Those who questioned the case for war have won the fight over history. But that won’t bring back the tens of thousands of lives lost.
One night, more than a decade ago, I was a guest on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News show along with Bill Kristol, the godfather (or son-of-the-godfather) of the neoconservative movement. The subject: What to do about Iraq? The Bush administration had begun pounding the drums for war, claiming, as Vice President Dick Cheney had put it, that there was “no doubt” tyrant Saddam Hussein was “amassing” weapons of mass destruction “to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.” As one of the few political analysts on television to question the rush to war, I noted that WMD inspections in Iraq could be useful in preventing Saddam from reaching the “finish line” in developing nuclear weapons. Kristol responded by exclaiming , “He’s past that finish line!
He’s past the finish line!”Saddam wasn’t—as it turned out, he wasn’t even in the race. He possessed no WMD nor any significant program to develop them. And his repressive regime had no meaningful connections with Al Qaeda. Yet in those dreadful months before the March 19, 2003, invasion of Iraq, the cheerleaders for war inhabited a place of privilege within the media. They could say anything—and get away with it. Kristol could declare —as he did the day before our exchange—that a war in Iraq “could have terrifically good effects throughout the Middle East,” face little challenge, and gain plenty of debate-shaping attention.
There was at that time a sort of madness within the political-media world. With the nation still under the shadow of 9/11, prominent journalists had jettisoned the most crucial of traits in our profession: skepticism. At one point, I debated David Brooks, then of the Weekly Standard, over the necessity of launching a war against Iraq. He summed up his support for the endeavor by asking: Don’t you believe the people of Iraq desire democracy just as much as we do?
I was surprised by his naiveté. I was no expert on Iraq, but it was obvious to me that invading and possibly occupying a nation half a globe away could end up rather messy, and that a universal craving for democracy might not trump all else. It seemed to me that Brooks was relying on fairy tale analysis, projecting simplistic assumptions onto an extremely complicated situation. (Sunni, Shiite—how many advocates for war knew the difference ?) Yet this was all Brooks needed to champion a war that would cost the lives of nearly 4,500 US troops, injure 32,000 service members, and add $3 trillion to the national credit card—and leave millions of Iraqi civilians displaced and more than 100,000 dead.
David Corn, of Mother Jones, is an MSNBC political analyst. Read his entire piece here.
Tune into Hardball tonight at 5 and 7 p.m. ET. Corn will be on to discuss the 10th anniversary of the U.S. and coalition invasion of Iraq.