By the Rev. Robert Moore and Richard Moody
The question recently was raised to presumed presidential candidate Jeb Bush whether, knowing what he knows now, he would have started a war with Iraq, as his brother, President George W. Bush, did in 2003. His initial answer, on which he flip-flopped a number of times in the days following, was yes.
We tend to believe his first answer, partly because it was unvarnished before any public blowback — but even more because many of his top foreign policy advisors include those who championed the rush to war using manipulated intelligence on Iraq. It is crucial to remember the truth about what led to that war, as we may be on the verge of being neo-conned into another even more disastrous war — with Iran.
The Bush administration’s decision to “sell” the war began in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack, when Vice President Cheney brought up an attack on Iraq as a response. This was in spite of the widely known fact that Iraq had nothing to do with al Qaeda, and actually was deeply antagonistic to it.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld formed an ad hoc group to manipulate intelligence to make Iraq appear connected to the terrorism of 9/11 and, particularly, to be a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threat. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice started warning of a “mushroom cloud” in our future if Iraq wasn’t attacked. Rumsfeld said it was known where such weapons were in Iraq. Later inspections showed such allegations to be deceptions.
The evidence of Iraq’s nuclear weapons cited by President Bush in his January 2002 State of the Union address was preposterous. The so-called “proof” that Iraq obtained yellowcake (unprocessed uranium a very long way from nuclear weapons grade) from Niger was easily debunked when former Ambassador Joseph Wilson showed that the document purportedly proving it had the signature of an official long out of office.
Secretary of State Colin Powell presented the “facts” before the U.N. Security Council in February 2003, just a month before the war. Key evidence was based on the testimony of a single, low-ranking, discredited and reportedly alcoholic Iraqi operative. Outdated photos of Mirage fighter jets were shown, implying that Iraq still had capability to drop anthrax — even though all Mirages were destroyed or moved out of the country after the first Gulf War.
Hans Blix, former chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, told one of us he had personally certified to President Bush shortly before the war that there were no nuclear weapons in Iraq. He added that, given just two more months, he would be able to certify whether there were any chemical or biological weapons. Bush refused to wait even that short time to give peace a chance.
Those in such a rush to unleash the dogs of war assured the public that the Iraq invasion would be a cakewalk, with few U.S. casualties and lasting victory coming in just a few months. We were told Iraqi oil revenues would easily cover the entire cost of the war. By the end of U.S. troop deployments, nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers died and, by some assessments, up to one million Iraqis were killed, and the estimated costs to the U.S. taxpayer exceeded $3 trillion.
In haunting parallel, last March, Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, in contradiction to the president’s exclusive constitutional prerogative of negotiating international agreements, organized a Senate letter to Iran’s leader, saying that any agreement with the Obama administration could be undone by a future president — presumably from Sen. Cotton’s party. He also made the preposterous assertion that a U.S. war with Iran would be over in four days!
The disastrous rush to war and manipulation of intelligence in the case of the Iraq war is relevant today. Similar allegations are now being made against Iran, which, like Iraq, has allowed U.N. inspectors in and is a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Diplomacy with Iran has already achieved what many years of hostility, threats and sanctions failed to do. Iran’s nuclear program has been verifiably curtailed, with its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium — the closest to weapons grade — virtually eliminated. Prospects look hopeful for a long-term agreement by June 30.
But there are those in the U.S. Congress, such as Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who advocate returning to the failed policies of sanctions and increased saber rattling if Iran doesn’t completely acquiesce to absolutist demands. Even when India, Pakistan and North Korea joined the nuclear weapons club, the U.S. didn’t make military threats against them. If used, military action would at best delay, but couldn’t prevent, a nuclear Iran.Φ
The Rev. Robert Moore is executive director of the Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action and co-pastor of Christ Congregation. Richard Moody is a former fighter pilot with the Royal Navy who also served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam era.