For the Bush administration, the March 2003 pre-emptive war against Iraq and its despotic leader Saddam Hussein was the pinnacle of a public relations campaign it had commenced following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Through exaggerations, manipulation, scare tactics and outright deception, the Bush White House successfully sold a war. The administration’s mindset was that creating a U.S.-friendly democracy in the Muslim Middle East would be worth the effort and the fables employed to justify the war.
The administration didn’t count on the deaths of more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. Nor did it conceive of 32,000 wounded GIs, billions of dollars in costs or the chaos that sprang up once Saddam’s civil society fell apart. The Bush White House’s justifications — Iraq’s alleged coziness with al-Qaida, a budding nuclear-weapons program and stores of weapons of mass destruction — were proven fictions.
Ten years later, reconciling all of the above is hardly controversial. Only Bush loyalists and assorted dead-enders (to use Donald Rumsfeld’s term of art) even bother with a defense.
The hope is for learning from this painful and bitter experience.
War should always be a last resort. Wise veterans of U.S. foreign policy, some of whom had the president’s ear in 2003, counseled against rash actions. Their fears of a protracted and expensive occupation in Iraq came true.
The Cold War method of coalition-building twined with strategic containment of rogue nations still works when confronting threats to international stability. Bush defied this strategy 10 years ago and Americans are still paying the price, and paying it almost exclusively by ourselves.
On March 11, 2003, this space warned that pre-emptive invasion would be “a huge mistake” that will cause “irreparable damage to the United Nations, alliances with our allies in Western Europe and across the globe and to the reputation this nation has as a liberal democracy respectful of diplomacy and international cooperation.”
Despite that prediction, our prayer on this anniversary is for repairs to take place. Our realization is that it will take longer than a decade.