The End of the Iraq War – Was Bush Right?
September 1, 2010 by Robert K. Musil
You never get to say “I told you so!” At least not in Washington. But frankly, I’m going to give it a try. I’m a patient guy, but not enough to wait for vindication, or even apology, in, say, 2025 by some as yet undiscovered Barbara Tuchman writing The March of Folly.
When President Obama announced the official end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq in his Oval Office address, I was happy. I never want to minimize death, but since Obama was sworn in, only 189 American service members have been killed in Iraq. The other more than 4200 were on George W. Bush’s watch. Similar proportions for the 100,000-150,000 wounded — many with severe brain injuries and other life-long disabilities. Iraqi civilian deaths are counted more cavalierly – we need to estimate them by survey methods and follow press accounts – but somewhere over 100,000 men, women and children, by conservative estimates, have been killed.
I voted for President Obama and he has kept his promise to end U.S. combat involvement in Iraq. We still have troops there and no stable Iraqi government to speak of — I know, I know. But when the President chats with George W. Bush and asks us “to turn the page,” he’s left me behind. I’m still looking for accountability for the horrors of the Iraq War and at least one chance to say, “I told you so.”
Recall 2002, eight long years ago. President Bush, Cheney, Rice, Powell, riding a wave of patriotic popularity after 9/11, were all beating the drums for war. They claimed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and could be close to using them. This was, of course, untrue. Many of us said so at the time.
I was the CEO of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) then and helped with a few hardy souls to start the Win Without War Coalition. It was designed to provide thoughtful, pro-American opposition to the war. Included were such dangerous folks as the National Council of Churches, Ben and Jerry’s, MoveOn.Org, Sojourners, the National Organization for Women, the Quakers and so on. We even hired a former Congressman from the House Armed Services Committee, Tom Andrews of Maine, to underscore that we were serious.
Our first press conference, as I recall, showed TV spots of a Methodist Bishop urging George Bush not to go to war. We even had Joe Wilson, the former U.S. Ambassador, explaining to the cameras — before his wife Valerie Plame was outed as a CIA agent by Scooter Libby — that Saddam Hussein was not getting nuclear materials in Africa. My role was to explain the medical consequences of an attack on Iraq in terms of U.S. and civilian casualties. Result? Can you spell minimal coverage?
In desperation, PSR took out a full-page ad in the New York Times on Friday, October 4, 2002 before the Congressional votes on Iraq. I know because I wrote it with input from a couple of board members, and placed it at considerable expense for a non-profit group like ours.
Why am I not ready to “turn the page” on the Iraq War? Because it was not only a costly blunder, it was illegally approved on the basis of false evidence. And a significant proportion of the American public and the Congress knew it. We could have known better. Look at the PSR ad or other anti-war efforts that were derided at the time.
We said the war would “increase anti-American sentiment worldwide and stimulate, not reduce terrorism.” Check. We added that the war would “destabilize the Middle East, exacerbate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and lead to the loss of many innocent civilian lives.” Check. I could go on. But you get the point. Al Qaeda has gone world- wide, Hamas controls Gaza, Iraq is not yet stable, Iran is more threatening, and we have spent $745 billion (with estimates that include true long-term costs heading over $3 trillion) to get such results.
Soon we will have mid-term elections. Sure. It’s the economy, stupid. But somebody has to say that most of the members who voted for the Iraq War are still in office. Do not re-elect them. I don’t want to take out another ad and then have to come back later after more disasters only to say “I told you so!”
Robert K. Musil is a senior fellow at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University