Published on Friday, March 19, 2004 by the St. Paul Pioneer Press
We Were Led to War Under False Pretenses
by Tom Maertens
A year after the invasion of Iraq, it's now clear we were led into war under false pretenses. Contrary to the Bush administration's claims, Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction and Saddam was not involved in 9/11 or tied to al-Qaida.
We have learned instead that the whole thing was a setup: The Bush administration was determined to attack Iraq from the day it took office, according to former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill.
Accomplices in this deception were Ahmad Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress, which produced a string of "defectors" with "inside" information on Iraqi WMD programs. The information turned out to be unreliable and even fabricated.
The Saddam/al-Qaida connection, in contrast, was more a case of verbal sleight of hand. Administration officials constantly juxtaposed the words terrorism, Saddam, 9/11 and al-Qaida as if they were one and the same.
Armed with these two pretexts, the Bush administration manipulated our patriotism and public outrage to orchestrate a war against Iraq that it had pre-ordained.
One year into the invasion, the war has cost 567 American lives and 3,200 Americans wounded, and at least $160 billion. Those are lives and treasure expended that did nothing to weaken al-Qaida.
Beyond these known losses, the Law of Unintended Consequences is almost certain to exact other, longer-term costs.
U.S. support for the Afghan mujahaddin in the 1980s is illustrative. Our assistance, at relatively low cost, helped defeat the Soviet invasion and was widely touted as a victory in the Cold War.
With time, the real costs appear much higher. U.S. assistance, funneled through Pakistan, supported and helped train the most radical of the Islamists, who later morphed into al-Qaida.
To win the war on terrorism, we must neutralize or eliminate terrorists faster than their replacement rate. Russia's Afghan experience and news reports suggest that jihadis are flocking to Iraq faster than we can eliminate them. This was entirely predictable.
This is the dynamic that eventually brought the Taliban to power, later necessitating a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Thirty months later, we're still picking up the pieces from that invasion: instability, a Taliban resurgence and expanding opium poppy cultivation.
Will the long-term blowback from Iraq be civil war and rule by mullahs, as in Afghanistan? What unforeseen consequences will there be for Israel, Saudi Arabia, OPEC and so on? Will other allies suffer terrorist attacks as Spain did?
Even while the dust settles, the invasion is fraught with ironies: North Korea, Iran and Libya — unlike Iraq — actually were developing nuclear weapons. And the worst proliferator of nuclear technology was not Iraq but the friendly government of Pakistan.
There are many chickens that will come home to roost, most of them long after George W. Bush has vacated the White House. Unfortunately, it is the American people who will be stuck with the droppings.
Tom Maertens of Mankato, Minnesota served as National Security Council director for nuclear nonproliferation on both the Clinton and Bush White House staffs, and as the State Department's deputy coordinator for counterterrorism during and after Sept. 11, 2001.
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