Republicans and the War on Iraq

Last October three scholars issued a report, which found that 79% of Republicans were explicit racists. This past January a university poll found that as many as 64% of Republicans could be considered “birthers.” (Most birthers are pathetic racist morons who, obsessed by their need to delegitimize America’s first black president, refuse to accept any evidence which proves that President Barack Obama was born in the United States.) However, both of these morally bankrupt values pale in significance, when compared with the overwhelming support that Republicans continue to give to President Bush’s illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq.

Ten years ago this week, President George W. Bush gave the order for American troops to bomb and invade Iraq. From August 2002 through March 2003, Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell emphasized two primary reasons for invading Iraq: the threats posed by Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD, especially nuclear weapons) and Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda.

For example, on 26 August 2002 Cheney asserted: “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.” On 7 September 2002, Bush told an audience in Cincinnati that Iraq was “six months away from developing a weapon. I don’t know what more evidence we need.” He told the United Nations that “Iraq possesses biological and chemical weapons.” When Rice talked about the evidence of WMD, she asserted: “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” Cheney repeatedly expressed his conviction that Iraq had ties to al Qaeda and his belief that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. He also claimed: “One of the real concerns about Saddam Hussein…is his biological weapons ability, the fact that he may at some point try to use smallpox, anthrax, plague, some other kind of biological agent against other nations, possibly even including the United States.” Rumsfeld asserted that the evidence of Saddam- al Qaeda ties was “bullet-proof.” [Terry Anderson, Bush’s Wars, p. 106-08]

On 5 February 2003, Colin Powell gave a speech to the United Nations – broadcast across the world – that became the turning point in the Bush administration’s selling of war. He began by saying: “My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence. I will cite some examples, and these are from human sources.”

Powell cited aluminum tubes that could be used as centrifuge cylinders in a nuclear weapons program. He cited decontamination vehicles associated with chemical weapons and “biological weapons factories” on trucks and train cars. He also cited drones “well suited for dispensing chemical and biological weapons,” four tons of the nerve agent VX and 122-mm chemical warheads and a secret force of a few dozen Scud-type missiles.

The next day a Washington Post editorial claimed, “After Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s presentation to the United Nations Security Council yesterday, it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.”

Nevertheless, although Powell’s speech to the United Nations sealed the deal for war with most of America’s newspaper editors and reporters, as well as with most pundits and many citizens; it didn’t persuade Ted Kennedy, Daniel Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky, Barack Obama, Ron Paul, Patrick Buchanan, Arianna Huffington, Robert Byrd, Scott Ritter, John Mearshimer, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Stephen Walt, Gore Vidal, John le Carre, Edward Said, Hans Blix, Jonathan Schell, James Fallows, or Mohamed El Baradei. Neither did it persuade the rulers of France, Germany and Russia who withheld their approval for war in the UN Security Council.

But, having churned mainstream media and public support, Bush gave the order to invade Iraq, notwithstanding that fact that he failed to gain the necessary approval from the Security Council of the United Nations and notwithstanding the fact that, three weeks after Powell’s presentation 59% of Americans did not support an invasion without the support of the Security Council.

Chapter 1 of the Charter of the United Nations, Article 2.4, expressly prohibits member states from using or threatening force against each other, allowing only two exceptions: self-defense under Article 51 (i.e., actual or imminent attack) and military measures authorized by the Security Council under Chapter VII.

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution states: “The Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

Thus, the Charter of the United Nations – which was approved by the U.S. Senate and signed by President Truman in 1945 — is the supreme law of the land. And, thus, the Bush administration’s violation of the UN Charter constituted both a war crime under international law and an impeachable offense for its violation of the Constitution.

Bush’s order to invade on 19 March 2003 also interrupted the work of UN weapons inspectors, who had been scouring Iraq for WMD since November 2002. In fact, on 27 January 2003 Hans Blix told the UN that his inspections of 230 sites found no evidence of WMD. Mohamed El Baradei was even more emphatic. “In the next few months” his inspection team would provide “credible assurance that Iraq had no nuclear weapons programme.” [Anderson, pp. 120-21]

Two days before the invasion, Bush gave Saddam an ultimatum and the UN inspectors were advised to leave Iraq. In the words of his press secretary, the ultimatum prompted Pope John Paul II to assert: “Whoever decides that all peaceful means available under international law are exhausted assumes a grave responsibility before God, his own conscience and history.”

On 19 March 2003 – a day that will live in infamy – President Bush announced to the nation, “At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free the people and to defend the world from grave danger…”

(It’s worth noting that on 14 July 2003, nearly four months after the invasion had begun, George Bush was asked whether questionable intelligence about WMD had distorted his speeches and decisions about Iraq. As part of his response, Bush said the following: “The larger point is, and the fundamental question is, did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program? And the answer is, absolutely. And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in.”

Notice how Bush attempted to deflect attention away from his administration’s past certainty about actual weapons of mass destruction by substituting the weasel words, “weapons program.” (Virtually every sovereign state has a weapons program.) It was something he began doing as early as May 2003.

More significantly, however, Bush’s last sentence about Saddam’s refusal to allow the inspectors in was a bald-faced lie! He repeated the lie on 27 January 2004 and on 21 March 2006 went so far as to assert that he actually went to war because Saddam wouldn’t allow the inspectors into his country. Here are his very words: “And when he [Saddam] chose to deny the inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did. And the world is safer for it.”

Let it be noted that a National Intelligence Estimate in 2006 concluded that Bush’s invasion actually made the world more dangerous, due to the proliferation of terrorists and terrorist attacks.)

Almost immediately after the invasion, the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) – consisting of some 1,400 American, British and Australian military and civilian experts on WMD – was dispatched to Iraq to locate Saddam’s WMD. And almost immediately after the invasion both the public and the press began asking questions about the whereabouts of Saddam’s WMD. On 30 March 2003, when he was asked whether he was surprised by the failure of coalition forces to find WMD thus far, Rumsfeld responded: “We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.” (Later, when confronted with his own words, Rumsfeld denied making that statement.)

The failure to find WMD or ties to al Qaeda prompted Bush to execute part two of his bait-and-switch con. Bush began to move away from his emphasis on Iraq’s WMD and ties to al Qaeda and increasingly emphasized what had been the secondary goals of removing a tyrant and bringing democracy to Iraq. Many members of the press and public fell for it. Even today America’s neoconservatives rely on the con to salvage what remains of their shattered reputations.

As the failure to find WMD extended into the late summer of 2003, the intrepid Charles J. Hanley of the Associated Press published an article in the St. Petersburg Times on 10 August that, point by point, destroyed Colin Powell’s UN assertions about Iraq’s WMD. Worse, on 3 October the ISG published an interim report, which admitted that it found no actual chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in Iraq.

Failure to find WMD heightened the unease of many Americans who, by December 2003 were beginning to doubt Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” statement of 1May. Already, in June, the CIA advised Bush and his top advisors that they were facing a “classic insurgency” in Iraq. The insurgency sparked a civil war that continued to grow well into late 2006, until the Sunni Awakening, American soldiers buying off the enemy, pacification from ethnic cleansing and the “surge” allowed the United States to leave Iraq without suffering outright defeat. Looking back, the facts on the ground four years after the invasion stood in stark contrast to Rumsfeld’s embarrassing prediction in 2002: “I can’t tell you if the use of force in Iraq today would last five days, or five weeks, or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that.”

As reports of bad news – no WMD, no ties to al Qaeda, increasing American deaths and casualties, an escalating insurgency, decreasing approval of Bush and the war in the polls – attached themselves like barnacles to Bush’s invasion, temporary relief was found when Saddam Hussein was captured in December 2003.

Perhaps seeking to bask in the glow of that capture, Bush agreed to an interview with Diane Sawyer a few days later. It was a disaster for Bush.

The key exchange occurred after Ms. Sawyer broached the subject of the intelligence concerning WMD that the Bush administration used to justify the invasion. She said: “When you take a look back, Vice President Cheney said there is no doubt, Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, not programs, not intent. There is no doubt he has weapons of mass destruction. Secretary Powell said 100 to 500 tons of chemical weapons and now the inspectors say that there’s no evidence of these weapons existing right now. The yellow cake in Niger, in Niger. George Tenet has said that shouldn’t have been in your speech. Secretary Powell talked about mobile labs. Again, the intelligence — the inspectors have said they can’t confirm this, they can’t corroborate.”

Bush responded by saying: “But what David Kay did discover was they had a weapons program.”

Relentless, Ms. Sawyer pressed on: “But stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still…”

Which prompted Bush to respond: “So what’s the difference?”

Here’s the difference. NEITHER THE CONGRESS NOR THE AMERICAN PEOPLE WOULD HAVE SUPPORTED AN INVASION OF IRAQ HAD THEY KNOWN THAT SADDAM HAD NO WMD OR TIES TO AL QAEDA!

On 30 September 2004, the ISG issued its final report. It’s most earth-shaking conclusions were:

• Saddam ended his nuclear program in 1991. ISG found no evidence of concerted efforts to restart the program, and Iraq’s ability to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program progressively decayed after 1991.

• Iraq destroyed its chemical weapons stockpile in 1991, and only a small number of old, abandoned chemical munitions were discovered by the ISG.

• Saddam’s regime abandoned its biological weapons program and its ambition to obtain advanced biological weapons in 1995. While it could have re-established an elementary BW program within weeks, ISG discovered no indications it was pursuing such a course.

Yes, that’s right; Saddam Hussein had been telling the truth when he denied having any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Thus, the only remaining question was: Why did the Bush administration present the world with false assertions about Iraq’s WMD?

Members of the Bush administration, as well as their apologists, assert that: (1) virtually everybody believed that Saddam had WMD and (2) they simply acted upon faulty intelligence. What they do not say is: (1) even countries that suspected Saddam had WMD were willing to await the results of the searches being conducted by UN inspectors and (2) the Bush administration had an active informant inside Iraq, who told Bush, Cheney and Rice that Iraq had no WMD.

Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri, made a deal (worth at least $200,000) to reveal Iraq’s military secrets to the CIA. Sabri and some Iraqi scientists told the CIA that Saddam had no WMD. The French, who had tapped Sabri’s phone, confirmed that he was telling the truth. But, on 18 September 2002, after CIA director George Tenet briefed Bush on Sabri’s information, Bush dismissed it as “the same old thing.”

According to Terry Anderson, in his book Bush’s Wars, “When a CIA agent insisted on the significance of Sabri’s information, one of Tenet’s deputies responded, ‘You haven’t figured this out yet. This isn’t about intelligence. It’s about regime change.” [p. 114]

The response by Tenet’s deputy in the fall of 2002 substantiated what the head of British Intelligence told Prime Minister Tony Blair during a secret meeting held some two month earlier, on 23 July 2002. According to the classified minutes of that meeting, subsequently called the Downing Street Memo (which was leaked to the British press in May 2005), the head of British Intelligence, Sir Richard Dearlove, briefed Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top advisers about his recent meeting in the U.S. with President Bush and his top advisers.

As a result of his meeting with Bush, Dearlove was convinced that the U.S. President had decided to attack Iraq. “There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy….There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath of military action.”

Consequently, Americans have two independent sources that demolish the Bush’s administration’s attempt to blame “bad intelligence” for their failure to find WMD. In reality, any intelligence about WMD that could be used to incite support for regime change was acceptable and presentable, regardless of the reliability of the source. And any intelligence about WMD that might undermine support for regime change was neither acceptable nor presentable, even when the source was highly reliable. Why? Because the members of Bush’s team already “knew” that Saddam had WMD.

The only thing that mattered to the Bush administration was finding a way to garner public and congressional support for regime change in Iraq – a goal it had established at its first National Security Council meeting in January 2001. The hyping of unsubstantiated intelligence about WMD and al Qaeda allowed them to achieve their criminal objective.

According to a very recent study conducted by scholars for Brown University, from 2003 to 2013 the invasion resulted in 189,000 direct war deaths, including the deaths of 4,488 American soldiers, 3,418 U.S. contractors, 10,819 allied military and police, 36,000 opposition forces and 134,000 innocent civilians. Many indirect deaths, perhaps numbering into the hundreds of thousands also resulted from that invasion.

The invasion, insurgency and subsequent civil war caused massive refugee problems as millions uprooted themselves or were forcibly uprooted to other parts of the country or to other countries. According to the Brown University study, “The percent of Iraqis living in slum conditions tripled from 17 percent prior to the 2003 invasion to 53 percent in 2010.”

Regarding ethnic cleansing, the Brown study concludes: “Studies have shown that the drop in sectarian violence after 2007 was not a result of the US and Iraqi military surge, but a consequence of ethno-religious homogenization. As each group and sub-group claimed its own territory, there was no one left to kill.” Nevertheless, to this day, Iraq suffers from a low-grade insurgency against the increasingly authoritarian Maliki government.

The war of aggression and the subsequent torture of Iraqis by Americans at Abu Ghraib provoked the hatred of the United States by much of the world’s population. Some governments became reluctant to share intelligence with the U.S. The war caused a spike in terrorist activity and resulted in the rise of Iran as a regional power.

Tens of thousands of American soldiers returned home missing arms or legs, suffering severe head wounds or, in the best case, terrible PTSD. Some committed suicide, while others saw their marriages collapse.

Nevertheless, according to a very recent Gallup Poll, “66% of respondents who identify as or lean Republican say the U.S. did not make a mistake in sending troops to fight in Iraq.” 73% of Democratic leaners or identifiers saw the military campaign as a mistake, as did 53% of all respondents.

We shouldn’t be surprised, however, that two-thirds of America’s Republicans respond like morons. After all, according to a poll completed in May 2012, 63 percent of Republican respondents still believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded in 2003. (Only 27 percent of independents and 15 percent of Democrats were so stupid.)

What can we do to get the message through to these intellectual and moral dead-enders? I think I know.

Speaking for the United States, in his opening address to the Nuremberg Tribunal, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Robert H. Jackson asserted: “This inquest represents the practical effort of four of the most mighty of nations, with the support of 17 more, to utilize international law to meet the greatest menace of our times – aggressive war.” [Michael R. Marrus, The Nuremberg War Crimes Trial 1945-46, p. 80]

Article 6 of the Tribunal’s Charter lists “Crimes against Peace; namely, planning, preparation, initiation or waging war of aggression” [Ibid, p. 52] as its first and foremost crime. And in its indictment of notorious Nazis, the Tribunal listed as “Count One” the “conspiracy” to commit “Crimes against Peace, in that the defendants planned, prepared, initiated and waged wars of aggression.” [Ibid, 58]

“Allied prosecutors hoped that Nuremberg would hold a mirror up to the German nation and compel ordinary Germans to recognize the Nazi crimes.” [The Legacy of Nuremberg, documentary project of Minnesota Public Radio and NPR News, July 2002] Americans, especially the ignorant and morally debased two-thirds of Republicans who still support Bush’s invasion of Iraq, would benefit were the International Criminal Court to conduct a war crimes trial of Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Powell and Wolfowitz.

What Justice Robert H. Jackson said about the Nazi war criminals in 1945 applies equally to Bush and his men today: “These men were of a station and rank which does not soil its own hands with blood. They were men who knew how to use lesser folk as tools. We want to reach the planners and designers, the inciters and leaders without whose evil architecture the world would not have been for so long scourged with violence and lawlessness and wracked with the agonies and convulsions, of this terrible war….” [Marrus, p. 83]

Following the line of thinking recently expressed by former Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Desmond Tutu, they all need to stand trial — even if in absentia — before the International Criminal Court.

Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. He also is President of the Russian-American International Studies Association (RAISA). He can be reached at: waltuhler@aol.com. Read other articles by Walter C., or visit Walter C.'s website.