During antiwar protests yesterday in San Francisco to mark the fifth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, some 150 people were arrested for civil disobedience.
Unfortunately, the criminals who actually orchestrated and launched the war have yet to be arrested.
Doubtless some people will take exception to my characterization of the Bush administration officials as criminals. This morning on 1150 CKOC (yeah, we wake up to the oldies), DJ Mike Nabuurs delivered a monologue in which he conceded that he supported the Iraq war at first because he (and, he contends, the Bush administration) made the best decision they could based on the available evidence at the time.
He blamed Saddam Hussein for misleading the West over whether he still maintained prohibited weapons of mass destruction. He also criticized former war supporters who have changed their minds but claim they always opposed it.
Well, with all respect due to Nabuurs and other people who supported the war, I call BS on the notion that the Bush administration were simply duped by the wily Iraq regime.
In December 1998, after several frustrating years spent scouring Iraq and chasing down weapons prohibited by UN Security Council Resolution 687, UNSCOM Director Richard Butler wrote that Iraq was six to eight weeks away from a final accounting of its compliance with the Resolution, after which time the sanctions against Iraq could be lifted in accordance with the Resolution.
The US had a longstanding policy that it would never allow the sanctions to be lifted as long as Saddam remained in power - a straightforward violation of Resolution 687, by the way - so in the end of 1998 the US and UK manufactured a crisis by demanding that the Iraqi officials ignore the inspection agreement between the UN and Iraq and allow a large contingent of inspectors into a small regional Ba'ath party office (the agreement specified a maximum of four inspectors at a time).
The officers balked, and the US ambassador to the UN ordered Butler to withdraw the inspectors immediately. Then the US/UK launched three days of unauthorized missile strikes against Iraq.
This was the last straw for Saddam, who had already faced an assassination attempt by CIA agents who had infiltrated UNSCOM. He refused to allow the inspectors back in, noting that the inspections process had become a farce. (This was reported in the US media as "Saddam kicked the inspectors out!")
After that, Iraq went into limbo. Two UN Coordinators in a row (Hans von Sponeck and Dennis Halliday) resigned in disgust over the continuation of the sanctions, and chief UNSCOM inspector Scott Ritter went public with his case that the US/UK had forced Iraq into a corner.
Bush inherited this mess from the Clinton administration. Whereas Clinton had hoped to take Saddam out with some kind of covert operation, the Bush administration was filled with neoconservative members of the Project for a New American Century, who had been calling since the mid-1990s for a full-scale invasion.
Obviously, controlling Iraq's oil was a big part of this goal, but it also entailed replacing a disobedient ex-client in a strategically volatile region; stopping the UN from lifting the UNSCR 687 sanctions against Iraq with Saddam still in charge; restoring the petrodollar system, in which OPEC countries only sell oil for dollar denominated securities; demonstrating America's willingness to follow through on its policy of preventive war; and also a fear that once released from sanctions, Saddam would once again attempt to increase his regional power and destabilize the region.
They were quiet about Iraq, at least in public, until the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which gave the administration an excellent opportunity to put its plans into action. Mere hours after the attacks, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfelf texted his staff to start putting together a case against Iraq:
Best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit [Saddam Hussein] at same time. Not only [Osama bin Laden]. ... Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not. [sic]
It was to be a classic Big Lie strategy. The administration was already committed to invading Iraq but needed to bring the American public on board as well, so they began a full-spectrum propaganda campaign based on Saddam's alleged WMD, his alleged ties to al-Qaeda and his alleged refusal to cooperate with the UN.
As part of this campaign, the administration created an ad hoc organization called the Office of Special Plans (OSP) to cherry-pick through the mountains of intelligence on Iraq in search of supporting evidence, however flimsy.
Run by Doug Feith and Abram Schulsky (coauthor with Gary Schmitt of an essay that argued evidence is not actually required to make claims against countries you believe are untrustworthy), the OSP relied heavily on 'evidence' supplied by convicted fraudster Ahmad Chalabi or else extracted through torture.
The Department of Defense itself dismissed the OSP's reports as "of dubious quality or reliability" but which "supported the political views of senior administration officials, a conclusion that the inspector general's report did not draw."
Similarly, the CIA saw no credible evidence to support the administration's claims, but Vice President Dick Cheney visited the CIA headquarters several times and pressured its analysts into changing their assessments to suit the war agenda.
In 2002, Iraq allowed the UN back into the country to resume the inspections that the US disrupted in 1998. The IAEA inspectors found no evidence that Iraq had resumed its nuclear weapons program, and the UNMOVIC inspectors found no evidence that Iraq had resumed its WMD programs.
In fact, UNMOVIC inspectors dismissed the US intelligence tips they received as "garbage after garbage after garbage".
Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell made an infamous presentation to the UN on February 5, 2003 in which he traded a lifetime of credibility to pitch his government's case against Iraq.
Before the presentation, he was so frustrated at the poor quality of the evidence that he said, "I'm not reading this. This is bullshit." Then, always the good soldier, he read it anyway and effectively sealed Iraq's fate in the court of US public opinion.
The bottom line is that the Bush administration knew it was cooking up the intelligence it wanted (with more than a little help from its partner in crime, the Blair government in Great Britain). They had planned to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam long before 9/11.
Despite the fact that Iraq was cooperating with the UN and the the UN inspection teams asserted confidently that Iraq was not an "imminent threat" and they would be able to confirm Iraq's compliance with Resolution 687, on 18 March 2003 the Bush administration gave up on securing a war authorization from the Security Council and launched its own invasion (with the support of Great Britain and a handful of other countries), an invasion that then-UN Director-General Kofi Annan denounced as illegal.
By any reasonable criterion of international law - and therefore US law, since the US Constitution explicitly treats signed treaties like the Geneva Convention as "the supreme law of the land" - Bush and his senior officials are criminals, guilty of the most heinous crimes against humanity.
They deliberately distorted and invented intelligence to manufacture a phony case against Iraq; disrupted the UN's mandate to resolve the crisis with Iraq in a non-violent manner; launched a war of aggression without UN Security Council authorization; overthrew Iraq's government; and started an illegal occupation that continues five years later, an occupation that demolished much of Iraq's critical civilian infrastructure, destabilized its society, and lead to somewhere between 100,000 and one million civilian deaths (with the latter number peer reviewed and in conformance with statistical best practices).
All of this information was public knowledge before the Iraq war began. Why, then, did so many people still support the war? I believe that several factors combined to produce the razor-thin majority of support in the US:
The American people were appalled at having been attacked on 9/11 and wanted to feel like they were doing something about it. A certain measure of vengeance surely factored into this sentiment.
The mainstream newsmedia was almost entirely on board with the Bush administration's campaign through a combination of shared corporate interests and fear of looking unpatriotic or "weak" on "terror" - including the so-called "liberal" outfits like the New York Times, which published reporter Judith Miller's one-sided, poorly sourced articles on the front page with little or no editorial oversight.
The government's propaganda campaign itself was highly sophisticated and effective. With antiwar voices marginalized, it was easy simply to accept what the Bush administration was claiming about Iraq.
Nevertheless, a very large plurality of Americans and large majorities in most other countries still opposed the war. On February 15, 2003, somewhere between ten and thirty million people took to the streets to protest the war. This was the largest single anti-war protest in history, and it took place before the war even began.
This is important to keep in mind today, as erstwhile war supporters claim that anybody could have made the same mistake in trusting the Bush administration.
As citizens, we have an ethical obligation to think critically, seek information independently, and hold our leaders to account for what they do.
The newsmedia are supposed to help the public in this task, but this is best achieved by reading a wide variety of sources and forming conclusions based as much as possible on verifiable evidence, not faith in a party or an institution.
For people who supported the war based on false premises, the most important thing is to study why they got it wrong, where they got their information, and how they can avoid making the same mistake the next time, when lives may be at stake again.
While some erstwhile supporters, like US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, refuse to take responsibility for their mistake, it did not require "clairvoyance" to discover the facts in 2002/3, and it does not require clairvoyance today.
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