-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
There are an enormous number of myths about the War on Terror and specifically the invasion of Iraq which are simply repeated and circulated without question or thought. Most of them arose during the invasion its self, primarily from speculation by news sources and Democratic Party talking heads trying to undermine the popularity of the president and the war effort.
An unfortunate aspect of human psychology is that if enough people repeat something forcefully enough, long enough, even strong willed folks begin to doubt themselves. Can all those people be wrong and me right? Can it really be false if all these authoritative sources keep saying it? Who am I to march against the crowd, they all say it is so, is it not arrogant of me to disagree?
So the Big Lie, as it has been called in the past, grows and takes hold. Not because of evidence, logic, or truth, but because it becomes common knowledge, something everyone says and assents to without most having any idea about its validity. In time, even the people who know it to be untrue - or at least reasonably doubtful - begin to believe it.
And worse, because that untruth becomes a new factoid, it then becomes a baseline for other untruths to be built off of. Eventually a whole structure of lies and misconceptions becomes established, and people rely on that to gain and hold power. Questioning or undermining one part of that throws doubt on all of it, threatening their power and income, so they fight back, hard. It becomes less about the facts than about personal survival and achievement. Instead of arguing for the truth, the debate becomes personal, and nasty.
Blogger would deny me the bandwidth and memory to contain all of the lies, arguments and clarifications that would be required to do an exhaustive detonation of all these myths. Entire books have been written about many of them, trying to clear up the mythology. Wikipedia for a decade has been a battleground on the issue, with attempts to clear things up and attempts to muddy the waters and maintain the myths.
All I'll do here is a quick series of clarifications, taking each myth and trying to straighten them out fast and with minimum information for the sake of clarity, space, and ease of reading. Each deserves significantly more length, but by this time people are so sick of the arguments its just not worth it. Please bear with me, though. The entire body of misconceptions around the Iraq invasion is one of the greatest myths of our times.
Myth 1: The Rush to War. The fact that this even exists proves the insanity of the entire debate. A rush to war is when someone pushes and pushes to get into the conflict as fast as possible, taking weeks or days at most. A rush to war is what happened when President Obama over a golf trip decided to attack and bomb Libya. President Bush first mentioned the problem with Iraq's terrorist ties in the State of the Union address on January 29, 2002. From that point on, the administration began building a case to invade Iraq to deal with many outstanding issues (see below). The actual invasion took place after bringing the case to the American people, the US congress, NATO, and the United Nations repeatedly and the first troops attacked finally in March 20, 2003. Now, perhaps 10 months is a rush to you, but that's longer than a pregnancy, and its no rush to me. There was no "rush to war." If anything, the effort took too long.
Myth 2: Daddy's War. Critics have claimed, among other things, that Bush only wanted to invade Iraq because he was mad at them for trying to assassinate his father, and considered it unfinished business. Bush was portrayed as a petulant child, trying to get the bad man who hurt daddy. However, the case for the invasion of Iraq was laid out for month after month, and the attempted assassination of former President Bush the elder was never brought up. The assassination attempt was certainly cause for some action which the Clinton administration never took, but it wasn't used as a pretext for war, except by critics.
Myth 3: Iraq and 9/11. Critics also claimed that Bush lied, saying that Iraq was tied to 9/11. They said that Bush claimed Iraq was behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks, so we had to invade there, too. The fact is, that never happened. President Bush never said any such thing, he never implied it. None of his administration ever made such a claim. All they said was that global terrorism was out of hand and resulted in things like the 9/11 attack in 2001, and that Iraq was a major hotbed of terrorism that had to be dealt with to stop these sorts of attacks. The closest thing anyone can find to such a statement is this by President Bush:
“Oh, indeed there is a tie between Iraq and what happened on 9/11. It's not that Saddam Hussein was somehow himself and his regime involved in 9/11, but, if you think about what caused 9/11, it is the rise of ideologies of hatred that lead people to drive airplanes into buildings in New York.”
President Bush also noted “We have no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the 11 September attacks.” The 9/11 commission said that there were no direct ties, but that there were shadowy background connections, and in a NPR report during the Clinton administration, a man claiming to have been a terrorist trainer outlined a training camp near Baghdad which was used to train terrorists on taking over airplanes using only knives which is highly suggestive (and the CIA has photography of the training camp). However, the intelligence and data we have indicates no direct connection between the Iraqi government and the 9/11 plot beyond a probable presence at some meetings discussing the possible action.
Myth 4: No Terror. Another claim is that Iraq had no ties to terrorism, that it was an evil place, but the evil was entirely contained and internal. The problem with this claim is that the facts all are against it. It is known for a fact that Saddam Hussein personally paid families of palestinian suicide bombers checks to blow up Israelis. It is known that the country harbored several terrorist fugitives and major wanted terrorist individuals. It is known that there were terrorist training camps in Iraq as noted above. Iraq was indeed a hotbed of terrorist activity, training, protection, and funding. Related to this is the myth that Iraq had no ties to al`Qaeda, which is utterly false, as even the 9/11 commission noted.
Myth 5: All a sinister plot. Other claims include that the whole Iraq invasion was planned out by an evil cabal of men including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz back in 1998 at a think tank called the Project for the New American Century. 1998, you'll recall, was when President Clinton launched a series of airstrikes on Iraq and congress passed a resolution making regime change in Iraq official US policy: a lot of think tanks were working on how to bring that about and presenting them to the president. In the 2000 election, both Al Gore and George W Bush spoke repeatedly and openly about the need to remove Saddam Hussein from power. The only disagreement was on how to bring this about, not whether it should be done. 9/11 solidified that argument in most peoples' minds.
Myth 6: War over WMD. We only supported the invasion because the Bush administration claimed there were WMD in Iraq, cried the Democrats, most of Europe, and various people on the left. The fact is, WMD were only a small part of the reasons behind the invasion. There were 14 reasons that President Bush laid out to the American people and the UN:
- To prevent the proliferation of WMD
- To bring about regime change as American policy required
- To prosecute the war on terror
- Because of over a decade of violations of the UN's resolutions
- Because of Saddam Hussein's tyranny and human rights violations
- Because of genocide against various ethnic groups in Iraq
- Because weapons inspections were being blocked and delayed
- To free the Iraqui people
- Because Iraq has ties to al`Qaeda
- Because Iraq continues to be an imminent threat to the region
- To disarm the nation's enormous military (3rd largest on the planet at the time)
- To deal with the continual violations of cease fire agreements in 1991
- To preserve peace around the world
- To bring democracy to the region and help transform it
Only one of those was about WMD. The only reason it came up so much is because it was questioned and argued so much, because the evidence was doubted and attacked. Nobody questioned that Iraq had WMD at least in the past because they used the weapons both against Iran and their own people. The United Nations cataloged and identified stockpiles after Desert Storm. But the WMD was just one reason.
Myth 7: Illegal War. The strangest part of this one is that many of the people who claimed it were the ones who voted for it to take place to begin with. The War Powers Act was fulfilled when congress passed a resolution giving the president the goahead to use military force to fight terrorism. The UN passed a resolution requiring Iraq to comply with inspections and previous UN resolutions and the deadline passed without that happening. Even if the UN's complaints about the US acting without their direct command was valid, it is irrelevant to US law, which supercedes all outside laws in the country. If you want to know what an illegal war looks like, again, turn to President Obama's attack on Libya without bothering with the UN or congress whatsoever.
Myth 8: Unilateral Cowboys. This myth claims that President Bush acted alone, he ignored allies, didn't build a coalition like his father, didn't create a multinational force, and attacked Iraq like some rash, bloodthirsty cowboy. The problem with this is that its all a flat out lie. The Coalition of the Willing included several dozen countries, multiple appeals to the United Nations, and troops on the ground from several different nations. Unilateral is when you decide to bomb the heck out of Libya on your own and do it without bothering to consult congress or the UN. Mind you I don't necessarily think that's a bad approach, I just want to point out the facts.
Myth 9: Mission Accomplished. The Mission Accomplished banner drove the left berserk. It wasn't accomplished! We didn't leave until a decade later! Look at all the fighting! AIIIIIEIIEEIEIEEEE!!!! The problem is that the banner wasn't for President Bush, it was for the military. The banner was put up to celebrate the historically shocking swift defeat of the Iraqi military and the stunning defeat of the Iraqi government in a matter of days. The Iraq war was won in 2003 as I pointed out in a previous post on this subject; the rebuilding and pacification of insurgents and dealing with foreign terrorists took longer.
Myth 10: Missing WMD. There was no WMD! It was all a lie! This of course depends heavily on Myth 6, the lie that all the invasion was about is WMD. However, its also false to say that we found nothing. Unfortunately, statements by President Bush and a misunderstanding of the Dulfer Report have contributed to this myth and its frustrating (one of the things that most annoyed me about President Bush the younger is that he'd back off of some truth too easily to mollify critics and extend a hand of cooperation to people who'd slap it aside and spit on him). The truth is, WMD were found in Iraq, just not the huge stockpiles we know that the nation had. In all the screaming about this, not once could I ever get such a person to respond to where they thought those weapons had gone. Even Wikileaks released classified informationv showing that WMD had been found, quite a bit, actually. A lot of it was decayed and old, but it was still there, and the resolutions required Iraq to show and destroy it all. Its a lie to say we didn't find any.
Myth 11: Civilian Casualties. Due to hysterical lies by the Lancet magazine and several other outlets, incredibly inflated civilian casualty numbers have been thrown around. They're outrageously high, partly due to bad methodology, partly due to a willingness to treat terrorists as civilians, and partly due to just flat out partisan hatred of President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. I and others have repeatedly torn this idiotic myth to tatters, and in fact you don't actually hear it come up very often. Its just tough to watch movies or read fiction from the time period because it comes up again and again without question. Too many civilians died in the war and rebuilding, largely because of the cowardly and pathetic wretches we fought against who'd hide among the civilian population and use them as human shields. However, the coalition military worked harder than any army in the history of mankind to prevent and reduce casualties, so they were incredibly low for such a long, deadly operation.
Myth 12: Military Casualties. Although you don't hear much about this under a Democrat president, the left used to cry about "grim milestones" and military casualties, angrily gritting their teeth that the military would not let the press film coffins being flown into the country. The truth is, again, military casualties (on the good guys side at least) were unbelievably low. As I wrote about during the worst of the death rates, the rate of death for soldiers was actually lower than the rate of civilian deaths during peace time, and unbelievably low for a military operation.
Myth 13: The Quagmire/Duration. This myth relies on the argument that we were at war from 2003 until 2011. That's an amazingly long time, longer than even Europe was involved in WW2 (roughly 1939 to 1944). The problem is that as I noted above, the waronly took a few weeks, but the rebuilding process took longer. As rebuilding efforts went, it was fairly short, but the continual attacks on Iraq by Iranian and Syrian terrorists sent in to destabilize the country and prevent democracy from arising in the region (especially non-Muslim democracy) extended and complicated that effort. And, because there was no shocking obliteration of the nation and "war weariness" in the population where they just get tired of fighting and want it over, the speed of the conquest actually worked against our rebuilding efforts. Eventually the weariness of the "insurgency" and terrorism set in, and a shift in focus from firebase missions to presence in the population under the "surge" made a rapid and dramatic difference in the country. It just took a while.
Myth 14: The Sanctions were working. This is one that UN-philes bring up a lot. Diplomacy was working! We could have done it without guns! Give peas a chance! The problem is that the sanctions were working... for Saddam Hussein. Not only was he able to continue building up his military through nations who didn't' care about the sanctions such as France, Russia, and China, but through the Oil for Food program he was able to bribe the UN and figures around the world to let him have anything he wanted. Hussein wasn't suffering a bit, but he had an excuse to blame for his peoples' misery. And further, support for the sanctions was waning, and arguments for just lifting them were starting to build up. It is likely they'd have mostly ended in a year or two anyway.
Myth 15: The Iraqis were better off under Hussein. Michael Moore loves this one, and his images of kids flying kites and happy shiny people under Saddam Hussein compared to horror and misery without him was a major part of his excrable Fahrenheit 9/11 faux documentary. But its wrong on so many levels that it is difficult to express in human language. Just in terms of infrastructure the country was rapidly far better off than before the war, and all those children imprisoned and tortured to control the parents were freed. The nation is much better off now without a horrific, murderous dictator and his sadistic family.
Myth 16: The War for Oil. You don't see this one much any more, but it was loud and continuous during the war, and once in a while some loon will fire it off again, so I wanted to tack it on. It is abundantly obvious without any shred of rational or factual refutation that the US did not invade Iraq for cheap oil. Most of the oil contracts went to other nations, principally China. Now, personally I would have liked the war cost to have been paid off in cheap oil contracts, but those were negotiated away as part of the deal to forgive Saddam Hussein's billions of dollars in loans so Iraq could start clean as a new nation.
And that's enough for now. Well, almost.
One more myth for free: Iraq was not about nation building. It simply was not, and I keep reading right-leaning pundits criticize President Bush for nation building. I'm sorry but that's absolutely false. I know where it comes from, and I sympathize to a point, but its wrong.
Nation building is when you attack a nation in order to fix it, as in Somalia or the former Yugoslavia republics. Its when you take over a nation simply to remove its government and install a new one. In Iraq we invaded an enemy to destroy its military and end the terrorist threat, finishing up a war started in 1991. Then we rebuild the demolished nation as the US has been doing for almost a century now.
Its a subtle difference, but an important one. We fix what we break in the US - or at least we used to. We can't afford it any longer, and probably there's no will in the country to do it any more, especially as the people we helped rebuild tend to turn on us and spit afterward.
And that's the sad truth of the matter: Iraq did end up a miserable failure in one sense - the effort to democratize the region failed because all the efforts to follow up on the idea and the will to stand strong and oppose tyranny faded with the election of President Obama. So the chain reaction and the liberty that President Bush and others envisioned for the region took place... and ended up as Muslim dictatorships.
Would they have been so anyway? We'll never know now.
*This is part of the Common Knowledge series: things we know that ain't so.