“We Could Not Have Known…”

Writing about the U.S. invasion of Iraq in The New York Times, John Burns asserts:

[T]here were few, if any, who foresaw the extent of the violence that would follow or the political convulsion it would cause in Iraq, America and elsewhere.

We could not know then … the scale of the toll the invasion would unleash: the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians who would die; the nearly 4,500 American soldiers who would be killed; the nearly 35,000 soldiers who would return home wounded; the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who would flee abroad as refugees; the $750 billion in direct war costs that would burden the United States; the bitterness that would seep into American politics; the anti-Americanism that would become a commonplace around the world.

No Iraq War

No Iraq War Protest Sign - 2003

Bull Hockey.

Burns was a principal reporter for the NYT in 2002 and 2003 in the run-up to the war. A run-up that was accompanied by mainstream media cheerleading. A run-up that later would lead the editors to publish a “mea culpa” in 2004. Ditto Howard Kurtz at the Washington Post.

Glenn Greenwald takes Burns et al to task, with excerpts from speeches from Howard Dean and Jim Webb.

Even more to the point: not-yet Vice President Cheney said as much in 1994 when he explained why Bush-the-elder didn’t try to take Baghdad (he uses the adjective “quagmire” in this C-SPAN clip).

Recall that popular opinion in the U.S. was split if President Bush invaded Iraq without UN Security Council support. I’m not one to wave the flag of popular opinion as always being the way leaders should lead (see my posts about the Islamic community center in New York, for example). But. Still.

For example, World Public Opinion reported in 2003 that 6-in-10 Americans believed one of three false memes: 48% incorrectly believed there was evidence of links between Iraq and al Qaeda; 22% incorrectly believed that weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq; and 25% incorrectly believed that world public opinion favored the US going to war with Iraq. The more of “misperceptions” held the more likely the support for invasion. (Note: the slight majority who supported a discretionary war was wrong then and they’re wrong about NYC, too, both legally and morally.)

How could so many be so poorly informed?

TV news stands as a culprit. Of the almost 10,000 people surveyed, 8-in-10 FOX News viewers, 7-in-10 CBS News viewers and 6-in-10 ABC news viewers believed at least one of these falsehoods. Print media did only a little better: 1-in-2. Conversely, only 2-in-10 of those who said that they got their news from NPR/PBS were misinformed.

I opposed the invasion. I joined other protesters in Seattle, the first protest in my life. We still have a “No Iraq War” sign in a window of our home. We were not alone:

[T]he people and organizations who tried to prevent this “preventive” war included the United Nations; people of faith (Muslims, Christians, and Jews); the governments of France, Germany, Russia, China; the Islamic Conference (including Indonesia, the most populated Muslim nation); the Organization of American States; the Arab League; the Organization of African Unity; former President Jimmy Carter; Pope John Paul; 133 members of the U.S. Congress; 10 to 15 million people who took to the streets for peace all over the world on February 15, 2003; Senator Robert Byrd (who articulated a critique of Bush’s war aims on Constitutional grounds); a half dozen intelligence analysts and career civil servants from the State Department and CIA who either resigned or spoke out against this course; and many others.

We could have known. We chose not to. Fighting — striking back at a fabricated threat — simply felt better than looking in the mirror to try to understand why 9-11 might have happened.

Finally, Greenwald doesn’t connect the dots between Vietnam and Afghanistan, which is being ignored in this symbolic and meaningless, as far as fighting a discretionary war is concerned, milestone. In both endeavors, we ignored history: the French in the case of Vietnam and the Soviet Union in the case of Afghanistan. In addition to leaving behind a tattered nation, we are, ourselves, in economic tatters. One way or another (via taxes or debt), we will be paying (trillions of dollars in direct and indirect costs) for this latest bit of hubris for decades.

We should have known.

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