What we knew back then about Saddam

Matt Taibbi thinks it is silly to question Jeb Bush about what should have been done about Iraq “in the light of what we know now.”  Any sensible American knew enough then to realize what a bad idea invading Iraq was, he wrote.

The Iraq invasion was always an insane exercise in brainless jingoism that could only be intellectually justified after accepting a series of ludicrous suppositions.

dick-quizFirst you had to accept a fictional implied connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. Then you had to buy that this heavily-sanctioned secular dictator (and confirmed enemy of Islamic radicals) would be a likely sponsor of radical Islamic terror. Then after that you had to accept that Saddam even had the capability of supplying terrorists with weapons that could hurt us (the Bush administration’s analysts famously squinted so hard their faces turned inside out trying to see that one).

And then, after all that, you still had to buy that all of these factors together added up to a threat so imminent that it justified the immediate mass sacrifice of American and Iraqi lives.

It was absurd, a whole bunch of maybes piled on top of a perhaps and a theoretically possible or two. O.J.’s lawyers would have been embarrassed by it.

via Rolling Stone.

Taibbi went on to write that the reason Hillary Clinton, the editors of the New York Times and other liberals and Democrats supported the invasion of Iraq was cowardice.  They didn’t want to be seen as weak.

I think the answer is a little more complicated.  I think they were afraid that the invasion would succeed, and that they would look foolish for having opposed it.

I can’t condemn them too harshly for this because I thought this myself.   I recalled that the United States had started the Mexican War and the Spanish-American War based on lies, and that these had worked out well from the standpoint of American interests.

COST-OF-IRAQI thought that if the United States overthrew the tyrant Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi people would be so grateful to the United States that they would be willing to sell us oil and allow U.S. bases on their soil, and that the U.S. would be free of dependence on the unstable theocratic monarchy of Saudi Arabia.

This was a moral failure on my part—a belief that something good could come of lies and unprovoked violence.   It also was a failure of imagination—an inability to visualize the reality of war, which I never personally experienced.

For a long time I thought the U.S. failure in Iraq was due to the personal failings of George W. Bush, Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld—the failure to listen to expert military advice on the size of the occupation force that would be needed, the failure to either disarm Iraq troops or keep them under control, the failure to put Iraqis to work in rebuilding their country, and the waste and graft of American military contractors.

It took me some time to realize that the fatal flaw was engaging in unprovoked military aggression in the first place.   The Bush administration lied to justify the war, then continued the war to justify the lie.  There was no way to deal with the reality of the situation because that would have required admitting the truth.

Now I was not a policy maker or opinion leader back then.  I was just an old retired guy in upstate New York who in those days didn’t even have a blog.  But I had the rights and responsibilities of an American citizen.  If I and enough others like me had stood up for what is right, instead of thinking of ourselves as “realists,” uncounted deaths and untold suffering could have been avoided.


Forget What We Know Now: We Knew Then the Iraq War Was a Joke by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

The New Lie About Iraq by Jon Basil Utley for The American Conservative.

Blinkers and Lies by Paul Krugman for the New York Times.

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