Lies that Took U.S. to War Unlikely to Cost Liars

It is no secret that the WMD issue was more of a pretext than a reason for the war in Iraq. After all, the crew surrounding Bush had been agitating for a U.S. invasion and overthrow ever since the premature conclusion to Desert Storm Ⅰ.

What is surprising is that no WMDs were used by Iraq during the war, and that none have since been found. Even those of us who opposed the war and were unconvinced by Bush & Co.’s rationale still, by and large, thought that Saddam probably was hiding something in the attic.

In the months leading up to the war, as Seymour Hersh documented in a good series of New Yorker articles (see the list below), the Bush Administration reorganized its intelligence apparatus in such a way that its mission was not to try to determine the most accurate understanding of what was going on in Iraq, but instead to try to assemble the most convincing story of why the U.S. should invade.

There is also a lot of evidence suggesting that Iraqi exile (and wannabe Iraqi leader) Ahmad Chalabi and the INC were able to sell the invasion by fabricating the evidence that people in the administration (and elsewhere) most wanted to hear. A lot of the pre-war scoops about Iraqi weapons were cooked up by Chalabi and his crew, and look now to have had no basis in fact.

The administration felt that they had enough wiggle-room in the U.S. military advantage that they could afford converting their intelligence machinery into a propaganda mill. In this, they were right. But they also discounted any political ramifications of this, probably in the expectation that some WMDs would surely be found and that in the aftermath of victory all would be forgiven.

Surprise, surprise.

The war drummers are keeping the beat, though, insisting that WMDs will be found eventually (and praying for the legendary short attention span of the public and press to kick in). But the way they’ve been saying “see, told ya” every time something turns up that might plausibly be (but doesn’t turn out to be) WMD-related makes this seem unlikely. And now they’re starting to be reminded how specific, how unhedged, and how menacing their original WMD propaganda was.

“There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction,” said Dick Cheney. There is “no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised,” said Bush. They can’t sweep these “no doubt” statements aside by finding an ambiguous trailer here or some residue there.

Or can they? The key to their success so far has not been that they have commanded the strength of facts and arguments, but that the American people have wanted to believe themselves to be beneficient warriors fighting for truth, justice and the American way. Why should the facts get in the way now, when they never have before?

After all, the lies that were told to justify the last Desert Storm never came back to haunt anyone. And that tall tale about Air Force One being targeted on that was used to explain why Bush went hopping around the country like a spooked dog? That’s not going to keep Bush from being portrayed as a hero-at-the-helm in the TV movie:

Trapped on the other side of the country aboard Air Force One, the President has lost his cool: “If some tinhorn terrorist wants me, tell him to come and get me! I’ll be at home! Waiting for the bastard!” His Secret Service chief seems taken aback. “But Mr. President…” The President brusquely interrupts him. “Try Commander-in-Chief. Whose present command is: Take the President home!”

If the American people don’t want to believe that they were duped and don’t want to believe that maybe the evil Hans Blix and his henchmen and frenchmen in the UN were right, they never have to believe this no matter what the facts turn out to be.