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Unhappy Anniversary, Iraq War

Ten years ago this month, the United States invaded Iraq in a war that was sold on the basis of some truly absurd lies. James Fallows, one of the nation’s best journalists and an early opponent of the war, has a review of how we got there and how we’ve suffered for it. For one thing, he says, the neo-cons who got us into the war have suffered little for it:

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.

Not only did those people lie flagrantly to justify the war, they also vastly understated what it would cost. When Gen. Eric Shinseki testified in front of Congress that the war would require hundreds of thousands of troops and cost hundreds of billions of dollars, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz called a press conference to mock that claim, calling it “wildly off the mark.” And it was; the cost was, in fact, far higher than even Shinseki imagined. The cost of that war is already over a trillion dollars and likely to be double that with all the spending on veteran care over the next few decades.

Wolfowitz was also the one who said that Iraq could pay for its own reconstruction, that their oil profits would pay for the whole thing. That turned out to be a pipe dream. Every single thing these people said was wrong about every single aspect of the war. And yet they are still taken seriously. And then there’s this:

5) Threat inflation. As I think about this war and others the U.S. has contemplated or entered during my conscious life, I realize how strong is the recurrent pattern of threat inflation. Exactly once in the post-WW II era has the real threat been more ominous than officially portrayed. That was during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when the world really came within moments of nuclear destruction.

Otherwise: the “missile gap.” The Gulf of Tonkin. The overall scale of the Soviet menace. Iraq. In each case, the public soberly received official warnings about the imminent threat. In cold retrospect, those warnings were wrong — or contrived, or overblown, or misperceived. Official claims about the evils of these systems were many times justified. Claims about imminent threats were most of the times hyped.

One would think that Fallows, after decades of covering Washington, would not be naive enough to be surprised by this. Truth is not only the first casualty of war, it is the first casualty of the marketing campaign used to sell the war. Like most ad campaigns, it is based on exploiting our fear and insecurity. And it works pretty much every time. Has our government ever gone to war without strong public support from the populace? Even in Vietnam, the public supported the war when we invaded. Governments always vastly overstate the threat from their intended target — remember, Hitler actually sold the invasion of Poland as a response to a non-existent imminent threat — and the public, forever gullible, always falls for it.

Comments

  1. dogmeat says

    For one thing, he says, the neo-cons who got us into the war have suffered little for it:

    I would argue that they not only didn’t suffer, their party got a lot of policy changes that they’d been trying to get for decades due to the fiscal mess caused by the unfunded war. Defense cuts that are reasonable and rational are now “devastating threats to our freedom!” Democrats have had to surrender (or at least put on the table) programs and policies that have long been hands off. They’ve also managed to significantly increase the number of people who wrongly believe that Social Security is bankrupt and should be privatized. The irony of their “fiscal responsibility’ arguments is weapons grade in its own right. Sadly I think this is a strategy we’re going to see in our next Republican administration; we saw shadows of it in both the McCain and Romney campaigns. Tax cut “stimulus” combined with the “threat of Iran.” Bush Mk II.

    Wolfowitz was also the one who said that Iraq could pay for its own reconstruction, that their oil profits would pay for the whole thing. That turned out to be a pipe dream.

    As we know, forcing the defeated nation to pay damages to the countries that defeated it works perfectly as a policy. I mean c’mon, we saw this in Europe after World War One, the reparations Germany was forced to pay kept them honest for decades and sparked an economic boom in France and England that justifies any war at any time. [/sarcasm]

    The argument that Iraq was going to be able to rebuild their country *and* pay us for the expense of the war was utterly idiotic and illogical from the very beginning. I vaguely recall one of the claims used existing oil prices, completely ignoring the fact that, if Iraq were allowed to return to full oil production and sales, their sales alone would drive oil prices down. C’mon, if a high school kid using basic supply and demand could refute your argument, why are you taken seriously?

    Governments always vastly overstate the threat from their intended target

    Well, you know, Iran is such a threat that a half dozen multi-megaton warheads should be dropped on them. [/snark]

    I truly don’t get the fear expressed by those who constantly tout the power of our country. The cognitive dissonance to celebrate our “greatest military in the world” and, at the same time, argue that we are mere pennies away from total defeat is staggering.

  2. zippythepinhead says

    YES! And we can celebrate this weekend with George Bush’s GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT of his presidency, moving Daylight Saving Time up 3 ENTIRE weeks!! So when you reset your manual clocks this weekend think upon GWB and all his works!

  3. baal says

    “Ten years ago this month, the United States invaded Iraq in a war that was sold on the basis of some truly absurd lies.”

    I remember feeling somewhat alone back then for thinking that they were lies. The media was running endless stories that supported the Bush the Lesser’s regime and there was nary a peep from the Democrats. Wolfowitz’s ‘pay for itself’ comment and the neocon’s game plan (rolling foreign wars) that sounded like a game of Risk! contributed to my through-the-looking-glass feelings. It was like the ‘Washington bubble’ (as seen everyday on politico.com) had expanded to engulf the country.

  4. Glenn E Ross says

    This is the problem with sociopaths and psychopaths in positions of power. War should be the last solution to a problem, not the first. It should be a difficult decision knowing the potential costs in lives and treasure. It should be a deliberative process understanding the human costs both at home and “over there.” The decision should weigh heavily on the people making it.

    And the media behaved like a pep squad for a high school football game, hardly questioning the instigators and supporters. The media saw dollar signs in a ratings boost that comes with covering the beginning of a war. Personally, I blame the media more than the politicians. If the media had performed its function honestly, public support for the war would have been decidedly diminished.
    Unfortunately my almost sixty decades of existence has led me to expect us starting another war somewhere in the near future, lather, rinse and repeat.
    As a civilization we have decidedly more evolving to complete before we treat war as the abomination that it is.

  5. blf says

    The media was running endless stories that supported the Bush the Lesser’s regime…

    USAlienstan’s mainstream media. That, as I now recall, wasn’t the case elsewhere. I have (admittedly slightly fuzzy) memories of The Grauniad, e.g., pointing out Cheny & Bush ][ (and B.Liar in the UK) were misleading / lying, not to mention the “sexed up” justification used by B.Liar (not sure how much coverage that got in USAlienstan at the time or since?).

  6. raven says

    For one thing, he says, the neo-cons who got us into the war have suffered little for it:

    Some people sure did suffer for it.

    1. Two of my friends died in Iraq. While technically they aren’t suffering any more, their friends and family sure are.

    One kid was engaged. His fiancee really lost it.
    One boomer humanitarian relief worker was killed. His parents are still alive and in their 80′s. It’s hard to outlive your kids.

    2. All the other dead US and Iraqi people.

    The Bush Catastrophe was just…the Bush Catastrophe. Dead economy, lost generation, bodies piling up everywhere.

  7. says

    “Why of course the people don’t want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don’t want war: neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But after all it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or fascist dictorship, or a parliament or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peace makers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” — Hermann Göring

    “Well, you know, Iran is such a threat that a half dozen multi-megaton warheads should be dropped on them.”

    There’s a regular on here who would be in favor of that policy.

  8. laurentweppe says

    if a high school kid using basic supply and demand could refute your argument, why are you taken seriously?

    Because you’re part of the upper-class: and many people dare to publicly accuse aristocrats of being inept wankers.

    ***

    I remember feeling somewhat alone back then for thinking that they were lies

    You were very far from bein alone: pretty much everyone in Europe knew that it was built on a bunch of lies. In fact, I’m still pretty convinced that a non-negligible chunk of the rank & file supporters of the invasion were not dupe of Junior’s administration’s lies and played along because they did not want to openly admit that they were in it for the dick waving.

  9. slc1 says

    And now neocons like Paul Wolfowitz are beating the war drums for US intervention in Syria. People seem to have forgotten the intervention in Afghanistan, albeit confined to arms shipments. How did that work out (hint, Osama bin Laden was one of our boys in Afghanistan). Our chances of finding the “good” guys amongst the various groups involved in the Free Syrian Army seem rather remote.

    And Ole Don Williams can’t blame this particular interventionist drumbeat on Bibi, who up to a few months ago wasn’t too sure that he wanted Assad to go (he still seems somewhat ambivalent about the prospect).

  10. Michael Heath says

    Ed writes:

    The cost of that war is already over a trillion dollars and likely to be double that with all the spending on veteran care over the next few decades.

    That’s merely the amount of expenditures. More importantly on the “treasure” side of the balance sheet vs. the “blood” side, is how did the Iraq war impact U.S. GDP? In the late-2000s I recall economists predicting it would have a negative impact on GDP totaling somewhere between $2 – $3 trillion. I bet the economic impact to the U.S. in regards to WWII was enormously beneficial, though of course that was offset by the enormous cost of blood and treasure of other countries like Japan, Russian, China, and of course the European countries.

  11. Rip Steakface says

    Unfortunately my almost sixty decades of existence

    Never thought I’d see an immortal hanging around Dispatches. There can be only one, and all.

  12. Don Williams says

    If people haven’t seen it I encourage them to watch Bill Moyer’s documentary “Buying the War” –which covers the people who lied us into Iraq and how their media careers have not suffered one bit. Parts of it are on Youtube –e.g.,

  13. says

    For one thing, he says, the neo-cons who got us into the war have suffered little for it…

    On a personal level, perhaps, but the damage wrought on the Republican party has been massive and will last decades. Perhaps not as massive as it should have been, but they went from complete control of Washington to complete loss of every governing body within four years. They’ve since made back some lost ground but are still the minority party. More importantly, they’ve alienated an entire generation that will be voting for the Democrats for the next 50 years.

  14. dingojack says

    Glenn E Ross – what was Falstaff really like? ;)

    SLC – “… Bibi, who up to a few months ago wasn’t too sure that he wanted Assad to go (he still seems somewhat ambivalent about the prospect)”. I’m guessing that’s because of the old ‘it takes one to know one’ mentality or perhaps ‘he’s a S.O.B., but he’s our S.O.B.’

    Dingo

  15. slc1 says

    Re dingojack @ #15

    Actually, its more like better the devil you know than the devil you know not.

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