President Barack Obama, in a speech in Brussels yesterday after Russia (and many Europeans) pointed out our loss of moral authority because of our war in Iraq in hitting Putin on Crimea, defended our 2003 invasion. This was deeply disheartening—and hypocritical, since he largely owes his election in 2008 to being able to brag (vs. Hillary Clinton and John McCain) that, unlike them, he opposed the war in 2003.
Yet media outlets such as The New York Times barely mentioned his Iraq statement—which included several key distortions—in passing. (Another typical example at the Los Angeles Times.) Others in the mainstream, such as at the MSNBC site, offered more space—but merely relayed Obama's quotes with no fact-checking or commentary. Critics on the Left were not so kind.
And people wonder why I am among the few to return to the media failures on Iraq every year at this time (see my recent pieces here at The Nation).
Obama struggled, however, in his attempt to defend the legality of the invasion. The war was unsanctioned by the United Nations, and many experts assert it violated any standard reading of international law. But, argued Obama, at least the U.S. tried to make it legal. "America sought to work within the international system," Obama said, referencing an attempt to gain U.N. approval for the invasion — an effort that later proved to be founded on flawed, misleading and cherry-picked intelligence. The man who delivered the presentation to the U.N., then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, has repeatedly called it a "blot" on his record.
Obama, in his speech, noted his own opposition to the war, but went on to defend its mission.
"We did not claim or annex Iraq's territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain," Obama argued. In fact, the U.S. forced Iraq to privatize its oil industry, which had previously been under the control of the state, and further required that it accept foreign ownership of the industry. The effort to transfer the resources to the control of multinational, largely U.S.-based oil companies has been hampered in part by the decade of violence unleashed by the invasion.
In a New York Times op-ed this week, our recent ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, wrote, “As ambassador, I found it difficult to defend our commitment to sovereignty and international law when asked by Russians, ‘What about Iraq?’” Apparently Obama felt the need to respond, even if with untruths.
From the Common Dreams article linked above:
Ross Caputi and Matt Howard, members of the Iraq Veterans Against the War, spoke with Common Dreams by phone and said that President Obama's argument was both weak factually and morally. As it happens, both IVAW members were together in Washington, DC on Wednesday, organizing an evening event focused on the devastating impacts of the Iraq War—both for veterans like themselves and the Iraqi civilian population—when they heard news about what the president had said.
"What President Obama said is false," said Caputi. "The U.S. did not attempt to work within the international system. We acted unilaterally, without the approval of the UN Security Council."
"We went from one lie, which was weapons of mass destruction, to another lie which was liberation and freedom," said Howard. Citing the devastation cited by Iraqi civil society allies, especially women in the country, he continued, "This idea that Iraq is somehow better off or that the U.S. waged a so-called 'Good War' is ridiculous."
The updated edition of Greg Mitchell's book on the Iraq war, So Wrong for So Long, includes a preface by Bruce Springsteen, a new introduction and a lengthy afterword with updates.