On the eve, then, of the November 2002 Congressional elections, the administration went to the Senate to get blank-check authority to attack Iraq. In one of the most shameful betrayals of responsibility in their party's history -- as noted by Sen. Robert Byrd at the time -- Democratic Senators, led by Tom Daschle, guaranteed by use of a cloture vote that there would be no actual debate on this issue. True, they were being lied to about the "threat" Iraq posed to the U.S.,* and -- crucially -- being assured that the whole thing was a bluff: that the intention was not to go to war, but to have a credible threat to tame Saddam Hussein. Be that as it may, seeking an electoral advantage they promptly and predictably lost, Senate Democrats voted to give the President the authority to go to war. Now the Congress was out of the mix; the administration could, and did, make all the subsequent decisions on its own.
They knew this would still be a tough sell: the religious loonies in Al Qaida were one thing, secular strongman Saddam Hussein clearly another. As best we understand it today, the "White House Iraq Group," with the support of VP Dick Cheney's office, began to make extraordinary efforts to sell the U.S. public on the two excuses -- known to be false, but also to be compelling if only people believed them -- which would virtually guarantee at least American support: the insistence that Hussein was in league with Al Qaida, and that he had, or shortly would have, nuclear (or, for the President, "nukular") weapons. This, then, became the constant drumbeat, from at least the January 2003 State of the Union Address forward: the "smoking gun" could come in the form of a "mushroom cloud" over an American city...hence war was unavoidable.
I have trouble believing that any policy professional, Democrat or Republican, actually found this credible, but man oh man did it sell to the ignorant masses**...particularly once the administration's pet reporters, most especially Scooter Libby's*** pal Judith Miller of the New York Times, began running fairy tales from Cheney's pet Iranian spy, Achmed Chalabi, on the front page -- e.g. on the very day that administration officials could go onto Sunday talk shows and say, Look, it's not just us!, the Times says so, too!...omitting to add, "thanks to that cock and bull story we fed them."
There were glitches; the forged Niger uranium "evidence" fooled nobody, particularly after Bush I's Iraq ambassador, Joseph Wilson, began exploding the possibility that, forgery or no, the story could be true (allegedly leading to the administration's deliberately blowing substantial Agency anti-WMD operations by way of revenge).**** But on the whole, American opinion proved a "slam-dunk."
The final remaining complication was world opinion, and Secretary of State Colin Powell -- who had wisely, but unsuccessfully, opposed this whole enterprise as disastrously unworkable -- pushed for an attempt to get U.N. approval, both for political cover, and for the additional troop strength and money such approval could provide. On this one, VP Dick Cheney and friends lost: in the face of near-universal begging from U.S. policy professionals, U.N. approval was indeed sought. In went the weapons inspectors...finding, to the amazement of nearly everyone (though not of former weapons inspector team head Scott Ritter), no evidence whatsoever of any such weapons. True, biological weapons are extremely easy to hide, and virtually everyone assumed there were at least leftover chemical weapons someplace, but time was wasting: the brutal Iraqi summer was approaching, and the decision had long since been made to attack no later than spring.
March 2003, then, and despite substantial world (and U.S.) opposition, Iraq was a Go.
In case my epigram didn't make it clear, my own problem with all this is not the lying -- which, absent having to defend against attack, is how governments traditionally get their peoples to go to war -- or the total absence of WMD's in Iraq, or even, alone, the criminal way these guys go about their business. To my mind the biggest crime here is in the prosecution of the war itself. It pleases me not at all to note that -- leaving aside the lunacy of attempting it in the first place -- this operation was doomed to failure from the start, thanks to how it was handled by these bozos. They went in without sufficient troop strength to suppress the predictable insurgency (and forced out the general, and others, who warned them of this in advance), tore up the huge post-operational reconstruction plan that had, in fact, been prepared, and to top it off, gave all the reconstruction contracts to crooked friends of Dick Cheney's, rather than to the Iraqis themselves...this while continuing to cut the taxes which would have mitigated at least some of the war's staggering financial cost. Some of this, too, comes down to "cocaine government" (as defined in Part 1): I think they really believed that this operation was simply (Bush I's) Panama writ large, and that because Saddam Hussein was (as everyone agrees) such a vile shit, his people would unite in joy to see him gone and give us anything we asked in return. Virtually no policy professional believed this; even fewer military professionals did. But these guys did, and indeed (per another pet reporter, Bob Woodward) the President felt he had a direct promise from Almighty God that it would all work like a charm -- even without casualties!, according to an astonished Pat Robertson (and for future reference, when your Jesus rap staggers even evangelist Pat Robertson?, dude, you're in serious trouble).
Long story short (finally!): everybody else was right, the handful of all-powerful loonies was wrong, and we are clearly -- almost three years later -- well into an Iraqi civil war which can, absent something approaching divine intervention, only end up benefiting Chalabi's Iranian masters, and might conceivably succeed in creating a new "Al Qaidastan"***** in the heart of the middle east...shortly, I believe, to have Iranian nuclear weapons at its disposal.
Let me say that again. While we can fantasize that the Iraqis will suddenly "get it," wave U.S. flags, and do as they're told -- or, failing that, can hope that we're "only" looking at a years-long, twenty-first century Vietnam War (fought with what troops?) -- we are now facing the real possibility, at least, that there will shortly be a huge, two-state, Al Qaida-friendly nation in the heart of the middle east: bent on jihad, funded by vast oil reserves, and armed with nukes. Something made far likelier by the administration's plan to withdraw at least some troops, if only for cosmetic purposes, before the 2006 Congressional elections; something which would, in any case, have been absolutely impossible, had George W. Bush not insisted on invading and occupying Iraq.
To say that this is the most spectacular foreign policy failure in United States history is certainly true, but I think understates the case. I think that in world history only the staunch European support for Adolf Hitler -- as the "reasonable alternative to Communism" -- comes even close.
Okay. So...what's next?
I don't know. Infinitely worse, I don't think anybody else knows, either, least of all the maroons who got us into this mess...and continue, even now!, to cut taxes, and insist everything's fine, and demonize their "enemies" (including, much as I disagree with his proposal, patriotic, right-wing, decorated war heroes like Rep. John Murtha), rather than, at long last, actually change course and begin to defend their country. As I said at the time, near as I can tell our last chance -- not a particularly good one, but the last -- was to install a new face in the White House in 2004, reach out for world support, and hope for the best. For whatever reason, that didn't happen.
Let us pray.
93 93/93 -- AJ
* Interesting side-note: why did Senate Democrats believe Hussein might be an actual threat to the U.S. this time? One possibility: unlike most Americans, presumably they were privy to the number of Iraqi casualties in the 1991 Gulf War -- almost universally suppressed here, but called "stratospheric" by one encyclopedia's year-end roundup at the time. Former Navy Secretary John Lehman privately estimated them at perhaps 300,000 killed (our own losses being in the hundreds); the Red Crescent (Islamic version of the Red Cross), at the time, gave a similar number, some 70,000 of whom (they estimated) were children. Given all that -- and that decade of sanctions, also heavily punishing to children -- an Iraqi thirst for revenge was far from out of the question...which could help explain the Dems' concerns, but would arguably render utterly baffling the expectation that we'd be welcomed as liberators. Anyhow, no way to know: there are still no official Iraqi casualty figures for the Gulf War; a number which Colin Powell noted at the time, rather chillingly, did not "interest" him.
** And why not? It's not up to the public to know anything about foreign policy; they're busy earning a living, raising their kids, living their lives. The fault lies entirely with policymakers, opinion shapers, and the press corps. (At least until the 2004 elections, after which Ted Rall has argued that Bush supporters should be forced to wear t-shirts reading "I Voted For Pie-Hole," so the rest of us know who to blame. ;) )
*** I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby: VP Cheney's disgraced Chief of Staff, currently under federal indictment for obstruction of justice, perjury, and misleading the FBI.
**** Or worse. The administration also, in a separate action, blew some effective investigation of terrorist financing, among several other such incidents. Scary stuff.
***** We have just seen, in Jordan, the first cross-border Al Qaida attack mounted from inside Iraq. Goddamn it to hell. :/ Note, btw, that after this attack Jordan immediately fired its failed national security team. Would God Shrubby had done the same after 9/11...rather than, say, promoting them to high office (Condi Rice &c.), or giving them the Presidential Medal of Freedom.