Ten Years after the Invasion of Iraq, Recalling the Lies that Made It Possible

This month marks the tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which has resulted in the deaths of up to half a million Iraqis, mostly civilians, and the displacement of millions.  Sectarian and ethnic tensions remain high and violence and terrorism — despite being less pervasive than a few years ago — are endemic.  The current Iraqi government is notoriously corrupt and repressive, guilty of widespread torture and extrajudicial killings of opponents.  A whole new generation of Islamist terrorists radicalized by the invasion and insurgency is now active worldwide.

Almost 4500 Americans were killed and thousands more received serious physical and emotional injuries which will plague them for the rest of their lives.  The war has cost U.S. taxpayers close to one trillion dollars, contributing greatly to the national debt, which has resulted in the sequester and other cutbacks in vital social programs, including work-study funds and other support for college students.

The Bush administration could not convince Americans to support such an illegal and unnecessary war for the sake of oil and empire.  Instead, they had to lie by falsely claiming that Iraq was a threat to the national security of the United States through its acquisition of massive stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, the development of a nuclear weapons program, the acquisition of long-range missiles and drone aircraft, and operational ties with Al-Qaeda.  As they were forced to admit later, absolutely none of those claims were true.

However, they were still able to recruit some prominent Democrats—such as Senators John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Dianne Feinstein, and Harry Reid—to repeat their lies about Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” and other manufactured threats.  Some journalists, political pundits, and even academics were also convinced to tout the administration’s line.

Here at USF, just weeks before the invasion, two of my colleagues—one in the Politics Department and one in the History Department—engaged in a public debate with former Politics professor Cynthia Boaz and I. They repeated many of the administration’s lies in their desperate attempt to convince USF students that Iraq was somehow such a dire threat to our national security that it required a U.S. invasion and occupation and that it would somehow be worth all the resulting human, financial and environmental costs. They also claimed that, despite the United States being the primary supporter of the region’s worst dictatorships, the Bush administration was committed to building democracy in Iraq and that a U.S.-occupied Iraq would be a model for freedom and prosperity in the region.

Professor Boaz and I correctly observed that Iraq was not a threat, had probably rid itself of all its proscribed weapons and weapons systems, and that a U.S. invasion and occupation would be a clear violation of international law and the United Nations charter, would result in years of bloody counter-insurgency war, sectarian conflict, and a rise in Islamist extremism and sectarian conflict which would make the establishment of a stable democracy impossible.  I had done extensive empirical research on Iraq over the previous fifteen years and was quite confident in my assessment, as were most scholars familiar with the Middle East.

One of our colleagues, however, insisted that area specialists like us could not be trusted because, in his words, we tend to “go native” (as in developing too much sympathy towards the populations we study to be able to engage in objective analysis) and that President Bush actually had a better grasp of what was best for the Middle East (and presumably other regions of the world).

Particularly disturbing about these arguments was the implication that the unsubstantiated claims of the administration (led by two former oil company executives who clearly coveted Iraq’s natural resources) were somehow more reliable than empirical research by respected scholars familiar with the region.  The message, in effect, was “Trust the State.  If the leaders say we must go to war, just go along.  Don’t question what they tell you.”

The lesson to today’s students is this:  Do not to trust the government when it says we must go to war in a far off land (particularly if it has lots of oil).And don’t trust professors who tell you to ignore relevant scholarship and simply believe whatever the president says.

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