February 15th, 2016

Lie, mistake—whatever

For many years, the question of whether the Iraq War was an error or not was discussed on this blog very regularly, and a lively discussion it was. There is no question that people on the right differed and still differ about that. My opinion remains that knowing what we knew then, it was not a mistake, and it could have ended up far better than it has had it not been for the presidency of Barack Obama.

But in all that time, the “Bush lied!!” meme had pretty much remained the province of the left. The charge has long infuriated me, not only because the evidence is against it, but because it posits an evil George Bush rather than a bumbling one. What’s more, in those who spout it, the moral difference is blurred between an honest mistake and a deliberate lie, a lack of distinction which seems both pernicious and illogical.

Which brings us to today, when I saw this statement in the comments section:

I wouldn’t have described the pre-invasion runup as a bunch of lies, but rather as a bunch of self-delusions—but, in the end, you wind up in the same place.

The rest of the comment had to do with the prosecution of the war, but the issue I’m concerned with now is: do you wind up “in the same place”?

Well, you do wind up in the same place if you fail to make a distinction between error, “self-delusion” (a form of error, after all), and a deliberate lie. I would have thought that distinction was fairly clear, at least in the conceptual and moral sense if not in the blurry buzz of real life. But perhaps that’s just another example of my dinosaur nature.

One of those “same places” that you end up in is on the side of the left. If this sort of reasoning becomes the prevailing “logic” on both sides, then it really will be all the same, and all that will matter is who can yell “liar!” the loudest.

Hmmm—then again, haven’t I just described last Saturday night’s GOP debate?

43 Responses to “Lie, mistake—whatever

  1. K-E Says:

    Still confused why the Right doesn’t go back to the original reason Bush looked at Iraq in the first place: Saddam Hussein blocking the UN from inspecting certain sites. This was the agreement Hussein made at the end of the Gulf War, and he defied it. The UN did nothing.

    That is a more important point than the faulty intelligence. Hussein violated the terms of the Gulf War agreement, the UN failed to do anything, the U.S. felt the need to act. And then we got into the intelligence part of things.

    So even before Bush decided to go into Iraq, Hussein was not sticking to his agreement and was making it appear as if he had something to hide.

    Anyway, as far as the rest of this goes…I didn’t watch more than 10 minutes of the debate on Saturday b/c I was busy. Still not sure I want to watch the rest. We will find out what voters think in SC on the 20th.

    Personally, the booing was ridiculous. Especially booing the top two people in the primary race. I think that hurts the establishment cause more than Trump or Cruz. No matter what was said. Both of these men make up more than 50% of the voters, and to boo them was saying to those voters, “we think you are bad people and are making bad decisions.”


  2. Lurch Says:

    I’ve long been of the opinion that those who should “LIAR!” are actually describing themselves.

  3. F Says:


    The “lie” meme is a classic leftist — perhaps even Marxist — tactic. Destroy the agent of a policy if you cannot destroy the policy itself. This tactic has become increasingly common since the student protests of the sixties, to the point that we no longer remark on it — we just try to marshall a stronger argument in the face of the attack. You yourself have done this in this case, trying to make a stronger case that there were facts to support belief in weapons of mass destruction rather than point out that the commenter had no better facts to support his argument but had just denigrated your side.

    This gets back to your “content vs process” post, and it is as important. When someone says Bush a liar, marshaling more evidence to support the WMD policy only accepts their dishonest premise.

    Calling the evidence “self-delusional” is just a way of making the attack a little more gentle.

    But the bottom line is, Bush 43’s decision to attack Saddam Hussein was not based on WMDs, so whether or not they existed is irrelevant. And calling Bush 43
    a liar, or “self-delusional” is thus based on an irrelevant premise.

    But it tears down Bush 43, so that is a good thing for those who hate him — and would like you to hate him too.

  4. neo-neocon Says:


    What I meant by “the evidence is against it” was the totality of evidence, the whole picture. In other words, the evidence as a whole argues not only for the fact that Bush and company had evidence for the idea that there were WMDs, but that there was no real evidence for the “Bush lied” meme, either—in other words, the preponderance of evidence is against it. The “Bush lied” meme is a statement that is almost completely unsupported and ex-post-facto in nature, but those who suggest it are also operating on the notion that listeners will make no real distinction between mistakes and lies. That latter notion is the subject matter of this post.

  5. Ymarsakar Says:

    Most humans in America aren’t fit to run a garbage truck.

    That’s just how humans are. What does it matter what they think? Less than 10% of them can perform to spec.

  6. Bellarion the Fortunate Says:

    Time was I would have rushed to Bush the Lessers’s defense against such a venomous and obviously false charge, and many times I did. But I’ve grown tired of doing so because 1.) Bush never really bothered to defend himself against the charge, he just ceded control of the information battle space to the enemy. 2.) Although there were other reasons for the invasion he could have used, he came down hard on WMD. 3.) Whether or not Bush lied, the fact is Bush lost, and this is what happens when you lose

    The issue to me is amnesty, not whether Bush was a fool or a knave. A vote for Rubio is a vote for amnesty. I would prefer Cruz to Trump, but it is what it is.

  7. Yann Says:

    I would remark that the “self-denial” defense would be as much applicable to Obama as it is to Bush. We don’t have any real evidence that Obama is lying on purpose when he says (for example) that Islam has nothing to do with Jihad. Let’s say this one or any other surrealist statement made by the US first laddie. Not any more than we have about Bush. Both can be lying, both can be in self-denial. If the benefit of the doubt is to be applied to Bush, good standards recommend to do the same with Obama.

    That doesnt happen here:


    or here, for example


    which suggests that there is a double standard or (likely) an emotional reaction to Trump’s statements.

    (This comment was wrongly written in the other article. It was related to this one)

  8. carl in atlanta Says:

    I humbly submit that this mini-couplet was (and is) so compellingly catchy as agitprop that it took on a life of its own. Which continues to this day.

    I’m trying to think of other, similarly long-lived (or at least long-remembered) slogans:

    “Loose lips sink ships”
    “Better dead than red”
    “I like Ike”
    “Remember he Alamo!”
    “Remember the Maine!”

  9. carl in atlanta Says:

    And “The whole world is watching!”.
    [How could I forget that one?]

  10. Ann Says:

    Code Pink loves what Trump said about Bush:

    “I watched the debate last night and LOVED IT,” Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin said in an email. “It felt surreal to hear Donald Trump, the leading Republican contender for President, saying what we at CODEPINK have been shouting to the winds for 14 years now: that Bush and his cronies lied about WMDs, that the Iraq war was catastrophic, and that Bush never ‘kept us safe’ because 9/11 happened on his watch.”

    “A ‘big, fat mistake,’ indeed,” Benjamin continued. “Trump even talked bout the cost of war and how the trillions we wasted on war could have been used to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure — a theme we have been harping on all these years with a campaign called ‘bring our war dollars home.’ It was wild.”

    Yeah, wild.

  11. Banned Lizard Says:

    W’s controversial Iraq War had 2 distinctly different phases, the first of which (dethroning the regime) was wildly successful.
    Phase II, which I call Operation Sitting Duck, was an abysmal failure – mostly due to the mistaken belief that barbarians might somehow become persuaded to adopt Jeffersonian democracy.
    A more successful plan would have avoided occupation except for hardening and guarding the oil fields. Iraqis would decide what happened next. If surveillance revealed that excessive barbarism was rising again, more bombing and targeted get-in-get-out special forces operations would follow.
    Wash, rinse, repeat. It would have been better to let forces of darkness reveal themselves so that we could more easily eliminate them than the reverse – jihadist hit-and-run operations against our exposed occupation positions.

  12. Chris Says:

    At the time, the world’s intelligence community was in agreement that there were WMDs. Senators Clinton and Kerry had had access to the same information as Bush when they supported the war. Everybody thought that there were WMDs, but when things began to go badly in the war, the whole “Bush lied” narrative took over in order to allow everyone to cover their own cowardly @sses, even though the presence of WMDs were never the real justification for the war in the first place.

    Ultimately, when Bush had the courage to push forward with the “surge” in the face of enormous political opposition, the Democrats did everything they could to try to insure our country’s defeat. While our sons and daughters were fighting and dying over there, Harry Reid was declaring “the war is lost”, while others were calling our soldiers rapists and murderers. I’ll never forgive them for that and will always be in awe of the soldiers and marines who persevered in spite of all that.

    I used to believe that I would hold my nose and vote for Trump if he was the eventual nominee, but after what he said during the debate, I never could. In my opinion nobody who truly loves our country and respects the truth could ever vote for the man.

  13. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Bush of course did not lie, with the sole exception of Obama, every major democrat is on record as publicly stating that there was no doubt that Saddam was pursuing nukes.

    In Powell’s UN presentation, the Bush administration did give the impression that Saddam’s WMD programs were more active than proved to be the case. That was what allowed the lie to ‘stick’.

    The amount of factually erroneous assertions out there regarding Bush and Iraq is a perfect reflection of a mentally ‘balkanized’ public. There is no consensus, a nation divided not just in two but fractured in multiple directions.

    Thanks to the Left and its mass media propaganda organs, the zeitgeist is composed literally of ““fractal tangled minds” on nearly every issue. Entirely intentional, victory at any cost, the end justifying the means.

  14. neo-neocon Says:

    Geoffrey Britain:

    And Trump’s hopping on the “Bush lied!” bandwagon gives the left the opportunity to say see, it must be right, since the GOP frontrunner is now saying it. From Code Pink:

    It felt surreal to hear Donald Trump, the leading Republican contender for President, saying what we at CODEPINK have been shouting to the winds for 14 years now: that Bush and his cronies lied about WMDs, that the Iraq war was catastrophic, and that Bush never ‘kept us safe’ because 9/11 happened on his watch.”

    Benjamin said that she also agrees with Trump that the war wasted money that could have been used to rebuild the country’s infrastructure — a theme the group uses in a campaign called “Bring out war dollars home.”

    “It was wild,” she said.

    Benjamin also told the Huffington Post that Trump has gone farther on the issue than Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. But she added that this might not be the best way to win votes.

    “He certainly won’t win over the anti-war crowd with his Islamophobia and anti-immigrant tirades. But on this issue, I’d give him a Pink Badge of Courage,” Benjamin said.

  15. Eric Says:

    Bellarion the Fortunate:
    “Although there were other reasons for the invasion he could have used, he came down hard on WMD.”

    Bush did use all the reasons. Not that he had a choice. The operative enforcement procedure for the Gulf War ceasefire was established through HW Bush and Clinton’s Iraq enforcement. The UNSCRs and US law and policy on Iraq that Bush inherited, and reiterated in the 2002 AUMF and UNSCR 1441, already required full Iraqi compliance with the UN mandates – especially the terrorism mandates of UNSCR 687, disarmament mandates of UNSCR 687, and humanitarian mandates of UNSCR 688.

    At the same time, Bush properly “came down hard on WMD”. There wasn’t wiggle room for him there, either.

    While the UN mandates enforced by US law required Iraq to comply fully with all the UNSCR 660-series resolutions, the top priority for enforcement from the outset of the ceasefire was always Iraq’s compliance with paragraphs 8 to 13 of UNSCR 687 regarding Iraq’s WMD.

    In fact, according to the “governing standard of Iraqi compliance” (UNSCR 1441) for disarmament, Iraq was guilty on the WMD issue.

    The casus belli was established by UNMOVIC in the UNSCR 1441 inspections, which confirmed Iraq remained in material breach of the WMD-related mandates with “100 unresolved disarmament issues”. Post-war, the UNMOVIC confirmation of Iraq’s guilt was corroborated by the Iraq Survey Group.

    The UNMOVIC and ISG findings are rife with disarmament violations.

    The propaganda trick by OIF opponents has been the false premise that the burden of proof was on the US prove the predictive precision of the pre-war intelligence, when in fact, the burden of proof was on Iraq to prove compliance with the “governing standard of Iraqi compliance” (UNSCR 1441) for disarmament.

    The UN weapons inspections that triggered OIF were designed to verify Iraq’s compliance with UNSCRs 687, 1441, et al, not verify the predictive precision of the pre-war intelligence.

    Bellarion the Fortunate:
    “Whether or not Bush lied, the fact is Bush lost”

    What do you mean by Bush lost? His decision for OIF was correct on the law and the facts. While the post-war especially experienced difficulties, a harsh learning curve is not unique to the Iraq mission in our military history. The Iraq mission was succeeding when Bush finished his 2nd term.

    Bush inherited an intractable problem with Iraq and handed the Iraq mission to Obama set up for success. Obama only needed to stay the course from Bush. Instead, Obama changed course with catastrophic consequences. Certainly, Iraq and America – we – lost because of Obama’s course change from Bush. Bush didn’t lose.

  16. Eric Says:

    Geoffrey Britain:
    “In Powell’s UN presentation, the Bush administration did give the impression that Saddam’s WMD programs were more active than proved to be the case. That was what allowed the lie to ‘stick’.”

    Powell’s 05FEB03 presentation to the UNSC rebuts the false premise that the pre-war intelligence was casus belli.

    Before Powell discussed the intelligence, he reiterated to the Security Council that enforcement was based on Iraq’s compliance with UNSCR 1441:

    This is important day for us all as we review the situation with respect to Iraq and its disarmament obligations under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441. Last November 8, this council passed Resolution 1441 by a unanimous vote. The purpose of that resolution was to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. Iraq had already been found guilty of material breach of its obligations, stretching back over 16 previous resolutions and 12 years. Resolution 1441 was not dealing with an innocent party, but a regime this council has repeatedly convicted over the years. Resolution 1441 gave Iraq one last chance, one last chance to come into compliance or to face serious consequences. No council member present in voting on that day had any illusions about the nature and intent of the resolution or what serious consequences meant if Iraq did not comply.

    A month later, Hans Blix and UNMOVIC reported to the UNSC their finding of “about 100 unresolved disarmament issues” in violation of UNSCR 1441, which triggered OIF.

    A year later, then-head of the Iraq Survey Group, David Kay, reported to Congress:

    Iraq was in clear violation of the terms of [U.N.] Resolution 1441. Resolution 1441 required that Iraq report all of its activities — one last chance to come clean about what it had. We have discovered hundreds of cases, based on both documents, physical evidence and the testimony of Iraqis, of activities that were prohibited under the initial U.N. Resolution 687 and that should have been reported under 1441, with Iraqi testimony that not only did they not tell the U.N. about this, they were instructed not to do it and they hid material.

    That being said, you’re correct that Bush officials made an error of presentation when they described the pre-war intelligence as “evidence” and misrepresented the limited ancillary role of the intelligence in the compliance-based enforcement procedure.

    But Bush did not make the substantive error of representing the pre-war intelligence as casus belli. Rather, Bush correctly and consistently stated that enforcement of Iraq’s “final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations under relevant resolutions of the Council” (UNSCR 1441) depended on Iraq’s compliance. In fact, Iraq’s noncompliance on its disarmament obligations was confirmed by UNMOVIC for casus belli, then corroborated post-war by the Iraq Survey Group.

  17. Eric Says:

    Add: According to the Iraq Survey Group and to a lesser extent the Iraqi Perspectives Project, Saddam’s WMD program was active. There was more to the UN-mandated proscription on WMD for Iraq than battlefield-ready stockpiles.

  18. Ann Says:

    A Trump tweet earlier today:

    Donald J. Trump ‏@realDonaldTrump 10 hours ago —

    Now that George Bush is campaigning for Jeb(!), is he fair game for questions about World Trade Center, Iraq War and eco collapse? Careful!

    Anyone else see the face of The Joker there in that “Careful!” ? What an absolute horror he is.

  19. Eric Says:

    Geoffrey Britain:
    “every major democrat is on record as publicly stating that there was no doubt that Saddam was pursuing nukes.”

    They weren’t wrong.

    Iraq Survey Group:

    Senior Iraqis—several of them from the Regime’s inner circle—told ISG they assumed Saddam would restart a nuclear program … ISG found a limited number of post-1995 activities that would have aided the reconstitution of the nuclear weapons program once sanctions were lifted.

    It’s important to note that, contrary to enemy propaganda, Bush didn’t claim Iraq possessed nuclear weapons.

    On 07OCT02, President Bush actually said:

    Many people have asked how close Saddam Hussein is to developing a nuclear weapon. Well, we don’t know exactly, and that’s the problem.

    Rather, Bush cited to indicators of proscribed nuclear activity that Iraq was obligated to account for with IAEA as mandated by UNSCRs 687, 1441 et al.

    At the decision point for OIF, although Iraq was not fully compliant with the nuclear mandates of UNSCR 687, the IAEA report was less alarming than the UNMOVIC report on Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons programs that triggered OIF.

  20. Eric Says:


    If the Republicans are smart about it, they’ll exploit the opportunity opened by Trump in the activist manner and vigorously re-litigate the Bush controversies – especially on the Iraq issue – in the political discourse.

  21. Eric Says:

    “even though the presence of WMDs were never the real justification for the war in the first place.”

    Yes and no.

    The justification – casus belli – for OIF was Iraq’s material breach of the Gulf War ceasefire.

    So, in the context of the Gulf War ceasefire enforcement, you’re incorrect.

    The top priority in the order of enforcement among the gamut of Iraq’s ceasefire obligations was paragraphs 8 to 13 of UNSCR 687 (1991) regarding disarmament of Iraq’s WMD programs.

    So, WMD was very much part of the justification for OIF because the President was mandated by US law to enforce the UN mandates to bring Iraq into compliance with the terms the Gulf War ceasefire.

    In fact, Iraq’s guilt on WMD was confirmed by the UN weapons inspections for casus belli, then corroborated post-war by the Iraq Survey Group.

    However, in the context of the political discourse, you’re correct.

    The WMD issue in OIF has been misrepresented in the political discourse. See the answer to “Did Bush lie his way to war with Iraq?”.

    Again, according to the terms of the Gulf War ceasefire that governed the decision for OIF, Saddam’s guilt on WMD was confirmed by the UN weapons inspections and corroborated by the Iraq Survey Group.

  22. Eric Says:

    Banned Lizard:
    “A more successful plan would have avoided occupation except for hardening and guarding the oil fields.”

    A more successful plan would have been for President Obama to follow Ike’s precedent and not commit an irresponsible exit from Iraq under conditions that called for continued strong-horse American leadership on the ground.

    As far as the post-war occupation, your preferred alternative was disallowed by law.

    Recall that the basic mandate of OIF – and the whole US-led enforcement of the UNSCR 660-series resolutions since 1990-1991 – was to bring Iraq into compliance with the terms of the Gulf War ceasefire. They included the humanitarian mandates of UNSCR 688 (1991).

    The OIF compliance mission was not accomplished when we captured the flag in Baghdad. Our principal mission to bring Iraq into compliance with the UN mandates only began on 01MAY03 when President Bush declared the end of major combat operations, which marked the commencement of the peace operations.

    Your preferred alternative for the post-war would have been incompatible with the OIF compliance mission.

    See the answer(s) to “Was Operation Iraqi Freedom about WMD or democracy?” and “Was the invasion of Iraq perceived to be a nation-building effort?”.

    Don’t forget. Setting aside the particular set of law, policy, and precedent, including UNSCRs 1483, 1511, et al, that guided our peace operations with Iraq, America is – or at least before Obama, was – the leader of the free world.

  23. avi Says:

    to me the WMD’s were not the major issue. Most pols with access to the intelligence believed in it, as did most international intelligence services.

    what I thought was a disgrace and should have been punished was the order by Paul Bremer -Coalition Provisional Order Number two- that disbanded the Iraqi military. we still don’t know who gave him that order.
    what could have been a quick surgical strike, replacing one strongman with another became a multi-year quagmire with 3000 US dead. those former soldiers instead of policing Iraq became insurgents and later ISIS, and the country devolved into chaos and an Iranian satellite.
    To this day W claims he doesn’t know who gave the order.
    In the “Prince” Machiavelli wrote that the former lands of Darius didn’t revolt against Alexander’s rule was that Alexander left the elites in power, something that Bush et al should have read.

  24. Eric Says:

    “But the bottom line is, Bush 43’s decision to attack Saddam Hussein was not based on WMDs”

    Partially incorrect. Iraq was required to fully comply with a gamut of UN mandates, both weapons and non-weapons related.

    However, Iraq’s evidential material breach of the “governing standard of Iraqi compliance” for WMD-related disarmament mandated by UNSCRs 687 and 1441 was the principal trigger for OIF.

    Again, Iraq’s guilt on WMD was confirmed for casus belli and corroborated post-war.

    See my comment upthread to Chris, who said much the same thing you did. In fact, here (again) is the explanation of the law and policy, fact basis of the decision for OIF.

    “so whether or not they existed is irrelevant.”

    Correct, according to the operative enforcement procedure by which casus belli was established.

    The “governing standard of Iraqi compliance” was set by the UN mandates, not the intelligence. There was no burden to demonstrate Iraqi possession at all, let alone a demonstration matching the pre-war intelligence. The burden of proof was entirely on Iraq to prove it disarmed as mandated.

    In fact, when proscribed items were uncovered by the UN weapons inspectors – eg, Iraq’s missile program – the demonstration actually brought Iraq closer to the mandated compliance because the uncovered items were eliminated under international supervision as mandated.

    The proscribed items and activities that could not be accounted for and eliminated by the UN weapons inspectors due to Iraq’s “concealment and deception activities” (Iraq Survey Group), which were triggering violations in their own right, constituted the main WMD-related threat posed by Iraq.

    So, WMD was a main piece of the casus belli for OIF, but it’s widely misunderstood in that context. The WMD-based casus belli for OIF was Iraq’s failure to disarm as mandated with the UNSCR 1441 inspections as evidenced by the UNMOVIC finding of “about 100 unresolved disarmament issues”, not the pre-war intelligence.

    As is, the Iraq Survey Group found a lot of proscribed stuff in their post-war investigation. It just didn’t match the pre-war intelligence. Plus, ISG qualified their report that a lot of evidence was missing, key regime officials were uncooperative, and suspect areas were found “sanitized”. Therefore, ISG could not conclude Iraq had disarmed as mandated in many areas where they also could not conclude Iraq was armed as indicated.

    Again, the burden of proof was on Iraq to prove it disarmed as mandated. There was no burden on the US and UN to prove Iraq was armed as indicated.

    So you’re right: whether the Iraqi armament indicated by the pre-war intelligence ever existed is irrelevant to the WMD-based casus belli, which was established by Hans Blix’s findings in the UNSCR 1441 inspections.

    Said another way, if the Iraq Survey Group had found Iraq scrubbed clean of anything WMD-related, rather than the bevy of violations that ISG did find, then Saddam would still have been confirmed in material breach of the “governing standard of Iraqi compliance” for disarmament, ie, guilty on WMD, for casus belli.

  25. Eric Says:


    See my comment to Banned Lizard.

    For a better understanding of the parameters and mandates for our post-war mission with Iraq, review the foundational legal documents for the 2003-2011 peace operations in post-Saddam Iraq linked here.

    Your notion that post-war peace operations are ever less than “multi-year” is ahistorical. Our 8-year stay in Iraq was abnormally short. Our post-WW2 missions in Asia and Europe are still on-going. More recently, our Kosovo and Afghanistan interventions, both of which pre-dated OIF, are still ongoing. Long duration doesn’t mean they’re “quagmire”. The missions change form as the host nation progresses with our intervention. The Iraq mission, especially following the COIN “Surge”, was developing with that kind of trajectory until Obama prematurely disengaged our peace operations.

    As for the de-Ba’athification, go here for corrective insight from CPA officials and necessary context for their decisions. The de-Ba’athification has been often mischaracterized.

    The belief that Saddam regime forces could have been immediately re-purposed en masse is suspect. Chief among the reasons is that the Saddam regime was ruled as a terrorist state. OIF didn’t cause Iraqi “former soldiers” to become terrorists. That was status quo for many of them. Saddam didn’t operate his world-leading terrorist network and terrorist rule of Iraq by himself.

    The insurgency overtook the CPA, and I agree securing Iraq should have been approached differently at the outset of the post-war. But that’s the normally harsh learning curve of war, or in the case of OIF, post-war – especially for a military that’s culturally handicapped by the Powell Doctrine.

    We eventually adapted with the COIN “Surge”. Given the nature of the Saddam regime, your preferred alternative to immediately re-purpose Saddam regime forces en masse without some version of the vetting and transition attempted by the CPA seems reckless.

  26. SteveH Says:

    Its like “I thought you were bringing steak home for dinner?” Well the store was out of steak so I brought chicken,” “So you lied!”

  27. Eric Says:

    “Still confused why the Right doesn’t go back to the original reason Bush looked at Iraq in the first place … Hussein violated the terms of the Gulf War agreement”

    There’s the nub of the issue. Your point reaches beyond just “looked at”.

    Legally, the intelligence was not an element to establish casus belli. Practically, the intelligence had a limited ancillary role in the US-enforced, UN-mandated, compliance-based inspection-centered disarmament process.

    The intelligence did not and could not trigger enforcement. By procedure, only Iraq’s noncompliance would trigger enforcement and only Iraq’s compliance could switch off enforcement.

    By procedure, the proof of Iraq’s noncompliance that confirmed Iraq’s material breach – ie, Saddam’s guilt on WMD – for casus belli was the UN weapons inspections that found “about 100 unresolved disarmament issues”, not the pre-war intelligence.

    In fact, with the same enforcement procedure leading up to Operation Desert Fox, when President Clinton stated there was “clear evidence of a weapons of mass destruction program” (17FEB98), Clinton’s
    “evidence” all cited to Iraq’s noncompliance, not the intelligence.

  28. JulianT Says:

    No comments about how deeply Saddam had bribed the UN? I recall that it was the largest corruption scandal in history.

  29. Eric Says:

    “error, “self-delusion” (a form of error, after all), and a deliberate lie”

    The answer is error – President Bush made an error of presentation with the pre-war intelligence.

    However, critically, Bush did not make a substantive error with the casus belli in the decision for OIF.

    Again, Bush correctly and consistently stated that enforcement of Iraq’s “final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations under relevant resolutions of the Council” (UNSCR 1441) depended on Iraq’s compliance.

    I unpack Bush’s error of presentation with the pre-war intelligence here.


    For the 1991-1998 Gulf War ceasefire enforcement, the disarmament-based trigger for enforcement was straightforward: Iraq’s evident noncompliance with the UNSCOM inspections.

    But the 1998-2002 ad hoc ‘containment’ following Operation Desert Fox was implemented when Clinton could not foresee that UN weapons inspectors would return to Iraq. Therefore, for the ad hoc ‘containment’, sans UN weapons inspections, the disarmament-based trigger for enforcement was, by necessity, indication of “reconstitution” – ie, the intelligence.

    The casus belli was established throughout the 1991-2003 Gulf War ceasefire as Iraq’s “continued violations of its obligations” according to the “governing standard of Iraqi compliance” (UNSCR 1441). For the ad hoc ‘containment’, President Clinton did not shift the burden of proof and replace the “governing standard of Iraqi compliance” (UNSCR 1441) with an intelligence-based standard that eliminated Iraq’s presumption of guilt and obligated the US to prove the predictive precision of its intelligence. Iraq’s presumption of guilt and obligation to comply with all its ceasefire obligations in order to cure its guilt remained unchanged for the ad hoc ‘containment’ from the compliance-based ceasefire enforcement. Iraq’s burden to prove it was disarmed as mandated stayed the same. As Clinton recounted on July 3, 2003, “it is incontestable that on the day I left office, there were unaccounted for stocks of biological and chemical weapons”.

    Rather, because the mandated UN disarmament process had been suspended, President Clinton was compelled to draft the intelligence to fill in for the UN weapons inspections as a makeshift substitute trigger for enforcement during the ad hoc ‘containment’. The early emphasis by Bush officials on the intelligence was consistent with Clinton’s ad hoc enforcement procedure for the ad hoc ‘containment’.

    So far so good, so why is it only a half-valid excuse for the Bush administration’s error of presentation? Because messaging consistent with the intelligence-based enforcement trigger for the ad hoc ‘containment’ was rendered inapposite as soon as the inspection-centered UN disarmament process was restored.

  30. Eric Says:

    “No comments about how deeply Saddam had bribed the UN? I recall that it was the largest corruption scandal in history.”

    Here you go.

    President Bush at the UN General Assembly, 12SEP02:

    If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will … immediately end all illicit trade outside the oil-for-food program [and] … accept U.N. administration of funds from that program, to ensure that the money is used fairly and promptly for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

    Iraq Survey Group:

    From Baghdad the long struggle to outlast the containment policy of the United States imposed through the UN sanctions seemed tantalizingly close. There was considerable commitment and involvement on the part of states like Russia and Syria, who had developed economic and political stakes in the success of the Regime. From Baghdad’s perspective, they had firm allies, and it appeared the United States was in retreat. The United Nations mechanism to implement the Oil For Food program was being corrupted and undermined. The collapse or removal of sanctions was foreseeable. This goal, always foremost in Saddam’s eyes, was within reach.

    Iraq’s illicit trade outside the Oil for Food program (which funded Saddam’s weapons procurement) was an enforcement trigger for the President “to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to … enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq” (P.L. 107-243).

  31. J.J. Says:

    Excellent discussion. Glad that Eric, who has studied this issue to the nth degree, is on board and willing to patiently explain the law and policy that lead up to the invasion and occupation.

    I’m going to try to briefly recap what happened during the occupation because there were many threads depending on the part of the country.

    Throughout the occupation the Kurd region in northeastern Iraq was safe and orderly. Had all of Iraq been like the Kurdish area things would have gone quite well and would still be going well.

    The Shia area was mostly not much of a problem until al Qaeda in Iraq started attacking the Shia areas and blew up the Golden Dome of the al-Askari mosque. That act brought about civil war between the Shia and Sunni. Our forces, confined to patrolling from FOBs, were caught in the crossfire.

    We had been actively fighting (still from FOBs) against al Qaeda in Iraq in the Sunni area (Anbar Province mostly) from 2004 onward. Fallujah, Ramadi, Mosul, and other towns are all in the Sunni part of Iraq. Those cities were where most of our fighting and casualties occurred from 2004 – 2006.

    When the Shias and Sunnis began battling, the country was spinning out of control. Our tactic of patrolling from FOBs was not working. Our troops could go out and kill a few bad guys and arrest some others, but replacements soon filtered in and the chaos and killing seemed never ending.

    The Surge, which started in 2007 changed the tactics. It was now seize, clear, and hold sections of cities. That required more manpower. Our Spec Ops would move into a section of a city like Ramadi. They would eliminate as many jihadis as they could. Then they would turn the section over to an Army or Marine unit which would clear any remaining jihadis and set up a policing protocol. Then Iraqi Army and police would come in and with our coaching take over the security operations. Little by little cities in the Anbar area came under control. It was called the ink blot strategy. Slowly spreading out to cover more area.

    We also took on some of the Shia militias in the Baghdad area, while down south in the Basra area the Brits defeated some other Shia militias. When the Shias had had enough, their leader Muqtada al Sadr, and their religious leader, al Sistani, reined them in. That left ius free to concentrate on the Sunni areas.

    The sheiks in Anbar who were not Islamists had been unhappy with the brutality and religious restrictions of the al Qaeda in Iraq jihadis. With money and personal diplomacy our military was able to bribe the sheiks to tip our people to any jihadis in the neighborhood and to influence their people to quit setting IEDs etc. We gave them Anbar back, they helped us get rid of the jihadis. This was called the Anbar Awakening.

    In 2005 there were 478 terrorist bombings. The highest number of the war. By 2010 the number was down to 44. Things were getting much better. At least for a Muslim country with a lot of sectarian tensions. That was a big success.

    With our guidance (under Ambassador Ryan Crocker) the Iraqi government was at least functioning and the oil goodies were being handed out fairly even-handedly. When we departed, it left an opening for everything to spin out of control. The Shia dominated government put all Shia generals in charge of the army units in Anbar. These generals didn’t pay their men fairly and were not interested in their welfare. Thus, the wholesale retreats when ISIS showed up.The government cut back on sharing the oil goodies with the Anbar sheiks, who were unable to arm their people and control them as well. The scene was set for the new al Qaeda in Iraq, now calling themselves ISIS, to move back in to Anbar. ISIS had been reorganizing and recruiting in eastern Syria from 2009 until 2013. Obama and our intelligence probably knew this, but Obama wanted out. Now we’re looking at a much more powerful al Qaeda nee ISIS/ISIL. All that blood and treasure was for naught.

    When you study what happened (and you can – all the info is on the Internet) it is plain that we won both the invasion phase and the peace keeping phase. Our new leadership failed to see/appreciate the truth.
    Joe Biden in February, 2010:
    “I am very optimistic about — about Iraq. I mean, this could be one of the great achievements of this administration. You’re going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer. You’re going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government.

    I spent — I’ve been there 17 times now. I go about every two months — three months. I know every one of the major players in all the segments of that society. It’s impressed me. I’ve been impressed how they have been deciding to use the political process rather than guns to settle their differences.”

    So, who really lied to the country about Iraq?

  32. Eric Says:

    “Glad that Eric, who has studied this issue to the nth degree, is on board and willing to patiently explain the law and policy that lead up to the invasion and occupation.”

    Thanks. I haven’t studied it to the nth degree, though. More importantly, I’ve studied the issue to the first degree – the primary sources of the mission.

    There’s a lot of conjecture, analysis, information, and misinformation on the subject. To process it all in correct context, it’s critical to lay the foundation with the bedrock law and policy and facts – ie, the situation, the controlling law, policy, and precedent that defined the operative enforcement procedure, and in accordance, the determinative fact findings that governed the decision for OIF.

    The primary sources are the closest we can get to the truth of the matter. They set a reliable standard to weigh and sort the range of information, and misinformation. Fortunately for us, the primary sources of the mission are easily accessed on-line, straightforward, and show the decision for OIF is a simple fact pattern: UN-mandated governing standard of Iraqi compliance, US law and policy that enforced the governing standard of Iraqi compliance, fact findings that confirmed Iraq’s noncompliance, ie, material breach, for casus belli.

    Always watch out for the premises, starting with the fundamental false premise that the pre-war intelligence was casus belli. It’s the root of the operative false premise that the burden of proof was on the US (and UN) to prove Iraqi possession matched the pre-war intelligence, which hides the “governing standard of Iraqi compliance” (UNSCR 1441) that Iraq breached in Saddam’s “final opportunity to comply” (UNSCR 1441) to establish casus belli.

    Notice how many comments by purported OIF supporters are yet based on the fundamental and operative false premises, thus effectively stipulating the Left’s false narrative of OIF.

    The law and policy of the post-war peace operations aren’t as straightforward as the decade-plus-developed law and policy of the decision for OIF. Nonetheless, it’s important to also lay the foundation with the law and policy of the post-war to understand the decisions made there as well.

    “The Shia dominated government …”


    The Shia aren’t monolithic. Recall that the Sunni (not that they’re monolithic, either) that joined us with the Surge/Awakening backed the secularist Shia Alawi’s bloc in the 2010 election. It was a big step that indicated the Sunni were ready to move forward with a Shia-majority government in a new Iraqi national balance. But that critical transition depended on a fragile, hard-won trust backed by the continued guarantee of American leadership. The American role was vital. But at the critical point, analogous to the historic point that President Eisenhower committed to American leadership of the free world, President Obama disengaged it, instead.

    Your characterization of “bribe the sheiks” under-values what they had at stake and, in that context, what’s happened to them since the necessary American leadership was disengaged by Obama.

  33. J.J. Says:

    Eric, the problems in Iraq are mostly related to the three incompatible sects of Islam who reside there, and the issue of fair distribution of the oil revenues.

    My solution would have been to get them to set up a governmental system whereby you have three states Sunni, Shia, and Kurd with autonomous powers with the central government in Baghdad responsible for national defense, collection and disbursement of oil revenues, and maintenance of the oil fields. All else would be delegated to the three different sectarian areas. It would have still required U.S leadership and coaching for at least 25 years to make the arrangement work.

    Whether Obama failed to see the truth about Iraq or was concentrated on pulling us back at all costs we will never know until he writes his book. (And, even then, what he says may be a lie.)

    IMO, we are facing two questions:
    1. Can another major military intervention in Iraq accomplish our goals of stability in the ME and slow the pace of Islamic jihadism?
    2. If the answer to 1. is yes, how much will it cost and how are we going to pay for it?

    As to bribes to the Sunni sheiks. It may sound tawdry, but it (baksheesh) is a well established tradition in the Arab world. And in fact, under differing names, in most parts of the world. It occurs here in the U.S but is carefully hidden/ignored as much as possible.

  34. Bellarion the Fortunate Says:

    @ Eric

    Bush lost the war, and the battle for the history of the war. he lost the first through a flawed strategy and poor leadership, he lost the second by never showing up.

    Bush traded one intractable problem for another, specifically how to transform an Arab country into a democracy. That was never going to happen, no matter how long we stayed.

  35. Richard Saunders Says:

    Eric — no one appreciates more than I the effort you have been putting into getting the truth about OIF out. After all, the “true test of another man’s genius is how much he agrees with you.” But people like Yann, and Yancey and Code Pink, and now Trump, have already wired into their feeble little minds the meme “Bush lied, people died!” and there is no amount of truth that will ever overcome that belief.

    Bellarion — nobody believed in 1945 that Germany or Japan could be transformed into democracies — Morgenthau famously argued that Germany should have been plowed under and reduced to farmland. Nevertheless, we stayed and ran our former enemies until they became democratic. It’s not impossible, we’ve done it before!

  36. Eric Says:

    Richard Saunders,

    They’re the competition in the Narrative contest for the zeitgeist. The general will of We The People is a function of activism.

  37. Eric Says:

    Bellarion the Fortunate:
    “Bush traded one intractable problem for another, specifically how to transform an Arab country into a democracy. That was never going to happen, no matter how long we stayed.”

    One, Iraqi regime change was policy under HW Bush then law and policy under Clinton. As I said to you upthread, there wasn’t wiggle room. Bush inherited a mature set of law and policy on Iraq in the context of American leadership of the free world.

    Two, see the sources compiled at this link on our “irresponsible exit from Iraq“. Iraq wasn’t intractable when Bush handed off to Obama.

    Bellarion the Fortunate:
    “he lost the second [battle for the history of the war] by never showing up.”

    Incorrect. See the compilation of sources for the Bush Perspective on OIF. The 1st link on the list is to the Bush White House archive on Iraq.

    From your 1st comment, it seems that you were bamboozled by enemy propagandists. Yet you blame the President, not the enemy propagandists who are responsible for tricking you

    You ought to be blaming the folks who tricked you. The way to get back at them is to set the record straight.

    President Bush did show up. But no President can win the activist game by himself. Not Bush, not Obama. The difference is Obama is of the Left activist movement, while there wasn’t a comparable Right activist movement standing with Bush.

    As such, the battle for the history of the war is not “lost” – it hasn’t even begun. Though it doesn’t appear the mainstream conservatives of the Right are ready to compete in earnest as activists anytime soon.

    If and when the Right adapts activism, the Narrative contest for the zeitgeist is always malleable.

    The sooner the Right wakes up to compete for the Iraq issue the better because the “battle for the history of the war” is in reach with current events right now.

    The Iraq issue is more than about OIF ‘frozen in time’. Per JJ’s comment, the Iraq issue goes to fundamental principles of American leadership and, in that context, judgement of American leadership under Republican headship.

    Bush led well with OIF. That piece is necessary, but it’s not sufficient. The 2nd piece is and has been up to the people of the Right.

    Richard Saunders:
    “nobody believed in 1945 that Germany or Japan could be transformed into democracies”

    With the way the Weimer Republic had just failed into WW2? No kidding.

    Still, those post-WW2 missions were cake walks compared to post-WW2 Korea.

    Some people talk about Iraq as though it’s the only place in the world with contentious factions. Racial and cultural homogeneity didn’t stop Koreans from squaring off with murderously opposed factions and paranoid leadership.

    The Korea intervention included a string of disasters with “flawed strategy and poor leadership” – by us and them – that dwarfed the setbacks of the Iraq intervention.

    The South Korea that Ike inherited was in far worse condition than the Iraq that Obama inherited. The difference is we didn’t abandon South Korea. Ike stayed the course. Heck, he doubled down.

    Bellarion the Fortunate perhaps has a rosy view of American military history. But the fact is, our norm is not perfection, at least not for the big engagements.

    Harsh learning curves are not abnormal in our military history. That’s the nature of competing for the highest stakes against adaptive, committed enemies that exploit our vulnerabilities, such as the self-handicapping Powell Doctrine. Due to the nature of the enemy, it just happened that the OIF equivalent of the at the time disastrous, teaching setbacks of the battles of New York, First Manassas, Kasserine Pass, and Chosin Reservoir took place in the post-war rather than the war.

    We fail and learn, then we win with tenacity and adaptation (Bush). We lose when we disengage (Obama). That held true with OIF on both counts.

  38. Ann Says:

    Very good piece by Bill Kristol at the Weekly Standard about “Bush lied…” — No Outrage:

    Once upon a time we had leaders who would have expressed their outrage at such a slander. They would have demanded evidence from Trump to back up his charge. Receiving none, they would have denounced and excoriated him. They would have explained to the American people how extraordinarily irresponsible his slander was, and would have done their best to discredit a man who could behave so irresponsibly. They would have pronounced him unfit to be president of the United States, and they would have mobilized their friends, supporters and admirers to ensure so appalling an eventuality didn’t come to pass. They would have been scorned by some for doing so, and they would have worn that scorn as a badge of honor.

    We apparently no longer live in such a time.

  39. Eric Says:

    “IMO, we are facing two questions”

    Those questions are down the list. Before we ask them, first things first: first principles. The fundamental question.

    A reason I emphasize the importance of setting the record straight on OIF is that the Iraq issue is about more than OIF.

    Recall Jeane Kirkpatrick’s characterization of the Iraq intervention from its inception. The fundamental principles of American leadership have been invested in the Iraq intervention since 1990-1991. The Gulf War ceasefire enforcement has been the defining baseline of America’s post-Cold War international role, and since 9/11 if you wish to mark that as a separate epoch.

    As such, the Iraq intervention embodies a paradigm of American leadership – ie, strong-horse American leadership of the free world.

    To answer your 2 questions on solid footing, we need to lay the foundation first and answer the fundamental question of what American leadership is to be moving forward.

    The Left’s answer to that question, per their way since the Vietnam War, has been a con job with their prevailing false narrative of OIF. As matters stand, We The People have been tricked into corrupting our mantle as leader of the free world with resulting harms.

    For the American people to answer the fundamental question honestly with true premises requires re-laying the foundation by setting the record straight in the zeitgeist.

    When the fundamental question is well answered, then we can build on the answer by asking your follow-up questions on solid footing.

    The alternative is the fundamental question and your follow-up questions will be effectively answered for us with misdirections built on lies with the further corruption of American leadership with more consequences in the vein of Obama’s foreign affairs.

  40. Eric Says:

    Ann, quoting Kristol:
    “We apparently no longer live in such a time.”

    We’re in an activist age, and the activist game is the only social cultural/political game there is.

    See my comment to JJ above this one.

  41. Eric Says:


    Add: If you (or anyone else reading this) can reach Bill Kristol, please send him the link to my explanation of the law and policy, fact basis for OIF, especially the answer to “Did Bush lie his way to war with Iraq?”.

  42. Ann Says:

    Agreed, Eric.

    Kristol was directing his comments directly to Republican leaders, who at this moment aren’t doing their part in this particular aspect of the activist game.

  43. Eric Says:


    This is a test and a training opportunity for the Right and GOP.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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