The failure to discover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has exposed the lie at the heart of the Bush administration's case for war. It is part of a much deeper web of deceit that underlies U.S. policy in Iraq.
Prior to the war the president repeatedly claimed, as he said two days before the invasion, that "the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." After months of searching hundreds of suspected sites, U.S. occupying forces have found no evidence that the alleged stockpiles actually exist, just as U.N. inspectors found no prohibited weapons in the months leading up to war.
Iraq's rapid collapse in battle was enough to disprove the claim of military menace. Far from being a massively armed colossus bent on aggression, Iraq turned out to be an ill-equipped and impoverished country, lacking in advanced weaponry and unable to defend itself against U.S. and British assault.
The administration systematically ignored evidence disproving its case for war. It refused to acknowledge the combined effects of the first Gulf war and 12 years of punishing sanctions, which severely limited Iraq's military capabilities. It denied the successful results of the first U.N. disarmament commission, from 1991 to 1998, and rebuffed the renewed monitoring effort that began in December 2002. And, as the administration finally admitted, it ignored its own intelligence agencies to trumpet forged "evidence" of alleged uranium imports from Africa.
ANOTHER BIG LIE was the implied link between Saddam Hussein and Sept. 11. The president consciously manipulated the public's fear of terrorism to build support for attacking Iraq. Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld put Iraq in their crosshairs almost immediately after the destruction of the twin towers. Throughout the buildup to war, the implied message was that overthrowing Saddam was payback for Sept. 11.
The Iraqi dictator was indeed a murderous tyrant, but he had nothing to do with the terrorists who attacked the United States on Sept. 11. The United States had no evidence before the war, and has found none since, linking the Baghdad government with al Qaeda. The latest report of the U.N. experts group monitoring the terrorist network also found no connections between al Qaeda and Saddam's regime.
A further level of deceit, this time a self-deception, was the Bush administration's belief that U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators rather than foreign invaders, and that the United States with its ersatz coalition (consisting mostly of one other country) could succeed in rebuilding a shattered nation. The administration had no realistic plan for post-war Iraq, and its efforts to date have been tragically inadequate.
The Pentagon code-named its operation "Iraqi Freedom," but in fact how well off are the Iraqi people since the war? They may be free of Saddam Hussein, but they live under the boot of an occupying power they increasingly resent. Theirs is a strange and warped kind of liberationthousands killed, a shattered infrastructure, the collapse of basic services, rampant insecurity and looting, rising malnutrition, mass joblessness. U.S. and British troops face mounting attack and protest and are cast in a peacekeeping mission for which they are ill suited.
The logical solution is to replace U.S. troops with a U.N.-authorized security force and to set a fixed timeline for establishing Iraqi self-rule. If the United States refuses this option, it will confirm the suspicions of many that the real U.S. purpose in Iraq is to control the nation's vast oil wealth and establish a permanent U.S. military presence to dominate the region.
President Bush not only misled the country into war, he subverted the very foundations of American democracy. Freedom is imperiled when government goes to war on the basis of lies. This is the deeper meaning of the controversy over justifying war in Iraq.
David Cortright, a Sojourners contributing writer, is president of the Fourth Freedom Forum and a founder of the Win Without War coalition.