Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan is excoriated for stating the obvious. The Iraq war, he writes in his memoirs titled "What Happened in the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception," was sold to the American people with a sophisticated "political propaganda campaign."
This, in turn, was designed to "manipulate public opinion" in such a way as to downplay "the major reason for going to war." Disinformation was an integral pat of the process.
How else does one explain that at one point 60 percent of Americans believed the palpably fraudulent nonsense that the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was behind Sept. 11, 2001? A gullible, manipulated public also became convinced Iraq was a mortal danger to the United States at a time when two no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq, at a cost of $11 billion a year, kept Saddam confined to his dirty little sandbox.
None of his neighbors were afraid of him. Nor were our European allies. But the neocons kept beating the drums of war on U.S. television networks with the fiction we were locked in an existential struggle with Iraq.
As for the invasion of Iraq being the biggest strategic blunder in U.S. history, as Mr. McClellan belatedly states, the same judgment was rendered years ago by many prominent foreign policy experts, both Republican and Democrat, namely John Whitehead, a Republican and former deputy secretary of state; Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Carter; Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to both Presidents Ford and George Bush the elder; and even former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had been hoodwinked by fatally flawed intelligence provided by a pseudo Iraqi intelligence operative who would only talk to Germans.
The operative was codenamed "Curveball." German interrogators distrusted what he told them about Saddam's capabilities for weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It was passed on to U.S. counterparts.
They shared German skepticism. But it was handed to Mr. Powell by the CIA director who had not read the addendum on Curveball's dubious credentials. Thus, what was called "incontrovertible evidence" became the piece de resistance in Mr. Powell's infamous U.N. speech of Feb. 5, 2003, six weeks before the invasion.
This reporter first heard about the inevitability of war a year before the invasion at a party given by Dick Cheney — "the magic man," writes Mr. McClellan — and his wife Lynne to celebrate the paperback edition of chief of staff Scooter Libby's book "The Apprentice."
The capital's top neocons were on hand and convinced dubious listeners that war with Iraq was now inevitable. They were persuasive when they corrected me for saying, "If there is a war."
The decision had been taken for a shock-and-awe blitz against Saddam's Republican Guard divisions, they said. What about the United Nations? I asked.
That, I was told, was the obligatory charade we had to go through for world public opinion.
So Mr. McClellan is correct when he writes senior administration officials began a campaign in 2002 to "aggressively sell the war," even as he and other officials insisted all options were on the table. Of course it was a war of choice, not of necessity, as he writes.
The Bush administration's main motive for invading Iraq was to introduce "coercive democracy."
This, in turn, originated in a controversial 1996 White Paper titled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," which referred to Israel. It advised then incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to repeal the Oslo agreements for a Palestinian solution, keep Gaza and the West Bank under Israeli control, and establish democracy in Iraq by overthrowing Saddam Hussein.
Democracy in Iraq, said "Clean Break," would then be followed by similar regime changes in Syria and Iran. Thus, Israel could begin to relax and look forward to real security for the indefinite future.
Among its principal authors were neocon theoreticians Richard Perle, soon to be chairman of the Defense Policy Board; Douglas Feith, who became undersecretary of defense for policy and who was also in charge of post-Iraq invasion planning; David Wurmser, who later joined Mr. Feith's Pentagon team, before his elevation to deputy assistant to Dick Cheney for national security — all superhawks on Iran as well.
Mr. Feith also had a big bone to pick with Mr. Bush. In his recently published memoir — "War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism" — Mr. Feith charges President Bush with sending confusing and conflicting signals following the embarrassment of not finding any WMD in Iraq. Mr. Bush then focused "almost exclusively on the larger aim of promoting democracy."
This new pitch, says Mr. Feith in a Wall Street Journal op-ed adaptation of his book, "compounded the damage to the president's credibility [as he was seen] distancing himself from the case he had made for removing [Saddam] from power."
Mr. Feith points out beginning with his first major Iraq speech before the U.N. Sept 12, 2002, Mr. Bush delivered nine major Iraq talks with 14 paragraphs per speech on Saddam's record as an enemy, aggressor, tyrant and imminent danger, and only three paragraphs on promoting Iraqi democracy. But from September 2003 through September 2004, Mr. Feith says Mr. Bush gave 15 major speeches with an average of 11 paragraphs per talk on democracy.
"The stunning change," Mr. Feith added, "appeared to confirm his critics' argument that the security rationale for the war was at best an error, and at worst a lie."
Scott McClellan's former White House colleagues feigned sadness rather than anger on the tube and asked why he didn't speak up when he was still on the government payroll. This lament studiously ignored the fact Mr. McClellan was not a policy-maker and was in no position to question what he was told to say at the daily White House media briefing. His job was to take orders, not question them.
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