In fact, as long as a victory was won, the slumbering public doesnt care much about why we went to war in the first place. We dont seem to care that the administration twisted the intelligence (and maybe even lied) to hype the threat from Iraq in order to garner support for a questionable war.
The Congresss and the medias focus on the U.S. militarys failure to find mass quantities of chemical and biological weapons after the war is quite curious, however. More importanteven if some such weapons are eventually foundbefore the war the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency both reported to the administration that unless attacked, Iraq was unlikely to use such weapons or give them to terrorists. In a letter to Congress made public prior to the war, CIA Director George Tenet made this assessment fully known. Yet senior Bush administration officials simply ignored the unveiling of embarrassing information and soldiered onapparently taking a page out of the Bill Clinton playbook during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. In repeated public statements, senior Bush officials portrayed Iraqs chemical and biological weapons as a threat to the United States, either directly or because they might be given to terrorists. Subsequent events proved that the threat from Iraq proved to be even less than the intelligence community predicted. Iraq did not even use such super weapons in the most dire case imaginable for the Saddam Hussein regimebeing overrun by a U.S. invasion. And now the U.S. cant seem to even find any of the vast quantities of chemical and biological agents promised by the administration.
The most troubling matter surrounding the war is not that the Bush administration has failed to uncover super weapons in Iraq; it is that the American public did not say no to the war (and to this day has not reversed its approval of the conflict) even when the war rationale by Bush administration officials was contradicted publicly by their own intelligence community.
This public acceptance of the war is even more curious given the sordid history of presidential lying to the American people about wars in the past. In 1846, the Polk administration sent U.S. troops into a disputed region along the Texas-Mexican border to provoke Mexico into firing the first shot in the Mexican War. In 1898, the McKinley administration used an explosion aboard the U.S. warship Maine in a Cuban harbor to take the country to war against Spain. Most historians now believe the explosion was a total accident. In the 1916 election, Woodrow Wilson promised the American people he would keep the United States out of war; in 1917, the United States entered World War I. In 1940, also an election year, Franklin Roosevelt promised to keep the country out of World War II, while actively trying to start a naval war with the Germans in the Atlantic and imposing provocative economic sanctions on Japan in the Pacific. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson lied about an incident between U.S. and North Vietnamese ships in the Gulf of Tonkin to gain acceptance from Congress to escalate the war in Vietnam. But he conveniently waited until 1965, after the 1964 election, to do so. To justify Operation Desert Storm, the first Bush administration cited satellite photos showing Iraqi forces massing on the border between newly-occupied Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Curiously, simultaneous photographs from Russian satellites did not detect any military build-up.
In all those cases, however, Americans trusted their government and later found such trust to be misplaced. The alarming thing about Iraq War II is that the American people had plenty of evidence before the warfrom the presidents own intelligence chiefthat the Bush administration was exaggerating the threat. In a republic, arent the people ultimately responsible for the policies their government adopts in their name? Most of the public seems to revel in its willingness to allow the U.S. governmentlike the empires of oldto conduct patriotic wars of conquest for glory. The Founders of our nationwho realized that foreign wars lead to many ill-effects, both domestically and abroadwould find this misguided conception of patriotism very troubling indeed.
Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.
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