Tuesday, May 31, 2005

If Not Now, When?

One of the most amazing things in American politics is the fact that many of the people we elect to be our leaders seem to think that once they are in power they act as if they were suddenly endowed with the wisdom of the ages and that the people who put them in office are too stupid, too short-sighted, or too easily swayed by contrary opinions to be trusted with the realities of life. Everything must be packaged, spun, controlled, and massaged before it gets out because the public, to quote the line from A Few Good Men, “can’t handle the truth.”

What’s even more amazing is that these people, time and again, are shown that not only can we handle the truth, we are a lot more understanding and sympathetic when we know the truth from the outset rather than some slicked up P.R. turd blossom handed to us by the handlers. Just give us the unvarnished facts and we are pretty good at coming to the right conclusion and standing behind the decisions our leaders make. But lie to us — even just a little — and it’s Katy bar the door. Just ask Dwight Eisenhower about the U-2, Lyndon Johnson about the Gulf of Tonkin, Richard Nixon and the tapes, and Bill Clinton and the blue dress. In all these cases the quick and honest admissions would have changed history and in some cases changed lives.

Now we are entering our third summer in Iraq. The news each morning carries stories of car bombs, insurgent attacks, and more accusations of atrocities in POW camps, and there is no foreseeable end to what has become an occupation. The timetable for the end of our involvement has become a distant memory, and in spite of elections four months ago, the government of Iraq is no closer to stability than it was when we “handed over” the reins last June. Such are the fortunes of war, they tell us. It’s never neat and tidy.

We might accept that if there wasn’t this nagging question of why we went there in the first place. Well, terrorism, they told us. Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He was in league with Osama bin Laden and probably had something to do with 9/11. He was on the verge of building a nuclear arsenal. He could launch a rocket that could hit London. He had really bad taste in decorating. It turns out that all of the reasons — except, perhaps, the last — were lies or “miscalculations.” Yes, he ran a dictatorship. Iraq is a country in the Middle East. Look at his neighboring countries: Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. That’s how you run a government in the Middle East. It would be an event if Iraq wasn’t a dictatorship. For whatever reason, though, it is becoming more and more obvious that George W. Bush came into office with one goal above all others: to overthrow the regime in Iraq. Whether he saw this as his duty as the commander-in-chief in the defense of the nation, or whether it was a calculated effort to prove that America was in charge, or whether he believed it was some sort of crusade against anti-Christian faiths isn’t really important. He did it. But questions remain as to how he could get the rest of the world to go along with him.

Juan Cole in an article in Salon says it was all a series of lies.

[T]hanks to a leaked British memo concerning the head of British intelligence, that the Bush administration — contrary to its explicit denials — had already made up its mind to attack Iraq and “fixed” those bogus allegations to support its decision. In short, Bush and his top officials lied about Iraq.

[…]

The memo reported a July 2002 meeting of key British Cabinet and other officials, held when Sir Richard Dearlove, head of the British intelligence service, MI6, returned from a trip to Washington. It revealed that the decision to go to war had already been made by that point: “Military action was now seen as inevitable,” the notes by British national security aide Matthew Rycroft revealed. Dearlove reported, “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.”

Why has there not been more outrage in the United States at these revelations? Many Americans may have chosen to overlook the lies and deceptions the Bush administration used to justify the war because they still believe the Iraq war might have made them at least somewhat safer. When they realize that this hope, too, is unfounded, and that in fact the war has greatly increased the threat of another terrorist attack on U.S. soil, their wrath may be visited on the president and the political party that has brought America the biggest foreign-policy disaster since Vietnam.

As noted at the outset, the illusion that Americans can’t handle the truth may turn out to be the biggest miscalculation of all.

So what do we do? We can’t unring the bell. We can’t put it back the way it was. We have invaded a foreign country, overthrown the government, destroyed the infrastructure, and set in motion a wave of revenge and terrorism in the hearts of people who are now even more assured that Western decadence and Christian crusaders are determined to overrun their lands and destroy their culture. All we have left is to find out if a criminal act took place that led us down this road and punish those who took us to it. If this was a just nation, we would seek out the truth and put the perpetrators on trial. As Juan Cole notes

Going to war is the most serious decision a president can make. It should never be approached in a cavalier fashion. American lives, the prestige and influence of the country, international relations, the health of its defenses, and the future of the next generation are at stake. Yet every single piece of evidence we now have confirms that George W. Bush, who was obsessed with unseating Saddam Hussein even before 9/11, recklessly used the opportunity presented by the terror attacks to march the country to war, fixing the intelligence to justify his decision, and lying to the American people about the reasons for the war. In other times, this might have been an impeachable offense.

That’s pretty much it. We need to know whether or not George W. Bush committed a crime in taking us to war, and a lot of people are asking. As you might have read, this blog and others are asking serious questions about the truth and lies we were told about going to war against Iraq. There are serious people asking serious questions, and it’s not just the left side of the blogosphere; it’s not just a bunch of vengeful tin-foil-hatters out to avenge the defeat of John Kerry. It’s a coaltion that’s come together to urge Congress to find out what happened. It’s not a rush to judgement. It’s a serious search for the truth. And if we don’t do it, who will? And if not now, when?