Ten years ago tonight, after assuring the American people just days before that “we are doing everything we can to avoid war,” George W. Bush launched his infamous misadventure in Iraq. Predicated on what can only be described as the callous lies that Saddam Hussein was in league with al Qaeda and actively pursuing a nuclear program, the war went on to cost more than 100,000 (and likely far more) people their lives and the United States government $1.6 trillion — 27 times more than what the Bush administration estimated.
Ten years on, the war, which Barack Obama officially brought to an end in December 2011, has secured its place in history as an unmitigated disaster. Its fiercest advocates, ideologues who had never seen combat and held antiquated Cold War-era understandings of foreign affairs, won the internal PR campaign against their more qualified, but ultimately spineless, colleagues. Their vision, to “fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars,” had been determined while Bush was still running for president as a candidate who explicitly rejected nation-building.
Just as spineless were the American press, which took the Bush administration at its word despite ample evidence that its rationale for war was entirely specious. Journalists who did question the case for war saw what should have been above the fold stories relegated to the back pages of some of the most well-respected newspapers in the country. The shameless cheerleading of those who didn’t reinforced a national mindset that shunned critics as anti-American and enabled the Bush administration’s bloody malfeasance.
The Ames Progressive was founded in 2007, nearly four years after the Iraq War began but as a staunchly anti-war publication that opposed both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the latter of which was all but inevitable — the reason why members of the Taliban opposed Osama bin Laden’s suicidal attack on the World Trade Center.
Still, the Progressive never shied away from encouraging debate over the war. Our co-founder Greg Bonett frequently sparred with fellow leftist and Progressive contributor Ryan Gerdes, who defended the war on humanitarian grounds not unlike Christopher Hitchens, over drinks at West Street watering holes. But it must be said that the Bush administration only employed that argument once it became clear that its initial case for invasion was baseless.
To many progressives, the Bush years live on as a hazy departure from the ideals of American democracy. But it’s important to hold Obama, whose legal justification for extrajudicial drone warfare has been every bit as disconcerting as the Bush administration’s sorry excuses for war and torture, to the same standards. It’s also important to note that Obama admitted he couldn’t say for sure that he would have voted against Iraq had he been in the Senate in 2003, and that prominent Democrats whom he has invited into his inner circles, former Senators Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton among them, were in lockstep with Bush’s march to war.
Today, only 53 percent of Americans view the war in Iraq as a mistake, a chilling reminder of how an oblivious citizenry is prone to repeat the mistakes of its recent past.