Now that the Bush administration has sustained massive, serial repudiations of its tragic folly in Iraq – from the Iraq Study Group, from the electorate and from the daily disasters in Iraq itself – we should note one institution that has not been given its due about being right all along: the independent press, including progressive Web sites and blogs. From the moment Bush’s chief of staff Andrew Card announced in September 2002 the roll-out of their “new product” – the plan to invade Iraq – the independent press relentlessly and continuously exposed the ridiculous rationales and outright lies proffered by the administration.
Remember, we were “crazy leftists” who were accused of being “with the terrorists.” Turns out we also were with “reality.” Let’s review a tiny sample of these predictions, and celebrate outlets with not even a “liberal bias” but a progressive one, which, it turns out, was the smart and correct worldview. Also note this wasn’t Monday morning quarterbacking but, like, really early pre-season quarterbacking. The following were all written months before the invasion even started.
In “The Case Against War,” in the September 30, 2002, Nation, Stephen Zunes noted that “The Bush Administration has failed to produce credible evidence that the Iraqi regime has any links whatsoever with Al Qaeda” and foresaw “the prospect of a devastating war.” He continued, “U.S. soldiers would have to fight their way through heavily populated agricultural and urban lands” and would likely face “bitter, house-to-house fighting” resulting in “high civilian casualties.” (Figures vary wildly here, with estimates ranging from 50,000 to 655,000; high numbers either way.) In addition, “It would be a mistake … to think that defeating Iraq would result in as few American casualties as occurred in driving the Taliban militia from Kabul last autumn.” More to the point, “Regime change imposed by invading U.S. military forces would not be welcome” and “would only raise animosity in the region against the United States.” In what one would have thought a self-evident point (though clearly not to Rumsfeld), Zunes opined “throwing a government out is easier than putting a new one together.” And finally, while Zunes doubted Bush’s assertions about Iraq possessing WMDs, he noted quite presciently, “in the chaos of a U.S. invasion and its aftermath, the chances of such weapons being smuggled out of the country into the hands of terrorists would increase.” What he couldn’t predict was that caches of various conventional weapons, including those made right here, would find their way into the hands of an insurgency.
David Cortright, writing in the August 2002 Progressive, predicted that “Removing the present regime and installing a pro-American government will require the invasion and occupation of Iraq by a substantial number of U.S. ground forces,” upwards of 300,000. He anticipated that such an invasion would produce “significant” U.S. and Iraqi casualties, evoke “political rage” in the Arab world and “destabilize governments in the region and increase turmoil and political extremism throughout the Middle East and beyond.”
And how’s this for prophetic? “However much Iraqis loathe their regime, they will soon loathe the American occupation that will follow its demise.” Furthermore, wrote Rashid Khalidi in the January 27, 2003, In These Times, “it is highly questionable whether the occupation of a complex, divided country like Iraq and the installation of a new regime will lead to a rapid flowering of democracy…this war will mark not the end, but the beginning of our problems in this region.” Khalidi used the words “bloodbath” and emergence of a “regional power vacuum,” warning “we will be creating legions of new enemies throughout the Middle East.”
How much would the war cost? David Corn, in a September 27, 2002, post on AlterNet, challenged the Pentagon’s reported projection of $50 billion and reminded readers that Lawrence Lindsey, Bush’s chief economic adviser, had said the cost could be as high as $200 billion. Corn also noted that some of the projections included nothing for “peacekeeping or occupation forces that might be required after the war.” Total cost of the war so far? Somewhere between $349 and $379 billion.
By February 2003, the independent press had repeatedly sought, in vain, to correct the Bush propaganda reiterated in his now infamous State of the Union address: that there were ties between al-Qaeda and Saddam and that those aluminum tubes (remember those?) were evidence of Iraq’s flourishing nuclear arms program.
Frank Rich, in his excellent The Greatest Story Ever Sold, includes a timeline showing the disjuncture between fact and propaganda, and when the facts were reported by outlets like The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and even the Times. We need a comparable account about the reporting and analysis of the lead-up to and execution of the war in the “crazy leftist” press. It was crazy, alright – crazy like a fox.
Susan J. Douglas is a professor of communications at the University of Michigan and a senior editor at In These Times. She is the author of In Our Prime: How Older Women Are Reinventing the Road Ahead.