I begin with William Blum’s pertinent observation: “How Bush and his junta succeeded in deflecting America’s anger from bin Laden to Saddam Hussein is one of the great public relations conjuring tricks of history.” Informed people know Saddam Hussein didn’t plan or facilitate the September 11, 2001 attacks on Manhattan›s Twin Towers and the Pentagon building in Washington DC.
Prior to Bush’s call for military action against Iraq, Hans Blix, head of the United Nation Monitoring Verification and Inspection commission, was in Iraq from March 2000 to June 2003. To that date Blix reported his inspectors hadn’t discovered weapons of mass destruction. He thought they would complete their search in three months and believed they wouldn’t find weapons the Bush administration claimed they were there. However, the Bush administration didn’t want to wait for additional information Blix would gather, as it would negate their claim.
Not inclined to wait for Blix to complete his search, which was likely to prove Bush was misleading the American public, he ordered Secretary of State Colin Powell to give a speech at the United Nations. Powell made claims that challenged and contradicted the Blix commission’s findings. Powell’s presentation was exaggerated distortions based on the premise America had no time to wait for Blix to finish his commission’s work.
Thus, Powell’s presentation permitted the Bush administration, Great Britain’s Tony Blair, and most Americans to believe that military action against Saddam’s Iraq had to be initiated immediately. This is a classic case of the ignorant supporting a rush to judgment. However, before the decade was over, Powell belatedly owned up to his deceit. He was embarrassed he had been made to look like a fool, and was used by Bush who desired to look like a decisive ‘great’ president. George H. W. Bush had been accused of being indecisive, “wishy washy,” etc. Maybe George W. Bush was subconsciously competing with his father.
One estimate, some think too low, is that 250,000 Iraqis lost their lives. Estimates of American military deaths are 6,000 with close to 16,000 wounded. Many wounded Americans had arms and legs blown off or shattered. Hundreds needed plastic surgery on wounds to their faces. It’s ironic that most troops believed they were doing their patriotic duty. Maybe, I hope, some now realize they were misled, actually lied to, regarding whose interest they were serving.
The war on Iraq received support from most Senators as well. The then US Senators Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, as well as Chuck Schumer, the late John McCain, Pennsylvania’s Rick Santorum and Arlen Specter, Nevada’s Harry Reid, and Mitch McConnell of KY were among the 77 senators who supported the war. Among the 23 Senators opposing Bush’s war were Jon Corzine of New Jersey, Robert Byrd of WVA, Barbara Boxer of CA, Russell Feingold of WI, and Richard Durbin of Illinois.
In the House, 296 representatives voted for the war.; only 133 voted against it. Bernie Sanders, then in the House, voted against it, as did Pennsylvania’s Robert Brady, William Coyne, Mike Doyle, and Chaka Fattah, California’s Barbara Lee, Cynthia McKinney, Gary Condit, Lois Capps and Nancy Pelosi, Ohio’s Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich and New York’s Louise Slaughter, Jose Serrano, Major Owens, Charles Rangel, Jerrold Nadler and Maurice Hinchey.
The Bush administration engaged in torture of detainees, using various methods including the use of “waterboarding,” a procedure by which a prisoner is made to believe that she is about to be drowned. The administration refused to call these by their proper name. Instead they employed the obscurantist bureaucratic term “enhanced interrogation techniques.” But, what would Americans think if an adversary used similar torture techniques or procedures on captured US personnel? Would there be any doubt that these would instantly be labeled as torture and treated as criminal acts accompanied with strong demands to bring those responsible to account for their actions. Alas, wars generate hypocrisy and those who wage them seek to obscure their role in the brutalities they unleash.
Today few Americans remember the incident when Bush while visiting Iraq and giving a statement to an Iraqi audience, was called a liar by an Iraqi in the audience who proceeded to throw his shoes at him. Bush quickly ducked. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis couldn’t duck and get out of the way of thousands of bombs that Bush dropped on them that destroyed their country and took the lives of tens of thousands unnecessarily.
How could any reasonable American approve of what the US has done to Iraq? The Iraqi people had done us no harm and were not responsible for what happened on September 11, 2001. Today, many Americans consider the war on Iraq a distant memory. That is a way of empire: it wages bloody interventions abroad while distracting the public with the latest crisis de jour, guaranteeing impunity for the crimes of empire.
Howard Zinn, the late radical historian, once penned the following words that every American ought to be reminded of: “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”
Philip Reiss lives in Bethlehem, PA. He is a retired S.U.N.Y. community college history professor. He is the author of Blue Eyes On African-American History. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org