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Lawrence Korb

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Still Suffering the Damage: Iraq 10 Years Later

Posted: 03/19/2013 6:54 pm

As we mark the painful anniversary of what the late Ted Sorensen called the Bush administration's "mindless, needless, senseless" invasion and occupation of Iraq, none of the architects of the war have yet publicly apologized for their dereliction of duty. In fact, many of them have taken the opposite tack.

For example, on December 14, 2005, President Bush admitted that the decision to invade Iraq was based on false intelligence but said that the war was still justified. Really. He justified the war by saying we could not wait until Saddam's smoking gun became a mushroom cloud. But if there were no nuclear weapons, let alone chemical or biological weapons, what was the threat to our security that justified preventive war? Did 4,500 American service members die, 30,000 suffer physical wounds, and hundreds of thousands sustain mental wounds just so Iraq could have an election? Did at least 300,000 Iraqis civilians die and millions more have to leave their homes so we could spread democracy? Was this war worth the $2 trillion and the staggering human toll?

Stephen Hadley, the Deputy National Security Advisor at the time and who moved into the top spot in 2004, recently claimed at a joint Foreign Policy/RAND roundtable that no one in the Bush team ever asked whether Saddam was bluffing about having weapons of mass destruction. They did not question the evidence surrounding WMD, of course, because that would have undermined the case for war, nor did they ask why the UN inspectors said there were no WMD. Hadley is an attorney and was certainly aware of the old law school dictum of never asking a question unless you know the answer. Perhaps that was why, as Colin Powell has noted, Vice President Cheney had his chief of staff construct the case for invasion of Iraq as a lawyer's brief rather than as an intelligence estimate.

At the same meeting, Douglas Feith, the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, claimed that we should have been more skeptical about the Iraq intelligence. I guess he did not read the classified national intelligence estimate (NIE) that was forwarded to Congress before the October 11, 2002 vote authorizing the use of military force against Iraq. The classified version contains numerous caveats omitted from the unclassified version. Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, who demanded the NIE before the vote, noted that the American people were being told one thing (in the unclassified version) and Congress was being given a completely different assessment (in the unclassified version).

Of the 77 senators who voted in favor of the war, including several past and possibly future Democratic presidential candidates, only a handful read the classified NIE. How can you vote to send America's sons and daughters into harm's way before getting all the facts? Should they not apologize for failing to read the classified NIE before starting a war?

Paul Wolfowitz, then the Deputy Secretary of Defense, claimed that Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki's estimate that several hundred thousand soldiers would be needed for the postwar occupation of Iraq was "wildly off the mark." A Vietnam draft evader saying that a decorated and wounded Vietnam veteran and the Army's ranking general did not know what he was talking about -- really? Should he not apologize to General Shinseki and the American people for not sending enough troops to Iraq to restore order after the fall of Saddam?

Finally, there is General Petraeus, who is best known for leading the surge of troops into Iraq in 2007 which, along with Sunni awakening, helped to stem the violence in Iraq. But what people forget is that this is the same general who helped keep American support for the war from continuing to decline and helped Bush get reelected in 2004 by writing an op-ed in the Washington Post five weeks before the election that claimed that Bush's strategy of training Iraqi forces was on track, that infrastructure was being repaired, and that the Iraqis were performing a wide variety of security missions. If this were true, why did we need to surge two years later? Should he not apologize to us for painting this rosy -- and inaccurate -- picture of the situation?

All of these people have moved on and, like their colleague Condoleezza Rice, who echoes Bush's claim about the smoking gun, are doing quite well professionally. Meanwhile, our nation is still suffering from the damage they caused and will do so for a long time.

Lawrence Korb is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and served as Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Reagan.

 
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