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October 20, 2014

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Marches of folly, from Iraq to the deficit

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Ten years ago, America invaded Iraq; somehow, our political class decided that we should respond to a terrorist attack by making war on a regime that, however vile, had nothing to do with that attack.

Some voices warned that we were making a terrible mistake — that the case for war was weak and possibly fraudulent, and that far from yielding the promised easy victory, the venture was all too likely to end in costly grief. And those warnings were, of course, right.

There were, it turned out, no weapons of mass destruction; it was obvious in retrospect that the Bush administration deliberately misled the nation into war. And the war — having cost thousands of American lives and scores of thousands of Iraqi lives, having imposed financial costs vastly higher than the war’s boosters predicted — left America weaker, not stronger, and ended up creating an Iraqi regime that is closer to Tehran than it is to Washington.

So did our political elite and our news media learn from this experience? It sure doesn’t look like it.

The really striking thing, during the run-up to the war, was the illusion of consensus. To this day, pundits who got it wrong excuse themselves on the grounds that “everyone” thought that there was a solid case for war. Of course, they acknowledge, there were war opponents — but they were out of the mainstream.

The trouble with this argument is that it was and is circular: Support for the war became part of the definition of what it meant to hold a mainstream opinion. Anyone who dissented, no matter how qualified, was ipso facto labeled as unworthy of consideration. This was true in political circles; it was equally true of much of the press, which effectively took sides and joined the war party.

CNN’s Howard Kurtz, who was at The Washington Post at the time, recently wrote about how this process worked, how skeptical reporting, no matter how solid, was discouraged and rejected. “Pieces questioning the evidence or rationale for war,” he wrote, “were frequently buried, minimized or spiked.”

Closely associated with this taking of sides was an exaggerated and inappropriate reverence for authority. Only people in positions of power were considered worthy of respect. Kurtz tells us, for example, that the Post killed a piece on war doubts by its own senior defense reporter on the grounds that it relied on retired military officials and outside experts — “in other words, those with sufficient independence to question the rationale for war.”

All in all, it was an object lesson in the dangers of groupthink, a demonstration of how important it is to listen to skeptical voices and separate reporting from advocacy. But as I said, it’s a lesson that doesn’t seem to have been learned. Consider, as evidence, the deficit obsession that has dominated our political scene for the past three years.

Now, I don’t want to push the analogy too far. Bad economic policy isn’t the moral equivalent of a war fought on false pretenses, and while the predictions of deficit scolds have been wrong time and again, there hasn’t been any development either as decisive or as shocking as the complete failure to find weapons of mass destruction. Best of all, these days dissenters don’t operate in the atmosphere of menace, the sense that raising doubts could have devastating personal and career consequences, that was so pervasive in 2002 and 2003. (Remember the hate campaign against the Dixie Chicks?)

But now as then we have the illusion of consensus, an illusion based on a process in which anyone questioning the preferred narrative is immediately marginalized, no matter how strong his or her credentials. And now as then the press often seems to have taken sides. It has been especially striking how often questionable assertions are reported as fact. How many times, for example, have you seen news articles simply asserting that the United States has a “debt crisis,” even though many economists would argue that it faces no such thing?

In fact, in some ways the line between news and opinion has been even more blurred on fiscal issues than it was in the march to war. As The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein noted last month, it seems that “the rules of reportorial neutrality don’t apply when it comes to the deficit.”

What we should have learned from the Iraq debacle was that you should always be skeptical and that you should never rely on supposed authority. If you hear that “everyone” supports a policy, whether it’s a war of choice or fiscal austerity, you should ask whether “everyone” has been defined to exclude anyone expressing a different opinion. And policy arguments should be evaluated on the merits, not by who expresses them; remember when Colin Powell assured us about those Iraqi WMDs?

Unfortunately, as I said, we don’t seem to have learned those lessons. Will we ever?

Paul Krugman is a columnist for The New York Times.

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  1. The war in Iraq was authorized by a bipartisan congressional coalition. In March 2003, a Pew Research Center Poll indicated that 72 percent of the American public supported Bush's decision to use force. Every intelligence source in the world at the time said Saddam Hussein would have an atomic bomb in 1-3 years. Saddam Hussein's own generals, interrogated after the invasion, believed he had weapons of mass destruction and expected him to use them. All, that is all media voices, backed the war and had embedded troops to report on it. We owe it to history to acknowledge this wasn't Bush's war, it was an American war...and an extremely popular one at the time.

    Carmine D

  2. BTW if anyone thinks debts and deficits have no bearing on economics, they are ignoring the fact that a host of cities, towns and counties in the U.S. are insolvent or soon will be as a result of out of control spending. And perhaps a state or two will follow or need a US government bailout. As are most of countries and governments in Europe [insolvent or soon will be] with Cyprus just recently added to the list.

    Carmine D

  3. Paul Krugman strikes me as being America's most outrageous flim-flam man, and is every bit as much in error regarding the debt crisis as your mainstream media was in choosing to believe the lies coming out of Washington regarding Iraq.
    Unfortunately for the USA, President Obama and most of America's most powerful politicians give only lip service to the notion that they should cease immediately the obscene government overspending. They greatly prefer the status quo since it practically ensures their perpetual re-elections.
    America is in a terrifying spending and debt crisis. I don't care how many articles Mr. Krugman writes espousing his insane beliefs that America should be spending more, not less. It is a travesty that his perverted economic viewpoint has been adopted by your President.
    It is not possible to overspend and stimulate one's way into prosperity.

    Donald W. Desaulniers

  4. With the Iragi invasion on March 20,2003. I at that time also believed that the Iraqi's had WMD.I also said to myself with weapons inspector's on the ground and the no fly zone in place there would be no need for a war.The no fly zone was a area in which Iraq's military could not go,and if they did they were immediatly challenged by both U.S. and British air power.

    It has been the subject of both pro and con that Bush,Cheney,and Rumsfeld,wanted this war no matter what.10 years later we still teeter tauter back and forth if the war was worth the cost of lives lost,and wounded troops,plus treasure.

  5. Sam:

    Saddam Hussein's military violated the no fly zone daily and fired on U. S. and allied aircraft. And defied years of U.N resolutions regarding weapons of mass destruction. Iraq invaded Iran and Kuwait. Hussein's regime used chemical weapons against its own people and poison gas against Iran. Iraq harbored some of the world's most notorious terrorists AND Hussein made payments to the families of suicide bombers.

    Kenneth Pollack, a member of Clinton's National Security Council staff, wrote in 2002 that it was a question of "not whether but when" the U.S. would invade Iraq. He wrote that the threat presented by Saddam Hussein was 'no less pressing then those we faced in 1941."

    The former U.N. weapons inspector, an Australian named Richard Butler, testified in July 2002 that "it is essential to recognize that the claim made by Hussein's representatives, that Iraq has no WMD, is false."

    Senator Kennedy said that "we [the U.S.] have known for years that Hussein is seeking and developing" WMD.

    "When it came time for a vote on authorization for the use of force against Iraq, 81 Democrats in the House voted "yes", joined by 29 Democrats in the Senate, including the Democratic party's 2004 standard bearers, John Kerry and John Edwards, plus Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Senator Joe Biden, Mrs. Clinton, and Sens. Harry Reid, Tom Harkin, Chris Dodd and Jay Rockefeller."

    Iraq was a bipartisan American war. Not Bush-Cheney's war.

    Carmine D

  6. PS: When the U.N. countries voted on the resolutions to use force against and invade Iraq, Russia, China and Syria voted with the consensus of the other countries.

    Carmine D

  7. Carmine, so many politicians believed Iraq had WMD.We the public blieved what our politicians told us. It was all a lie and some of our politicians found out that later from a chain of events and lies, there were no WMD.It was Not only a Bush Chaney war It was also a Rumsfeld war.It can't be sold any differently

  8. Sam:

    "On the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom-the first bombs fell on March 19-well over 70 percent of the American public supported upending the Saddam regime. The temptation to depict the war as George W. Bush's and Dick Cheney's is convenient but utterly false. This was a war waged with congressional authorization, with the endorsement of popular acceptance, and with the sanction of more than a dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for Iraq's disarmament."

    Foud Ajami, "Ten Years Ago, an Honorable War Began with Wide Support."

    Carmine D

  9. "Title of Iraq war authorization bill stated its intent

    "The legislation, the authorization had the title, "An Authorization to Use US Military Force in Iraq." Everybody, the day after that vote was taken, understood this was a vote potentially to go to war. Clinton has claimed that she's got the experience on day one. And part of the argument that I'm making in this campaign is that, it is important to be right on day one. The judgment that I've presented on this issue, and some other issues is relevant to how we're going to make decisions in the future. It's not a function just of looking backwards, it's a function of looking forwards and how are we going to be making a series of decisions in a very dangerous world. The terrorist threat is real. And precisely because it's real--and we've got finite resources. We don't have the capacity to just send our troops in anywhere we decide, without good intelligence, without a clear rationale. That's the kind of leadership that we need from the next president of the US. That's what I intend to provide."

    Source: 2008 Democratic debate in Los Angeles before Super Tuesday , Jan 31, 2008

    Carmine D

  10. "Coalition and Allied contingent involvement

    Main article: Multi-National Force -- Iraq

    Dispositions of U.S. and allied units in the different occupation zones on 30 April 2004
    Members of the Coalition included Australia: 2,000 invasion, Poland: 200 invasion--2,500 peak, United Kingdom: 46,000 invasion, United States: 150,000 to 250,000 invasion. Other members of the coalition were Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Mongolia, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, the Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Spain, Tonga, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.[155] At least 15 other countries participated covertly.[156]"

    Not only were Americans in agreement to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein's regime but countries and governments from around the world.

    Carmine D

  11. Carmine,

    You forgot to mention who the salesmen were for the selling of this war. Bush,Cheney,and Rumsfeld,and others. If you believe that we Americans, and the world were not lied to about Iraq,you're only kidding yourself.

  12. Sam:

    "Buyers' remorse" for the "war of choice" and American disappointment in hindsight with it.

    "It was no fault of the soldiers who fought the war in Iraq, or the leaders who launched it, that their successors lacked the patience to stick around Iraq and safe keep what had been gained at the incalculable cost in blood and treasure."

    Let's see what happens next year and after in Afghanistan with the "war of necessity" [the smart war according to president Obama] after all US troops withdraw and another leader of Afghanistan is elected [by law it can't be the current one]. Will the US cut and run again like it did in Iraq? Then 10 years later blame the Afghanistan war on Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld? History would surely say so.

    Carmine D

  13. Jeff,
    I did view all 6 parts of the Iraq war sale to the American people, and the world.Most of what I viewed I has seen in bits and pieces through out the years.But seeing it all together at one time.Only convinces me more that lies and fabrications were done by Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld. Not a good thing.

  14. Carmine,
    "will the U.S.cut and run like it did in Iraq"?

    You may be forgetting we left Iraq in 2011 from the agreement put together by Former Pres. Bush in late 2008. So if you think we did cut and run it was Pres. Bush's idea to do so, not Pres. Obama's.

  15. Wrong Sam.

    "A skilled politician, Mr. Obama made the Iraqi government an offer meant to be turned down--a residual American force that could hardly defend itself, let alone provide meaningful protection for a fledgling new order in Baghdad. Predictably, Iraq's rulers decided to go it alone as 2011 drew to ac close. They had been navigating a difficult course between Iran and the U.S.. The choice was made easy for them, the Iranian supreme leader was next door, the liberal superpower was in retreat. "

    "Heading for the exits, Mr. Obama praised Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as "the elected leader of a sovereign, self-reliant and democratic Iraq." The praise came even as Mr. Maliki was beginning to erect a dictatorship bent on marginalizing the country's Kurds and Sunni Arabs and even those Shiites who questioned his writ."

    Will President Obama do the same with Afghanistan next year [cut and run like he did in Iraq], now that the Taliban have flooded into Pakistan? And then send U.S. troops to Pakistan to resume fighting? History would suggest he will. Contrary to your belief and mine that President Obama won't send troops to Pakistan, he has on several occasions in the past said he will. As I've pointed out to you, he surely will use drones in Pakistan.

    Carmine D.

  16. "Ratification by Iraqi Parliament

    On November 27, 2008, the Iraqi Parliament ratified a Status of Forces Agreement with the United States, establishing that U.S. combat forces will withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009, and all U.S. forces will be completely out of Iraq by December 31, 2011, but allowing for further negotiation if the Iraqi Prime Minister believes Iraq is not stable enough. The pact requires criminal charges for holding prisoners over 24 hours, and requires a warrant for searches of homes and buildings that are not related to combat.[1] U.S. contractors will be subject to Iraqi criminal law. If U.S. forces commit still undecided "major premeditated felonies" while off-duty and off-base, they will be subject to the still undecided procedures laid out by a joint U.S.-Iraq committee if the U.S. certifies the forces were off-duty.[1][2][3][4] A referendum of Iraqis will be held in mid-2009 on the pact, which may require Coalition forces to leave by the middle of 2010.[34] Parliament also passed another U.S.-Iraqi bilateral pact called the Strategic Framework Agreement, aimed at ensuring minority Sunni interests and constitutional rights.[8]"

    Correct me if I'm wrong Sam, but I believe November 27, 2008 would be after candidate Obama won election as President.

    Carmine D.

  17. Just like a US budget submitted by an outgoing President, the incoming elected President is under no legal/constitutional obligation to be bound by it. That's why the outgoing President is called a lame duck.

    Carmine D

  18. Isn't it ironic, Sam. When it behooves Obama fans to do so, they say Obama brought the Iraqi war to a "responsible close." When it doesn't, the Obama fans say President Bush negotiated the SOFA to bring the war to an abrupt and shortsighted close. Tell me Sam which is it? Because it surely can't be both.

    Carmine D

  19. "This concern is magnified where, as here, the lame-duck President's popularity rating is at a historic low and the President-elect of an opposing party has won a decisive electoral victory by tying the policies of his opponent to those of the outgoing President. In such circumstances, the lame-duck President can no longer be said to represent the will of the people.25 Any attempt by the lame-duck President to then initiate unilateral and avoidable action during the transition period in order to significantly tie the hands of his recently elected successor would, therefore, present a very serious affront to the notion of democratic government enshrined in our Constitution.26 Accordingly, if the Constitution is properly interpreted in light of its underlying democratic purposes (as Justice Breyer and others have argued),27 then the Oath and Take Care Clauses should be construed as constraints on the aforementioned types of actions by lame-duck Presidents."

    Carmine D

  20. Carmine,
    I think I've said enough on this subject,and so have you.

  21. Not really Sam. Bush inherited Saddam Hussein and Iraq from Clinton. Research what the Clintons and Pelosi said about WMD in Iraq and Hussein in October 1998, rather than take my word.

    Bush eliminated Saddam, brought democracy to Iraq [albeit not a good one], saved the Sunnis and Kurds from being destroyed and annihilated by Saddam and the Shiites and stabilized the region around Iraq from a mad man. Not to mention that soon after invading Iraq, Libya's Gadafi gave up his nuclear weapons program and his regime was toppled by the Libyan people. Saddam's mistake was that he underestimated Bush. He never thought Bush would pull the trigger.

    No, Sam. The final words will be said by history. They will be that President Bush won the war in Iraq and President Obama lost the peace.

    Carmine D

  22. Sadly Big Don your version of history is not the one that was dealt.

    "What's also true, however, is that the war came about because the crisis of Iraq was allowed to fester for a decade, because Saddam was a real menace, and because a world in which he had been allowed to survive would have been worse for America and the region. The men and women who fought and died removed a grave threat to the Middle East and to America."

    "As long as the U.S. remains a great power, it will eventually have to fight such a war again. When that day comes, let's hope our political and military leaders will have learned the right lessons from this bitter but necessary war."

    Carmine D

  23. "Carmine, you are as full of crap as a forty-pound robin."

    That's because I eat well. And I have no problem in the other department either after I do.

    Carmine D

  24. Jeff:

    That's right. When you can't lead, then cheer.

    Carmine D

  25. "Carmine, your source material, The Wall Street Journal...,

    Really? And you head is stuck so far up your butt, that you have to have sunlight pumped into you.

    I suggest you open your eyes and read the article on the left side of the page by Thomas Friedman. He's from the NY Times.

    Carmine D

  26. Rusty:

    Excellent link from CNN, thank you.

    President Clinton was on the eve of his impeachment when he gave this interview. If you look at the end of the article you'll see another in December 1998 titled, "Republicans Skeptical of Iraq Invasion." Too bad due to time the article isn't available any longer. But even if it were, the unburdened by the facts and knowledge here wouldn't believe it anyway. They forget as soon as the body bags and coffins arrive at Dover Delaware. One of the many reasons I am and always have been against sending U.S. soldiers to fight on foreign soil. Sadly it's the price the U.S. pays for being a super power in a world filled with evil people and governments.

    Next: North Korea! Tell us what U.S. President dismantled and prevented expansion of the interceptors for the ICBM defense that Def. Sec Hagel said last Friday will be added to Alaska and California? Hint: He's the current President. Interesting that the first initiative by the new Def. Secretary is to change the President's policy. And the mainstream media is completely silent about it.

    Next the U.S. will add interceptors to the east coast to defend against Iranian nuclear ICBM. Tell us what President told Russian President with an open microphone on to just wait until he's reelected for his relaxed policy on ICBM defense in Europe and specifically Poland. Right again. The current President.

    Carmine D

  27. Jeff:

    You're almost correct. But as usual and more often than not, wrong.

    I was against sending U.S. troops to Iraq, Afghanistan and into Pakistan if and when it happens. I am and have always been against the use of nuclear weapons and drones, which are just a 21st century version of nukes.

    And I said that as soon as the body bags and coffins arrive at Dover Delaware all the people who supported these wars would cut and run, and blame Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld for waging a dumb war. President Obama's words. As though there are smart wars?

    I said on several occasions here that the U.S. is a super power. The price it pays for this position in the world is shedding American blood and treasure on foreign soils. I'm against that and always have been and always will be.

    Now, as hard as it is for you, get your head out of your butt. Stop, think and read ALL VIEWS before you post and put words in my mouth and mind.

    Carmine D

  28. BTW Jeff I was against the war in Viet Nam. I volunteered to go there on 2 occasions during my military career. If I met the age requirements, I would have done the same for all the wars since. As it was, not meeting the age, I served in civilian roles in Iraq stateside in Desert Storm and Desert Shield.

    How about you? What did you as with your white privilege background give back to your country?

    Carmine D

  29. White privilege background Jeff is still irrelevant and verbose.

    Carmine D

  30. Not if I see you first. Checkmate squared!

    Carmine D