Americans face an important question in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion: Does it matter that our government fudged facts to justify war? Should politicians face consequences when they mislead us, especially about the need for military force?
While British Prime Minister Tony Blair is facing increasing pressure because of his role in this debacle, the Bush administration is betting the American public will tire of the debate. Officials apparently think that if they constantly repeat the mantra — "We know for certain Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction" — and the news media faithfully relay that message, they will get away with their deception.
The problem isn't simply that no evidence of banned weapons programs has been found, but a broader pattern of deception:
• Allegations before the war that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger were based on crude forgeries that officials had been warned about, while claims about biological and chemical stockpiles were based on dubious methods and unsupported by the arms-control community.
• Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed concerns in private to his British counterpart, Jack Straw, that the claims might explode in their faces because they weren't backed by hard evidence.
• Professionals in the intelligence community are livid about how the administration politicized the analysis of information.
Most telling, Iraq didn't use weapons of mass destruction (WMD). At worst, Iraq is accused of surreptitiously destroying weapons on the eve of war — not exactly the stuff of which threats to the free world are made, but a convenient rationalization for the lack of evidence.
Meanwhile, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is backpedaling from comments made last month that the administration settled on the WMD rationale out of bureaucratic convenience because it was "the one issue that everyone could agree on."
That remark, made without spin doctors present, shows the administration's cavalier attitude toward informed consent by the public. At every stage, the administration picked the most convenient rationale for war. First was the connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda; when that didn't pan out, it was the threat posed by Iraq's WMD. When they didn't turn up, it was liberating the Iraqi people.
While the public was distracted by this procession of justifications alternately taken up and conveniently abandoned, the real reasons never saw the light of day. Would Americans have supported a war for increased control of the Middle East and an American empire based on military domination? Bush administration officials who wanted war knew better than to ask.
Professor Robert Jensen of the University of Texas wrote 'Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream'. Rahul Mahajan wrote 'Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond'.
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