Jeb Bush Re-Writes the History of the Iraq War
1 day ago | Updated 1 day ago
Joseph A. Palermo Professor, historian, author
Nothing illustrates better the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Republican war hawks who call themselves presidential candidates than their attempts to whitewash the history of how this nation went to war in Iraq.
John Ellis “Jeb” Bush stood by his brother’s side while he demolished a nation of 28 million people in the heart of the Arab world he knew nothing about. Out on the stump, Jeb and other GOP candidates try to shift responsibility for the worst U.S. foreign policy disaster since the Vietnam War from George W. to President Barack Obama.
Jeb and Co. claim that everything was fine in Iraq until Obama failed to keep George W.’s ill-conceived war of aggression running on full throttle. They pretend the 2007 “surge” in Iraq of about 10,000 American soldiers had all but “won” the war and the rise of ISIL/ISIS is Obama’s fault. They skip over the pesky fact that it was George W. who negotiated the U.S. troop withdrawal with the Nouri al Maliki regime. (Bush announced the deal at a memorable press conference with Maliki when an Iraqi journalist hurled his shoes at the Leader of the Free World.)
Jeb and Co. also love pointing out that Hillary Rodham Clinton and other big name Democrats voted in favor of the congressional resolution granting W. carte blanche to go to war. But they leave out the fact that just about everybody on the left in America had denounced the war before it began, and that 133 Democrats in the House and 23 Democrats in the Senate voted against Bush’s war.
They also airbrush out of the historical record that one of their conservative heroes, Pope John Paul II (the Polish Pope who stood up to the Communists) emphatically opposed Bush’s war, as did the Arab League, the Islamic Conference, the U.S.’s Sunni allies in the region (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia), the Organization of African Unity, Germany, France, Russia, China, the United Nations, and 15 million people who marched worldwide on February 15, 2003.
They omit these facts because they don’t support the idea that “everybody got it wrong.”
Although it has been dropped down a memory hole, the Downing Street Memo of July 23, 2002 pretty much confirms that the Bush administration deliberately lied the nation into war. The top secret minutes of a summer meeting of the highest-ranking intelligence officials in British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government shows that George W. had already decided to go to war using whatever garbage about Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” his administration could manufacture. One paragraph stands out:
“C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.” [Italics added]
The sentence — “there was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action” — has turned out to be one of the biggest understatements in the history of American military interventions.
Then there was the Valerie Plame/Joseph Wilson scandal whereby Karl Rove and Dick Cheney decided to out Ambassador Wilson’s wife as a secret CIA operative working on international nuclear issues.
This cynical ploy was retribution for Wilson’s op-ed in the New York Times, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” that exposed the Bush administration’s lies about the Iraqi government seeking “yellow cake” uranium from Niger.
The exotic sounding “yellow cake” line was the scariest part of President Bush’s doom-laden State of the Union Address of January 2003, which he later blamed on “bad intelligence.”
Then there was the aluminum tubes fiasco whereby the Bush administration, with an assist from the ever-eager Judith Miller of the New York Times, hyped a shipment of tubes going to Iraq as only suitable for nuclear applications.
It took United Nations weapons experts about 30 seconds to determine that the tubes were not machine tooled for any nuclear program but were for some kind of mortar or simpler use (the tubes were nowhere near the calibrations needed in nuclear research).
Yet the Bush people pumped up the volume on the aluminum tube story. President Bush conjured up terrifying images of “mushroom clouds” and Saddam’s “nuclear mujahideen.”
And that might be the worst aspect of the whole sordid story: A U.S. president cynically exploited the American people’s genuine fear and trepidation of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington to launch an illegal and ill-conceived war of aggression.
In a speech in Cincinnati Ohio on October 7, 2002, while aggressively campaigning for Republican Congressional candidates as the Commander-in-Chief, Bush elaborated on the Iraqi “nuclear threat”:
“The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. Saddam Hussein has held numerous meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists, a group he calls his ‘nuclear mujahedeen’ — his nuclear holy warriors. Satellite photographs reveal that Iraq is rebuilding facilities at sites that have been part of its nuclear program in the past. Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.”
When the fantastic “aluminum tube” story was juxtaposed with the false report of “yellow cake” from Niger, it enabled Condi Rice, Bush and other like-minded souls to scare the hell out of the American people (and the Congress) with the vivid image of “a smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”
In reality, over 20 years earlier, the Israelis had eliminated any potential Iraqi nuclear threat when they blew to bits the French built Osirak nuclear reactor, the only one Iraq ever had. And during the 1991 Gulf War, the United States finished the job when it pulverized Iraq’s infrastructure.
Throughout the 1990s, the United States and Great Britain imposed no-fly zones on the northern and southern parts of Iraq where bombing Iraq became “routine,” along with crippling economic sanctions that killed an estimated half million Iraqi children. Secretary of State Madeliene Albright famously said that the loss of innocent life due to the harsh sanctions imposed on Iraq was “worth it.”
President Bush even went so far as to tell the world that the Iraqis might position “floating platforms” off the coast of the United States where they could station Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) capable of spraying chemical or biological agents on U.S. cities on the East Coast. This preposterous claim was in response to the questions that arose after Secretary of State Colin Powell’s February 5, 2003 U.N. presentation (which he has since renounced) where he made a big deal out of UAVs in Iraq that might emit chemical or biological agents.
The only problem was that the range for these fearsome UAVs was not even close to being a “threat” to the United States. Foreign journalists asked Bush: How can these Iraqi UAVs attack the United States when their range was measured in hundreds of kilometers? You can see Bush’s “floating platform” answer in the superb documentary Leading to War (2008).
Somehow, like something out of a Rambo movie, those cunning Iraqis were going to figure out a way to evade the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard and then outmaneuver the Air Force and U.S. air defenses to deploy UAVs to spray Americans with chemical and biological agents as they walked to Starbucks in Manhattan.
Remember, the Bush people, including White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer (who became a commentator for corporate media), Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (now a Jeb Bush adviser), and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, were not saying they believed there “was a chance” there “might be” WMDs in Iraq. They were spoon-feeding the public exact figures: numbers of barrels of chemical agent, numbers of potential chemical and biological warheads, numbers of caches of prohibited weapons.
Dick Cheney told the Veterans of Foreign Wars in August 2002, “There is no doubt” that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. This assertion led the U.N.’s top weapons inspector, Hans Blix, to ask publicly how they could have 100 percent certainty that the WMDs exist, yet zero percent knowledge of where the weapons were located?
In the fall of 2002, Judith Miller’s stenographic reportage for the New York Times gave plausibility to the bogus claim that the location of Iraq’s WMD stockpile could be discovered using anonymous sources connected to the Bush administration (including the Iranian spy Ahmed Chalabi and the self-promoting flim-flam artist Ibn al Sheikh al-Libi who had the suitable nickname: “curve ball”). A self-perpetuating media loop was created whereby Dick Cheney on the Sunday talk shows cited the New York Times after Miller anonymously published bullshit from Cheney’s own bogus sources.
The Big Lie that effortlessly leaves the lips of all the 2016 Republican presidential candidates is that the war was the result of an “intelligence failure.” But if George W. felt burned by bad intelligence that cost the country so dearly, why would he give CIA Director George “slam dunk” Tenet the Medal of Freedom?
The fact that Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio can say with a straight face that W. and Cheney and Rummy and Condi were innocent dupes of an “intelligence failure,” and that the corporate media will blandly repeat these lies, points to a deeper failure in our political discourse.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress that came to power in 2009 failed to give the country any in-depth investigation into all aspects of the Iraq War. In the U.K., although it might not have amounted to much, at least Tony Blair and Foreign Minister Jack Snow were forced to squirm a little bit in front of a committee investigating their role in lying the British people into war; they had to testify before some independent body at least. On this side of the pond nothing happened but P.R. and spin and amnesia that is setting us up for the next disaster.
In 2002, the arch-terrorist leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was an unknown Jordanian jihadist wannabe who came on the scene too late to see any real action in Afghanistan. Few militants in Iraq or anywhere else ever heard of Zarqawi until Secretary of State Colin Powell built him up into a big shot during his February 5, 2003 indictment of the Iraqi government at the U.N.
As the Italian terrorism expert, Loretta Napoleoni, reported in her 2005 book, Insurgent Iraq: Al Zarqawi and the New Generation, by mentioning Zarqawi by name as a “threat” in his most important address to the world Secretary Powell bestowed upon him a street credibility among jihadists he never had before. President Bush’s famous “Bring ’em on!” line was in response to those who claimed the U.S. military had become bogged down in Iraq and the war had turned the country into a magnet for jihadists to fight the Americans.
The 2016 Republican presidential candidates never tire of telling us how terrible Saddam Hussein was. Yes, Saddam was a despot but at least his regime was secular and had arisen from the organic ethnic and sectarian politics of Iraq. There was no sectarian war going on in Iraq until the U.S. invasion and occupation created the social, economic, and political conditions for it.
Lest we forget, in the 1980s, the U.S. allied itself with the Sunni Baathists in Iraq in their war against Iran. And some of America’s closest allies in the region, such as the theocracy in Saudi Arabia, Egypt under Mubarak, and Bahrain (where the U.S. Navy has the Fifth Fleet), all have abysmal human rights records.
There was no Al Qaeda in Iraq until the U.S. invaded and sparked an insurgency. The rise of ISIL/ISIS was a direct consequence of the U.S. toppling the government and disfranchising the traditional Sunni technocratic class. The Sunnis in Anbar Province and elsewhere in Iraq will never accept Shia rule in Baghdad. And the Shia majority in Iraq and the Iranians are equally determined never to lose power.
This broiling civil and sectarian conflict has the potential to go on for decades and unleash a wider war. At this sad juncture, it looks like Iraq’s disfranchised Sunnis (in a tactical alliance with ISIL/ISIS) will continue to carve out territory until they can shoot their way back into power. (If that day ever comes.) The most likely scenario in Iraq going forward is a multi-sided civil and sectarian war similar to those in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, which is unlikely to be extinguished before it unleashes an even bigger conflagration.
In 2016, given the ongoing U.S.-created catastrophe in Iraq, it’s unbelievable that anyone named “Bush” could be seen as a viable presidential contender. While people in Iraq suffer as a result of misguided and criminal U.S. policies, the American people, facing a $5 billion election in 2016, are hearing presidential candidates put forth the most pathetic apologetics, spin, and lies as they try to whitewash the whole thing.
For 70 years, historians have tried to figure out how World War II-era leaders, diplomats, business and foreign policy elites could allow that kind of carnage to be unleashed upon the world. Today we might be closer to answering that question.