What Did We Know and When Did We Know It?
It got me thinking. Just what is it that we were actually thinking and saying back then? And what is it that we have simply come to believe we were thinking and saying? That curiosity, along with a personal desire to be intellectually honest in myself as I continue to oppose the Bush Administration’s militaristic impulses, provoked me to poke my head back in to old email bins and review correspondences from those days just before “Shock and Awe” streamed American might across a billion television screens worldwide.
After reviewing that correspondence, what most strikes me with respect to current day rhetoric, even more so than the continuing lack of transparency and seemingly deliberate obfuscation of the Bush “cabal,” is the constant Democratic refrain these days that “we didn’t know then the things we know now.” By and large I see more clearly than ever, after reviewing my own thinking, and knowing that I was not alone, that we did know then much of what we now know, or at least we knew enough then to know that we weren’t sure. The truth was out there, or at least plausible alternative views were, for anyone willing to look for it beyond the Bush Administration spoon-fed front pages of the New York Times.
We knew that we believed Iraq had WMDs, not that they had them. We knew, or felt strongly, that we would only find out “yay” or “nay” if Saddam Hussein were to be confronted with credible use of force. We knew then, based on the available, now discredited, intelligence, that Congress did not vote for “war,” but had authorized war only as a last resort if weapons inspections failed. That’s what we knew even if that sinking feeling in our guts told us the Dems had just given away the store and turned the prospect of violence into the inevitability of it.
After all, anyone paying attention then could also see plainly that the rationale for war was shifting on an almost daily basis, that U.S. engagement with the U.N. was not sincere, or was not coming across as such, and that, short of Saddam relinquishing the reins of power, we were setting up Herculean milestone measures for the Iraqis that a reasonable person knew they could not possibly meet especially if they were telling the truth that they had no WMDs.
Simply put, it was clear to me then, as it was to many others, that the Bush Administration was rushing our nation to war. It was as clear to me then as has only become clear to me since that, while we were busy tossing out ideas of how best to deal with Saddam, our nation’s leadership was busy tossing out, quite literally, State Department plans to deal with the post-war Iraq they knew was on the way.
In early March of 2003 I sent out an appeal encouraging friends and family to sign an online petition in support of continued U.N. diplomacy backed by force. I received back a scathing reply from a male relative two days later, a missive in which I was charged with offensiveness for advocating continued diplomacy, a preconceived dislike for Bush, and, perhaps most hurtfully at the time for someone who prided himself on going out of his way to be well-informed, naivete.
Would that this matter were so trivial that I could tell him “I told you so” a little more than two and a half years later. I know I can’t and wish I couldn’t. For that matter, I imagine he thinks he was not wrong based on what he knew at the time. He may even still believe we did the right thing. In any case, there is no glee in being right about an issue wherein being right has meant unnecessarily lost lives, an expansion of the very terrorism the military action was intended to curb, and an unprecedented loss of American prestige. Or to put it another way, I would gladly grant my relative a smug smile and an “I told you so” in return for just one single American soldier’s lost leg or one Iraqi child’s lost mother.
As for the charges my relative leveled my way? I stand by my views on diplomacy over force as easily as I will grant him his point on Bush. As for naivete, I thought him wrong then, but now recognize the truth in what he said.
Back in 2003, the last thing in the world I was thinking was “insurgency” and a Vietnam-like quagmire. I was not thinking outright lies, misdeception and cover-up by high-ranking government officials. I was most certainly not thinking Internet televised beheadings of Americans, the “outing” of our own post 9/11 intelligence assets in the interests of partisan gain, or, absurdly, even the glimmer of the idea of torture by Americans and attempts by our own Vice-President to codify that torture into law.
Back in 2003 we as a nation were divided on means, bitterly so; but, by and large, we were still unified in purpose, the knowledge that 9/11 had changed everything, and in our beliefs in the indominitability of American force and our determination to do good in the world, even if we get it wrong sometimes. Doves and hawks alike back in 2003 believed we would “win” the war if fought and, while I was not certain, and didn’t think we could assume, that we would be greeted with cheers and bouquets and flowers as my relative had suggested, I was still on some level surprised and saddened when we weren’t.
So, yes, he was right on that count. I was more naïve then. I think we all were. I’m less so now, but think of that lost part of me as just the most minimal of the most minimal casualties bestowed upon us by the “Law of Unintended Consequences.” I can’t say I mind that loss, particularly when placed against, just to name one example, the 600 lives lost on an Iraqi bridge when inaccurate reports of a suicide bomber created a stampede, the effects of which were worsened dramatically by concrete barriers at an American checkpoint. As for me, I still sit here from the same safe perch I sat on then and toss out words to the world. I consider myself fortunate. I mind very much, however, the reasons behind that loss, all the thousands upon thousands who have lost so much more because we chose not to know all those things we could have and assumed we knew all those things we didn’t.
Related Post: The Things We Really Thought And Said Before The Iraq War