Ten years after the invasion of Iraq, four popular myths about the war should now be dispelled:
New evidence reveals American and British intelligence officers were informed by reliable high-level sources in Iraq (1, 2, 3--video available only if you have a British IP address) before the invasion that Saddam did not have WMDs.
In addition, former US Marine and Iraq weapons inspector Scott Ridder in 2002 waged a very public campaign to persuade American and British officials that whatever biological weapons Saddam stored from the late 1980s had turned into "harmless goo."
A U.S. Senate report concluded that American leaders discounted this evidence and "misled themselves." After 9-11, they were guilty of fear-mongering and hysterical group-think.
Intelligence officers had a "fixed mindset" that caused them to "see only evidence that supported this possibility" that Saddam had WMDs, US weapons inspector Charles Duelfer has concluded. The Bush administration chose Duelfer to him to head up the US investigation of Iraq's weapon's program. In a March, 2013 essay, Duelfer maintained "no books were cooked," but that "alternative possibilities fell by the wayside." Intelligence officers "fell victim to fabricators who told us what we expected to hear." Nevertheless, "intelligence reports should not be the only basis for making decisions, and they were not for the Bush administration."
Even if it were known that Saddam had no WMDs, a sizeable number of policy-makers favored his removal anyway. For them, wmd's were beside the main point. Remember that the desire for regime change in Iraq was a US goal since 1998, because of the belief that Saddam Hussein represented a long-term threat to his neighbors and ultimately, US and British interests.
"Imagine, for a moment, that US infantry units rolling into Baghdad in April, 2003 had found a couple of warehouses full of VX gas and mustard gas component chemicals and warheads, or a refrigerator full of botulinum toxin. That would have been enough to 'prove' the Bush administration's case for war - 'pre-empting' the threat posed by Saddam. But would proving that Saddam's regime had some unconventional weapons capability have made the Iraq war any less of a debacle? That invading Iraq was an epic blunder is a commonly held view today in the US strategic establishment, and any discovery of stocks of WMD on Iraqi soil would not likely have altered that assessment. The problems inherent in the case for war were obvious to anyone who cared to ask the more difficult questions." -- Tony Karon, The (UAE) National newspaper, in an article titled "Media Failed to Ask Right Questions on Weapons Claims."
Why would the possession of WMDs by Saddam necessarily require war with Iraq? The question applies not only to Saddam's Iraq, but nuclear weapons in Iran, and biological weapons possibly used by Assad's forces in Syria.
In none of these cases can the governments prove they do not possess such weapons. Even giving United Nations' weapons inspectors full, free and permanent ability to search for "needles in haystacks" would not necessarily prevent a rush to war. Weapons inspectors who declared definitively that Saddam had no WMDs would not have been believed. Or if they were believed, Saddam would have been exposed as vulnerable to his enemies, foreign and domestic. He had a stake in making the case on WMDs ambivilant.
So, the continuing debate over WMDs ("Bush and Blair lied; people died") is a great over-simplification of the rationale for the Iraq war. They should not be accepted as "gospel truth," Duelfer writes. "Certainly, there were plenty of mistakes made then that should be avoided in the future. However, many of these arguments seem grounded in politics rather than reality."
Yes, the Bush administration, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair exaggerated the case for war -- magnifying Saddam as an "imminent threat" because he supposedly had WMDs. Over-selling was a marketing and public relations tactic to manipulate a divided public to support war.
But it was not nearly as bad as the far more substantive blunders that were made. Americans had nearly complete lack of understanding or appreciation of Iraqi history, culture or even understanding of the Arabic language on the part of intelligence officers. The US Embassy in Iraq, with more than 1,000 staffers in 2006, had only six fluent Arabic speakers.
In the run-up to the war, as Fred Kaplan reported, Bush was warned by Iraqi exiles that American forces "would have to tamp down the sectarian tensions that would certainly reignite between Sunnis and Shiites in the wake of Saddam’s toppling.
Bush looked at the exiles as if they were speaking Martian. They spent much of their remaining time, explaining to him that Iraq had two kinds of Arabs, whose quarrels dated back centuries. Clearly, he’d never heard about this before.
Few things are more frightening than ignorance in action, the German philosopher Goethe said. Bush made the same mistake American presidents made in Vietnam -- stumbling and bumbling arrogance and ignorance of the history and culture of the country the US was invading.