BY JAMES MOORE
Iwas going to do a seasonal meditation on The Nutcracker Suite for this month’s music column, or perhaps an ode to music teachers everywherefor the joy they impart to aspiring musicians, but somehow I can’t stopobsessing about Iraq. Maybe it was triggered by seeing talented Canadian songstressEmber Swift performing her blown blend of activist-tinged pop in Fairfieldthis past month, I don’t know.
For the record, I thought invading Iraq was a really bad idea from thebeginning. First time I heard George Bush was running for president, Isaid, “He’s going to finish his daddy’s business inIraq.” To this day I don’t understand how the war on terrorbecame a war in Iraq when 9/11 had no connection with Saddam Hussein.
Recent polls show 54 percent of Americans think the president made amistake invading Iraq; 57 percent think he misled the nation to get there;58 percent feel he is not honest; 65 percent disapprove of the way he’shandling the conflict; general approval ratings are in the low 30s; andby a margin of 50 to 43 percent, a majority feel we should get out rightthis minute—even if Iraq is not completely stable.
These are not good numbers for a war president who has campaigned, wonelections, staked his party’s reputation as well as his own personallegacy, not to mention gambled America’s future on the “Bush” doctrineof preemptive strikes, which he applied whole-hog to ousting Saddam Hussein.
It’s clear now Iraq was a war of choice, not of necessity as thepresident presented in the run up to the invasion. When things began togo awry during the “mop up” phase, the press asked why hehad called the threat imminent. “Never said imminent,” theadministration responded.
Mushroom cloud references aside, when Bush said in October 2002: “Whilethere are many dangers in the world, the threat from Iraq stands alone—becauseit gathers the most serious dangers of our age in one place,” itseemed pretty threatening. In the same speech he did that thing he didso often where he wrapped Saddam neatly in 9/11 and al Qaeda bows, fosteringthe impression that the three were inextricably linked: “The attacksof September the 11th showed our country that vast oceans no longer protectus from danger. Before that tragic date, we had only hints of al Qaeda’splans and designs. Today in Iraq, we see a threat . . . whose consequencescould be far more deadly.”
More deadly than 9/11? Yikes.
On CBS’s Face the Nation in March 2004, Donald Rumsfeld referredto the whole imminent controversy as “folklore,” stating neitherhe nor the president had ever said such a thing. When his own statementsfrom September 2002 were read back to him (“I would not be so certain” thatIraq’s nuclear threat is not imminent. “No terrorist stateposes a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people…”),he stammered uncharacteristically and sputtered out a few incoherent sentences.
There are things a president has no control over: terrorist attacks;hurricanes; avian bird flu epidemics; skyrocketing gas and oil prices.Of course, how one responds to such events is vitally important but theevents themselves are not a matter of choice.
Iraq, however, is Bush’s baby and the costly quagmire is makingthe president more testy than usual—GOP corruption scandals notwithstanding.
“While it’s perfectly legitimate to criticize my decisions orthe conduct of the war,” Bush said at a Veteran’s Day speechin Pennsylvania, “it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the historyof how that war began.”
Of course, he’s trying to deflect mounting criticism that his administration “sexedup” (to use the British euphemism) its case for war. As to the “historyof how the war began,” the president is being disingenuous—thereis no consensus. With the recent indictment of the vice president’schief-of-staff, a few pieces of the puzzle have come to light which seemto undercut the administration’s contention it did not distort,hype, or fabricate intelligence to go to war.
Back in August of 2002, presidential chief-of-staff Andrew Card set upthe White House Iraq Group. Its purpose? Selling the war to the public.The secret assemblage, formed seven months before the invasion, consistedamong others of Rove, Libby, Karen Hughes, Condoleezza Rice, and StephenJ. Hadley.
Washington Post reporters Barton Gellman and Walter Pincus wrote in August2003: “The escalation of nuclear rhetoric . . . including the introductionof the term ‘mushroom cloud’ into the debate, coincided withthe formation of a White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, a task force assignedto ‘educate the public’ about the threat from Hussein, asa participant put it.
“Two senior policymakers . . . said in unauthorized interviewsthat the administration greatly overstated Iraq’s near-term nuclearpotential.”
It was Card who said in September 2002 that, from a marketing point ofview, one doesn’t introduce a new product in the summer. An orchestratedcampaign began emanating from the White House. As the drumbeat for wargrew louder in speech after speech by Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, and others,the President pressed for a resolution from Congress to authorize useof force—if Hussein would not willingly disarm.
Then there was the Office of Special Plans (OSP). In the days after 9/11the Defense Department authorized the creation of an informal group togather dirt on Iraq. The objective of this closet intelligence team, accordingto Rumsfeld, was to “search for information on Iraq’s hostileintentions or links to terrorists,” reported Seymour Hersh in astory for The New Yorker.
Operating outside of the established intelligence chains, the OSP circumventednormal vetting procedures. Kenneth Pollack, a former National SecurityCouncil expert on Iraq, told Hersh in another piece for The New Yorkerthat this team dismantled “the existing filtering process that for50 years had been preventing the policy makers from getting bad information.They created stovepipes to get the information they wanted directly tothe top leadership.”
Wow. That’s a whole lot of fodder for the mutter.
Not to mention numerous cases of the administration’s use of discreditedintelligence reports and sources—more surfacing every day.
The Senate Select Intelligence Committee is pursuing its inquiry intohow the administration publicly depicted intelligence on Iraqi weaponsof mass destruction—comparing officials’ prewar statementsto the intelligence available at the time.
Wherever the fault lay, it will take savvy and aplomb to excavate gracefullyfrom the untenable ground America finds itself on.
In the words of that little Dickens’ Tiny Tim, “God blessus, every one.”