What It Was Like to Oppose the Iraq War in 2003: Hoisted from the Internet Iraq War 10-Year Anniversary
Iraq War 10-Year Anniversary: What It Was Like to Oppose It in 2003: There were, of course, people who opposed invading Iraq—Illinois State Senator Barack Obama among them—but within political Washington, it was difficult to find like-minded foes. When The New Republic’s editor-in-chief and editor proclaimed the need for a “muscular” foreign policy, I was usually the only vocal dissenter, and the only people who agreed with me were the women on staff: Michelle Cottle, Laura Obolensky and Sarah Wildman. Both of the major national dailies—The Washington Post and The New York Times (featuring Judith Miller’s reporting)—were beating the drums for war. Except for Jessica Mathews at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington’s thinktank honchos were also lined up behind the war.
In December of 2002, I was invited by the Ethics and Public Policy Center to a ritzy conference at an ocean front resort in Key West. The subject was to be Political Islam…. I found myself one of the few attendees who outright opposed an invasion. Two of the speakers at the event—Christopher Hitchens, who was then writing for Slate, and Jeffrey Goldberg, who was then writing for The New Yorker—generously offered to school me on the errors of my way. I found fellow dissenters to the war in two curious places: the CIA and the military intelligentsia….
In early 2003, I was invited to another CIA event... one of the agency officials pulled me aside and explained that the purpose of the seminar was actually to try to convince the White House not to invade Iraq. They didn’t think they could do that directly, but hoped to convey their reservations by issuing a study based on our seminar. He said I had been invited because of my columns in The American Prospect, which was where, at the time, I made known my views opposing an invasion. When Spencer Ackerman and I later did an article on the CIA’s role in justifying the invasion, we discovered that there was a kind of pro-invasion “B Team” that CIA Director George Tenet encouraged, but what I discovered from my brief experience at the CIA was that most of the analysts were opposed to an invasion. (After Spencer’s and my article appeared, I received no more invitations for seminars or conferences.)
I had a similar experience when I talked to Jon Sumida, a historian at the University of Maryland….Sumida told me that most of the military people he talked to—and he had wide contacts—were opposed to an invasion….
The United States got several hundred thousand people killed to install a regime that may eventually prove to be as oppressive as Saddam Hussein’s, is closely allied to the Iranian government, and has proven as likely to give oil contracts to Chinese firms as to American firms. And oh yes, Iraq didn’t have “WMDs” after all—a ridiculous acronym that the administration and its supporters used to equate the possession of chemical or biological weapons with the possession of nuclear weapons.
The people who had the most familiarity with the Middle East and with the perils of war were dead set against the invasion. That includes not only the CIA analysts and the military professors, but also the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research….
Some people in Washington still haven’t recanted (unless I missed an editorial on Fred Hiatt’s Washington Post op-ed page apologizing for the newspaper’s leading role in stoking the flames of war), but most of the people I worked with began to doubt the war within about four months….
My own experience after Powell’s speech bears out the tremendous power that an administration, bent on deception, can have over public opinion, especially when it comes to foreign policy. And when the dissenters in the CIA, military, and State Department are silenced, the public—not to mention, journalists—has little recourse in deciding whether to support what the administration wants to do. Those months before the Iraq war testify to the importance of letting the public have full access to information before making decisions about war and peace. And that lesson should be heeded before we rush into still another war in the Middle East.
How We Thought, and Think, About Iraq: Last week Stephen Walt reminded us of an advertisement placed on the NYT's op-ed page six months before the war began… signed by 33 scholars of international relations…. Almost every detail of the case it made has stood up well over the past decade….
Here are the 33 signers. It is a remarkable list. Not all of them are still around -- I particularly miss the voice, company, and integrity of Charles Moskos, and I am glad to note my college classmate Steve Van Evera -- but many are. As we think about Iran and other threats, I would like to see two op-ed or extended talk-show appearances by members of this list, for each one appearance by someone who was so gravely mistaken a decade ago:
Robert Art, Brandeis; Richard Betts, Columbia; Dale Copeland, Univ. of Virginia; Michael Desch, Univ. of Kentucky; Sumit Ganguly, Univ. of Texas; Alexander L. George, Stanford; Charles Glaser, University of Chicago; Richard K. Hermann, Ohio State; George C. Herring, Univ. of Kentucky; Robert Jervis, Columbia; Chaim Kaufmann, Lehigh; Carl Kaysen, MIT; Elizabeth Kier, Univ. of Washington; Deborah Larson, UCLA; Jack S. Levy, Rutgers; Peter Liberman, Queen's College; John J. Mearsheimer, University of Chicago; Steven E. Miller, Harvard University; Charles C. Moskos, Northwestern; Robert A. Pape, University of Chicago; Barry R. Posen, MIT; Robert Powell, UC-Berkeley; George H. Quester, Univ. of Maryland; Richard Rosecrance, UCLA; Thomas C. Schelling, Univ. of Maryland; Randall L. Schweller, Ohio State; Glenn H. Snyder, Univ. of North Carolina; Jack L. Snyder, Columbia; Shibley Telhami, Univ. of Maryland; Stephen Van Evera, MIT; Kenneth N. Waltz, Columbia; Cindy Williams, MIT
To make this impolitely specific and blunt: before the next talk-show booker, op-ed page editor, think-tank event coordinator, or other gatekeeper on public attention invites the next Bush-era veteran or former advocate of invading Iraq on to share his or her wisdom, I ask that they include some people from the list above, or others whose judgment looks better rather than worse with the passing years.