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Wishful thinking

March 24th, 2003

One of the most striking features of the war so far has been the fact that, on a wide range of issues, Iraqi official statements have been a more reliable source of information than those of the US and allied governments. Within the first day or so of the invasion, US sources on the spot in Southern Iraq were claiming the capture of towns like Nasiriya and Umm Qasr, the surrender of entire Iraqi divisions and predicting the imminent fall of Basra. Meanwhile, Iraqi officials in Baghdad were denying all this and claiming that their forces were fighting on. Even for someone as skeptical of US official pronouncements as me, it did not seem difficult to tell who had the facts on their side and who was merely blustering.

But as it has turned out, the Iraqis were right on all these counts, while the US was wrong. The Iraqi claims may have been just lucky guesses but it seems more likely that their communications have not been disrupted to the extent that the US has claimed.

On the US side, there’s no reason to suppose that the claims were deliberate lies or military misinformation. The most plausible explanation is less sinister but in many ways more disturbing. Throughout the journey to war, the US Administration has displayed wishful thinking on a massive scale, leading to uncritical acceptance of anything that seemed to reinforce its self-belief. The easy credulity that was given to the forged documents supposedly showing Iraqi purchases of uranium from Niger and the clumsily doctored and plagiarised analysis of Iraqi intelligence put forward by Blair’s spin doctors are two of the most notable examples, but there are many more.

The most critical piece of wishful thinking is the assumption that the armed forces of the US and UK, which have been bombing and starving Iraqis for the last decade, will be welcomed as liberators when they finally defeat Saddam. The argument that Saddam’s defiance was responsible for the bombings and that his corruption was responsible for the devastating impact of the sanctions, plays well in Washington thinktanks, but I imagine the view of the average Iraqi is much closer to ‘a plague on both your houses’.

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  1. April 13th, 2004 at 01:15 | #1

    I’n not that sure

  2. gordon
    April 14th, 2004 at 18:00 | #2

    Doesn’t surprise me much. Remember how in “The Best and the Brightest” Halberstam described over and over again how ready the US armed forces and Pentagon were to lie, and how eager the Administration was to believe. Unwelcome facts were ignored and anybody with a non-standard version of events was sidelined.

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