Too Many Lies, Too Little Outrage
Recent leaks of highly classified intelligence information are a clear signal to the American people that many government experts felt that intelligence was manipulated to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Yet the public so far seems complacent to bask in the "patriotic" glow of the battlefield victory over Iraq.
As a nation, most Americans relished the sight of the American flag being draped over the statue of Saddam Hussein in downtown Baghdad as a symbol of the U.S. conquest of another vanquished foe. And we were a bit disappointed that the reception from the "liberated" Iraqi masses to the American troops was one of ambivalence rather than adulation. In short, the war was about "us" and not the Iraqis.
To demonstrate this unnerving conclusion, one needs only to look at the media coverage, which may well reflect where the public's attention lies. We have moved on to coverage of Scott Peterson's trial and the Catholic bishop who allegedly committed a hit-and-run crime. And who can tell us what is happening in Afghanistan now -- the scene of the last U.S. military victory?
The ugly truth is that most Americans care little what happens to defeated countries after the war as long as we can "beat our chests," as Lt. Gen. Garner put it, and revel in the military trouncing our superpower juggernaut gave to the armies of tinpot despots in the relatively poor developing world.
In fact, as long as a victory was won, the slumbering public doesn't care much about why we went to war in the first place. We don't seem to care that the administration twisted the intelligence (and maybe even lied) to hype the threat from Iraq in order to garner support for a questionable war.
The Congress's and the media's focus on the U.S. military's failure to find mass quantities of chemical and biological weapons after the war is quite curious, however. More important -- even if some such weapons are eventually found -- before the war the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency both reported to the administration that unless attacked, Iraq was unlikely to use such weapons or give them to terrorists. In a letter to Congress made public prior to the war, CIA Director George Tenet made this assessment fully known.
Yet senior Bush administration officials simply ignored the unveiling of embarrassing information and soldiered on -- apparently taking a page out of the Bill Clinton playbook during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. In repeated public statements, senior Bush officials portrayed Iraq's chemical and biological weapons as a threat to the United States, either directly or because they might be given to terrorists.
Subsequent events proved that the threat from Iraq proved to be even less than the intelligence community predicted. Iraq did not even use such "super weapons" in the most dire case imaginable for the Saddam Hussein Regime -- being overrun by a U.S. invasion. And now the U.S. can't seem to even find any of the vast quantities of chemical and biological agents promised by the administration.
The most troubling matter surrounding the war is not that the Bush administration has failed to uncover super weapons in Iraq; it is that the American public did not say "no" to the war (and to this day has not reversed its approval of the conflict) even when the war rationale by Bush administration officials was contradicted publicly by their own intelligence community.
This public acceptance of the war is even more curious given the sordid history of presidential lying to the American people about wars in the past. In 1846, the Polk administration sent U.S. troops into a disputed region along the Texas-Mexican border to provoke Mexico into firing the first shot in the Mexican War. In 1898, the McKinley administration used an explosion aboard the U.S. warship Maine in a Cuban harbor to take the country to war against Spain. Most historians now believe the explosion was a total accident. In the 1916 election, Woodrow Wilson promised the American people he would keep the United States out of war; in 1917, the United States entered World War I.
In 1940, also an election year, Franklin Roosevelt promised to keep the country out of World War II, while actively trying to start a naval war with the Germans in the Atlantic and imposing provocative economic sanctions on Japan in the Pacific. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson lied about an incident between U.S. and North Vietnamese ships in the Gulf of Tonkin to gain acceptance from Congress to escalate the war in Vietnam. But he conveniently waited until 1965, after the 1964 election, to do so. To justify Operation Desert Storm, the first Bush administration cited satellite photos showing Iraqi forces massing on the border between newly-occupied Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Curiously, simultaneous photographs from Russian satellites did not detect any military build-up. In all these cases, however, Americans trusted their government and later found such trust to be misplaced.
The alarming thing about Iraq War II is that the American people had plenty of evidence before the war -- from the president's own intelligence chief -- that the Bush administration was exaggerating the threat. In a republic, aren't the people ultimately responsible for the policies their government adopts in their name?
Most of the public seems to revel in its willingness to allow the U.S. Government -- like the empires of old -- to conduct "patriotic" wars of conquest for glory. The Founders of our nation -- who realized that foreign wars lead to many ill-effects, both domestically and abroad -- would find this misguided conception of "patriotism" very troubling indeed.
Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., and author of the book, "Putting 'Defense' Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World."