of WMD in our "wealth of intelligence" was widely cited but very uncertain or even proven false at the time it was alluded to. "Large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons probably do not exist in Iraq and pre-war intelligence reports were 'assumptions' based on 'fragmentary information'", Washington's own chief weapons inspector has told the House Intelligence Committee. Hussein had a motive for misleading us, that being to appear stronger than Iran.
Still, what if we were wrong and Saddam did have weapons of mass destruction? Couldn't "alliance with terrorists... allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints" as President Bush said in Oct. 2002? Surely al Qaeda wants nuclear weapons, but the similarity between Saddam and Bin Laden stops with their hatred of the west. They are not fighting the same war, and in fact Bin Laden fights against secular nations like Iraq. Iraq and al Qaeda have very little to do with each other, as the evidence has shown up to this point. This includes, most notably, documents found with Saddam when he was captured [Hussein Warned Iraqis to Beware Outside Fighters]. From the NY Times: "As Greg Thielmann, a former State Department intelligence official, said... U.S. intelligence analysts have consistently agreed that Saddam did not have a 'meaningful connection' to Al Qaeda. Yet administration officials continually asserted such a connection." [Pattern of Corruption]
The lack of a real connection didn't stop our government from trying to imply one. From the same N.Y. Times article: "literally before the dust had settled, Bush administration officials began trying to use 9/11 to justify an attack on Iraq. Gen. Wesley Clark says that he received calls on Sept. 11 from 'people around the White House' urging him to link that assault to Saddam Hussein." The Bush administration, "lacking compelling evidence of an Iraq-Qaeda link, decided to base the Qaeda part of its pro-war argument on a hypothetical sitaution. Iraq could decide on any given day to provide [WMD] to a terrorist group.... But this scenario is extremely unlikely. For years now the world's heading state sponsors of terrorism have had no confidence that they could carry out attacks against the United States undetected. That is why this brand of terrorism has been on the wane." [The Next Debate: Al Qaeda Link] Only in late 2003 did Bush and, later, Powell clearly admit that they have not seen concrete evidence of a connection to Al Qaeda. [Powell Admits No Hard Proof in Linking Iraq to Al Qaeda]
Intelligence assessments raised strong questions of how invading Iraq could reduce our threat from al Qaeda anyway. As a result of our aggression in the Persian Gulf, the al Qaeda organization has been strengthened. If our leaders failed to realize this, they were selectively ignoring what our intelligence agencies were telling them.
What of Saddams ruthlessness as a dictator, his skill at torture? Unfortunately the U.S. has not used such measures to differentiate our friends and foes of the past.
Saddam was in clear violation of a long list of U.N. resolutions. In other words, he was breaking the law. He already was suffering the punishment of weapons inspections and being a world outcast, suffering more than countries like Israel which has actually broken more U.N. resolutions. It is a hard stretch to assert that the U.S. went to war to punish a country for breaking U.N. resolutions, though. If we were interested in applying the rule of law to the situation, then we would also find that we ourselves were bound by it and must first pass a successful resolution allowing us to invade a member nation. Yet we decided the U.N. was irrelevant when it was convenient for us.
So if none of these reasons hold up by themselves, why did we invade Iraq? Iraq was sort of a rogue nation and a past enemy of ours, yet it was not an imminent threat. A likely reason for the invasion would be to send a message to the American people that our government and military was willing to act (it’s hard to say in response to what threat, as discussed above), and also to send a message to our enemies and potential enemies that if we find you vaguely threatening, no law or consensus or even lack of evidence can stop us from going to war with you. Other likely reasons were power, control over resources, and the beneficial effects to Republicans of instilling a sense of fear in Americans. It seems that we faught Iraq just because we wanted to and we could. "It wasn't that Iraq was the biggest threat but, on the contrary, that it was the weakest and hence the easiest to take care of." [Europe Won't Be Fooled Again]
Unfortunately the American government never cited such reasons, whether or not they were useful and commendable. The true reasons for attacking Iraq were never presented to the American people, never debated on the world stage, and never even acknowledged. Problems and pitfalls could have been exposed. Other countries could have voiced their opinion and input and climbed aboard a broader consensus. Instead, we were taken to war by a secretive group of Washington insiders. Instead, we face the world alone. We are the derelicts, the outcasts, and now we've made ourselves an even easier target for those who oppose us.
If you were our enemy, what would your response be? Build more weapons, possibly nuclear, as we see North Korea and possibly Iran doing. But most countries have stakes in the international arena and can be contained diplomatically and through the implicit threat of force. On the other hand, a terrorist organization has no reason to exist except to fight. The more fighting there is, the more our hidden enemies will grow in resistance.
Did Libya give up its WMD program because we attacked Iraq? For those who believe Bush's rhetoric, you may want to check the facts in this N.Y. Times article: Why Libya Gave Up on the Bomb. The major force of Libyans' acquiescence was the clear path we provided to get out from under the pressure and isolation we were applying via sanctions. They had been following the steps on this path of diplomacy since well before our Iraq war.
How much military involvement the U.S. should have in the world is a matter of debate, a debate which our president is not interested in entertaining. However, the fact that resistance will arise to meet our aggression isn’t debatable. As long as we choose to act without a large coalition of allies and without bringing others into a consensus, we will strengthen the view of our country as the major world aggressor and focus other countries and terrorist organizations against us.