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A Lot of Explaining to Do

“Let’s roll !” were the last words heard over a phone connection to hijacked flight 93 as some heroic passengers prepared to storm the cockpit. A year and a half later, on the day of the Iraq invasion, a jubilant ARI writer echoed those brave words, “Let’s roll !” as if Iraq were now as great a danger to the U.S. as the hijackers of flight 93 had been to its passengers.

The U.S. military quickly routed Saddam’s army. On May 1, 2003 Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” and the invasion settled into an occupation. Then in spite of a year-and-half-long search for the promised “weapons of mass destruction,” in spite of the rewards an Iraq scientist would earn if he revealed the whereabouts of any such weapons, in spite of two years of torturing various Iraqis to determine their location, the result: nothing. No stockpiles of anthrax, no stockpiles of nerve gas, no long-range missiles, no drone airplanes capable of flying thousands of miles, no nuclear program.

Perhaps Saddam wanted all these things, but he didn’t have any of them.

Those fearsome weapons had featured prominently in ARI’s relentless agitation for war, but the failure to find them troubles ARI not at all. People who worry over this failure, says one ARI writer, are concrete-bound leftists engaging in psychological projection and pragmatism. And these worrying people do not talk, they scream.  All these epithets are in just one article by ARI’s Robert Tracinski. We review it in a moment; for now we continue with our account of ARI’s  “Let’s roll!” and its aftermath.

Most Iraqis who survived the invasion came to hate the occupation. Coalition (the combination of the U.S. and European countries persuaded to take part in the invasion) casualties continued to mount, and the capture of Saddam failed to slow the rate. American military casualties at the time of the December 2011 troop withdrawal (to Kuwait) officially number  4,484 killed and over three times that many seriously wounded. (This does not include mercenaries.) The military fatalities of other countries which the U.S. persuaded to join the Coalition totaled 318.

The cost to American citizens is between three and four trillion dollars. Like all government expenditures it is paid by taxation and inflation.

The U.S. killed from several ten thousands to one hundred thousand Iraqis. The deafened, the blinded, the maimed number several times that. Practically all the casualties are noncombatants. One wonders if their survivors hate us because we are free.

In January 2004 the U.S. gave up the active search for WMD empty-handed. Since the folks at ARI had harped on WMD continuously for a year and half before the invasion, you might think they have some explaining to do. Instead they deny both that WMD are not there and that WMD ever were important – which rather covers the field. We now review how one ARI senior fellow at the time, Robert Tracinski, managed this in his article “America’s WMD Illusions:  ‘Intelligence Failures’ — Or Intellectual Failures?” The Intellectual Activist, February 2004.

He writes (my emphasis):

“A post-war search of Saddam Hussein’s arsenal has not yet uncovered the stockpiles of chemical weapons he was believed [by whom?] to possess, and the search seems to indicate, so far, that his biological and nuclear weapons programs were less developed than our intelligence agencies had feared.”
Mr. Tracinski insinuates that WMD might yet be uncovered, that Saddam possessed viable biological and nuclear weapons programs, that programs for weapons rather then the weapons themselves were what the administration had said he possessed, and that intelligence agencies rather than the neocon Office of Special Plans furnished the evidence for believing Iraq was a threat to the U.S.

Mr. Tracinski chooses his words with care. After quoting CIA director at the time George Tenet describing, after the invasion, why he had thought Iraq possessed WMD, Mr. Tracinski says: “Nor have any of these conclusions been proven spectacularly wrong by subsequent findings.”

Not spectacularly wrong! How about just plain all wrong. Mr. Tracinski’s choice of words is laughable, straining as he does to justify his – and ARI’s – position before the invasion.

Quoting George Tenet at all is misdirection. After the WMD fiasco Mr. Tenet tried to make the CIA appear responsible for all the intelligence, falling on his sword for the administration. In fact the CIA was not the primary source of pro-war intelligence. The primary source was the Office of Special Plans, an agency that Israel-worshipping neocons created in 2001 for the express purpose of promoting war against Iraq. Mr. Tracinski mentions the CIA several times throughout his article, he never once mentions the Office of Special Plans.

From Mr. Tracinski’s article:  “It is reasonable to propose that our intelligence agencies over-estimated Iraq’s chemical weapons capacity.”

Overestimated! – as if the capacity were not zero.
Propose! – as if even “overestimated” might be too mild.

Mr. Tracinski then takes a new tack (emphasis his):

“David Kay [head of the Iraq Survey Group which searched for WMD after the invasion] has publicly speculated that the regime’s existing stockpiles ... were probably destroyed in the mid 1990s. But it is also clear that such a conclusion could only be rationally entertained now, after the toppling of Saddam Hussein has given us extensive access to the inner workings of his regime. To arrive at such an optimistic outlook before we had this access would have required a leap of faith.”
Should the U.S. bomb Iraq? Well, do they have both the means and the intention to harm us? To insist on reasonable evidence for this is simple justice. That we can rationally entertain something about Iraq only after having invaded it begs the question of the validity of the evidence for having done so.

Arriving at the correct conclusion did not require optimism and faith, it required listening to the experience of men like Scott Ritter and William Odom, instead of known crooks with political careers in mind like Ahmed Chalabi (leader of the Iraqi National Congress) and neocons with an agenda of their own. That was the leap of faith.

Mr. Tracinski takes yet another tack against what he calls the “current hysteria over weapons of mass destruction.” Saddam believed he had WMD, but his scientists were fooling him, and thus fooling U.S. intelligence as well. Mr. Tracinski quotes a newspaper article describing David Kay’s view: “Whatever was left [by 1997 or 1998] of an effective weapons capability ... was largely subsumed into corrupt money-raising schemes by scientists skilled in the arts of lying and surviving in a fevered police state.”

Because some of the administration’s intelligence coincided with the lies Saddam’s scientists were telling him, or as Mr. Tracinski spins it, because the administration’s intelligence knew what Saddam was being told (though they didn’t know it was a lie), Mr. Tracinski concludes:

“This [intelligence knowledge] is not a failure of intelligence, but an achievement of intelligence, and it supports the administration’s decision to go to war.”
The argument is hard to follow. The administration sold the war to the American people by claiming that it had proof Saddam possessed WMD and that he would use them against the U.S., not that he was being told by his bumbling scientists that he had WMD.

Evidently Mr. Tracinski thinks the delusions of a thug are sufficient reason to carpet-bomb the cowed citizens of his country.

By the way, the chemical weapons the Iraq government possessed in the late 1980s and early 90s were a gift to Saddam from the U.S. government – a fact Mr. Tracinski takes care never to mention.  Either the Iraqis had destroyed those earlier weapons or they had disintegrated naturally, years ago.

But forget all that, Mr. Tracinski isn’t worried that Iraq had no WMD or terrorist training camps:

“These results [of the post-war search] do not undermine the fundamental rationale for war, and they need not be a fatal political embarrassment for President Bush.”
If the fundamental rationale for war was not WMD and terrorist training camps, what was it? At times (for he waffles mightily) by “fundamental rationale” Mr. Tracinski appears to mean not an existing threat, but rather the administration’s perception of its existence.

And he claims that perception was sincere.  Mr. Tracinski’s argument amounts to the following:
1.  Intelligence is necessarily imperfect.
2.  The Bush administration used the best available intelligence at the time.
3.  Based on that intelligence Bush was right to invade Iraq. He followed the most rational course possible under the circumstances.

This would all be very well, if Mr. Tracinski’s second premise were not such a bare-faced lie.

The WMD fiasco was not an intelligence failure. Failure implies an honest attempt. An honest approach to Iraq would have weighed all intelligence in order to arrive at a conclusion. Instead the conclusion came first. The administration began with their wish to invade Iraq and then searched for intelligence that they could use to support doing so. They hunted and sifted for what they could construe as indicating a powerful Iraq on the verge of attacking the U.S., and ignored all evidence to the contrary. Instead of an honest attempt, Bush and his advisors engaged in wishful thinking and outright lies. They ignored the best available intelligence at the time and substituted for it the intelligence of their Office of Special Plans.

Mr. Tracinski says the administration could and ought to have justified the war for “multiple reasons”: Saddam either possessed WMD, or wanted to obtain WMD, or believed he actually possessed WMD even though he did not – all three or any of these reasons would, Mr. Tracinski implies, be reason enough to invade Iraq. Instead, he complains, the administration chose to focus on only one of them, that Saddam possessed WMD.

“But [Mr. Tracinski writes] this so narrowed the case for war that it depended on a handful of specific claims — Nigerian uranium, for example, or the Special Republican Guard’s [Saddam’s army] ability to deploy chemical weapons in 45 minutes — claims that were, by their very nature, based on murky secret intelligence.”
“Murky secret intelligence” doesn’t describe Mr. Tracinski’s two examples. The Nigerian uranium claim was based on forged documents (forged by whom is another question – certainly Israel is suspect). The 45 minute claim came from a British intelligence report the bulk of which had been plagiarized from public sources including a California graduate student’s thesis concerning the period ten years earlier when Saddam really did have chemical weapons – given to him by the United States for use against Iran. These are telling examples of the “intelligence” that politicians used to whip people up to war. It was neither secret nor murky, and passing it off as fresh and plausible was a fraud.

The administration’s run-up to the Iraq war was not an honest mistake, it was deliberate deception.

Mr. Tracinski ridicules any question about intelligence details as “concrete-bound,” saying it obscures the fundamentals, the “big picture.” Yet a big picture is made up of concrete details. You don’t back a war just because someone utters “War on Terrorism!” Without corroborating detail you could swallow a pack of lies.

Here’s another example of Mr. Tracinski’s underhanded technique. He refers to Iraq as “a hostile regime — with a record of supporting terrorism.” The question is: Terrorism against whom? He insinuates that Iraq has supported terrorists against the U.S. (it hasn’t) and in the future will do so again. He repeats this over and over without any evidence at all. (Iraq did fund terrorists against Israel, but Israel is not part of the U.S. – except in the minds of ARI writers.)

About the time Mr. Tracinski wrote his article another ARI associate, Harry Binswanger, wrote a similar one: “The Big Lie: Intelligence Failure in Iraq” (Capitalism Magazine Feb. 23, 2004). Not only do WMD all of a sudden not matter, neither does which country we invade:

“Three thousand Americans died in the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In the wake of that, the only intelligent question was: which lousy Middle East pesthole-dictatorship are we going to crush first? Not: was or was not the threat from this particular statist sewer ‘imminent’ or only ‘growing’? ”
Set aside Mr. Binswanger’s sophomoric prose style. Saddam, “lousy” though he was, had nothing to do with the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And he was never a threat to America, neither imminent nor growing.

ARI went from (paraphrasing now, not quoting)  “Iraq will nuke the U.S. any day now”  to  “Saddam has WMD and he will use them against the U.S.”  to  “Saddam will build WMD and then he will use them against the U.S.”  to  “he intended to build WMD and then he would have used them against the U.S.”  And why would he attack the U.S., and commit suicide in the process?  “Because we are free. He hates us because we are good.”  This string of nonsense justifies killing and maiming a hundred thousand random Iraqis, right now, no time to wait, because “this is a response to 9-11.”

The above analysis is not intended to provide journalistic detail. See the following references for some of the needed background. See also the “Iraq” section of the Links page.

Lies of the administration
“10 Appalling Lies We Were Told About Iraq”
by Christopher Scheer
AlterNet  June 27, 2003

“The WMD lies”
by Stephen Sniegoski

The Truth About War

“Wolfowitz Committee Told White House to Hype Dubious Uranium Claims”
by Jason Leopold  July 17, 2003

“NYT & WMD: Profiles in Timidity”
by Jarrett Murphy
The Village Voice  April 1, 2005

“Guantanamo Interrogations ‘Faked’ ”
The Australian  April 29, 2005
“Authorities at Guantanamo Bay staged interrogations of detainees for visiting politicians and generals to give the impression that valuable intelligence was regularly being gathered, says a former US Army translator at the camp.
“Sergeant Erik Saar told CBS television’s 60 Minutes that he believed ‘only a few dozen’ of the 600 detainees at the camp were terrorists and that little information was obtained from them.”

Inside the Wire
by Erik Saar

The Lie of the Century

Iraq on the Record:  the Bush Administration’s public statements on Iraq

Two former officers say president squelched intelligence months before invading Iraq.

“Exhaustive review finds no link between Saddam and al Qaida”
by Warren Strobel, McClatchy Newspapers March 10, 2008.

The Life and Legacy of Lt. Gen. William Odom
by Ron Unz, The American Conservative September 8, 2008.
“While other top brass played press agents for the administration’s war, William Odom told the truth about Iraq ... .”

“Did the CIA just mess up on Iraq’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’?”
by Brad Knickerbocker, Christian Science Monitor Sept. 8, 2012.

Iraq war casualty counts
U.S. Dept. of Defense coalition casualty counts for the Coalition can be found at

Official wounded counts are understated. See“VA Chief Vows to Work for the Wounded”
Stars and Stripes European edition,  November 24, 2004:
“As of Tuesday [Nov. 23, 2004], 20,802 troops have been treated at Landstuhl [Germany] from injuries received in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.” At that date ... the official number of US soldiers wounded in Iraq announced by the US Department of Defense was 8458 in Iraq ... and 423 in Afghanistan
( unknownnews.net/casualties.html ).

Iraq Body Count

Iraq war expense
“... the $500 billion is only the out-of-pocket costs. It does not include the replacement cost of the destroyed equipment, the future costs of care for veterans, the cost of the interests on the loans that have financed the war, or the lost US GDP from diverting scarce resources to war. Experts who are not part of the government's spin machine estimate the cost of the Iraq war to be as much as $3 trillion.” – Paul Craig Roberts in  “The Collapse of American Power”  March 18, 2008.

David Kay, who headed the search, said a few months after Mr. Tracinski’s article was published, “It’s most important that the president of the United States recognizes that in fact the weapons are not there.” (UPI and Reuters   July 28, 2004.) He called the hope that WMD might still be found “delusional” – an observation you will not find in any subsequent issue of Mr. Tracinski’s journal.

“[Duelfer] Report: No WMD Stockpiles in Iraq”
CNN  October 7, 2004
“Saddam Hussein did not possess stockpiles of illicit weapons at the time of the U.S. invasion in March 2003 and had not begun any program to produce them, a CIA report concludes.”

U.S. helped arm Iraq
“Shaking Hands with Saddam Hussein: The U.S. Tilts toward Iraq, 1980-1984”

Contrived Intelligence (esp. the Office of Special Plans)
“Career Officer Does Eye-opening Stint Inside Pentagon”
by Karen Kwiatkowski, retired Air Force Lt. Col.
July 2003

“Selective Intelligence: Donald Rumsfeld has his own special sources. Are they reliable?”
by Seymour Hersh
The New Yorker  May 7, 2003

“The Stovepipe: How conflicts between the Bush Administration and the intelligence community marred the reporting on Iraq’s weapons”
by Seymour Hersh
The New Yorker  Oct. 27, 2003

“Some CIA Analysts Felt Pressure from Cheney over Iraq”
Washington Post  June 5, 2003
“Vice President Cheney and his most senior aide made multiple trips to the CIA over the past year to question analysts studying Iraq’s weapons programs and alleged links to al Qaeda, creating an environment in which some analysts felt they were being pressured to make their assessments fit with the Bush administration’s policy objectives, according to senior intelligence officials.”
“Former and current intelligence officials said they felt a continual drumbeat, not only from Cheney and [Scooter] Libby, but also from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, Feith, and less so from CIA Director George J. Tenet, to find information or write reports in a way that would help the administration make the case that going into Iraq was urgent.
 ‘They were the browbeaters,’ said a former defense intelligence official who attended some of the meetings in which Wolfowitz and others pressed for a different approach to the assessments they were receiving. ‘In interagency meetings,’ he said, ‘Wolfowitz treated the analysts’ work with contempt.’ ”

Neocons wanting to take over Middle East before 9-11
“Rebuilding America’s Defenses”
Signed by Paul Wolfowitz among others.
Project for the New American Century,  Sept. 2000

Al Qaeda (bin Laden)
“No Evidence Connecting Iraq to Al Qaeda, 9/11 Panel Says”
Washington Post  June 16, 2004

“Exhaustive review finds no link between Saddam and al Qaida”
McClatchy Newspapers March 10, 2008