Environmental Ethics
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Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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The Gadfly Bytes -- November 27, 2007

Twenty-Twenty Hindsight, Blinded Foresight

Ernest Partridge

The “Monday morning quarterback” is commonly disparaged for criticizing, with the advantage of hindsight, those whose earlier reports and predictions, based necessarily upon limited and faulty information, prove to be false.  To be sure, such “hindsighters,” when they “rub it in,” can be quite disagreeable.

And yet, if reports and predictions that turn out to be false are not critically examined in retrospect, then, as Santayana warned, having failed to learn from history, we may be condemned to repeat it.

Equally disagreeable are those mistaken reporters and prophets who attempt to excuse their errors by revising history.  For example, the spectacularly misguided Judith Miller of the New York Times reflects: “WMD – I got it totally wrong...  The analysts, the experts and the journalists who covered them – we were all wrong.”

Alas, poor Judith is undone by Google and the written record.  For in fact, as Arianna Huffington cites, numerous reporters and experts “got it right” in advance of this dreadful fiasco of a war.   So too did some ten million ordinary citizens throughout the world who took to the streets to protest the pending war.

Ms.  Miller’s excuse?  “If your sources are wrong, you are wrong.  I did the best job that I could." Not really.  If your primary source is Ahmed Chalabi, a convicted embezzler who aspires to be installed by US forces as the next President of Iraq, and not Hans Blix, Mohamed ElBaradei, and the UN inspectors in Iraq who are finding no WMDs, then you are not doing the best job that you can.  One would suppose that an ability to scrupulously evaluate one’s sources should be a fundamental qualification for a job with the New York Times.

While there was abundant reason not to believe the Bush administration’s lies that led us into the war, the mainstream media, for the most part, reported those lies without critical analysis and rebuttal.  Among them:

  • “Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard, and VX nerve agent.” (George W.  Bush, State of the Union, January 28, 2003).

  • The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” (Ibid.)

  • “We believe [Saddam] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.”  (Dick Cheney, March 16, 2003).

  • “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.  There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.” (Dick Cheney, August 26, 2002). 

  • “We know where [the WMDs] are.  They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.” (Donald Rumsfeld, March 30, 2003).

And who can forget Colin Powell’s show-and-tell before the UN Security Council, featuring the Winnebagos of Death and the deadly vial of anthrax (don’t drop it, Colin!).  The MSM bought it all, without a peep of skepticism.  We now know that it was a tissue of lies.

Early on, most of the public believed the Bushevik lies: that Saddam had WMDs and was hard at work pursuing nuclear weapons, that Saddam’s Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks, and that Saddam was in cahoots with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.  And who can blame them?  Judith Miller’s delusions were being printed on the front page of the New York Times, “the newspaper of historical record.” Colin Powell’s credibility was pure gold.  And surely, the President, the Veep, and the SecDef wouldn’t say such things if they were flat-out false.  Ari Fleischer told us so on December 5, 2002:

The president of the United States and the secretary of defense would not assert as plainly and bluntly as they have that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction if it was not true, and if they did not have a solid basis for saying it.

But an alert, skeptical and resourceful media should have known better; that same media that could for eight years, search relentlessly, if futilely, to find some criminality in Bill and Hillary Clinton’s real estate investments. 

So we return now to our implied opening question: is it fair today to hold the mainstream media, and to be sure, members of Congress, responsible for their pre-war endorsement of Bush and Cheney’s invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq?

I submit that it is fair to do so.  There are compelling and enduring facts that anyone, including Tom Friedman, Fareed Zakaria, Peter Beinart, Christopher Hitchens, etc., should have known – facts that clearly indicated, before the war, that such a war would be the disaster that it has turned out to be.  These facts and their implications were equally accessible to the 77 Senators (29 Democrats) and 296 House members (81 Democrats) when they voted for the Iraq War Resolution in October, 2002.

What We Should Have Known.

Saddam’s alleged WMDs were being extensively searched for, with negative results.  In the fall of 2002, Saddam complied with UN Resolution 1441 and allowed UN inspectors to travel freely throughout Iraq.  Up to the time they were warned to leave, days before the US invasion, the inspectors found no evidence of WMDs.  Had there been no US attack, the UN inspectors would surely have continued their work and, as we now know, would have found no WMDs.  There was no justification in halting these inspections, and compelling reason to continue them.

The Bushevik lies were readily refutable.  Informed individuals in the media and in Congress knew full-well (or at least could have known) that there were no Iraqis among the nineteen 9/11 hijackers, and that Saddam and bin Laden were sworn enemies.  There was no evidence that Saddam was in any way involved in the 9/11 attacks.  (In a careless moment, George Bush admitted as much).  According to nuclear experts, the aluminum tubes that had excited Judith Miller’s concern had no application in nuclear weapons production.  Informed individuals were also well-aware that the UN inspectors had found no WMDs in Iraq.  The lies of Bush (“...uranium from Africa”), Cheney (“there is no doubt...”) and Rumsfeld (“We know where they are...”) were never accompanied with evidence, because, as we now know, there was none.  Accordingly, it was abundantly clear to those open to an objective analysis of available evidence, that Iraq posed no immediate threat to the United States.

The UN Security Council did not sanction a US invasion of Iraq.  The Bush claim that they had such approval was another lie.  On November 8, 2002, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1441 which warned Saddam of “serious consequences” if he failed to comply fully with the UN inspectors.  And as noted above, Saddam was in compliance of that order.  On March 7, 2003, the US proposed a resolution which would, in effect, authorize war if Iraq failed to agree to disarm unconditionally.  When France and Russia indicated that they would veto the measure, it was not brought to a vote.  Two weeks later, on March 20, Bush launched the Iraq war without the sanction of the United Nations Security Council. 

Wars cause the death and the mutilation of innocent men, women and children, and cause others to lose their homes and livelihood.   Read the pre-war incitements of the Iraq hawks, or of the Iran hawks today, and ask yourself: how often and how much do these inevitable human miseries enter into their calculations?   Astonishingly and appallingly little, by my recollection.

Nations, including those that might welcome “liberation,” will not tolerate occupation.  This compelling truth applies, not to those who advocated invasion, but to those who defend the ongoing occupation.  And if there are any lessons of history, this must be prominent among them. 

There are laws that prohibit aggressive warfare against unthreatening nations.  The most important compelling and enduring fact is this: the Iraq war, against an unthreatening nation and without Security Council sanction, is illegal.  The Nuremberg Accords, signed by the United States and thus with the status of law (Article Six of the US Constitution), expressly forbids wars of aggression.  As Justice Robert Jackson, chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trial of 1946 wrote, "To initiate a war of aggression ...  is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."

Iran with Foresight.

One can understand and contemplate all of these considerations (the inspection issue aside) in advance of the impending hostilities against Iran.  The Bush/Cheney lies about Iran are readily refutable, Iran poses no immediate threat to the United States, there is no United Nations sanction for an attack, the costs in human death and suffering are intolerable, and such an attack would be a violation of international law.

In addition, we know now that such an attack would seriously constrict the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf, likely bring Russia and China into an alliance with Iran, unite the Islamic nations against us, and alienate the rest of the world from the United States. 

And yet, a sizeable portion of the mainstream media is cranking up the same propaganda points that we heard on the run-up to the Iraq war, with little more than a change in the final consonant of the name of the alleged “enemy.” The opposing president is “another Hitler,” he is giving material support to our “enemies,” he is developing weapons of mass destruction to use against us, etc.

If we proceed with this folly and attack Iran, the survivors, surveying the wreckage around them, will have no justification in lamenting, “How could we have known beforehand that it would come to this?”

Copyright 2007 by Ernest Partridge

Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .