"Facing growing doubts at home about the wisdom of attacking Iraq, President Bush on Wednesday will launch a campaign to defend the U.S. invasion," began a Reuters wire dispatch on October 8. President Bush is going to need a public relations campaign of unprecedented proportions.
Bush initially persuaded the American people to accept the war because of the alleged imminent threat of chemical and biological attacks against the U.S. from Iraq. In addition, he warned, there was the loom ing danger of Iraqi nuclear terrorism. In an October 7, 2002 speech, President Bush summarized the justification for war against Saddam Hussein: "America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof--the smoking gun--that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."
It's hard to invoke an image more frightening than that. But mushroom cloud talk aside, the only cloud of smoke that emerged from the war debate was the evaporating smoke and mirrors campaign used by Bush administration officials to exaggerate--and perhaps falsify--intelligence to support launching the war against Iraq.
Most Americans thought that the Iraq War was fought for the limited objective of removing the putative threat--Saddam Hussein. Administration spokesmen repeatedly suggested it would be a "cakewalk." The general impression given was that we would be out in a relatively short time. But that war quickly mutated into an occupation and reconstruction projected to last for years (or decades), at an enormous cost of blood and treasure.
It is beyond doubt that Iraq pursued an active chemical and biological weapons program for more than two decades. Saddam also at one point had a primitive nuclear program. However, the charge that Iraq's nuclear program was advanced was far-fetched. The claim that Iraq still had vast stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons at the time of our Operation Iraqi Freedom invasion was also dubious and remains unproven. It was an obvious, calculated ploy to win public support for launching an aggressive war.
The new Bush public relations campaign is a classic bait-and-switch operation. The White House spinmeisters are laboring to divert public attention from past administration hoaxes and locus it instead upon the new freedom experienced by the Iraqi people, now that Saddam Hussein is no longer running the country. But freeing the Iraqi people from tyranny, no matter how desirable, was never a justification for war. If it were, we would soon be sending U.S. troops to overturn dozens of equally despotic regimes.
The administration already appears to be backing down from pre-war claims made by senior officials that there were huge stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and an advanced nuclear program. The Bush administration, recall, did not merely claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Iraq was bulging with such weapons, we were told, and the direct threat those weapons presented to the United States was supposedly so great and so imminent that we had no choice but to act quickly.
"There are a number of terrorist states pursuing weapons of mass destruction--Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, just to name a few--but no terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people than the regime of Saddam Hussein and Iraq," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 19, 2002. "The goals of our coalition are clear and limited. We will end a brutal regime, whose aggression and weapons of mass destruction make it a unique threat to the world," President Bush said in a message to the Iraqi people on April 10 of this year.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told NBC's Meet the Press on the September 28: "Let's remember that the intelligence going into the war--it's quite separable from what [arms …