Friday, March 24, 2006

Iraq: Three Years Later: Pt. 1: "Absolutely No Doubt"

By: UnrepentantNewDealer

Sigh. This is an anniversary I never looked forward to celebrating. Had you told anyone three years ago that in 2006 more than 130,000 American troops would still be in Iraq and would be fighting an uphill battle against insurgents and sectarianism, they would have looked at you like you were crazy. In this post and the next several in this "mini-series," I will attempt to answer the questions: How did we get here? What went wrong? Are we winning or losing? Is it even possible for us to attain anything we'd recognize as "victory" in Iraq? What should we do now? And how has my own thinking about the Iraq war evolved over the past three years?

I'll start with the last question first. I have always disliked and distrusted George W. Bush. Yet, along with most Americans, I rallied around him after 9/11 when our nation went to war in Afghanistan and I supported our initial invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003, despite my dislike and distrust towards Bush and against my better judgement in the case of Iraq. The administration claimed that Saddam Hussain had weapons of mass destruction--specifically stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and a nuclear weapons program that was but weeks, if not days away from having a nuclear weapon when we attacked on March 19 (March 20 in Iraq). Vice President Cheney said on March 16, 2003 that "We believe he [Saddam] has in fact reconstituted nuclear weapons." That was why we couldn't wait for the inspectors to finish the job in Iraq: Saddam already had the bomb! I can't think of another possible meaning for "reconstituted nuclear weapons."

But Bush apologists (some of them readers and contributors to this blog) have countered that the administration never said it was certain that Saddam posed an immediate threat to us, just that he might someday down the road. Others before have long since debunked that stale canard, but just to set the record straight:

On August 26, 2002, in a speech at the VFW National Convention, Dick Cheney said, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." [italics mine] What part of "no doubt" do you not understand? What part of "now" do you not understand? What about "against us?" There is no wiggle room in Cheney's words. When the Vice President of the United States says that there is no doubt that a dictatorial ruler has WMD and is planning to use them against us, Americans, especially after 9/11, are inclined to believe that there really is no doubt.

When the White House press secretary says that, "We know for a fact that there are weapons there," and that, "there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly," Americans draw the natural conclusion.

When the general in charge of the Iraq war, Tommy Franks, says that, "There is no doubt that the regime of Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction," most Americans wouldn't think to second-guess such a statement about which there is "no doubt."

When the Secretary of Defense states that "We know where they [the WMD] are," Americans might logically assume that he does, in fact, know where they are.

When the Secretary of State tells the UN that "Every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence," people around the world believe him because of his almost mythic persona.

Powell went on to report that [all of the following is from Powell's February 2003 presentation to the UN. I have taken snippets out of it to give a picture of the whole. A thorough reading of the entirety of his remarks will show that I have taken no liberties with the substance of his remarks.] :

"We know from sources that a missile brigade outside Baghdad was disbursing rocket launchers and warheads containing biological warfare agents to various locations, distributing them to various locations in western Iraq....The truck you also see is.... a decontamination vehicle in case something goes wrong.... One of the most worrisome things that emerges from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq's biological weapons is the existence of mobile production facilities used to make biological agents.... The trucks and train cars are easily moved and are designed to evade detection by inspectors. In a matter of months, they can produce a quantity of biological poison equal to the entire amount that Iraq claimed to have produced in the years prior to the Gulf War....

"Iraq declared 8,500 liters of anthrax, but UNSCOM estimates that Saddam Hussein could have produced 25,000 liters.... Saddam Hussein has not verifiably accounted for even one teaspoon-full of this deadly material.... It took years for Iraq to finally admit that it had produced four tons of the deadly nerve agent, VX....Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent.... Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons.... And we have sources who tell us that he recently has authorized his field commanders to use them...."

When the President of the United States says on the eve of war in an address to the nation that, "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised," Americans, especially after 9/11, are inclined to beleive that there really is no doubt. When he goes on to state that, "Today, no nation can possibly claim that Iraq has disarmed," Americans, especially after 9/11, are inclined to believe that no one can possibly claim that Iraq has actually disarmed. When he further states that, "Should Saddam Hussein choose confrontation, the American people can know that every measure has been taken to avoid war, and every measure will be taken to win it," Americans, especially after 9/11, are inclined to believe that the administration really has done everything possible to avoid war and will prosecute the war in a competent manner. When he states that, "The security of the world requires disarming Saddam Hussein now," Americans.... well, you get the picture.

Bush apologists also point out that he never said that Saddam was involved in the 9/11 plot. This is true, but irrelevant. Here is what he said in just one of his many speeches leading up to the war:

"It [Saddam's regime] possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons. It has given shelter and support to terrorism.... On September the 11th, 2001, America felt its vulnerability--even to threats that gather on the other side of the earth.... We've also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas. We're concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States. And, of course, sophisticated delivery systems aren't required for a chemical or biological attack; all that might be required are a small container and one terrorist or Iraqi intelligence operative to deliver it. And that is the source of our urgent concern about Saddam Hussein's links to international terrorist groups....

"We know that Iraq and al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade.... We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.... Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists. Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints.... If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy, or steal an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year.... He would be in a position to threaten America. And Saddam Hussein would be in a position to pass nuclear technology to terrorists....

"We've experienced the horror of September the 11th. We have seen that those who hate America are willing to crash airplanes into buildings full of innocent people. Our enemies would be no less willing, in fact, they would be eager, to use biological or chemical, or a nuclear weapon. Knowing these realities, America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof--the smoking gun--that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."

One more time. When the president of the United States repeatedly invokes 9/11 when talking about Saddam Hussain, WMD, threats to America, and a "mushroom cloud," Americans, ESPECIALLY AFTER 9/11, are inclined to beleive that our commander-in-chief knows what he is talking about.

These were the claims that convinced most Americans, myself included, to support our initial invasion of Iraq. If it were true that there was "no doubt" in the intelligence agencies about any of the above statements before the war, the "we were all decieved by the bad intel" excuse would be persuasive. Unfortunately, all of the administration's claims outlined above--all of their claims about Iraq, in fact--were disputed, inside and outside the U.S. government, at the time they were made; many of them were debunked before the war, which didn't stop the Bush administration from continuing to repeat them as "solid fact" about which there was "no doubt." All of the claims about Iraq's WMDs and ties to terrorists turned out to be either gross distortions, lies through omission or outright lies. As this post has gotten rather lengthy, I'll save the debunking of these lies for the next post in a day or so. Stay tuned.