J’Accuse…! George W Bush and the Iraq War

“Tell me lies. Tell me sweet little lies.” Fleetwood Mac

On this, March 20, the 18th anniversary of when the United States and coalition forces began the war in Iraq, causing hundreds off thousands of military and civilian deaths, the one person responsible for this unnecessary and tragic war needs to be acknowledged.

When David Halberstam wrote The Best and the Brightest about the people who dragged the United States into the war in Vietnam, he didn’t intend to praise them. He meant, instead, to strike a sardonic tone, to mock the elite, highly educated and well-born men (and they were mostly men) who promoted the Vietnam fiasco.

The policymakers Halberstam highlighted in “Best and the Brightest” were high-level actors such as President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, McGeorge and William Bundy, George Kennan, George Ball, Clark Clifford, Walt Rostow, John McCone, and others. 

The U.S. war in Iraq was a replay, just with different faces.

The players who dragged the United States down the twisted road into the conflagration in Irag were first and foremost the president himself, George W. Bush. His supporting cast included a long list of enablers, including: Vice President Dick Cheney; Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz; Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith; Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter”Libby; Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; David Wurmser, a member of Feith’s Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group; and Richard Perle, who served as chairman of the Defense Department’s Defense Policy Board. The weight of the unnecessary war should still hang like an albatross on the necks of these so-called public servants.

Not surprisingly, that’s not where the official White House-appointed commission created to find out where things went wrong laid the blame. 

“We conclude that the Intelligence Community was dead wrong in almost all of its pre-war judgments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction,” said the March 31, 2005 Report to the President of The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction“This was a major intelligence failure. Its principal causes were the Intelligence Community’s inability to collect good information about Iraq’s WMD programs, serious errors in analyzing what information it could gather, and a failure to make clear just how much of its analysis was based on assumptions, rather than good evidence. On a matter of this importance, we simply cannot afford failures of this magnitude.” 

“Finally, it was a failure to communicate effectively with policymakers; the Intelligence Community didn’t adequately explain just how little good intelligence it had—or how much its assessments were driven by assumptions and inferences rather than concrete evidence,” the Commission added.


It wasn’t the intelligence community that owned all the screw ups. There’s no question that deficiencies in intelligence gathering, including a lack of useful human intelligence and reliance on unreliable Iraqi defectors, played a major role in making bad decisions. CIA Director George Tenet contributed to the manipulation of intelligence to maintain his access to, and influence on, Bush and other administration officials.

But if you read the books, reports, essays, etc. written by people not appointed by the Bush administration, the real blame belongs on the shoulders of the top policymakers, all the way up to President George W. Bush, whose eyes were wide shut, refused to see things in plain view. He was determined to go to war and embraced questionable intelligence data to make it happen. 

The result was a war that twisted and perverted whatever it touched, over there as well as over here, as Luke Mogelson wrote in a New Yorker essay about Peter Van Agtmael’s book, “Sorry for the War.” 

Photo by Peter van Agtmael, “Sorry for the War.” 

Bush and his cadre of neoconservatives thought they were doing the right thing, pushing for the transformation of Iraq in the belief that would have a bandwagon effect on the fractious middle east. 

President George W. Bush said on Nov. 6, 2003 at the 20th Anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy: “Iraqi democracy will succeed –- and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran –- that freedom can be the future of every nation. The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.”

But in the end Bush and his acolytes were like the young idealist Alden Pyle in Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, set in Saigon during the French fight to retain Vietnam in colonial rule. “I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused . . . impregnably armored by his good intentions and his ignorance,” the novel’s narrator, Thomas Fowler, said of Pyle.

Yes, subsequent analysis has revealed serious intelligence shortcomings.

  • Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, known by the Defense Intelligence Agency cryptonym “Curveball”, reportedly told German intelligence that Iraq possessed stockpiles of biological weapons and had manufactured ingeniously simple mobile trailers to produce them. He was not considered a credible, reliable source and later admitted he had fabricated the story.
  • President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and other senior administration officials asserted that Iraq had attempted to acquire more than 100,000 high strength aluminum tubes for gas centrifuges to be used for enriching uranium that could be used to make nuclear weapons. Evidence showed that was not the case. In fact, the dimensions and the aluminum alloy were identical to those of tubes acquired for small rockets by Iraq.
  • The Bush administration alleged that a Sept. 11 hijacker, Mohamed Atta, met with an Iraqi intelligence agent, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, at a café in Prague five months prior to the 9/11 attacks. There was no evidence to support that claim.
  • The administration claimed that Iraq had trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases, strengthening a claim of close ties between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. A June 21, 2002 CIA report, “Iraq and al-Qa’ida: Interpreting a Murky Relationship,” stated that “the level and extent of this assistance is not clear.” The document noted the “many critical gaps” in the knowledge of Iraqi links to al Qaeda because of “limited reporting” and the “questionable reliability of many of our sources.”
  • The Bush administration claimed that Iraq attempted to obtain processed uranium from Niger in Africa as part of its effort to reconstitute its nuclear weapons programs. Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, sent to Niger by the CIA to investigate reports about Iraq’s attempts to acquire uranium from that country, concluded the claim was not credible and others asserted that documents allegedly detailing uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger were “not authentic.”
  • The Bush administration said Iraq was exploring ways of using unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical and biological weapons across broad areas, potentially for missions targeting the United States. The Air Force, it was later revealed, had maintained that Iraqi drones with chemical and biological weapons were not capable of posing any real threat to the U.S., or even to the countries bordering Iraq.
  • President George W. Bush and key members of his administration insisted that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program and that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that posed an immediate threat to the United States and its allies. There was no program for development of WMDs, nuclear or otherwise. The United States failed to find weapons stocks or active production lines.

But the fact is intelligence, or the lack thereof, on Iraqi weapons programs isn’t what drove President Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq.

As Paul R. Pillar, who served as National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia at the CIA from 2000 to 2005, wrote in an article published in the March/April 2006 edition of Foreign Affairs“What is most remarkable about prewar U.S. intelligence on Iraq is not that it got things wrong and thereby misled policymakers; it is that it played so small a role in one of the most important U.S. policy decisions in recent decades.”

The decision to topple Saddam Hussein was “driven by… the desire to shake up the sclerotic power structures of the Middle East and hasten the spread of more liberal politics and economics in the region,” Pillar wrote.

Where intelligence raised doubts about the reliability of information the policymakers were using to justify war, they disregarded it.

And American media mostly cheered them on, led by reporters for the major media outlets, particularly the New York Times and Washington Post. Then there was Congress, which, despite some misgivings, essentially gave President Bush a blank check to do his thing.

So Bush did.

As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe so eloquently put it, “A man is not deceived by others; he deceives himself.” 




“War, huh. What’s it good for?

On this Memorial Day, it seems like the United States has been at war for most of my lifetime. The cost in American lives has been unbearable. Parents of friends, and friends themselves, have died. The financial cost has been astronomical. The impact on our culture has been massive. The resulting erosion of trust in government has been substantial. What have we accomplished?


In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson used reports of attacks on two American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin as political cover for a Congressional resolution that gave him broad war powers in Vietnam. There were only two dissenting votes, Senators Morse of Oregon and Gruening of Alaska.

As American involvement in the war and body counts escalated, so did anti-war protests at home. The end came when Saigon in South Vietnam fell to the communists in April 1975.


David Halberstam wrote “The Best and the Brightest” about the overconfident people in leadership roles in the United States who pursued the war.

“The basic question behind the book,” he said, “was why men who were said to be the ablest to serve in government this century had been the architects of what struck me as likely to be the worst tragedy since the Civil War.” (The term “Best and the brightest “ has often been twisted since then to mean the top, smart people, the opposite of Halberstam’s original meaning)

Now, 41 years later, the U.S. and Vietnam are reconciling. The U.S. wants the business opportunities that are expected to open up in Vietnam and a counterweight to Chinese adventurism.


President Obama reviewing a guard of honor during a welcoming ceremony at Vietnam’s Presidential Palace in Hanoi, May 23, 2016.


Cost of the Vietnam War to the United States                                            $173 billion

U.S. military fatal casualties of the Vietnam War                                             58,220

Grieving families of U.S. military fatal casualties of the Vietnam War       58,220



The Afghanistan war began in October 2011 to oust the Taliban that sheltered al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.


The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan ended its combat mission in December 2014, according to the White House.

In terms of Western goals — things are right back where they started: needing to keep Afghanistan free of extremists and a viable country for its people, CNN recently reported. The result is thousands of refugees and a continued safe haven for ISIS.

The Taliban currently controls more territory than at any time since 2001, when it ruled from the capital, Kabul, Western defense officials say, and the United Nations says civilian casualties are at a high since it began keeping records in 2009, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The United Nations said 3545 civilians were killed in 2015 as Taliban stepped up attacks after British and American troops left at end of 2014.

Furthermore, U.S. intelligence agencies have been warning the White House that the Taliban could seize more Afghan territory, including population centers, during this summer’s fighting season, in part because the Afghan government and its military forces are so weak, according to the Journal.


Cost of the war in Afghanistan to the United States                            $686 billion

U.S. military fatal casualties of the war in Afghanistan                          2,381

Grieving families of U.S. military fatal casualties                                      2,381


On March 19, 2003, the United States and coalition forces, began a war in Iraq against Saddam Hussein, the Sunni leader of Iraq.

When explosions from Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from U.S. fighter-bombers and warships in the Persian Gulf began to rock Baghdad, President George W. Bush said in a televised address, “At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.”


U.S. soldiers hold back crowds as the statue of Saddam Hussein falls in Baghdad, April 9, 2003, by Peter Nicholls

The Shia-led governments that have held power since Hussein was toppled have struggled to maintain order and the country has enjoyed only brief periods of respite from high levels of sectarian violence. Violence and sabotage have continued to hinder the revival of an economy shattered by decades of conflict and sanctions.

Politically and economically, Iraq’s trajectory is currently a negative one, Brookings said recently. The country is politically fragmented at all levels and the centrifugal forces appear to be gaining strength. This, in turn, has paralyzed the government, suggesting that the most likely paths for Iraq are toward a situation analogous to the Lebanon of today.

Cost of the Iraq War to the United States                                             $818 billion

U.S. military fatal casualties of the Iraq War                                             4,491

Grieving families of U.S. military fatal casualties of the Iraq War       4,491


“War, huh

Good God, y’all

What is it good for?”

      “War” by Edwin Starr



Want to skip out on paying back all your student loans?

Now that you’re out of college, want to skip out on making those pesky student loan payments until all your debts are paid off? No problem.

Under a program that reverses John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”, loan forgiveness is available under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program created by Congress in 2007. Under this law, signed by President George W. Bush, once people holding full-time public jobs have completed 120 payments on their federal direct loans, the remaining balance can be forgiven, with no cap.

No longer in vogue?

No longer in vogue?

The list of qualifying public sector jobs is longer than my arm.

That’s because qualifying employment is “any employment with a federal, state, or local government agency, entity, or organization…”, including work for a qualifying not-for-profit employer  “if it provides certain public services, such as emergency management, military service, public safety, or law enforcement services; public health services; public education or public library services; school library and other school-based services; public interest law services; early childhood education; public service for individuals with disabilities and the elderly.”

Good grief. Who isn’t qualified?

What supporters of loan forgiveness conveniently forget is that forgiving loans costs money, something that can’t be ignored when the the national debt exceeds $17 trillion.

Forgiving college loans also likely makes students less sensitive to tuition costs and schools more likely  to encourage students to borrow for increasing college costs national debt, rather than pushing schools to figure out how to become more affordable.

The rationale for the creation of the program was that people in public service jobs make less money than those in the private sector, so government needs to add perks to make public service jobs more appealing to the well-educated.

The problem is that government salaries are not all necessarily lower than those in the private sector for comparable jobs, people in the public sector tend to have more generous retirement benefits and attempting to drive educated people to public sector jobs may not be the best use of American talent. At its root, the loan forgiveness program assumes that public sector jobs are inherently more valuable to the country, justifying foisting the unpaid portion of student loans on the American taxpayer.

Another argument made for this loan forgiveness program is that it stimulates the economy because it puts more money in American’s pockets instead of in loan repayment.

A Freakonomics post made hash of that argument, noting:

  1. If we are going to give money away, why on earth would we give it to college grads? This is the one group who we know typically have high incomes, and who have enjoyed income growth over the past four decades.  The group who has been hurt over the past few decades is high school dropouts.
  2. If you want stimulus, you get more bang-for-your-buck if you give extra dollars to folks who are most likely to spend each dollar, like poor people.
  3. People who support this are a bunch of kids who don’t want to pay their loans back. And worse: Do this once, and what will happen in the next recession? More lobbying for free money…?
  4. Much of the rhetoric in support of loan forgiveness is,Give free money to us, rather than corporations, millionaires and billionaires.”  Why give money to college grads rather than the 15% of the population in poverty?

Finally, a good case can be made that we have too many people in the public sector and that the last thing we need to do is incentivize adding more.

Congress should abolish this loan forgiveness program, not expand it.