Sceptics and suckers: A look back at Iraq

Ten years after the invasion of Iraq, the disastrous failure of Bush’s war is evident to just about everyone. Here’s the news from the day before the anniversary.

Debates over the case for war in Iraq coincided with the emergence of the political blogosphere and created divisions that have been pretty much set in stone ever since. Those who, for one reason or another, swallowed and repeated the lies used to push the war dug themselves further and further in over subsequent years. Those of us who were sceptical[1] of the claims made by Bush and Blair, and proven right by events, came to realise that the other side inhabited a parallel universe, in which the possibility that prior beliefs might be changed by factual evidence was largely absent.

I want to restate a point that seems to be forgotten a lot, especially by those who went along with the Bush-Blair claims about WMDs. Until December 2002, there was plenty of behavioral evidence to suggest that Saddam had WMDs, namely the fact that he had expelled (or, more precisely, refused to co-operate with) the UN weapons inspection program. Given the benefits from being declared WMD-free, this made little sense unless he had weapons. Equally, Bush and Blair were making statements that they knew what WMDs Saddam had and fairly accurate knowledge of their location. Again, this seemed (to me, at any rate) to make no sense if they were relying on a bluff that Saddam could easily call.

All of that changed, in December 2002, when Saddam readmitted the inspectors and declared that he had no WMDs. At that point, it suddenly became obvious (again, to me, at any rate) that Bush and Blair had been making it up. I naively supposed that it would be equally obvious to everyone else, and that, as a result it would be impossible to mobilise support for war. That was wrong, of course. I was particularly struck by the unanimity with which the pro-war bloggers reproduced the ever-changing propaganda lines of the Administration. No one would be surprised now, but back then, the assumption was that disputes with rightwingers were a matter of honest disagreement.

fn1. It’s striking, in view of the extreme gullibility shown by such people that the overlap with those who call themselves climate “sceptics” is very high.

95 thoughts on “Sceptics and suckers: A look back at Iraq

  1. Personally i thought there were good reasons to be skeptical about the claimed reasons for the Iraq war even apart frothe false WMD claims. Bush and Powell also postulated pre-war links between Hussein and Al Quaida. See

    This was plainly absurd to anyone with a passing understanding of the Islamic world. Hussein was a secular Shiite. Bin Laden was a Sunni fundamentalist. To the ignorant, who I think just lump middle eastern peoples together as “brown people”, the thought two western enemies might join forces seemed a real danger. But it would be like Martin McGuiness and Rev Paisley joining forces to attack the British government – unthinkable within their world.

    So why would anyone make up such an obvious lie? To justify a pre-determined course of action decided for other reasons. It was all obviously invented.

  2. But wouldn’t a 6 month mistake have been completely forgotten by now
    versus a 10 year nation building mistake?
    I think so.

  3. @J-D
    Hmm…not a very clever comment from someone who obviously thinks they are very clever. More point was more to Fred’s wider point around claiming something had failed without understanding the motives of the actors. Clown.

  4. Colin Powell’s underling ….

    Question: The then director of the CIA, George Tenent, Vice President Cheney’s deputy Libby, told you that the intelligence that was the basis of going to war was rock solid. Given what you now know, how does that make you feel?

    It makes me feel terrible. I’ve said in other places that it was– constitutes the lowest point in my professional life. My participation in that presentation at the UN constitutes the lowest point in my professional life.
    I participated in a hoax on the American people, the international community and the United Nations Security Council. How do you think that makes me feel? Thirty-one years in the United States Army and I more or less end my career with that kind of a blot on my record? That’s not a very comforting thing.

    But even that turned out to be, in its substantive parts– that is stockpiles of chemicals, biologicals and production capability that was hot and so forth, and an active nuclear program. The three most essential parts of that presentation turned out to be absolutely false.


  5. One day I woke up to read Bush Junior’s “axis of evil”, and wondered why he said it. Then all the wmd talk started, and soon we were heading for war.

    I marched in Perth against it. It was the biggest march against anything in Perth since the 1970’s. Similar large rallies were held around the country. Of course the government ignored us. Cheney and Rumsfeld wanted a war, and hence Bush wanted a war, and therefore Howard and Blair wanted a war.

    Andrew Wilkie gave the lie to WMD, and of course was ignored. I wasn’t convinced that there were no wmds, but I was convinced that in the rush to war the allies were only interested in having some slightly credible justification for the war.

  6. Ken_L :

    hc you and I had some ill-tempered exchanges on another blog years ago about my contempt for John Howard and his government. I believed then and believe now that his fellow-travelling with the Cheney/Rumsfeld mob was the worst kind of unprincipled political opportunism and that he was to be despised for it. Likewise I despise the Rudd and Gillard Governments for never having commissioned an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Australia’s participation in the invasion (and for mindlessly boosting the virtues of the aimless Afghanistan operation). Politicians can do all kinds of things that people disagree with and still deserve respect, but waging aggressive war – for the first time ever in Australian history – is in a uniquely unforgivable category of political expediency.

    I’m not in favour of formally attributing blame. Everyone knows that Howard just went in because the US did, and repeated any necessary lies to justify it.

    We remain free of dictators because we don’t lock up former leaders. So they don’t feel compelled to cling to power at all costs. Lets keep it like that.

  7. Many Australian politicians deserve criticism for going along with this war, especially but not only Howard. Beasley raised almost no concerns, despite supposed honour and expertise on foreign affairs and defence issues. He was at best weak, at worst politically compromised, trying not to deter the right wing vote. Even that was folly, since Labor does not get such votes anyway, and Howard finished up with control of the Senate.

    Chris W

    Thanks for the links, though I find Powell’s “admission” that he was duped a bit convenient. Any strategist familiar with the arabic world could have known it was false. He was a very well educated man. I think the real reason for his regret was shame at his own cowardice. Deep down he knew it was rubbish, but lacked the courage to say so against his friends wishes.

  8. @John Brookes

    I’m not in favour of formally attributing blame. Everyone knows that Howard just went in because the US did, and repeated any necessary lies to justify it.

    Sounds like an excellent basis for attributing primary responsibility to me.

    We remain free of dictators because we don’t lock up former leaders. So they don’t feel compelled to cling to power at all costs. Lets keep it like that.

    I’m not in favour of locking him up. This is politics and he was a player. Yes, Howard was a shifty dissembling sleazebag but enough of the voters bought his nonsense to implicate them in the decision. You can’t say he is literally criminal without implicating large swathes of the voters.

    OTOH, truth telling is always a very good thing. Having it told when he is in a position to answer for his serious malfeasance would be a very good thing.

    * I’d like to see Beazley shamed in public too, not only on Afghanistan and Iraq, but on Tampa.

  9. You didn’t need political awareness, you didn’t have to know any history. All you had to do was think how the grunts were going to fare replacing the local police on the streets Iraq.

    It helped to know about PNAC, to hear Dubya call the invasion a crusade, to know about Cheney’s sojourn in private enterprise, to notice that Condi had an oil tanker named after her, to count the Iran-contra crooks and Likudniks within the administration, to boggle at the Patriot Act, to translate Blix’s Diplomatic-ese into English, etc, but that help was just fruit for the side board.

    It was a no-brainer.

  10. I watched a great doco last night from “Panorama” called “The Spies Who Fooled the World”

    I’m probably a weird conspiracy theorist, but this is the third time I’ve tried to post about it to this thread. This time I won’t include the link to the place you can watch it.

    Hint: information + clearing + house

  11. Megan :
    I’m probably a weird conspiracy theorist, …

    “Conspiracy Theory”: Foundations of a Weaponized Term
    Subtle and Deceptive Tactics to Discredit Truth in Media and Research
    by James F. Tracy on Global Research, 22 January 2013

    “Conspiracy theory” is a term that at once strikes fear and anxiety in the hearts of most every public figure, particularly journalists and academics. Since the 1960s the label has become a disciplinary device that has been overwhelmingly effective in defining certain events off limits to inquiry or debate. Especially in the United States raising legitimate questions about dubious official narratives destined to inform public opinion (and thereby public policy) is a major thought crime that must be cauterized from the public psyche at all costs.

    … In the groundswell of public skepticism toward the Warren Commission’s findings on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the CIA sent a detailed directive to all of its bureaus. Titled “Countering Criticism of the Warren Commission Report,” the dispatch played a definitive role in making the “conspiracy theory” term a weapon to be wielded against almost any individual or group calling the government’s increasingly clandestine programs and activities into question.

  12. @Patrickb
    Then you could have made your response a lot clearer by stating explicitly that you disagreed with Fred Struth about what the purpose of the invasion was, and it’s not my fault that you didn’t.

    I agree that if the purpose of the invasion was to create chaos, it succeeded.

  13. So, can anyone explain to me how NATO’s Syrian “regime-change” in Libya in 2011 and its ongoing “regime-change” proxy war against Syria, which some estimate has cost 70,000 lives, differ from its illegal wars against Iraq in 2003 and 1991?

    Can anyone explain why we should be less concerned about a war, which is raging now in 2013 and which we stand some chance of stopping, than a war which we failed to stop ten years ago?

  14. @malthusista I would also appreciate clarification of exactly how you believe ‘we’ could stop the Syrian civil war? A little elaboration of who ‘we’ are would also be helpful.

    @John Brookes I have never advocated locking Howard up. I don’t follow your argument I’m afraid; the point about locking people up seems a total non sequitur to the point about allocating blame, although I would prefer to talk about accountability rather than blame. However you are obviously on the side of the majority who want to forget the circumstances in which Australia waged aggressive war as quickly as possible, because ‘everyone knows’ we just don’t do that sort of thing. Democracy!

  15. (Professor Quiggin, I accidentally incuded more than one URL in the prvious post, so it is now ‘awaiting moderation’. Could you please delete it?)

    Ken_L (@ #42), John Brookes (@ #42),

    (The following response has also been posted here. Other material and links to other material about the Syrian conflict can also be found on candobetter -dot- net . Please feel welcome to post comments there as well as to here.)

    As previously advised, I don’t propose to entertain this kind of thing on my blog. All comments should be directed to the candobetter site – JQ

  16. @rog

    Gee, what useful terms. “There are other aspects to this ‘exporting of democracy’ thing, one being that it is a market based democracy, not a political democracy as argued here.”

    Yes, the US markets ‘market based democracy’, i.e. free for all for those with money, and often destroys ‘political democracy’ – actually having a voice even if you don’t have money.

    I suppose those terms have been around for ages? Hadn’t come across them before.

  17. see Chris Coyne’s After War: The Political Economy of Exporting Democracy, California: Stanford University Press, 2008 for a good read, 1st chapter is online.

    talks about how efforts to export democracy and liberty through military intervention have often been ineffective and have resulted in unintended and undesirable consequences. it is about the continued effort to apply ineffective means in the attempt to obtain worthy ends.

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