In Warsaw last February, President Joe Biden condemned the lawless Russian invasion of Ukraine: “The idea that over 100,000 forces would invade another country—since World War II, nothing like that has happened.” One month later marked the 20th anniversary of the greatest US foreign policy debacle since Vietnam: America’s “war of choice” against Iraq, with 130,000 US soldiers invading the country to overthrow its government.
Given the scope of the folly, it is understandable that Biden would want to bury it in a memory hole. Although not as Orwellian as Biden, much of the commentary around the 20th anniversary similarly sought to explain or justify or diminish the calamity. This isn’t surprising, since few of the perpetrators, propagandists, and cheerleaders who drove us into the war suffered any consequence. Their reputations were re-burnished; their stature in America’s foreign policy establishment was retained. Bizarrely, those who led us into the disaster continue to dominate America’s major media platforms, while those who warned against it are largely pushed to the margins.
Putting a blush on the Iraq War is not an easy task. The Bush administration touted its preventive war doctrine, scorned the need for America, at the height of its unipolar moment, to seek authority from the United Nations, approval from NATO allies, or adherence to international law. Iraq was a target for neoconservatives long before 911, as the propagandists at the Project for the New American Century made clear. The push for the war began hours after 9/11, despite the fact that Saddam Hussein was an avowed enemy of Al Qaeda. The Bush administration campaigned to sell the threat, making it—as Secretary of State Dean Acheson wrote at the beginning of the Cold War—“clearer than the truth.” For message advice, the administration hired professional PR gurus—like Charlotte Beers, the Queen of Madison Avenue, straight from award-winning campaigns hawking Uncle Ben’s Rice and Head & Shoulders Shampoo. From the president on down, they sought to associate Saddam Hussein with 9/11, although they had no evidence of a connection that did not exist. Then they focused on the threat posed by Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. To overcome skeptical CIA analysts, Vice President Dick Cheney formed his own intelligence group, while über-lobbyist John Rendon invented an Iraqi National Congress headed by the nefarious financier Ahmed Chalabi, who provided “intelligence” on demand.
Despite the fearmongering, the administration faced the largest demonstrations ever organized against a war before it began—what The New York Times termed “a new superpower.” Germany, France, and NATO refused support; the UN denied sanction. But reporters and editorialists for the mainstream media echoed the administration’s claims; liberal pundits rushed to show their patriotic fervor. With few exceptions, liberal politicians signed on to preserve their “credibility.” The daily barrage of distortions and deceptions worked: on the eve of the war, two-thirds of Americans thought Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11, and nearly four-fifths thought he was on the verge of having nuclear weapons.
Read the full piece in The Nation.