Who is lying about Iraq?

Norman Podhoretz writing in Commentary Magazine asks the question, “Who is lying about Iraq?” Everyone who believes the statement that President Bush lied to get us into war in Iraq should read this article:

Among the many distortions, misrepresentations, and outright falsifications that have emerged from the debate over Iraq, one in particular stands out above all others. This is the charge that George W. Bush misled us into an immoral and/or unnecessary war in Iraq by telling a series of lies that have now been definitively exposed.

What makes this charge so special is the amazing success it has enjoyed in getting itself established as a self-evident truth even though it has been refuted and discredited over and over again by evidence and argument alike. In this it resembles nothing so much as those animated cartoon characters who, after being flattened, blown up, or pushed over a cliff, always spring back to life with their bodies perfectly intact. Perhaps, like those cartoon characters, this allegation simply cannot be killed off, no matter what.

Nevertheless, I want to take one more shot at exposing it for the lie that it itself really is. Although doing so will require going over ground that I and many others have covered before, I hope that revisiting this well-trodden terrain may also serve to refresh memories that have grown dim, to clarify thoughts that have grown confused, and to revive outrage that has grown commensurately dulled.

Read the whole article here.

UPDATE: Roger Simon says:

After reading Norman’s article, what I first thought about was this – If I were an Iraqi citizen thankful for my freedom from dictatorship (the vast majority, I imagine), I would despise Senator Harry Reid. Reid is either hugely immoral or butt stupid. Take your choice.

3 thoughts on “Who is lying about Iraq?

  1. Gary,I’m very troubled about the whole war in Iraq. Who isn’t. Initially, I supported the President, but for different reasons. Now I think he and his administration have bungled the effort entirely.What I offer here is from the Sunday Oct 30 NY Times Book Review. The author reviews two new books about the war; one from the left, one from the right, both offering rationales for support of the war.It’s not quite, but close to, a “counter” to the Podhoretz article:October 30, 2005‘The Right War?’ and ‘A Matter of Principle’: Everybody Is a Realist NowBy JAMES TRAUBON the whole, it has been a very satisfying postwar period for opponents of the American engagement in Iraq. I have agreed to pay off a bet with a friend who had rather gleefully predicted a steady flow of body bags from the battlefield. She’s been vindicated as well on the W.M.D. front, for, like quite a few people with no apparent access to intelligence data, she “always knew” that Saddam Hussein no longer had his weapons of mass destruction, just as she always knew the whole venture would miscarry. Well, I tip my hat to her foresight; the news from Iraq has in fact been so hellish that many doubtful supporters of the war – the 55-45ers, as I like to call us – have been forced to rethink their calculus.But the bloodshed and the chaos, and the Bush administration’s hubris and sometimes unfathomable nonchalance, have obscured the powerful case for war that existed as of March 2003, when hostilities began, and that still survives, if barely, today. And though the stunning failure to find any evidence that Hussein had reconstituted his weapons programs is taken as a trump by the war’s opponents, the case for war did not actually depend on the threat of imminent attack – even if the White House said otherwise. Virtually all of the essays collected in “The Right War? The Conservative Debate on Iraq,” edited by Gary Rosen, the managing editor of Commentary, and in “A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq,” edited by Thomas Cushman, the editor in chief of The Journal of Human Rights, were written after October 2003, when the weapons inspector David Kay put the kibosh on President Bush’s prewar claims. And while several of the authors closest to the administration try to fudge the facts, and others have in fact changed their minds, most argue that Hussein’s reckless expansionism, and his peerless brutality, justified the war even without vats of anthrax.“Saddam’s regime itself was the problem,” as William Kristol and Robert Kagan write in a 2004 essay reprinted in “The Right War?,” “above and beyond his weapons capabilities.” They note that the policy of regime change began with the Clinton administration, and they quote Sandy Berger, Clinton’s national security adviser, as asserting that Hussein was not only a menace to the region but “a source of inspiration for those who equate violence with power and compromise with surrender.” The terrorist attacks of 9/11 increased the urgency to act, they say, not because Hussein was in any sense their author but because the bolt from the blue forced policy makers to focus on “the possible nexus between terrorism and Iraq’s weapons program.”Could we afford to guess wrong, given the evidence of Hussein’s intentions and capacities? Jeffrey Herf, a historian whose essay appears in “A Matter of Principle,” a collection of articles making the “liberal internationalist” case for war, observes that a pre-emptive war against Germany in 1938 might have prevented World War II and the Holocaust, though it would have been roundly criticized since Hitler had not yet shown his hand.Herf’s argument is indistinguishable from many that appear in the conservative collection “The Right War?” In general, one thinks of the conservative rationale for war as Hobbesian – a matter of self-preservation in a chaotic world – and the liberal one as Kantian, an acceptance of moral obligations to others. And it’s true that the authors represented in “The Right War?” put more stock in “good for us,” while those in “A Matter of Principle” ground their claims more in “good for them.” But it’s mostly a matter of emphasis. Kristol and Kagan, for example, accept the humanitarian argument for war in Iraq, while Christopher Hitchens, a polemical warrior of the left, at least until very recently, argues that the “Islamofascism” embodied in Saddam Hussein’s Baath regime represents an existential threat the West must be prepared to confront and destroy.A decade ago, the question of humanitarian intervention, above all in Bosnia, split both left and right into antiwar “realists” and prowar moralists, or “Wilsonians.” What is clear from these two volumes is that 9/11 fused the two arguments into one, for enemies embodying a totalitarian and obscurantist culture had reached out to deal us a terrible blow. This Islamofascist culture was as dangerous to us as to its domestic victims. President Bush, who entered office as a realist vowing to put “interests” ahead of “values,” became the chief exponent of a revived Wilsonianism. “We support . . . democracy in the Middle East,” he said, “because it is a founding principle, and because it is in our interest.”Debate on the war is now, in effect, organized around this view – whether it is valid, whether it can be applied to Iraq, whether the Bush administration has hopelessly botched the execution. “Democracy promotion” has cleaved opinion on both sides, as humanitarian intervention did before. On the right, the “paleos” dismiss the project as a dangerous pipe dream – a form of “democratic imperialism,” in Patrick Buchanan’s phrase.Buchanan has largely lost his purchase on respectable conservative opinion, but the skepticism about human prospects upon which traditional conservatism is founded makes many figures on the right doubt that the democratization project will work in the Arab world. Germany and Japan, our great nation-building successes, had been modern, if not liberal-democratic, states in the past; Iraq, of course, was not. And as Francis Fukuyama observes, neoconservatives made their name by warning “about the dangers of ambitious social engineering,” and about the difficulty of transforming a pathological culture. The old-line realists fear that the neocons have lost themselves in fantasies of transformation traditionally confined to the left.Indeed, on the evidence of “The Right War?,” the neocons do seem trapped in their own ironclad premises. If the war was both supremely just and supremely necessary – if the alternative really was Munich – then there can be no reckoning with bad consequences, no weighing in a balance. The horrors we commit cannot be horrible. Norman Podhoretz, the editor at large of Commentary, is – for reasons I won’t bother to speculate about – granted more than a quarter of the acreage in “The Right War?” in order to broil familiar enemies in his familiar auto-da-fé. He concedes that “the aftermath of major military operations” was “rougher than the Pentagon seems to have expected.” But then he immediately observes that more Americans died on D-Day.By the same token, real achievements must be raised to world-historical proportions. The neoconservative essayist Reuel Marc Gerecht offers the following “analytical bet of high probability and enormous returns. . . . The Jan. 30 elections will do for the people of Iraq, and after them, in all likelihood, the rest of the Arab world, what the end of the European imperial period did not: show the way to sovereignty without tyranny.” This way to the parimutuel window, Mr. Gerecht.The debate being played out inside “The Right War?” is not so much the familiar one between unsentimental realists and Wilsonian idealists as between doctrinal absolutists and empiricists. “Foreign policy is not theology,” writes Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International. “A policy that might have been wise crumbles if the costs become prohibitive.” Zakaria initially supported the war and still believes that democracy can flourish in the Arab world. The problem, he writes, “is that the Bush administration’s inept version of nation-building failed.” The problem, more deeply, is that the theologically inclined will not accept the fact that others, including intended beneficiaries, do not see us as we see ourselves, or react as we wish them to react.The debate inside the left is of course a very different one, but also involves an absolutism that will not take account of individual cases. The absolutism, in this case, is an abhorrence of American power – an abhorrence greatly magnified by hatred for George W. Bush and all his works. The journalist Ian Buruma, though not a supporter of the war, has accused the fashionable left of practicing a form of moral racism, in which the brutalities of the West provoke outrage but the far greater crimes of third-world monsters like Saddam Hussein are passed over in silence. A magisterial nonchalance marches under the banner of moral superiority. Apropos the novelist Julian Barnes’s comment that the war wasn’t worth the loss of a single life, Norman Geras, a British political theorist, mordantly observes, “Not one, eh? So much for the victims of the rape rooms and the industrial shredders.” But of course to admit otherwise would be to credit the Americans, and even the Bush administration, with moral insight and the capacity for good. How much more satisfying to revel in the administration’s richly deserved comeuppance!“A Matter of Principle” will be sobering reading to many American liberals, especially those who took comfort in the near-universal European opposition to the war. Among the most powerful essays in the volume are those by French or German scholars taking their own countrymen to task. With the threat of the cold war over, writes Richard Herzinger, an editor of Die Zeit, the old cry of “Never again!” had lost its meaning of never again submission in favor of never again war – as if force itself were the great peril, and thus America, the most forceful nation, the chief enemy of peace. This is what Robert Kagan means when he describes the Kantian paradise Europeans have sought to take refuge in. They, no less than the Americans, and perhaps more, fit 9/11 into the world as they already understood it, and as they wished it to be.Do we truly know what is required in order to defend democratic principles in the face of attack from those who consider themselves divinely inspired? (I am referring, of course, to Islamic fundamentalists, not the Bush administration.) “A Matter of Principle” includes a backbone-stiffening contribution from Adam Michnik, a political philosopher, a founder of Solidarity in Poland and an authentic hero of the democratic left. Asked whether it isn’t “paradoxical” to advocate violence as a means to advance human rights, Michnik snaps, “I can’t remember any text of mine where I said one should fight Hitler without violence; I’m not an idiot. . . . In the state of Saddam, the opposition could find a place only in cemeteries.”Howard


  2. Wow. That is a comment of substance. I agree with most of it. I think, being the optimist that I am, that I agree with the position of Reuel Marc Gerecht, “The Jan. 30 elections will do for the people of Iraq, and after them, in all likelihood, the rest of the Arab world, what the end of the European imperial period did not: show the way to sovereignty without tyranny.” Howard, there are reasonable arguments on both sides as to whether it was the right thing to invade Iraq. I happen to think it was, but I would not have any argument with someone who reasonably thought it was not.I do have a quarrel with those who say that Bush lied to get us into war and that he knew that Saddam had no WMD. The “Bush Lied, People Died” mantra. Bush did not lie. He believed, as well as many in his administration, and many in the previous administration, that Saddam did have weapons of mass destruction. But, WMD was not the reason for invading Iraq. The reason for invading Iraq was because Iraq refused to comply with UN Resolution 1441. We can argue about the merits of invading Iraq, but we can’t start that argument with a lie. That lie would be that the administration lied.But, the reality at this time is, we are there. Being there, we have to finish our job. Our job is to train Iraqis to defend themselves and to protect their country and their fledgling government. We haven’t finished that job yet. When we do, we should bring most of our troops home, but not until then.


  3. Gary,Thanks for the compliment. But in the interest of full disclosure, let me repeat that what I posted was the complete review of two books from the Oct. 30 New York Times Book Review. I can’t take credit for the often insightful analysis.Do I believe that President Bush lied? No, not really. No more than any other politician trying to win over his opponents.Did he distort the intelligence to help make his case? Yes, I believe so. Did he cherry pick the intelligence he needed to strengthen his case? Definitely. Is any of that a crime? Debatable, but probably not.Has the war in Irag been worth the loss of life and resources and prestige for the US? I only hope so, but it’s probably too soon to say for certain.Are we safer from future terrorist attacks because we deposed Saddam? Absolutely NOT. Iraq is now a breeding ground for Al Queda.But that could have been avoided. We made some serious strategic and tactical mistakes.Unlike GHW Bush, this time we didn’t apply basic military principles: bring overwhelming force to the field to defeat the enemy; maintain that force to mop up afterward and prevent insurgency and looting; keep the exising Iraqi army intact and utilize it for domestic security; delay the de-Baathification of the country, or forget about it entirely. That one mistake played a HUGE role in the insurgency that we face now.The Bush Admin bungled the war and its aftermath time and again. We will live with the consequences for years to come.Howard


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