A majority of the American people who voted has just given four more years to a man who failed to neutralize Osama bin Laden, the diabolical perpetrator of the most heinous foreign attack on our soil in U.S. history. Instead, President Bush diverted precious resources from that quest to settle old scores with the dictator Saddam Hussein, who had nothing to do with that attack. Yet the president justified the questionable invasion of a sovereign nation by falsely attempting to link the dictator with the 9/11 attack and wildly exaggerating the threat from Iraq. He naively believed that a foreign invasion and occupation force would be treated by Iraqis as liberators and that Iraq’s entire society could be easily socially engineered at gunpoint into a Western-style, free-market democracy, an alien concept in Iraqi history.
If the election were held six months or a year from now, the result might have been very different. In fact, the war may become such an albatross around the Republican Party’s neck that the Democrats may be lucky that they lost the election in 2004. The continuing Iraqi quagmire could set up an overwhelming Democratic victory in 2008.
But strangely, many Americans don’t seem to care about any of these uncomfortable facts. They have been duped by the Bush administration’s propaganda machine and continue to believe, contrary to the facts, that Saddam Hussein had close links to al Qaeda and that Iraq was somehow an imminent threat to the United States. The U.S. intelligence community and the 9/11 Commission both have thrown cold water on the Saddam-al Qaeda link. The absence of Iraqi nuclear, chemical or biological programs or weapons should have been a big clue to voters that the Iraq threat was never that acute or dangerous.
The Bush administration has been able to get away with badly distorting reality because the public doesn’t have as much personal experience with foreign policy and security issues as they do with issues such as education, health care, the economy, etc. In addition, many people were unnerved by the 9/11 attacks and their residual fear prevented them from taking a chance on an unknown quantity such as John Kerry. Unbelievably, despite gross incompetence by the administration in fighting the “war on terror” and the conflict in Iraq, the public, by wide margins, rated Bush as better able to fight both of them than Kerry.
Most important, at the time of the election, the public was in denial about what a disastrous and costly tar baby the Iraq war has become. Popular approval of the war has plummeted but remains above 50 percent, and opposition to it remains passive. Because no draft exists, the human costs of the war have been confined to a small segment of the American population. And the Bush administration portrays the 1,100 U.S. service personnel killed Iraq as having died to make the United States safe from terrorists and doesn’t even talk about the estimated tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis that have been killed (estimates range from about 15,000 to 100,000).
Probably even worse than the lives lost in vain in the Iraq War is the modern imperial presidency’s ability, using the excessive media coverage accorded to it, to sell the public on an unnecessarily broad “war on terror,” including the aggressive invasion of a sovereign country. If the founders of the American nation—who feared large standing armies and disdained foreign military interventions—were alive today, they would rightly fear for the future of the republic.
Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute in Oakland, CA, and author of the book, Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy. His newest book is, The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed (Independent Institute Books, 2004)
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