Will the Circle Be Unbroken?
Twenty years after the Iraq invasion: The war may be over, but the War Party carries on.
Last year, former President George W. Bush vehemently condemned the “decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq.” Bush had blundered in a speech condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He realized his mistake, mentioned Putin, but then added, “But Iraq, too.” The audience at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas laughed. The humor was probably lost on the families of 4,000 American servicemen and the 200,000 Iraqi civilians who perished in the conflict.
On the twentieth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, it is time to hail the courage and wisdom of the founders and editors of The American Conservative. TAC took the moral high ground that the War Party scorned as if it were a Superfund hazardous waste site. TAC was vilified but never flinched.
After the 9/11 attacks, many Americans became enraged at anyone who did not swear allegiance to George W. Bush’s antiterrorism crusade. People who denied the assertion that “they hate us for our freedoms” automatically became enemies of freedom. I was chagrined to see both conservatives and libertarians cast principles overboard to join the War Party against Iraq. I was heckled by libertarian audiences for condemning the war and the attendant torture programs.
The mainstream media retrospectives on the Iraq War will ignore or downplay the brazen systemic deceit that paved the path to that catastrophe. From January 2003 onward, Bush constantly portrayed the United States as an innocent victim of Saddam Hussein’s imminent aggression. Bush repeatedly claimed that war was being “forced upon us”—a scam on par with Lyndon Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin charade. After the invasion commenced, the pretexts for the war collapsed like houses of cards. Bush’s falsehoods on Iraq proved far more toxic than anything in Saddam’s arsenal. But the exposure of the official lies did not deter Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from equating criticizing the Iraq War with appeasing Adolf Hitler. As I wrote for USA Today on August 14, 2003, “Whether Bush and his appointees will be held personally liable for their falsehoods is a grave test for American democracy.”
But the media was uncritically supported and championed the rush to war. In 2002 and 2003, the Washington Post buried pre-war articles questioning the Bush team’s hysterical allegations on Iraq. Thomas Ricks, the paper’s award-winning Pentagon correspondent, complained, “There was an attitude among editors: ‘Look, we’re going to war, why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?’” Instead, before the war started, the Post ran twenty-seven editorials in favor of invasion and 140 front-page articles supporting the Bush administration’s case for attacking Saddam.
Television networks out-groveled print media. CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan boasted that he went to the Pentagon shortly before the invasion of Iraq and got “a big thumbs-up” from the generals he planned to use as cheerleaders for the war. Before the war, almost all the broadcast news stories on Iraq originated with the federal government. NBC news anchor Katie Couric stated that there was pressure from “corporations who own where we work and from the government itself to really squash any kind of dissent or any kind of questioning of it.” Bush made “232 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and another twenty-eight false statements about Iraq’s links to Al Qaeda,” as the Center for Public Integrity reported. But Bush and his war masterminds continued to be treated deferentially by most of the media.
Despite the “Mission Accomplished” photo-op on a U.S. aircraft carrier, the easy victory quickly turned into a bloody quagmire. Naturally, the Washington establishment exonerated everyone involved. In the summer of 2004, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report that effectively claimed that everyone was a “victim of group think.” But TAC was never hornswoggled by the prevailing buncombe.
The Iraq War codified American presidents’ prerogative to inflict no-fault carnage on the world. Pundits and laptop bombardiers who clamored for war rose to greater fame regardless of the fiascos that followed military intervention. “Extremism” was redefined to include anyone who opposed launching catastrophic wars based on secret (and usually false) evidence.
I had hoped the election of Obama in 2008 would end the pro-war mania prevailing in Washington, but no such luck. After attending a Tea Party rally in Rockville, Maryland, in 2010, I wrote, “Many ‘tea party’ activists staunchly oppose big government, except when it is warring, wiretapping, or waterboarding.” Speakers bitterly complained that Obama gave orders to cease using “enhanced interrogation” on detainees. That piece, published by the Christian Science Monitor, concluded: “America needs real champions of freedom—not poorly informed Republican accomplices.” Tea Party zealots denounced me on Yahoo.com as a Nazi, communist, traitor, “Lier” [sic], and satan [sic].
Obama stunned observers by “out-Bushing” Dubya by proclaiming a presidential prerogative to assassinate Americans who were secretly designated as terrorist suspects. I thumped that policy in TAC in late 2010 and again in a 2011 Christian Science Monitor article that spurred readers to call “to add James Bovard to the [killing] list.” Four years later, my criticisms of Attorney General Eric Holder for his role in the program prompted the Justice Department to pressure USA Today to cease publishing my articles.
Unfortunately, exposing the truth about the Iraq War remains far more dangerous than any presidentially approved war crimes. Julian Assange is sitting in a British prison awaiting extradition to the United States for a kangaroo court trial and a practically guaranteed sentence of life in prison. Assange and Wikileaks did more to expose U.S. war crimes in Iraq than did any American newspaper. But the media that used Assange’s leaks have done little to champion his cause and his freedom. Assange is charged with “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.” What about all the politicians and military officials who conspired to deceive Americans about the Iraq War?
What lessons did American politicians learn from the Iraq War? The U.S. government has dropped an iron curtain around itself, making it far more difficult for Americans to learn of their government’s machinations abroad. Federal agencies are now creating trillions of pages of new secrets each year. Each page is backed by a federal fist waiting to crush anyone who makes an unauthorized disclosure.
That secrecy is the key to the Biden administration’s conniving to drag America deeper into the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Biden buttresses U.S. intervention with the same “good versus evil” tripe that Bush used to varnish the Iraq War. But White House and State Department proclamations on Ukraine have become as absurd as the pronouncements of Baghdad Bob in 2003.
The parallels between Iraq and Ukraine are increasing by the month. Biden, like Bush before him, touts his intervention as saving freedom. But the U.S. military shut down Iraqi newspapers that criticized the American occupation, and the Zelensky government brutally suppresses opposition media. Bush and Biden claimed a human rights halo to justify their policies. But the invasion of Iraq was quickly followed by creation of a torture regime at Abu Ghraib, and Ukrainian government forces have brazenly tortured captured Russian soldiers. Bush and Biden both invoked saving democracy to sanctify their policies. But the U.S. government ran rigged elections in Iraq after the invasion, and Zelensky has outlawed his political opposition. As with the Iraq War, the president’s political allies in Congress have been mindlessly obedient and rushed to vilify anyone who criticizes the cost of U.S. aid to Ukraine.
And, as during the Iraq War, most of the American media shamelessly defers to the official storyline. Once again, TAC is doggedly fighting to expose the perils of permitting Biden to drag the nation into World War III.
In his 2004 State of the Union address, President Bush proclaimed that, thanks to the invasion of Iraq, “no one can now doubt the word of America.” But the lies and follies of the Iraq War earned the U.S. government distrust and contempt from much of the world. Unfortunately, inside the Beltway, the political establishment still feels entitled to trample both the truth and peace as it pleases.