Everyone knows we invaded Iraq to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Many people know there was a CIA agent named Valerie Plame whose identity was revealed by the Bush administration. And finally, there's a general consensus that Bush was less than truthful in his arguments to the American people in the run up to the Iraq war. Do the ends justify the means?
Right after 9/11 the talk within Bush circles was about how to blame 9/11 on Iraq. There were reports in the earliest days after 9/11 of Cheney, Rumsfeld, and other high administration officials looking for evidence that Iraq was behind the terror attacks. However, the facts would not cooperate. Within a very short time, it was obvious that Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, based in Afghanistan, were responsible. Thus begin the search for Iraq and Saddam were somehow affiliated with Al Qaeda. Why at this point did no one ask about the obvious contradiction - Osama is a Muslim fanatic allied with the Taliban who is driven by religious extremism. Saddam is essentially secular. Even though Saddam is a Muslim, all of his motivation for killing is based on greed and narcissism with no religious component at. I'm just saying Osama and Saddam really would have nothing in common. But I digress. Bush and Cheney would have no use for such logic. They were in the classic "kill 2 birds with 1 stone" mode in their search to retaliate for 9/11 and get rid of Saddam with 1 war.
The CIA, frequently no favorite of mine, refused to cooperate with the blame 9/11 on Iraq thing. Their intelligence turned up nothing on Iraq and they focused on Al Qaeda in Afghanistan as they should have. The administration then turned to making up the whole narrative of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, or WMDs. Again, the CIA fails to cooperate. With their best efforts, the CIA is able to turn up no evidence of any nuclear weapons program in Iraq. All of the facilities were destroyed in the first Iraq war in 1991. Iraq has nothing except a dictator with a lot of bluster and a lot of oil. The facts weren't cooperating with the Iraq story, so why not start making up the facts. This is where the story gets interesting.
From the months after 9/11 and through 2002 administration officials frequently went on TV spouting claims that Iraq was linked to 9/11 and/or they were close to building a nuclear weapon.
We don't want the smoking gun to become a mushroom cloud.
This quote National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice could be heard over and over as the news media played it over and over. Talk about a powerful sound bite to ratchet up the public's fear! Given the public's fear of another terror attack, the rationale for going to war with Iraq seemed reasonable, but behind the scenes none of the claims were turning out to be true. The Vice President's men pressured the CIA analysts to report out anything that would incriminate Iraq and WMDs. First, there was the story about the aluminum tubes. On September 8, 2002, a story was written in the New York Times
Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium.
The story quotes as its source an unnamed official in the administration. Then Cheney goes on a Sunday talk show and quotes the New York Times as reporting the story about the aluminum tubes, as if to legitimize the story. They planted the story themselves. It turn out that the CIA didn't believe the aluminum tubes had anything to do with nuclear weapons, but the administration went with it anyway and did a masterful job of making the public believe it and fear it.
Then there was the story of Valerie Plame Wilson, Joe Wilson, and yellowcake. This story does get complicated but it's worth understanding how it contributed to the run up to the Iraq war. It begins in 2001 when intelligence reports from Italy and the UK claim that Iraq has been attempting to buy yellowcake uranium, a nuclear material used for making a weapon, from the African country Niger. The CIA looks at this claim dubiously and decides to send Joe Wilson to Niger to investigate this claim. Joe Wilson is married to CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (keep that in mind) and was a State Department diplomat who had many contacts in Niger so he was well positioned to find out if there was any truth to the yellowcake to Iraq story. He returned from Niger to report that there was no way the sale of uranium yellowcake could have happened or been attempted. No one knows what kind of internal debate may have gone on within the CIA after Wilson's report, because the CIA was receiving enormous pressure to substantiate the White House's claims that Iraq had WMD programs. Somehow the National Intelligence Estimate, the CIA's official assessment of the Iraq threat claimed
A foreign government service reported that as early as 2001, Niger planned to send several tons of "pure uranium" (probably yellowcake) to Iraq.
How did a claim which was blatantly false by the CIA's own assessment, find its way into an official CIA document? It gets worse from there. The President, in his state of the union address in early 2003, states
The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
This was a speech that was the final argument to the American people to justify the upcoming war with Iraq, and Bush states as fact a claim that his own CIA thinks is dubious or blatantly false. This statement later became known as "the 16 words" that brought us to war with Iraq.
How did we get here? Why was this whole campaign to go to war with Iraq allowed to work? The mechanics of this assault on facts and reason began with the stated policy after 9/11 - get rid of Saddam Hussein. This is as opposed to finding out who was responsible for 9/11 and going after them. This was create a policy and gather so-called facts to support the policy, rather than gather real facts and shape a well-founded policy around those facts. Bush and Cheney and the rest of the group around them were so driven by idealogy and pre-conceived conclusions they could not accept any evidence that contradicted it. What's worse, they were able to assault the public with half-truths and outright lies and prey on the public's fear to push their policy through. How many in Congress, reporters, or anyone else had the resources to uncover that the aluminum tubes claim and the yellowcake claim were dubious or just plain false? The news media blitz and the atmosphere of fear would have drowned out any claims to the contrary. They formed the policy before the facts were known, selected the shreds of evidence that fit their policy, and preyed on everyone's fear. How many Americans and Iraqis lost their lives in the Iraq War because of this policy?
The arrogance gets even worse as the Iraq War gets started in 2003. In July of 2003 Joe Wilson wrote a series of articles in the New York Times claiming that Bush had misrepresented the intelligence in his claims about Iraq buying uranium from Africa. Eight days after the article comes out, columnist Robert Novak published a column which states that Wilson's wife Valerie Plame is a CIA agency operative. This essentially blows her cover. In the world of spies, Valerie Plame's identity is secret. She cannot do her work if her identity is known. Needless to say, Plame's career as a spy in the CIA is abruptly over after the Novak article. No one at the time knows who in the administration leaked Valerie Plame's name to Novak, but the word from Bush's team is that after Wilson's article criticizing the administration was published, it was perfectly ok to retaliate against Wilson's wife. Valerie Plame was essentially "Fair Game" was a quote from Karl Rove. This story of Valerie Plame became the subject of the movie "Fair Game" which shows how 2 people Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson doing their jobs as honestly as they could were caught up in the Bush administration's lies and deception. It shows how the "outing" of Plame as a CIA agent nearly tore their family apart, but also probably cost lives of the people who were abandoned when Plame was abruptly terminated as a CIA agent. Plame and Wilson see the movie as accurate. This is just one more in a series of unconscionable acts by the administration to support their flawed policy.
The war in Iraq now has disappeared from the front pages. Bush and Cheney are no longer in power. The lasting lesson here is how they used questionable facts and the public's fear to lie us into the war with Iraq. This war cost thousands of deaths and has traumatized thousands of families of war veterans who are still living with the horrors. It worked because we were afraid and we didn't want to believe that our government could lie to us. It worked because no one looked closely enough to uncover the real facts.