Because We Could | The Nation


Because We Could

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When George H.W. Bush invaded Panama back in 1989 (no threat to the United States, its leader a longtime CIA asset, thousands of civilian casualties: ring a bell?), Administration flacks dubbed the exercise Operation Just Cause. However, irreverent Pentagon apparatchiks assigned to plan the invasion mulled the lack of any rational justification for the attack and took to calling it Operation Just Because.

About the Author

Andrew Cockburn
Andrew Cockburn is the author, with Patrick Cockburn, of Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein. His most...

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In 1988 US officials helped disguise Saddam's chemical attack on Halabja. But when it came time to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq, they acted outraged.

Iraq got lumbered with Operation Iraqi Freedom, which for Iraqis has turned out to mean freedom to have your head chopped off on TV, be blown to bits by "precisely targeted" American bombs and tank shells, "abused" with electrodes attached to your genitals, never stirring outdoors (if female) without an all-encompassing veil, or staying at home and sitting in the dark because there's no electricity. Since there is no conceivable justification for inflicting these miseries, we might as well tell them it's Just Because.

At least by this date we should not have to trouble ourselves with the possibility that Saddam posed a threat to anyone either with WMDs or links to Osama--save that even today, deep in the recesses of the terrorology business, the fantasies that once charmed the nation's journalists survive undiminished. Yossef Bodansky, the director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, has them all: secret shipments of Iraqi WMDs to Syria before the war, secret Iraqi-Iranian-Syrian plans to invade Israel, secret Iranian and Syrian long-range missiles in Lebanon (complete with detailed descriptions of their calibers and range), not to mention a secret and especially fiendish Syrian plot to contaminate Israel's water resources.

This torrent of drivel flows remorselessly through more than 500 pages. Sinister Arab plots, such as an Egyptian plan to invade Israel, loom as specters, only to disappear from the story as Bodansky scurries on breathlessly to newer and taller tales, usually garnished with attribution to one or another intelligence agency. Hence verbatim quotations from GRU (Russian military intelligence) reports march impressively through his narrative of the actual war. A quick Google check reveals these as lifted from a notorious wartime website touting GRU connections replete with wholly fictional reports of developments in the fighting. "Iraqwar.ru" was subsequently revealed as the concoction, according to one authoritative Russian military commentator, of "some guys kicked out of the [Russian] secret services for incompetence."

However, while consigning Bodansky's Secret History of the Iraq War to the UFO-abduction shelf, it is worth remembering that, not so long ago, most of the nation's national security intelligentsia were peddling material almost as self-evidently worthless. Brookings Institution experts, for example, endorsed the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that Saddam's nuclear weapons program posed a significant threat to the national security of the United States. These weighty conclusions turned out to be based on the word of Khidhir Hamza, self-styled as "Saddam's Bombmaker," the bulk of whose testimony was quite clearly fraudulent long before the war, and definitively exposed once the invasion troops found Saddam's nuclear cupboard to be entirely bare.

The Brookings savants have long since backpedaled from their martial stance, but other highly respectable authorities are still loath to abandon last year's self-evident truths. Concluding his slightly superficial narrative of the war and its background, John Keegan wistfully raises the possibility that there may be some WMDs in Iraq after all, quoting some CYA hedging on the topic by weapons sleuth David Kay, along with Kay's Bodansky-esque proposition that Saddam may have shipped weapons to Syria.

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