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The Iraq War: the path to war
October 19, 2010 7:01 AM   Subscribe

The Iraq War: was there even a decision? "Perhaps most revealing ... is what is missing--any indication whatsoever from the declassified record to date that top Bush administration officials seriously considered an alternative to war. In contrast there is an extensive record of efforts to energize military planning, revise existing contingency plans, and create a new, streamlined war plan." The National Security Archive at George Washington University has released a set of documents from the US and British archives related to the Iraq war: Part I, Part II, Part III. Political scientist Russell Burgos (who served in Iraq):
... there is indeed a kind of inevitability about the confrontation, but it was an inevitability created by domestic politics rather than 9/11. In my estimation, the origins of the "path to war" are found in the Republican Revolution of 1994; I will suggest that from 1996 to 2000, Iraq policy was not about Iraq - it was about an increasingly strident partisan attack on President Bill Clinton in which "Iraq" was not a subject of deliberate policy but was a synecdoche for "Clinton's failure."
Historian Robert Jervis also comments. Via H-DIPLO.
posted by russilwvong (42 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
It amazes me that you Americans want these guys back so much.
posted by Artw at 7:08 AM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


It amazes me that you Americans want these guys back so much.

Surely this...
posted by fuq at 7:15 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


In reply to Atrw, I have an explanation as to why many Americans want to bring back the Republicans. Americans are accustomed to think that if they are not happy with the way things are, they should vote against the party in power, who are responsible for the existing state of affairs, and vote in the main opposing party, which will change things. But it often seems not even to matter which party is in power, although sometimes it makes a difference. Had Goldwater been elected rather than Johnson in 1964, we would not have had the Civil Rights Act of 1965, and that particular piece of legislation did make a difference. But we would still have had the Vietnam War. (Whether it would have escalated to the point of nuclear war under Goldwater, as some feared, we will never really know.)

For anyone to seriously believe that the Republican Party will do a better job of solving the problems of America than the Democratic Party has been doing, seems very foolish. But there are lots of foolish people. They may even be in the majority.
posted by grizzled at 7:20 AM on October 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


I assume that this means Robert Gates will be on national TV later today to declare George Washinton University sponsors of terrorism, correct?
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:22 AM on October 19, 2010


This is my surprised face. You'll notice it looks a lot like my regular face, because I knew this back in 2003.
posted by absalom at 7:22 AM on October 19, 2010 [17 favorites]


The problem, grizzled, is that there is absolutely no sense of lead/lag in most people's minds. Bush crashed the car (militarily, economically, and domestically), and there are a lot of people wondering why Obama isn't back to mid-pack, two laps later.
posted by notsnot at 7:24 AM on October 19, 2010 [7 favorites]


This was all known at the time to anyone that was paying attention.

Perle, Wolfowitz, Cheney and Rumsfeld were on record as itching to invade Iraq. Shrubya was their stalking horse.

Arrogant, ignorant, un-American bastards, one and all.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:25 AM on October 19, 2010 [8 favorites]


They may even be in the majority.

Sorry but may?? They've held the majority pretty much forever. It's just that somehow, good things happen on occasion despite that fact.

I'm realizing how much trouble we have because of the election cycle, primarily because of the crisis that Bush created. Two years is in no way long enough for things to seriously turn around as a result of any policies enacted by Obama. You can't just stop something of that magnitude on a dime and turn it around in the other direction. So, things still suck, it must be Obama's fault, throw the bums out. Nevermind that the bums they want to put into power are the ones who caused this (as well as others, who want to move further into the same shit that caused the problem in the first place).

The US has seriously jumped the shark. The right in this country is unhinged, bent on proving once and for all that government doesn't work by being as shitty as possible at governing, and the left is moving rightward to try to attract the center-righties, who are also leaning more rightward than previously. This is not a good time.
posted by nevercalm at 7:28 AM on October 19, 2010 [14 favorites]


It amazes me that you Americans want these guys back so much.

The economy tanked and there's a vague suspicion that other people, not sure who, are getting over why Joe Public suffers. The Republicans are pointing the figure and saying "We will fix this shit and kick their asses". The Democrats are saying "Yeah, things are tough and that sucks, we understand. The economy has improved a little, it's true, but it has a ways to go. Oh yeah, we fixed health care and other stuff, which should work out well for the country by 2014, but in the mean time, yeah things suck." The only surprise here is that the Democrats are still getting some votes.
posted by nomadicink at 7:36 AM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Nearly 50% of the voting public wanted McCain in office immediately after Bush fubared the nation.

That pretty much says it all.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:40 AM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sometimes there's $738 billion just burning a hole in your pocket.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:40 AM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Republicans are pointing the figure and saying "We will fix this shit and kick their asses".

??????????

Really?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:41 AM on October 19, 2010


My recollection is that the first public mention of Iraq in the 9/11 context related to two incidents of suspected Iraqi involvement in biological warfare attacks on the United States: the anthrax attacks and the appearance of West Nile fever. There was no evidence to support either claim, but the fact that those claims went public so quickly shows at least that there was a significant faction in power that wanted to focus hostility on Iraq.

The effort to implicate Iraq in 9/11 was particularly noticable in the statements of Richard Spertzel, who pointed to the (non-existent) presence of bentonite in the anthrax attacks as a key signature of Iraqi weaponization techniques and also to the facility at Salman Pak which were falsely alleged to have been used to train 9/11 hijackers.

The strong linkage between the anthrax attacks and the theme of false allegations of WMD possession was instrumental in the early phases. However, it appears that much of the effort to tie the anthrax attacks to Iraq may have been underlings eager to tell bosses what they wanted to hear and equally afraid to direct attention to the more likely case theory of a right-wing "lone operator" inside the US biowarfare establishment. The right-wing insider theory of the anthrax attacks was put forward by the Monterey Institute in November 2001 and squelched as "radioactive" by news editors.

You see, the instant the strain was identified as Ames, the focus should have shifted to the US and away from Iraq (which was known to be only in possession of Vollum.)

We had a perfectly good opportunity to study the march to war as it was happening and it was discarded in the war fever of the times.
posted by warbaby at 7:46 AM on October 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


Well color me completely unsurprised. The goal was any excuse, or failing that, no excuse. Anyone calling for examining the reasons and making sure they were correct were either marginalized or fired outright.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:48 AM on October 19, 2010


The GW archives house those NSA documents that have been authorized to be released. which means we do not have access to ALL documents relating to this issue. Though it is suggested here that the Bush group wanted to go to war for political purposes, there is also (but neglectyed here) the idea that inspections were not getting cooperation from Saddam (true or not, I am not really sure), and that WMD were being concealed--this may be an excuse or ir may be poor intelligence.
As far as Clinton, who asserts that he did not want war with Iraq, we do have this:

"Before the invasion, Mr. Clinton did not precisely declare that he opposed the war. A week before military action began, however, he did say that he preferred to give weapons inspections more time and that an invasion was not necessary to topple Saddam Hussein. At the same time, he also spoke supportively about the 2002 Senate resolution that authorized military action against Iraq."
posted by Postroad at 7:52 AM on October 19, 2010


It amazes me that you Americans want these guys back so much.

The Republicans did a marvelous job of demonizing liberals during the Bush war years and continue to do so. For all the war years they had carte blanche blaming all ills, economic, political, social, and otherwise, on the political opponent; and a lot of Republicans were in the (false) belief that they'd done away with democrats in power once and for all. Hence the enormous freak out when Obama was elected to office in 2008. When you spend 8 years scapegoating your opponent for everything, calling them terrorists and asserting that they're not "real Americans", wouldn't you freak out a bit when they won? That and the anti-abortion, pro-libertarian strand had picked up a lot of momentum during the Bush years, the right's not going to drop those issues.
posted by camdan at 7:56 AM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


> It amazes me that you Americans want these guys back so much.

The new guys are even more crazy, willfully ignorant, incompetent and malicious than the last crew was. Election '10: America Doubles Down!
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:02 AM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


oh my this is unexpected and will certainly change minds
posted by Legomancer at 8:07 AM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


a lot of Republicans were in the (false) belief that they'd done away with democrats in power once and for all

It happens.

"The End of the Republican Party" - May 11, 2009
posted by Joe Beese at 8:07 AM on October 19, 2010


It amazes me that you Americans want these guys back so much.

Clearly you're one of the many under the delusion that my country is sane in any fashion. We turned down universal health care. Elected officials believe Russia is in the line of sight from their personal homes. We've got people believing Sharia law is in effect in the US. At least 1 in 20 citizens believe the Earth is larger than the Sun.

I feel like the world need to start sending volunteers to open up schools here, because these are NOT the people you want to have sitting on top of the world's largest nuclear weapon stockpile.
posted by yeloson at 8:30 AM on October 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


Iran Backs al-Maliki, in Iran, for Iraqi PM
posted by homunculus at 8:36 AM on October 19, 2010


...there's a vague suspicion that other people, not sure who, are getting over why Joe Public suffers

Rush Limbaugh's secret of success, IMO.
posted by mmrtnt at 8:42 AM on October 19, 2010


Oh yeah, we fixed health care

LOL
posted by hermitosis at 8:42 AM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Really?

Yeah, that's pretty much what "Take our country back" and "fight government corruption" mean. Americans loves to see a smack down, liberals too. Hell, my biggest disappointment with Obama is that he has not gotten into a bar brawl with Republicans and severely kicked their ass in public, repeatedly, while pining a new Sheriff star on his check and putting a cowboy hat back on his head.
posted by nomadicink at 8:44 AM on October 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


In other news, The Who used to have a song called "We Won't Be Fooled Again."

And this year they played it at the fucking Super Bowl.

I'm going to take a little nap now.
posted by notion at 9:14 AM on October 19, 2010


I feel like the world need to start sending volunteers to open up schools here, because these are NOT the people you want to have sitting on top of the world's largest nuclear weapon stockpile.

Agreed... I've concluded for years that the ONLY way out is if society somehow begins glorifying education and cultivating knowledge or a benevolent demogogue rises to power who preys upon the ignorant and illiterate but instills the right values. Then there might be a golden age. Unfortunately I think we're on cruise control and government will quickly become saturated with cronies and corporate interests. As it is, we're probably 10 years away from Fortune 500 companies making a call to shut down any Internet site they don't like. And you know there's going to be some pretext for your Joe Sixpack neighbor next door to rally to the company's defense (or shrug and flip on American Idol).
posted by crapmatic at 9:31 AM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Postroad: there is also (but neglected here) the idea that inspections were not getting cooperation from Saddam (true or not, I am not really sure), and that WMD were being concealed--this may be an excuse or it may be poor intelligence.

The weapons inspections are addressed in Part II:
Documenting the origins of the Iraq war are an increasing array of declassified documents, a public record of the time, and a growing body of reflections, recollections, and memoirs. This material sustains the narrative of a drive toward war but not one of conflict resolution. Such diplomacy as took place was designed to recruit allies for an invasion or to coerce the Saddam government into admitting international teams of weapons inspectors--not to disarm Iraq but to justify invasion.

At the very beginning of 2002 (see National Security Archive EBB No. 326) the American distaste for disarmament measures was apparent in the reception that chief United Nations (UN) weapons inspector Hans Blix received when he visited Washington early in the new year. During 2001 Secretary Powell had promoted "smart sanctions" to encourage Iraqi disarmament but the events of 9/11 had effectively killed that policy. Now a succession of Bush administration officials voiced doubts or made veiled threats. Colin Powell expected Iraq would never comply with UN measures while his undersecretary for arms control, John Bolton, remarked that any UN effort would need the help of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council--of whom the U.S. was one. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice told Blix of her fears Saddam Hussein would use weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or give them to terrorists. Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith worried that UN inspectors visiting Iraq would simply learn how to conceal WMDs in their own countries. (Note 4) His colleague Paul Wolfowitz asked the CIA to investigate whether Hans Blix himself was a security risk. (The agency found no evidence of that. (Note 5)) Meanwhile, ahead of Blix's visit, CIA chief George Tenet and senior clandestine service officers met with Vice President Richard Cheney at the White House to discuss covert operations in Iraq.
Postroad: The GW archives house those ... documents that have been authorized to be released. which means we do not have access to ALL documents relating to this issue.

Sure, but take a look at the documents we do have. All the US documents, even the relatively early ones, assume that war is going to happen. Even Powell, who argued for going the UN route, was assuming that Saddam Hussein would never cooperate with UNSCOM, and that this would justify war. (The British documents show much more discussion of options short of war.) This means that on the US side, if there was a decision, it must have happened earlier.

Russell Burgos's analysis makes sense to me: Republican foreign-policy thinkers had been arguing since the 1990s that overthrowing Saddam Hussein was a good idea, but before 9/11 they weren't in a position to be able to launch a full-scale pre-emptive war. After 9/11, they went ahead. There's no evidence that they sought advice, either inside or outside government, about what the likely consequences would be (*).

(*) Charles Kupchan, December 2002: "I think the war will go smoothly actually. What I really worry about is the occupation. You ought to see a therapist if you want to occupy Iraq. It's just the last place I would want to set up shop. The whole region is deeply anti-American. They'll probably be dancing in the streets for 24 to 48 hours and then they'll take up sniper positions."
posted by russilwvong at 9:34 AM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hell, my biggest disappointment with Obama is that he has not gotten into a bar brawl with Republicans and severely kicked their ass in public, repeatedly, while pining a new Sheriff star on his check and putting a cowboy hat back on his head.

Hyperbole aside, this is actually where I think Obama went wrong that he could so easily have gone right (no pun intended).

He was elected on a surge of anti-Iraq sentiment. I still feel like the only reason Hillary didn't win the nomination is because of her Iraq vote.

And yet, he got so dragged down by the financial crisis, so eager to be seen as 'doing something' about the problem, that he let the narrative of his first term become completely intertwined in the word 'crisis.'

He could have--should have--immediately closed Guantanamo Bay. Shown up on the site to close it down, delivering habeas corpus and chocolate bars to all those poor detainees.

Then, he should have closed down the secret CIA prisons. He should have dismantled the wiretapping system. He should have repealed the PATRIOT Act. He should have--and this is key--convened a grand jury to prosecute the Iraq debacle, while simultaneously aggressively drawing down troops in the region. Every news cycle should have been something like, "Today in Iraq, three-thousand more troops are coming home. We'll go live to the happy reunions of soldiers with their families. But first, new evidence uncovered by the Iraq Commission has Dick Cheney scheduled to testify, yet again. More after this."

He could still have gotten the stimulus done in-between, and we'd be in the same shape we are now--marginally better, economically. But we'd also be stoked to have seen the bad guys get what they deserved. (And make no mistake, the Iraq Group are really, really bad guys.)

But instead, all we got was "Let's look to the future" and two straight years of poor job numbers to concentrate on.

It's just poor narrative control, to say nothing of frustratingly misguided in terms of voter sentiment.
posted by silentpundit at 9:47 AM on October 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


In other news, The Who used to have a song called "We Won't Be Fooled Again."

And this year they played it at the fucking Super Bowl.



YEEEEAAAAAAAAHHHH!!
posted by explosion at 9:51 AM on October 19, 2010


> In other news, The Who used to have a song called "We Won't Be Fooled Again."*

And this year they played it at the fucking Super Bowl.**

I'm going to take a little nap now.
***

* "Won't Get Fooled Again"
** two guys calling themselves "The Who" played it at the fucking Super Bowl
*** never a bad idea
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:02 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


two guys calling themselves "The Who" played it at the fucking Super Bowl

Which is tantamount to calling the Page/Plant record "a Led Zeppelin album".
posted by Joe Beese at 10:18 AM on October 19, 2010


And this year they played it at the fucking Super Bowl.

Did they play "My Generation"?

Cause that would be funny.
posted by steambadger at 10:34 AM on October 19, 2010


They stood on a giant round LED screen, and yes, of course it turned into a RAF Roundel.

Nobody drove a scooter off a cliff though.
posted by Artw at 10:40 AM on October 19, 2010


Whenever the prelude to the war in Iraq comes up, I think back to winter 2001. In their second month in office, the Bush administration started bombing targets in Iraq's no-fly zone. I was in the Marine Corps reserve at the time, in aircraft maintenance. There was talk in February 2001 that we'd probably be activated soon.

I distinctly remember thinking, when I got home later, that with Bush in office I'd almost certainly be activated at some point. It just seemed inevitable. I'm shocked that some people still think invading Iraq wasn't an objective of the Bush administration from day one.
posted by heathkit at 10:40 AM on October 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Not mine, but I can't offhand find where I copied this from - it's in my scrapbook:

“The salient fact of American politics is that there are fifty to seventy million voters each of who will volunteer to live, with his family, in a cardboard box under an overpass, and cook sparrows on an old curtain rod, if someone would only guarantee that the black, gay, Hispanic, liberal, whatever, in the next box over doesn’t even have a curtain rod, or a sparrow to put on it.”
posted by DreamerFi at 11:30 AM on October 19, 2010 [16 favorites]


"It just seemed inevitable."
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:00 PM on October 19, 2010


I've actually just gotten back from a panel discussion titled "Iraq in the balance" which was organized by Georgetown University in Qatar

Anyway the speakers were all notable figures (Prof. Anthony Cordesman
Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy center for Strategic and International Studies, Dr. Laith Kubba director for Middle East and North Africa National Endowment for Democracy, and Ms. Rend Al-Rahim Executive Director of The Iraq Foundation) and the general consensus was that Iraq is, to paraphrase, completely fucked: down from the problems with water supply stemming from Turkey and Syria damming the rivers upstream to problems stemming from a hastily written constitution that does not give the government power to effectively govern on a day to day level.

In fact, the mood in the room was so low that the moderator, at the end of the talks, asked the panelists to say something positive about the future of Iraq. Laith Kubba and Rend Al-Rahim both gave very glib, general responses about the strength and resilience of the Iraqi people. Anthony Cordesman quickly stated that although optimism can be good, that honesty and accurate analysis is far more beneficial and that the the survival of Iraq in the coming years is far from being a sure thing and hinges on setting up a government that is able to provide and protect the Iraqi people.

Interesting enough, the chief point of Cordesman's talk was that despite the fact that the US is effectively withdrawing from Iraq, that the proximity of the US military bases in the region mean that the US will be able to respond to an Iranian attack.

Forgive me for derailing the discussion here a bit, but (after the cocktails following the panel) it seems important to remember that the 'mission', whatever that may be, is still a long, long ways from being accomplished.
posted by FunGus at 1:08 PM on October 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


The thing about spending most of your money on the miltary is that you're obligated to then use it.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:20 PM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


You watch your foreign mouth, Northerner.
posted by nomadicink at 2:43 PM on October 19, 2010


The thing about spending most of your money on the miltary is that you're obligated to then use it.

This, x1,000,000. Wish I could favorite it more. Given a nuclear bomb, there's no way we weren't going to use it. Given stealth technology, there's no way we weren't going to find an excuse to use it. And so on. We are a nation that thrives on war. The very thought of it turns my stomach.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 5:14 PM on October 19, 2010


To be fair, we never used the gay bomb.
posted by silentpundit at 5:20 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's just 'cause we were scared of blowback.
posted by nomadicink at 7:43 AM on October 20, 2010


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