Published on Monday, February 20, 2006 by the Atlanta Journal Constitution (Georgia)
Eyewitnesses Peel Back Lies on War Debate
by Jay Bookman
A hundred years from now, historians will still be regaling readers with the all-too-true tales of ignorance, arrogance, dishonesty and outright incompetence that drove our nation to invade Iraq. As stories go, nothing in our country's previous 225 years of history quite matches it. And for our children's sake, we better hope that nothing in our future comes close to it, either.
A lot of the raw material for those historians is available already in the growing number of eyewitness, inside accounts of how we got into this mess. At almost every point, those accounts contradict the version of events peddled by the Bush administration and its dwindling core of supporters.
For example, take the claim that the administration decided to invade Iraq because "Sept. 11 changed everything."
Paul O'Neill, President Bush's first treasury secretary, long ago revealed that administration officials were intent on invading Iraq from the moment the president took office.
"It was all about finding a way to do it," O'Neill says of Cabinet meetings he attended before Sept. 11. "That was the tone of it. The president saying, 'Go find me a way to do this.' "
In his new book "State of War," James Risen confirms that account by reporting that in April 2002 — long before most Americans had even heard war was a possibility — CIA officers in Europe were summoned by agency leaders and told an invasion was coming.
"They said this was on Bush's agenda when he got elected, and that 9/11 only delayed it," one CIA officer recalled to Risen. "They implied that 9/11 was a distraction from Iraq."
Then there were those weapons of mass destruction. The administration now implies it was misled into war by bad U.S. intelligence, but that's not true. While the CIA was indeed wrong about Iraq possessing at least some WMD, those faulty reports played no role whatsoever in the administration's decision to invade. WMD was the administration's excuse for a war it had already decided upon for other reasons.
The head of the CIA's Middle East bureau from 2000 to 2005 makes that clear in a new article in Foreign Affairs magazine. Paul Pillar writes that under the Bush administration, "official intelligence analysis was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions." Instead, "intelligence was misused to justify decisions already made," citing Iraqi WMD as a prime example.
In his article, Pillar also confirms that Bush told a monumental whopper in claiming that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden had informally allied against us.
Pillar is not the first to expose that fact. The Sept. 11 commission concluded back in June 2004 that there had been no "collaborative relationship" between Iraq and bin Laden. But Pillar, who saw every scrap of intelligence about the Middle East, takes it further, saying the claim by Bush and others "did not reflect any judgment by intelligence officials that there was or was likely to be anything like the 'alliance' the administration said existed."
In other words, they made it up.
It is yet another example of how we were deceived into war by Bush, a man in whom Americans of both parties had put enormous amounts of faith in the aftermath of Sept. 11.
Of course, accusing Bush of deliberately lying to the country still sets off a contentious counterattack. Historians, though, will have no qualms whatsoever about reaching that same conclusion; the evidence is that overwhelming.
And then there was the incompetence. The claims that Iraq would pay for its own reconstruction, that we would be welcomed as liberators, that there were no serious ethnic splits in Iraq, that we had enough troops . . . the list is lengthy. How could the administration have been so wrong?
Well, there are none so blind as those who will not see.
If you're contemplating invading and occupying another country — and risking much of your own country's future on the outcome — your first step would be to request an assessment of the situation from your experts, right?
"As the national intelligence officer for the Middle East, I was in charge of coordinating all of the intelligence community's assessments regarding Iraq," Pillar writes. "The first request I received from any administration policy-maker for any such assessment was not until a year into the war."
A century from now, people will look at such statements in wonder. Unfortunately, for those of us who actually have to deal with the consequences, our interest is more than merely historical. The people who got us into this mess through deception, arrogance and incompetence still hold positions of authority. They still demand unilateral power over how to proceed, and still question the patriotism of those who dare question them.
To those who will only read about this era, that may prove the most remarkable thing of all.
Jay Bookman is the deputy editorial page editor. His column appears Mondays and Thursdays.
© 2006 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution