May 23, 2024

Relocations: On the 20th anniversary of the Iraq invasion, our mainstream media repeat their original dereliction

Secretary of State Colin Powell holds up a vial that he described as one that could contain anthrax during a presentation on Iraq to the UN Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003. Photo via Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
March 30, 2023

Who could gather from their coverage that the Bush administration lied to us egregiously?

By Herbert Rothschild

Last week marked the 20th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The coverage of that occasion by our mainstream media exhibited the same timidity as did their coverage of the run-up to the invasion itself. In an admittedly less-than-exhaustive survey, I found no acknowledgement that the Bush Administration lied when it claimed that Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction and was connected to Al Qaeda. Worse, there was complete silence about the real motive of the invasion, so succinctly summed up by Gen. John Abizaid, who served as Deputy Commander (Forward), Combined Forces Command, US Central Command during what we named Operation IRAQI FREEDOM: “Of course it’s about oil; we can’t really deny that.”

Herbert Rothschild

Here’s more of what Abazaid, just retired, said on March 28, 2008, during a round table discussion on “The Fight for Oil, Water and a Healthy Planet” at Stanford University: “We’ve treated the Arab world as a collection of big gas stations. Our message to them is: Guys, keep your pumps open, prices low, be nice to the Israelis and you can do whatever you want out back.” When it comes to the Iraq War, those who claim they are empowering the public with truth must believe that, in the inimitable words of Jack Nicolson, we can’t handle the truth.

The story in USA Today on March 19 begins, “Sunday marks 20 years since American and coalition forces invaded Iraq on a mission to topple Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and find weapons of mass destruction (WMD).” You see. The invasion really was about bringing democracy to the Iraqis and averting an existential threat to the world. The writer went on to note that no WMDs were found. Why? Our intelligence had been wrong. He noted, the WMD Commission, established by Bush, acknowledged in a report that the WMD fiasco was “one of the most public — and most damaging — intelligence failures in recent American history.” It’s extraordinary that news organizations are still crediting the Bush administration with a sincere belief in what were, even back then, their transparent lies.

National Public Radio began its story on that same day with, “Two decades ago, U.S. air and ground forces invaded Iraq in what then-President George W. Bush said was an effort to disarm the country, free its people and ‘defend the world from grave danger.’” There is no mention of how vigorously that claim of “grave danger” was disputed at the time, most notably by Hans Blix, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which at the time was in Iraq monitoring the very sites at which we claimed Iraq was developing nuclear weapons. Instead, NPR reports without comment that no WMDs were found. “While the invasion succeeded in toppling Saddam, it ultimately failed to uncover any secret stash of weapons of mass destruction.” Surprise, surprise!

And what would we do without The New York Times? In its story on March 18, focused mainly on what ordinary Iraqis are now experiencing, the article speaks of our invasion this way: “The United States invaded Iraq as part of its ‘war on terror’ announced by President George W. Bush after the Al Qaeda attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Mr. Bush and members of his administration claimed that Mr. Hussein was manufacturing and concealing weapons of mass destruction, though no evidence to back up those accusations was ever found. Some U.S. officials also said Mr. Hussein had links to Al Qaeda, a charge that intelligence agencies later rejected.” There is an implied criticism here, but does an administration that trumped-up a war that took the lives of perhaps 300,000 Iraqis (mostly civilians), 4,599 U.S. troops and 3,650 U.S. contractors, cost us between one and two trillion dollars and devastated Iraq deserve such circumspection?

Or did the NYT tread lightly because, in the run-up to the invasion, the paper ran a series of stories by its then-reporter Judith Miller about Hussein’s WMD, mostly based on the lies told to her by Ahmed Chalabi, a crooked Iraqi leader in exile?

By contrast to these refusals to acknowledge the moral enormity, hear how a publication outside the U.S. described how it was sold: “President Bush, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Tony Blair and a number of other senior American and British leaders lied repeatedly and unashamedly to their own people, to the United Nations and to the world at large. There were no such stockpiles of WMD and, if they didn’t know that, they should have. Their own intelligence services told them repeatedly that this was the case. They ignored these assessments, and told the world they were invading and did so on the flimsiest of pretexts.”

That was written by Hamilton Wende, the editor of BizNews-South Africa, who was in Kuwait in 2003 and witnessed the invasion. He continued: “It was a disgraceful and brutal decade of bloodshed and dishonesty. Looking back on it today, one can see how the falsehoods so loudly shouted into the world’s consciousness then have become a political norm in the democratic world today.” Wende nailed it. The whole point of reviewing the past is to inform the present. If we won’t call out the lies then, how will we grapple with the lies now?

It’s not enough, though, just to call out the lies. We must understand what the lies were meant to conceal. So, in my next column I’ll focus on the Bush administration’s goal of wresting control of Iraqi oil from its erstwhile pal Saddam Hussein.

Herbert Rothschild is an unpaid board member. Opinions expressed in columns represent the author’s views and may or may not reflect those of Email Rothschild at

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Email him at

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