“The Forgotten War”: Part II
With America’s trials and tribulations in war-torn Afghanistan continuing to dominate the headlines, we must not forget that over 100,000 U.S. soldiers remain in Iraq. Likewise, we must never forget why the United States decided to launch a preemptive invasion of Iraq in the first place.
The only problem is that the U.S. Government seems interested in burying the truth and forgetting about the run-up to America’s worst war blunder since the Vietnam Era. Rather than figure out what went wrong, Washington is dissociating itself from the conflict, even though a large contingent of American forces will remain in Iraq for another two years.
America’s number-one ally, however, has taken a drastically different approach. For the past month, British politicians, and British intelligence officials have established an independent inquiry on why Britain decided to go along with President George W. Bush’s plan for Iraq in 2003. Chaired by John Chilcot and supported by former analysts from P.M. Blair’s administration, the British Government is rehashing old wounds in the hopes of learning valuable lessons for the future.
According to Newsweek’s Mark Hosenball, the British “inquiry’s panel aims to examine how the war was launched and conducted, what happened when the initial military operations ended, and whether there are ‘lessons to be learned.” In case anyone was interested in the panel’s findings, here is a preliminary list of their conclusions:
1) George W. Bush seemed to have a fixation on toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime after the September 11, 2001 attacks
2) The Bush Administration was heavily divided over whether to use force against Iraq, with VP Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld on one side and Secretary of State Colin Powell and C.I.A. Director George Tenant on the other.
3) On September 14, 2001- only three days after the terrorist attacks on the United States- George Bush suggested to Blair that “there might be evidence that there was some connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin-Laden and Al’Qaeda.”
4) In early April 2002, Bush met with Blair and revealed that the U.S. Military was already preparing for a military confrontation with Saddam Hussein.
5) P.M. Blair, in a private telegraph to the White House in October of 2002, initially argued against American military involvement in Iraq.
6) V.P. Cheney was frequently with the President during discussions with British officials over war planning and preparation.
Certainly, the panel’s early findings are not exactly pristine tidbits of information. The American and British people already understand that the Iraq War was based on inaccurate intelligence estimates, personal animosity towards the Iraqi dictator, and a genuine belief that a democratic Iraq would transform the Middle East. London’s inquiry only serves to confirm and legitimize these beliefs.
But the moral of this story is not that the British Government failed to discover anything surprising during the run-up to the Iraqi invasion. Rather, the lesson that jumps out is Great Britain’s search for the unbiased truth, even if this involves a meticulous process of give-and-take and a nationally publicized question-and-answer session. By calling former British politicians to testify on the stand, Gordon Brown is not only closing the final chapter in a lengthy and controversial book; he is also exposing his country’s commitment to improving British intelligence for future conflicts.
Shouldn’t the United States perform a similar investigation into the manner, one that strives to uncover the truth and nothing but the truth? One would think so, considering that over 4500 American soldiers have died in Iraq as a result of faulty intelligence about Saddam and his motives. In fact, with two pillars of America’s Iraq strategy – weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi support for the Al’Qaeda network- grossly inaccurate, one would be right to argue that the U.S. Government has a responsibility to explain itself to the American people.
Perhaps we are not embarking on the same path as the British because the war in Iraq is still raging on for American troops. The fact that the British mission in Iraq is now over gives Brown and Blair an opportunity to close the book on the conflict once and for all. With U.S. operations in Iraq still ongoing, Washington may not have the same incentive.
Yet we as Americans should hope that our government is as open and honest about “Operation Iraqi Freedom” as our British partners have been and continue to be.
Many times, getting it right in the present and digging into our past can help save lives in the future. There is a reason why political scientists and historians are so keen on preventing a return of history.
-Daniel R. DePetris