Monday, June 09, 2008

Remember the Maine!!

Or: Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.*

The New York Times editorialized on Friday:
The Truth About the War

It took just a few months after the United States’ invasion of Iraq for the world to find out that Saddam Hussein had long abandoned his nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs. He was not training terrorists or colluding with Al Qaeda. The only real threat he posed was to his own countrymen.

It has taken five years to finally come to a reckoning over how much the Bush administration knowingly twisted and hyped intelligence to justify that invasion. On Thursday — after years of Republican stonewalling — a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee gave us as good a set of answers as we’re likely to get.

The report shows clearly that President Bush should have known that important claims he made about Iraq did not conform with intelligence reports. In other cases, he could have learned the truth if he had asked better questions or encouraged more honest answers.

The report confirms one serious intelligence failure: President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials were told that Iraq still had chemical and biological weapons and did not learn that these reports were wrong until after the invasion. But Mr. Bush and his team made even that intelligence seem more solid, more recent and more dangerous than it was.

The report shows that there was no intelligence to support the two most frightening claims Mr. Bush and his vice president used to sell the war: that Iraq was actively developing nuclear weapons and had longstanding ties to terrorist groups. It seems clear that the president and his team knew that that was not true, or should have known it — if they had not ignored dissenting views and telegraphed what answers they were looking for.

Over all, the report makes it clear that top officials, especially Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, knew they were not giving a full and honest account of their justifications for going to war.
There's more, and you can read it all here. The Times concludes:
We cannot say with certainty whether Mr. Bush lied about Iraq. But when the president withholds vital information from the public — or leads them to believe things that he knows are not true — to justify the invasion of another country, that is bad enough.
At this point, let me observe it wasn't the editorial that caught my attention. It was the Letters to the Editor which were highlighted on my Google News page, headlined "The False Trail That Led to War" -- five letters in all published in the paper which you can read here. I went to the editorial only after reading the letters and noting that each of them had missed a key point. The same point completely missed in the Times' own editorial.

Let's take a closer look. In the first letter, Alan Kennedy-Shaffer of Mechanicsburg, Penn. writes in part,
Two years ago, I randomly sampled the administration’s speeches on Iraq and reached almost identical conclusions to the ones reached by the Senate Intelligence Committee and your editorial. It’s all there in my 2006 book, “Denial and Deception: A Study of the Bush Administration’s Rhetorical Case for Invading Iraq.”

The only difference is that I analyzed hundreds of speeches and public pronouncements, not just five major speeches, as in the Senate committee report. What surfaced was a clear pattern of denial and deception among top White House officials before, during and after the initial invasion of Iraq.

Especially disturbing to me was the fact that President Bush and his pals knew, or should have known, that Saddam Hussein had no nuclear weapons and no ties to Al Qaeda, and posed little threat to the United States.

The latest revelations are nothing new — they simply highlight what the administration has been denying all along.
In other words, "Dear New York Times, thanks for reporting the obvious."

Then there's Marcus Wiesner of Montclair, N.J.
What was cloudy became clear, what became clear has become crystal-clear: President Bush and his coterie misled the country into a war in Iraq that has cost the lives of more than 4,000 American servicemen and women, physically and mentally maimed thousands more, cost hundreds of billion dollars and damaged our moral standing in the world.

This action has placed a stain on our nation that only a new administration and a new direction can begin to erase.

If there were a low watermark for judging America’s past and present leadership, the Bush presidency would surely stand near the bottom.
Yeah, "It's all President Bush's fault."

Mark R. Godburn of North Canaan, Conn., just barely hints at something interesting, but then backs away from something that is very important:
The Senate committee report does show that Saddam Hussein was thought to at least have chemical and biological weapons programs. It is a fact that Democrats such as Senator John D. Rockefeller IV considered the Iraqi dictator to be a clear and present danger. It’s true that former President Bill Clinton thought that removing Saddam Hussein was the right move, as did Prime Minister Tony Blair.

All of these people could not have been part of a devious Bush plot to invade Iraq for oil or to spread democracy to the Middle East.

The decision to go to war at that time must be remembered in the light of the post-9/11 world, with the real fears of new terrorist attacks, anthrax in the postal system and so on.

There was bipartisan and worldwide belief that Saddam Hussein had to be dealt with. In that case, what was the Bush administration supposed to do? Voice every doubt and concern? List every argument that said Mr. Hussein was a threat with one that said maybe he wasn’t?

If every pro and con had been given, there would have never been public or press support for dealing with the dictator. The dangers of global warming are being overstated for the same reason.
That is, "America had 9/11 blinders on, and everybody was saying the same thing." Close, but no cigar.

Benjamin Solomon of Evanston, Ill. also makes an interesting observation, but is unable to draw a helpful conclusion:
The larger truth I draw from your forthright editorial about the Senate Intelligence Committee report is that a democracy can commit not just blunders but horrendous wrongful acts with disastrous consequences for another nation.

America regards itself as the greatest and most powerful democracy that ever existed and the advocate of democracy for other nations. Yet it is the clear thrust of the editorial that its chosen leaders abused the power of their offices to conquer and devastate another country that was not a threat to us.

How can we redeem ourselves? What do we owe the Iraqi people? What can we say to the families of our dead and wounded soldiers? Can we continue to promote the virtues of democracy to the rest of the world?

And we still have the daunting problem of extricating ourselves from the scene of the crime.
Finally, Jim Bridges of Washingtonville, N.Y. (whom the Times identifies as a Unitarian minister) actually just misses a bull's-eye, but is too fixated on another target to notice:
Thinking back to the time before the days of “shock and awe,” I recall the largest demonstrations in the world against the proposed Iraq war. I also recall numerous arguments within the antiwar movement against attacking Iraq. Those arguments, positions and reasoning received scant notice from the news media. It was as if they did not exist.

In sharp contrast, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and others received much news coverage and media exposure on their arguments for war. The Senate committee’s report basically leads one to conclude that the antiwar movement was correct in its prewar analyses. The unasked question is: When will America learn to listen to the peace movement?
No, Rev. Bridges, that is not the unasked question. Note again the title of this entry. I learned "Remember the Maine!" as a child learning American History in the public schools. That slogan, fanned by the Yellow Journalists of 1898, got us in the Spanish-American War. No one seemed particularly interested in finding out what really caused the USS Maine to explode in Havana Harbor. It was "obvious" that the Spanish were to blame.

As the election of 2002 was being contested, suddenly in autumn the top thing was to get at somebody to pay for 9/11. And not just for President Bush and his neo-conservative advisors. For after years of reporting how the Kurds in northern Iraq were for all practical purpose independent of the Ba'athist regime in Baghdad; after years of reporting how the US Air Force had been controlling Iraqi airspace ever since the Gulf War of 1991 and that via our daily fly-overs under the authority of the first President Bush, all 8 years of President Clinton; and the current President; after years of reporting that Saddam Hussein was a secularist who was viewed by Arab Muslims, especially jihadists, as an infidel worthy of death; suddenly by October 2002 all we heard and read from the mainstream press -- the TV Networks, the big newspapers, even National Public Radio -- was how Iraq was working hand-in-glove with those who though 9/11 hadn't gone far enough. And the New York Times was chiming in with all the rest.

The only voice against this non-stop, full-fledged, bi-partisan, media-charged press for invading Iraq seemed to be Sen. Wellstone -- who was killed shortly before the election when his airplane crashed. Yes, every once in a while, there would be buried somewhere in a story that, say Sen. Hagel (a Republican!) was raising questions. There were a few other voices, too, from both parties in both Houses of Congress. But that wasn't being reported. It was Remember the Maine! all over again. But it wasn't Yellow Journaliism leading the charge. It was all the American press corps -- including the Gray Lady -- fanning the flames for war, while ignoring all that they had been reporting for years.

Only after Congress gave President Bush "authority" to invade Iraq (question: Why has Congress not "declared war" since Dec. 1941?) -- which, indeed, he eagerly sought; only after the 2002 mid-term election was concluded; only after American troops were being committed to points half-way around the world... other words, only after it was too late to stop the invasion, did the press, led by the New York Times, begin to report on those who questioned the conventional wisdom. And even then, those reports focussed on where the President was (or might be) wrong -- never on the collective amnesia of the Fourth Estate.

An amnesia that deliberately continues to this very day. Everybody (says the Times, the letters to the editor, even the US Senate) is blame, it seems, for getting us into this botched war and occupation. Except, of course, the press that poured gasoline on the spark in the first place, and counts on us not remembering it -- for they certainly won't.

So much for "The Truth About the War."

*- With apologies to Mark Twain.

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