Rewriting History: The Iraq War Was a Racket
Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber
Excerpted from
The Best War Ever

October 18, 2006

The Best War Ever is a follow-up to Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq, the first book to expose the deceptions used to sell the war. Although the book was a New York Times bestseller, the mainstream media largely ignored the book. This time the authors asked filmmaker Matt Thompson to produce a Web movie based on the new book. It's viewable at -- where you can also sign the Voters for Peace Pledge to only support politicians who make peace their priority.

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Since the war in Iraq began in 2003, the Bush administration's rhetoric has shifted in directions that undermine its original case for war. During the initial buildup to war, the main arguments were:

1. We know that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.
2. Saddam Hussein is allied with Al Qaeda.
3. The people will welcome American troops as liberators, so the war will be a "cakewalk" and the post-invasion occupation will be brief.

These arguments have now shifted to the following:

1. We were wrong about our intelligence assessments, but so was everyone else.
2. We can't leave now, or the terrorists will win.
3. If we leave now, all the lives and money we've spent will have been wasted.

Each of these arguments is also deceptive, but before considering the specifics of how they are misleading, it is worth noting that each of the current arguments is a pale and unconvincing version of the original case for war. The Bush administration has been forced to fall back on these weaker arguments because it has no choice.

Let's look at each of the Bush administration's current arguments in turn:

"We Were Wrong, but So Was Everybody Else"
It is true that many analysts outside the White House expected that chemical or biological weapons would be found in Iraq, but there was little expectation that they would be found in the alarming quantities that the Bush administration talked about. Experts were especially skeptical about White House claims that Iraq was attempting to develop nuclear weapons.

Many leading Democratic politicians supported the Bush administration's drive to war, but members of Congress did not have access to the same intelligence information as the White House. Congress received summaries, provided by the White House, from which the details and grounds for skepticism had been removed.

Finally, there were commentators in the US and elsewhere who questioned the case for war. Conservative skeptics included Patrick Buchanan; Brent Scowcroft (the former national security advisor to the first President Bush); retired general William Odom (a former national security advisory to President Reagan); and Lawrence Eagleburger (who had served as secretary of state for the senior Bush). Chuck Hagel, the Republican senator from Nebraska, also questioned the rationale for war, saying there was "absolutely no evidence" that Iraq possessed a nuclear capability.

Many individual analysts within the US intelligence community also questioned the White House case for war. According to Paul Pillar, the intelligence community's senior analyst for the Middle East at the time of the invasion of Iraq, "official intelligence was not relied on.... [T]he entire body of official intelligence analysis... was to avoid war -- or, if war was going to be launched, to prepare for a messy aftermath.... The administration used intelligence not to inform decision-making, but to justify a decision already made."

During the buildup to war, analysts in the intelligence community were feeling strong pressure from the Pentagon to cook the intelligence books. People who work for a government agency are not terribly different from people who work for an HMO, an airline or a restaurant. They have bills to pay, career ambitions, concerns about their mortgage, children's college fund -- all of the mundane reasons that motivate people to "go along to get along." In the case of Iraq, however, dissent from the White House party line was so strong that a number of career intelligence officials chose to resign rather than echo the party line.

  • Greg Thielmann retired in September 2002 after 25 years in the State Department, the last four in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

  • Richard A. Clarke, the counter-terrorism advisor on the US National Security Council, resigned in January 2003 and wrote a book, Against All Enemies, which argued that the war in Iraq was a fatal diversion from the effort against terrorism.

  • Rand Beers, a top White House counter-terrorism advisor who had served under presidents Clinton and Reagan as well as both Bushes, quit five days before the start of war and volunteered to serve as a counter-terrorism advisor to the presidential campaign of John Kerry.

    The Bush administration's current claim that "everybody else was wrong too" relies heavily on the failure of the US news media to do a responsible job of reporting during the run-up to war and the war itself. A 2003 study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting showed an overwhelming preponderance of pro-war viewpoints in television coverage of the war. It tabulated 1,617 on-camera sources that appeared in stories about Iraq and found that 64 percent of sources were pro-war, while anti-war voices were only 10 percent of sources.

    Among US sources, only 3 percent were anti-war -- this at a time large anti-war demonstrations were taking place across the country and 27 percent of the public was telling pollsters they opposed the war. Moreover, "Guests with anti-war viewpoints were almost universally allowed one-sentence soundbites taken from interviews conducted on the street. Not a single show in the study conducted a sit-down interview with a person identified as being against the war."

    Marianne Manilov, a communications consultant to US peace groups, tried to persuade US news programs to feature guests who would offer a critical perspective -- university scholars and experts with impressive credentials. These guests were rejected. Instead, the anti-war voices that appeared in the media consisted of protesters at rallies and -- eventually -- a few Hollywood celebrities such as Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon or Janeane Garofalo. These choices delivered an implicit message that only scruffy radicals and Hollywood celebrities opposed the war.

    "We Can't Leave Now, or the Terrorists Will Win"
    The original rationale for war, of course, was that invading Iraq would get rid of terrorists. Instead, the occupation of Iraq provided a staging-ground for what have now become daily terrorist attacks against US soldiers and Iraqi civilians alike. Worse still, it has become a place where terrorists are developing skills and contacts that they will likely use to attack targets in Europe and the United States.

    Remarkably, the Bush administration has offered these attacks as signs of progress in the war on terror. "We are fighting them in Iraq so that we don't have to fight them at home," Bush declared -- an argument that prompted some supporters of the war to begin describing Iraq as "carefully hung flypaper" where terrorists could be lured, trapped, and killed.

    Journalist Joshua Micah Marshall, however, offered a different metaphor -- Iraq as a "dirty hospital." Creating a dirty hospital just provides a place where more germs can breed, and turns Iraq into a hotbed of terrorism where terrorists can meet, multiply, and practice their craft on live targets.

    This outcome is precisely what opponents of the war warned about from the start. In our 2003 book, Weapons of Mass Deception, we concluded by quoting the words of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (a US ally). As the war commenced in March of that year, Mubarak predicted that "there will be 100 bin Ladens afterward."

    The available statistical evidence suggests that this warning was correct. Each year since 1985, the US Department of State has published a report titled Patterns of Global Terrorism that tracks countries and groups involved in international terrorism. The 2004 edition tallied attacks for 2003. That first year of war in Iraq, saw 175 significant terrorist attacks (defined as attacks in which lives are lost or there is injury and property damage of more than $10,000) -- the largest number of significant terrorist attacks since 1982.

    In 2004, the numbers were even worse -- 651 significant terrorist attacks, nearly four times the amount of the previous year, with 1,907 people killed and 9,300 wounded -- roughly a tripling of the previous year's casualty toll. Iraq alone saw 198 attacks that year -- nearly the worldwide total for 2003. But even if all of those attacks were omitted, the number of terrorist attacks in the rest of the world was still more than double the all-time record.

    It should be noted that the 651 terrorist attacks tallied for 2004 did not include attacks on US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, or even attacks on Iraqi civilians by other Iraqis. Patterns of Global Terrorism defines international terrorism as violent acts against non-combatants that involve the territory or citizens of more than one country. (Thus, Timothy McVeigh's 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City would not fit this definition of terrorism.)

    The National Counterterrorism Center has compiled a separate report that does include other incidents not previously classed as terrorism (although attacks on soldiers are still excluded). Using this more inclusive definition, the number of terrorist incidents in 2004 would be 3,192.

    At a June 2005 Department of Defense briefing, not long after Dick Cheney declared that the insurgents in Iraq were "in their last throes," Lieutenant General James Conway noted that terrorist skills learned in Iraq were being transferred to Afghanistan, where troops were seeing an increased use of improvised explosives devices (IEDs) due in part to "cross-pollination between the people in Iraq and Afghanistan."

    Classified CIA and State Department studies leaked to the press show that that Iraq has become "the prime training ground for foreign terrorists who could travel elsewhere across the globe and wreak havoc."

    "If We Leave Now, All the Lives and Money
    We've Spent Will Have Been Wasted"

    This argument, of course, begins by admitting that quite a bit of life and money has been lost already. It takes as its premise facts that contradict the earlier, rosy pronouncements of Bush administration officials who predicted that the war would be "a cakewalk" (in the words of Kenneth Adelman).

    On NBC's "Meet the Press," Tim Russert asked Dick Cheney about General Eric Shinseki's statement that several hundred thousand troops would need to remain in Iraq for several years to maintain stability. "I disagree," Cheney said, calling Shinseki's assessment "an overstatement.... "I don't think it's likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators."

    Americans gambled on a losing bet, and they have had to pay for that gamble with treasure and with blood. To say now that those costs have been so high that we need to keep playing until we win is a classic gambler's fallacy. Just as a gambler has no guarantee that staying at the table will win back his losses, we have no reason to expect that remaining in Iraq will bring victory. To the contrary, it is likely that the longer we stay, the worse the ultimate reckoning will be.

    Retired US General William Odom is a Republican who formerly headed the National Security Agency under Ronald Reagan and served as Deputy National Security Adviser. In April 2004 -- well ahead of John Murtha or other leading Democrats, who only began talking about troop withdrawal in late 2005 -- Odom argued that the US needed to remove its forces "from that shattered country as rapidly as possible."

    Odom elaborated further in an interview with Katie Couric on the "Today" show. "We have already failed," Odom stated. "Staying in longer makes us fail worse.... Let me put it more bluntly. Let's suppose you murdered somebody, and you suddenly look and say: 'We can't afford to have murdered this person, so therefore let's save him.' I think we've passed the chances to not fail. And now we are in a situation where we have to limit the damage. And the issue is just how much we are going to pay before we decide to limit the damage."

    At the time that Odom said those words, 725 American soldiers had died in Iraq. Since then, the toll has more than tripled.

    Center for Media and Democracy, 520 University Avenue, Suite 227, Madison, Wisconsin 53703. (608)

    Posted with the permission of the authors. This is an edited version of the original text. For the complete text, click here or, better yet, buy the book!

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