Three Years of Shock and Awe.
"He has trained and financed al Qaeda-type organizations before, al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations."
--GW Bush, March 2003
Three years ago, we learned that Bush had made good on his promise. Hours earlier, he had, like a movie cowboy, given Saddam Hussein two days to clear out of Iraq. He was the war president, having been given credit for able handling of 9/11 (though he hid in Nebraska) and the invasion of Afghanistan. As a part of his larger argument for the "war on terror," he and the administration had spent the better part of a year quite successfully arguing that Iraq was a major front of the terror offensive. His approval rating stood at 60%. Forty-five percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was "personally involved" in the 9/11 attacks. We were primed for war. When the bombs started falling, we were somber, but confident. We marveled as embedded reporters showed images of bombings "designed part of a psychological warfare campaign to ratchet up the tension among Iraq troops"--yet, our objective media assured us, surgical in their accuracy.
"We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
--Condoleezza Rice, September 2002
Even before the invasion, the administration recognized that Iraq did not pose a threat sufficient to invoke a pre-emptive attack. So the administration issued a new line of thinking (enshrined in the 2002 National Security Strategy). To address the unpredictable nature of terrorism, the US claimed a new right "to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively against such terrorists." It padded this rationale with arguments, gleaned from dubious, doctored, and falsified intelligence, that Iraq possessed nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, along with secret drone airplanes to deliver them.
"Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent."
--Colin Powell, February 2003
The two previous wars had cost the US little--they were backed by international cooperation, including funds and troops, to offset US expenses. Nevertheless, Larry Lindsey, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, suggested the Iraq war would be more expensive; he offered and estimate of $200 million. Excessive cost was one thing that could kill the administration's shaky case. Lindsey was fired. New estimates were offered. Americans were reassurred.
"The Office of Management and Budget has come up come up with a number that's something under $50 billion for the cost. How much of that would be the U.S. burden, and how much would be other countries, is an open question."
--Donald Rumsfeld, January 2003
Following 9/11, Bush repeated as often as anyone would listen, "everything has changed." Emotionally wounded Americans allowed themselves to nurture a gauzy self-image of themselves as great agents of goodness. No one seemed to stop and consider that our bombs might not always be welcomed. It is difficult to recall this now, but the composition of colonially-constructed Iraq--60% Shia, 20% Sunni, 17% Kurd--never seemed to enter into the post-war equation. The post-war equation itself was never much mentioned. Our invasion was itself proof of the success of reconstruction.
"There is no question but what they want to the get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that."
--Dick Cheney, March 2003
Three years ago this weekend, amid the ghostly orange images of destruction, the administration of George W. Bush began a grand experiment.
"Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before. And it will yield the same results. As in Europe, as in Asia, as in every region of the world, the advance of freedom leads to peace."
--GW Bush, November 2003
The intelligence was wrong; Hans Blix (and the French) had been right. Inspections and international sanctions had worked. Hussein managed to convince his citizens and the Bush administration that he was still a threat, but these were fictions of a tin-pot dictator.
Since the invasion, we have learned that most of what comprised the administration's faith-based arguments about Iraq were wrong: there were no weapons; Iraq was not fomenting international terror (though it is now); the oilfields were not ready to begin paying off the cost of the invasion; the Iraqis did not welcome us with flowers; the people's desire for freedom did not obviate their interest in power or revenge; the longings for democracy did not well up innately in all people like simple religious faith. Along the way, the Bushies managed to compound this gross error in judgment by adding torture, secret rendition, "black sites," military tribunals, and secret NSA spying to their cause.
In three short years, we have ceased to be that country who could see all the way past the asterisk of Vietnam to the glory of WWII, when American power could be exercised in the effort to stop tyranny. The Bush administration destroyed that fantasy with the Iraq invasion--when we combined overwhelming might with fear and blindness to invade a country that posed little threat.
I suspect it will take a great deal more time to come to terms with what we have done, or allowed to be done, in the name of American freedom.