To put it nicely, the Iraq War that began in 2003 and ended in 2011 has been written into American history books as one of the most misguided and costly conflicts America has ever fought. In the last six months, issues with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria have brought the United States back to the region to fight via airstrikes.
The collective opinion seems to be that Bush’s faults have faded into the distance, replaced by the more persistent problem of stabilizing both Iraq and Syria.
But just 72 hours ago, a report from The New York Times succeeded in shattering that collective opinion. Old wounds have reopened. The Bush administration lied about more than just the motive for invasion (weapons of mass destruction, or WMDs). According to the Times, they also lied about what they found in Iraq and what it did to our soldiers. The implications, if the story holds up, go far deeper than renewed criticism of the Bush administration: they have lessons for the here and now that go straight to the heart of the American bureaucracy and war machine.
In short, the lessons are twofold. First, the report provides more evidence that the Bush years will go down as some of the most dishonest and poorly managed in history. Second — and more importantly — it supports the need to remain incredibly vigilant and skeptical of government decisions to go to war.
In March of 2003, the United States began the first airstrikes in what would become a long war in Iraq. At the time, the American people (and the Congress that authorized the war) had believed America’s campaign to topple then-dictator Sadaam Hussein had been because Hussein possessed nuclear weapons of mass destruction.
Those weapons, it turned out, don’t seem to have existed in Iraq. The American people had been misled. The Bush administration admitted this, and acknowledged that its primary justification for war turned out to be based upon faulty intelligence. But it allegedly covered up something else:
“From 2004 to 2011, American and Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered, and at times were wounded by, chemical weapons that were hidden or abandoned years earlier,” the Times reported.
Not only was this information withheld from the public, but it was also hushed up within the military. The Times alleges that it was even withheld from soldiers who were sent to destroy the munitions, leaving them unable to receive correct medical care for the injuries they sustained as a result. Even Congress was kept mostly in the dark: Jarrod Lampier, an Army major quoted by the Times, said that he was ordered to say “nothing of significance” after more than 2,400 nerve-agent rockets were dug up in 2006.
A number of delusional folks who still believe the war in Iraq was justified will claim that the new findings prove that the Bush administration never lied about the existence of WMDs in the first place. “We found the WMDs!” they say. “Bush was right all along!”
This is a red herring to the actual criticism, and simply not factual. The Washington Post notes that all the chemical weapons were manufactured before 1991, and the Times report even discusses that most of them were not even usable as real weapons. They were simply buried in the ground and left to rot.
“The Bush administration, by contrast, staked its WMD claims on an active, on-going program that was restarted after the Kuwait conflict,” the Post wrote.
Put simply, the chemical remnants soldiers died from were in no way, shape or form the WMDs Bush was talking about. Not even close.
So Bush and company lied again, and as a result, the Iraq War’s already sordid picture in the history books has gotten even dirtier. But the real lesson in the cover-up is much broader, and it is far more significant than the exclusively “Bush lied again” narrative that you can expect from media (especially the left leaners) in the coming days. Here is what you likely won’t hear:
As Congress and President Obama continue to consider further involvement in the Middle East and elsewhere, the revelations published by the Times are reminders that any decision to go to war, and remain in war, should command intense scrutiny. Bush administration hating aside, history will repeat itself if all we get out of the Times report is that it’s another reason why Bush sucked.
The Middle East, Ukraine and the South China Sea — to name a few — are all potential hotspots for conflict. There will be pressure in the next decade to intervene. That pressure should be scrutinized by the American public. Every claim, every law and every news report needs to be closely vetted, because the next time we are asked to go to war, it could be even bigger than Iraq.
And if we make that decision the same way we made the decision in Iraq, we should shudder to think of the consequences.
Nathaniel Haas is a junior majoring in political science and economics. His column, “State of the Union,” runs Fridays..