They insisted that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. They invoked the image of a nuclear holocaust when they proclaimed — repeatedly — they didn’t want “the smoking gun to become a mushroom cloud.”
Recall this was just one year after 9/11. Americans were living in fear, which was exactly the reaction the terrorists wanted.
Frightened people often behave irrationally, which is exactly the reaction President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney counted on when they began selling their war in late 2002.
As documented in the book, “Hubris,” the White House sought to exploit this fear by linking Saddam to 9/11. The president insisted Saddam was going to give a horrific weapon, most likely a nuke, to Osama bin Laden. High ranking cabinet members were constantly in the news saying as much.
But Mideast experts in the administration saw a problem right away. Islamic fundamentalist bin Laden regarded the secular dictator Hussein as a heretic. They had no relationship.
White House counter-terrorism operatives knew Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11 and said so.
Ambassador Joe Wilson was sent to Niger to prove Iraq was buying uranium there, but found no such evidence.
The administration ignored their experts and deliberately exposed Wilson’s wife, a CIA agent, in retaliation for Wilson going public with what he knew. W wanted his war.
Meantime, the docile media, mainstream and right wing, barely questioned the administration’s rationale for war or the lack of WMD evidence.
Bush claims today the CIA gave him faulty intelligence. But in the run up to the invasion, Cheney was at CIA headquarters all the time, demanding evidence that Saddam had WMD. CIA director George Tenet eagerly complied.
Of course, Saddam had no WMD. He posed no danger to anyone except the unfortunate people of Iraq. He was a brutal tyrant as bad as but no worse than dozens just like him around the world.
Republicans are quick to counter that congressional Democrats supported the invasion. Of course they did. They were as frightened as everyone else, and they were being fed the same bogus “intelligence” the media and public were being sold.
The commander in chief, Democrats reasoned, deserved the benefit of the doubt. As a moral man, he would never lead America into war unless there was no alternative.
When the WMD canard collapsed, the White House began spinning new reasons why we were fighting in Iraq. One day it was a war of liberation, the next it was to install a pocket of democracy in the Middle East.
We were not “greeted as liberators.” Iraqi oil money didn’t pay for the war.
The Iraq debacle lasted longer than any previous conflict after Americans were promised a quick victory and Bush declared “mission accomplished” just a few months after the invasion.
Bush needlessly sacrificed the lives of 4,488 young American men and women and at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians. Some 32,000 Americans came home with physical wounds and an unknown number suffered psychological damage.
The cost of the Iraq misadventure approaches $2 trillion and counting.
For Bush, the unprovoked war with Iraq was always the first option, not the last. The horror of 9/11 gave him his excuse to wage it.
Bush has been laying low since leaving office, maybe because he’s ashamed of himself, but it’s doubtful he has that kind of self-awareness. Cheney says he’d do it all over again, so omnipotent does the former VP consider himself.
So, by all means, let’s hold those who act immorally accountable for their irresponsibly and dishonestly.
Kevin Foley is a public relations executive, author and writer who lives in Kennesaw.