As with Iraq, so with Russia
In the context of the Ukrainian crisis, we have been bombarded with many historical analogies. Topping the list are the Berlin stalemate of 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. And then there’s that all-time favorite, the Munich Agreement of 1938.
These crises should certainly not be considered ancient history. But then why go back 60 or 80 years when you can walk down memory lane?
Like, say, when an American president was trying to rally the public and mobilize international support in the name of using military force against an alleged bloodthirsty dictator who supposedly threatened Western geostrategic interests and challenged his liberal democratic values. ?
I am referring, of course, to the debate that took place in Washington during the first year of this century over whether the United States should go to war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. According to the consensus at the time, Saddam was in possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and, in his spare time, he supported terrorism and attempted to destabilize the Middle East.
The debate concluded, as you may recall, with the passage of the historic 2002 congressional resolution authorizing the use of military force against Iraq, by a vote of 296 to 133 in the House representatives and by a vote of 77 to 23 in the Senate. . This gave President George W. Bush the green light to launch a military campaign in Mesopotamia and get his hands on these WMDs hidden somewhere between the Tigris and Euphrates.
Since no WMD was discovered and the results of the Iraq war still haunt us, the following narrative has evolved to explain what happened.
Almost “everyone”, with the exception of a few left-wing pacifists and conservative isolationists, and including the intelligence agencies of the United States and Britain, believed that Saddam had WMD and that only recourse to military force against Iraq would eliminate this threat to world peace.
This consensus built by Bush administration officials and their neoconservative cheerleaders was eventually embraced by most of the Washington foreign policy establishment, including the mainstream media. They then promoted what we learned in retrospect, well, lies that helped persuade the American public and its representatives on Capitol Hill to support the war.
Then came the moral of this tragic story: never again will we be drawn into a costly military intervention in response to a war marketing campaign based on judgments issued by intelligence agencies and promoted by a swindled and rogue MSM.
As part of this narrative, we have also been led to believe that those who choreographed the war in Iraq and supported it have been “punished”. Thus, the journalist Judith Miller lost her job in the New York Times for her misleading coverage of Iraqi WMDs based on leaks she received from Bush administration officials. And then-Senator Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic presidential primary race to Sen. Barack Obama in part because she voted for the congressional resolution authorizing the president to attack Iraq.
But in fact, President Bush was not punished. He was re-elected for a second term, while his comrade in arms, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has since transformed himself into a planetary sage. Certainly, most of the government officials and generals who planned and waged the war in Iraq and the journalists and pundits who echoed their views did not lose their jobs.
Those who were directly and indirectly responsible for what was perhaps the worst strategic mistake in American history were rewarded with new positions of power and influence. And now, in an ironic twist to the story, they’re helping another president mobilize the nation for another war against another autocrat who’s supposed to threaten America’s core national interests.
It is true that, unlike the Bush-Blair duo, President Joe Biden and his British friend Boris Johnson are not proposing to go to war against Russia. They respond to the provocations of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was also provoking the West at the turn of the 21st century with his bellicose statements and aggressive actions, threatening to destroy Israel, massacring its Kurdish population and insisting that it possessed WMD. And he started a war with Iran and had a nuclear reactor at one point. He was a Bad Man in the context of the Middle East, just as Putin is in Russian terms.
But just as in the months leading up to the war in Iraq, another US administration and its intelligence agencies are now trying to convince us that Putin poses a direct threat to US national security by demanding that its neighbor Ukraine does not join a military alliance directed against him.
And a gullible MSM buys this hook, sink, and script double, making Putin America’s nemesis du jour, without seriously considering the complexity of the historical, cultural, and geographic issues involved.
Somehow, there has been more serious debate in Washington about going to war with Iraq than about the supposed threat posed by Russia.
Former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham refused to take the Bush administration at its word and voted against the war resolution. Just a month before the vote, his committee had discovered that the administration had failed to produce a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), a comprehensive report from the entire intelligence community, to rationalize preemptive warfare. He then invoked seldom-used senatorial authority and ordered an NIE performed, which exposed the dissent to the administration’s main arguments.
No figure like Bob Graham has emerged in the current debate over the Ukraine crisis.
After Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri dared to suggest that the United States would be worse off if Ukraine were admitted to NATO, he was accused of “repeating Russian talking points” and lambasted by some in his fellow Democrats and Republicans.
Senators from both parties are currently working on legislation to help Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russia. The only debate is whether the sanctions should be imposed even if Russia does not invade Ukraine.
In reality, Hawley’s dissent should not be seen as the wild daydreams of a politician. enfant terrible but in line with the views of two wise men in Washington, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the late national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who opposed the idea of Ukraine joining NATO . Both suggested that the ideal solution would be to have a Ukraine like Finland or Austria, a bridge between Russia and the West. (Both were equally opposed to the military adventure in Iraq.)
Why are such opinions not heard in Washington today?
Perhaps because, as in the build-up to the Iraq war, there are those in Washington who want to make sure no dissenting words are heard.
Thus, while in 2003, leading neoconservative pundit David “Axis of Evil” Frum denounced conservatives opposed to the war in Iraq as “unpatriotic,” these days the Never Trumper Frum insists those who oppose Ukraine’s invitation to join NATO echo Putin’s “arguments justifying aggression against Ukraine.”
“They had learned nothing and forgotten nothing,” Talleyrand (apparently) said of the Bourbons, which might apply to people like Frum. But unlike the Bourbons, they have not yet been punished for their mistakes.