Former NY Times reporter Judith Miller’s rehabilitation tour is based on the premise that everybody got the intelligence wrong before W & Co. bombed Iraq back into the stone age. Hillary Clinton has acknowledged that if she knew then what she knows now, she wouldn’t have voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq but she “wasn’t alone in getting it wrong”. Although Jeb Bush, as Governor of Florida in 2003, had nothing officially to do with his brother’s decision, he has had a lot of difficulty owning up to his brother’s (to be charitable) mistake.
Bush told Fox’s Megyn Kelly that even knowing what we know now he would indeed invade Iraq if he were in the same position as his brother was 12 years ago. Cue excoriation from right-wing immigrant basher Laura Ingraham and various Republican candidates. Ingraham’s derision owes far more to Jeb’s evolved (at least in contrast to other Republicans) position on immigration than to his defense of an indefensible war that Ingraham herself cheerled long after it was evident to all but the most obtuse and dishonest that it was a train wreck. And, the attacks on Jeb from his rivals for the Republican nomination stem from naked ambition for the Presidency rather than any principled opposition to Jeb’s brother’s war.
Still, it does appear that a consensus among the candidates, excepting always Bernie Sanders, has arisen that the lesson to be learned from March 2003 is that the conquest of Iraq is problematic only in retrospect. Sure we know now it was a mistake. But in the event it was a damn good idea given how those incompetent, but oh so well-intentioned, intelligence agencies snookered us.
The problem with this particular revisionism is that it’s self-serving blatantly false revisionism. In fact knowing then what we knew then, launching the war was unforgivable. Herewith, the three primary justifications for the war – there were more I know: Iraq was involved in 9/11. Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Iraq had a viable nuclear weapons program.
The case for any of these was, when the US military lit up Baghdad, much weaker than the NFL’s weak case against Tom Brady is now. Within two weeks of 9/11, Bush was informed that US intelligence “had no evidence linking” Iraq to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Although no evidence of such a link ever turned up, Bush/Cheney implied it was there up right up until and after the bombs started falling.
Did the preponderance of credible evidence show that Iraq had WMDs? Nope. The UN weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Scott Ritter repeatedly said in early 2003 they couldn’t find any. Let me clarify, the men on the ground whose job was to determine whether Iraq had WMDs said it didn’t.
What about Iraq’s vaunted nuclear weapons program? How could we take the risk that the “smoking gun” proving Iraq had the bomb would be a “mushroom cloud” in Condi Rice‘s unforgettable words? In retrospect how could we not have taken that risk. Our man in Niger, Ambassador Joe Wilson, told the CIA in 2002 that Saddam Hussein had not purchased yellowcake uranium there in the late 90s. The other inoperable gun the Bush administration cited, before the attack, to justify its claim that Iraq was building nuclear weapons was its purchase of a large number of aluminum tubes of a type which the Department of Energy had already concluded were not used to manufacture nuclear weapons.
So what did we know then, that we now know we didn’t know, that would have justified eviscerating Iraq? In fact, nothing. But serious Presidential candidates keep saying that based on the best information available in March 2003, the decision to demolish was the right one and the media keeps letting ’em.