Opinion: The Iraq war 20th anniversary also marks a colossal failure of the mainstream media

Twenty years ago, President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq, toppling the despot Saddam Hussein and fomenting a kind of hell that Iraq still grapples with today.

Twenty years ago, with one notable exception, this country’s mainstream media bought false claims from the Bush administration about Hussein’s stockpile of weapons of mass destruction and helped cheer our nation into a conflict that ended the lives of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis . The war — coupled with criminally bad post-war planning by Bush administration officials — also sparked horrific sectarian strife, led to the rise of ISIS and displaced more than 1 million Iraqis.

Spotted portrait illustration of Robin Abcarian

opinion columnist

Robin Abcarian

This sad chapter in American history spawned its share of jingoistic catchphrases and phrases: “WMD,” “The Axis of Evil,” “Regime Change,” “Yellowcake Uranium,” “The Coalition of the Willing,” and a cheesy but chilling refrain, repeated ad nauseam by Bush administration officials such as then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, “We don’t want the hitting gun to be a mushroom cloud.” (The memorable metaphor was invented by the late Michael Gerson, a then-Bush speechwriter .)

Of course, there never was a smoking gun, mushroom-shaped or not.

Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were destroyed in 1991 after Iraq invaded Kuwait and was repelled by a 35-country coalition led by the United States. The United Nations Security Council had also required Iraq to end its biological and nuclear weapons programs.

This is not to say that Hussein was a detoxified tiger; he was not.

But he wasn’t the threat he was portrayed to be either. Deceiving a public shattered by the September 11 terrorist attacks proved a relatively easy task for the Bush administration’s warmongering neoconservatives. They foolishly believed they could impose democracy on a nation with no history.

Bush officials also made false connections between Iraq and the September 11 attacks orchestrated by Islamist militant Osama bin Laden and his terrorist group al-Qaeda. To his enduring humiliation, the late Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a speech at the United Nations just before the invasion, assured the world that the war was fully justified by the danger Iraq posed to the world.

“My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources,” Powell said. “These are not allegations. What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.” He later admitted that his testimonies, many of which were provided to US intelligence by unreliable sources — exiles like Ahmad Chalabi, admitted — were patently false Iraqi opposition leader who dreamed of ousting Hussein and taking power in Iraq.

Powell’s remarks are among those documented in 2008 by the Center for Public Integrity, which compiled hundreds of lies told by Bush and his top officials as part of a campaign aimed at convincing the American public to support the invasion of Iraq “under decidedly false pretexts” to support .”

Most of the media, according to the Center, “were largely complicit in their uncritical reporting of the reasons for entering the war.” There was one glaring exception to this complicity. Three reporters and an editor from Knight-Ridder’s Washington bureau were the only major news organizations to question the government’s WMD narrative. Jonathan Landay, Warren Strobel and Joe Galloway with their editor John Walcott have thrown in the water so much of what the mainstream media has reported. The drama was captured in ‘Shock and Awe,’ a 2017 feature film directed by Rob Reiner, who plays Walcott.

In 2013, on the 10th anniversary of the invasion, Walcott told me his team was driven by skepticism, journalism’s most valuable resource.

“Most of the government’s arguments for this war made absolutely no sense, especially the idea that Saddam Hussein was allied with Osama bin Laden. A secular Arab dictator allied with a radical Islamist whose goal was to overthrow secular dictators and rebuild his caliphate? The more we examined it, the more it stunk.”

Also, he said, instead of relying on senior administration officials, they sought out lower-level staff who were not political appointments and less likely to parrot the president to stay in his favor.

Knight-Ridder developed story after story that undercut the government’s (and the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times) version of Hussein’s abilities. Some of Knight-Ridder’s own newspapers – including the Philadelphia Inquirer – refused to publish the stories for fear of opposition, notably from the New York Times, which declared its gullible reporting on the issue of weapons of mass destruction some 15 months after the invasion.

“It’s still possible that chemical or biological weapons will be unearthed in Iraq,” the Times wrote, “but in this case it looks like we were framed along with the government.”

Of course, there was strong opposition to the invasion of Iraq in the US and around the world, although in the early months of the conflict a majority of Americans polled were in favour.

It didn’t take long for the disillusionment to set in. Where were all the Iraqis that Vice President Cheney had promised to greet American soldiers as “liberators”?

Cheney has never apologized for his role in the Iraqi blunder (as far as I can tell, he still defends it). Neither does Bush, although he recently, albeit accidentally, admitted the truth.

In a May speech at the Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, he said it was “one man’s decision to launch a totally unwarranted and brutal invasion of Iraq, I mean Ukraine.”

He flinched, then added almost quietly, “Iraq too.”

@AbcarianLAT

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2023-03-19/iraq-war-20th-anniversary-wmd-mainstream-media-knight-ridder-george-bush Opinion: The Iraq war 20th anniversary also marks a colossal failure of the mainstream media

Alley Einstein

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