On the tenth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq there’s been much commentary on the role the press played before the war. The common wisdom is that the media was too gullible, and too accepting of the Bush administration’s arguments for war.
So, it’s with some pride that I’ve looked back on the pre-war columns I wrote for The Inquirer - part of a collection of Iraq columns the newspaper published in book form in 2004 - which repeatedly rebutted the Bush pre-war thesis that Saddam was an imminent threat to the United States.
The book’s title: Willful Blindness: The Bush Administration and Iraq, summarizes the sad story. A few quotes below, convey what I was writing at the time.
Sept. 6, 2002 Is Saddam so dangerous that a pre-emptive strike is needed? “Iraq has no nukes now nor any means to deliver weapons of mass destruction to our shores.” (A host of top intelligence analyses, along with reports by U.N. nuclear inspectors concurred – before the war – that Iraq had no active nuclear program.)
Oct. 6, 2002: How Bush and a cowed Congress are rushing the country towards war. “How can one have confidence in an administration that brazenly inflates – and misrepresents – the Iraq threat? President and his team give the impression that Saddam is on the verge of nuking America. (yet) Saddam does not have nukes (or any kind of delivery systems) and has been unable to produce fissile material to make them. The 50-page dossier just put out by British intelligence…says Iraq is at least five years away from producing such materiel. It also says Iraq is unlikely to get the goods it needs to do so unless U.N. sanctions break down.”
Nov. 3, 2002.Terrorist acts are more likely if we attack… “The administration has yet to provide any evidence that Saddam is in cahoots with al-Qaeda. All signs point to the contrary. This is a man who consorts only with terrorists he can control, killers who can help him keep his domestic power or expand it in the Middle East.” (Sadly, the title of this column proved all too true. Al-Qaeda was not in Iraq before we invaded, but al-Qaeda in Iraq emerged out of the chaos created in the wake of the war.}
Nov. 17, 2002. Wolfowitz dreams of a new Iraq (about the unrealistic plans of the administration for the Day After). In response to my query about why he envisioned post-war democracy in a country that had known only autocracy and brutal dictatorship, Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz responded, “If you’re looking for a historical analogy, it’s probably closer to post-liberation France.” In response, I wrote: “No Iraqi exile has anything like Charles DeGaulle’s legitimacy, certainly not (Ahmed) Chalabi (the Bush team’s favorite exile). If the rosy view of Iraq’s potential as role model for the region is driving a desire for war, it is very misguided.”
The Wolfowitz column apparently infuriated the Deputy Secretary. One of his aides told me soon after that “No one in the Pentagon will speak to you again.” This prediction, like Wolfowitz’s fantasy about Iraq, proved entirely untrue.