They Lied About the Reasons for Going to War

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In determining whether someone has lied, circumstantial evidence can oftentimes be as critical as direct evidence. For example, suppose someone says, “I was outside all last night and it did not rain.” A person who was inside might be tempted to conclude, “Well, since I wasn’t outside, I must assume that he is telling the truth.” However, if the person on the inside looks outside and sees that everything — the houses, yards, driveways, and cars — are wet and that streams of water are running in the streets, his conclusion might be different. Using such circumstantial evidence, he might well conclude that the person who is claiming that it did not rain is lying.

The circumstantial
evidence with respect to the invasion of Iraq leads inexorably to
but one conclusion: President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and other
U.S. officials lied about their reasons for invading Iraq. Those lies
have profound consequences not only for the Iraqi people, who have
borne the brunt of the invasion and subsequent occupation of their
country, but also for the American people, including U.S. soldiers
who have killed and maimed people whose government never attacked
the United States or even threatened to do so.

Among the many
justifications that the administration relied upon in the months leading
up to invading Iraq were:

  1. To protect the American people from an urgent and imminent threat of a WMD attack by Saddam Hussein;
  2. To enforce UN resolutions requiring Saddam to disarm; and
  3. To liberate the Iraqi people from Saddam’s tyranny.

The first justification
was the one on which most Americans relied. In the critical months
leading up to the invasion, which we here at FFF were ardently opposing,
we were being inundated every day with critical emails taking us to
task for not trusting our public officials, who obviously had access
to secret information that they could not share with the public. There
was no doubt that the senders of those critical emails were convinced
that the United States was under an urgent threat of an impending
WMD attack. “What would you do?” they nervously asked. “Wait
until the nuclear bomb goes off?”

Most of the fear
revolved around a nuclear attack, which was not surprising, given
the statements that federal officials were feeding their minds.
In his speech to the United Nations, President Bush tried to shut down the political speculation. This is a life-and-death matter, the President insisted. “Should Iraq acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year,” he told the U.N. General Assembly in New York Thursday.

To those who say, we want more evidence that there’s a real threat, the Administration says, we can’t wait for a smoking gun to turn up. “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said on CNN’s Late Edition recently. (, September 12, 2002)
Some people suggest
that President Bush and Vice President Cheney just made an honest
mistake in relying on faulty intelligence reports about the threat
posed by Saddam’s WMDs. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest
that that the mistake was not an honest one — that they “cherry-picked”
the parts of the intelligence reports to support what they wanted
to believe.

However, while
most of the postwar debate has revolved around whether Bush and others
lied about or intentionally exaggerated the WMD threat posed by Saddam,
the circumstantial evidence leads to but one conclusion on something
much more important — that Bush, Cheney, and other U.S. officials
were knowingly and intentionally lying with respect to the real reason
that they were invading Iraq.

Let’s review
that circumstantial evidence.

1. Prior to the
actual invasion, President Bush spent months lobbying the UN Security
Council to unanimously grant him authority to invade Iraq to enforce
the UN resolutions that required Saddam to rid himself of his WMDs.
Ultimately, once Bush realized that he was going to be unable to secure
the votes of all the permanent members of the Security Council, he
decided to invade anyway, with the assistance of a “coalition
of the willing” — a coalition of nations that were willing
to participate in the enforcement of the UN resolutions requiring
Saddam to “disarm.”

Now ask yourself:
If a foreign nation was really about to attack the United States,
especially with WMDs, would any president spend any time whatever
going to the UN to seek permission to attack that nation first or
spend time to round up a group of countries to participate in a “coalition
of the willing”? That is beyond the realm of reasonable probability.
In a real-life situation in which America was about to come under
a nuclear, biological, or chemical attack the president would strike
hard immediately to defend the nation against such an attack without
first seeking anyone’s consent or approval.

Indeed, if an
enemy nation was really about to attack the United States, would the
president even be talking about the importance of enforcing UN resolutions?
Who in his right mind would care about the importance of enforcing
UN resolutions if another nation was about to fire nuclear, biological,
or chemical weapons at our country? All that would matter would be
taking out attacking missiles immediately.

Yet even while
feeding the fears of the American people by suggesting extreme urgency
because of Saddam’s WMD threat, President Bush, Vice President
Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State Powell
were lobbying UN officials — that is, officials of other nations
— for a new resolution authorizing them to enforce previous UN
resolutions that required Saddam to “disarm.” Indeed, recall
that when Powell made a famous speech with charts detailing Saddam’s
WMDs that he would soon be firing at the United States, Powell was
at the UN seeking a resolution, not at the Congress of the United
States seeking a declaration of war against a nation that supposedly
was about to attack the United States with WMDs.

Then, once it
became clear to Bush that the UN was not going to give him the resolution
he sought, the situation became “Hurry, hurry, hurry.” We
can’t let those hapless UN inspectors continue searching for
Saddam’s WMDs, Americans were told, because the situation is
too dire and urgent. We’ve go to invade now because otherwise
we might well see a mushroom cloud tomorrow. And there is no doubt
that most Americans who supported the invasion believed it.

2. Among the alternative
rationales that Bush, Cheney, and other U.S. officials relied on to
justify their invasion of Iraq was to free the Iraqi people from Saddam’s
tyranny. Granted, that wasn’t the primary justification —
that is, it wasn’t the one that resonated deep within American
people, like the threat of a nuclear attack did — but it certainly
was one of reasons given for invading. Ask yourself: If our nation
was really about to be attacked by an enemy nation, especially with
nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, what is the likelihood
that U.S. officials would be justifying their preemptive strike to
take out those missiles by arguing that a collateral benefit of a
preemptive strike would be to free the people of the enemy nation
from tyranny? Would U.S. officials, including those in the military,
really be thinking about such benefits? Not a chance. If our nation
was really about to be attacked by an enemy nation, U.S. officials
would strike them hard, without considering how this would help the
people of the targeted nation.

In fact, the use
of alternative and secondary rationales for invading Iraq is itself
strong circumstantial evidence that the primary rationale given for
invading — the dire threat of an imminent WMD attack — was
bogus, because if such a threat really existed no one would be bothering
to come up with alternative and secondary reasons for attacking.

3. On September
7, 2002 — that is, on the eve of the 2002 congressional elections
— White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., provided an
additional piece of circumstantial proof that U.S. officials were
lying about the urgent threat of an imminent WMD attack on the United
States by Saddam Hussein. Card said, “From a marketing point
of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”

What was Card
referring to? He was referring to the methods by which the Bush administration
was selling the necessity of a war against Iraq. Keep in mind that
this was the period of time when Democratic congressional candidates
in the 2002 election were terrified that Bush and the Republicans
would accuse them of being soft on terrorism and of being unpatriotic.
Thus, Bush and his people knew that the best time for getting a congressional
resolution authorizing Bush to declare war on Iraq was before, not
after, the November 2002 election.

So what Card was
suggesting was that in August people are on vacation and their minds
are on the summer, fun, and their families. Therefore, the best time
to produce the arguments for going to war on Iraq would be in September,
when people were once again focused on politics and business, which
would still provide plenty of time to terrify people before the November
election into thinking that a WMD attack could come at any time.

Ask yourself:
If the nation was really under threat of an imminent attack, would
U.S. officials be concerned with developing a marketing plan for getting
people behind the war effort? Would they be thinking that August would
not be a good month for telling people about the fact that an enemy
nation was preparing a nuclear, biological, or chemical attack and
that September would be better? How likely is that? Not likely at
all. If an enemy nation was truly preparing to strike the United States
with WMDs, there would be no marketing strategy at all — U.S.
officials would immediately begin preparing the preemptive strike,
whether in June, July, or August, and would gravely inform the American
people of what has happening. There would be no reason to try to develop
a marketing strategy to sell the necessity of going to war —
or to come up with alternative and secondary rationales for attacking.

4. Recently, Vice
President Cheney stated that given what he now knows — that is,
that the United States was not under an urgent threat of a WMD attack
by Saddam — that there was no threat that Saddam would explode
mushroom clouds over American cities — that Saddam had nothing
to do with 9/11 and had no connections to al- Qaeda — the United
States would have invaded Iraq anyway.

Let that sink
in for a moment. What Cheney is saying is that the United States would
have invaded Iraq regardless. In other words, in the minds of Bush
and Cheney, the imminent threat of a WMD attack on our country by
Saddam was not a determining factor in invading Iraq. That is, even
if Bush and Cheney knew beforehand that Saddam had “disarmed,”
they would have attacked anyway.

5. A few months
after the invasion of Iraq, when it was clear that no WMDs were going
to be discovered, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Vanity
Fair, u201CThe truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with
the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that
everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the
core reason.u201D

Ask yourself:
If the United States were truly under the threat of an imminent WMD
attack by a foreign nation, would federal bureaucrats be trying to
figure out which issue everyone could agree on to justify an attack
on that nation? Aren’t Wolfwitz’s words more consistent with the notion
that U.S. officials were more concerned with coming up with the best
excuses to justify an attack on Iraq rather than the notion that they
were acting under the genuine threat of an imminent WMD attack on
the United States?

Those pieces of
circumstantial evidence inexorably lead but to one conclusion —
that from the start, the threat of an imminent WMD attack on the United
States was a bogus reason for going to war against Iraq. But U.S.
officials knew that it was most effective marketing tool to get the
American people and the members of Congress to become sufficiently
trusting and fearful to cause them to immediately support the coming

So if the urgent
WMD threat wasn’t the real reason for going to war, what was?
For that answer, we must look, once again, to circumstantial evidence.

For more than
10 years after the Persian Gulf War, the U.S. government, operating
in conjunction with the UN, imposed and enforced some of the most
brutal and effective sanctions against Iraq that have ever been enforced
against another country. For a good collection of articles on the
devastating effects of the sanctions on the Iraqi people — especially
with respect to the high death rate among Iraqi children from infectious
diseases — click here.

Suffice it to
say (1) that the sanctions contributed to the deaths of hundreds of
thousands of Iraqi children; (2) that U.S. Ambassador the UN Madeleine
Albright expressed the sentiments of other U.S. officials when she
said that the deaths were “worth it”; and (3) that high
UN officials resigned in protest against the massive number of Iraqi
children who were dying every year.

What was the purpose
of the sanctions? The ostensible purpose was to compel Saddam Hussein
to comply with UN resolutions requiring him to disarm himself of WMDs.
Yet, even though Saddam continued to steadfastly maintain, year after
year of rising deaths among the Iraqi populace, that he had complied
with the UN resolutions, he was hit with the same response by U.S.
officials — “He’s lying, and the only reason that the
UN inspectors are unable to locate the WMDs is that they are incompetent.”
Year after year, U.S. officials continued to maintain that Saddam
had the burden of showing that he no longer had WMDs as a condition
of lifting the sanctions, ignoring the obvious difficulty that anyone
would have in trying to prove such a negative.

Ultimately, Saddam
stopped cooperating with the UN inspectors not because he was trying
to hide his WMDs, which is what U.S. officials steadfastly continued
claiming, but rather because it finally became clear that U.S. officials
would never permit the sanctions to be lifted, no matter whether Saddam
could prove he had disarmed or not. They made it clear that the sanctions
would be lifted only if Saddam Hussein left office and was replaced
by a U.S.-approved substitute.

Thus, the real
purpose of the sanctions was what has become known as “regime
change” — the idea of squeezing a nation and its regime
economically so hard that either the ruler abdicates or his own people
oust him from office and replace him with a U.S.-approved substitute
(such as Ahmed Chalabi), at which point the sanctions would be lifted
and U.S. foreign aid would flow into the country to “rebuild

Thus, given that
“regime change” was the purpose of the sanctions throughout
the 1990s and early 2000s, it stands to reason that “regime change”
continued to be a major driving force behind the plans to invade Iraq
in 2003.

That had to be
why Cheney announced that they would have invaded Iraq even if they
had known that there were no WMDs. They were going into Iraq to do
what more than a decade of brutal and deadly sanctions had not done
— oust Saddam from power and replace him with a U.S. substitute.

At the time he
made that statement, Cheney suggested that it would have been necessary
to remove Saddam anyway because he was a dangerous ruler, a postinvasion
point that Bush has also used. That justification rings hollow as
well. Of course Saddam was a dangerous ruler, but there are lots of
dangerous rulers in the world, many of whom the U.S. government has
ardently supported. Pervez Musharraf, the military general who took
power in a coup in Pakistan, who won’t permit democratic elections,
and who has nuclear weapons, is a good example. Another example would
be Saddam Hussein himself, whom U.S. officials supported during the
1980s when they delivered to him the very WMDs that they later used
as their primary pretext for invading Iraq. Click here for a collection of articles detailing where Saddam,
a dangerous ruler, got his WMDs. (Thus, it’s not surprising that
Bush and Cheney would market the war with the WMD rationale: in their
minds it was inconceivable that Saddam would have actually destroyed
the WMDs that the United States had delivered to him during the Reagan-Bush

Another important
piece of circumstantial evidence that inexorably leads to regime change,
not the imminent threat of a WMD attack, as the real reason for invading
Iraq is the famous (and previously secret) Downing Street Memo, in
which British officials stated, “Bush wanted to remove Saddam,
through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism
and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the

Defenders of the
war might argue, “By relying on faulty intelligence, the president
and vice president just made an honest mistake, and therefore, U.S.
officials are not morally responsible for the massive death and destruction
in Iraq.” But that’s just not true: even if the WMD intelligence
reports had been faulty, the circumstantial evidence overwhelmingly
establishes that President Bush and Vice President Cheney and their
associates were being dishonest with respect to the real
reason they were sending the nation into war against Iraq. As Vice
President Cheney pointed out, even if the president and vice president
had known that the intelligence reports were false, they would have
ordered an invasion anyway.

Is the WMD lie
important? Yes, because it led an untold number of Americans to support
a war and an occupation that have unleased forces that have resulted
in the deaths and maiming of hundreds of thousands, on both sides.
Thus, while it is entirely possible that Bush and Cheney would have
invaded Iraq anyway if the American people had known the truth about
why they were invading, at least the war and occupation would not
have received the moral sanction of a deceived people.

October 24, 2006

Jacob Hornberger [send him mail] is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He will be among the 22 speakers at FFF’s upcoming conference on June 1—4 in Reston, Virginia: u201CRestoring the Constitution: Foreign Policy and Civil Liberties.u201D

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