What’s missing from reminiscences of the War on Iraq is how and why the war propaganda was spread so effectively, particularly among Republicans. In fact, the refusal of most conservative media to publish contrary information was one of the reasons this magazine was founded. The American Conservative provided an outlet for many respected conservatives who couldn’t get antiwar views published.
Over and over we hear that U.S. allies believed that Iraq had WMDs. Well, sure, our CIA and British intelligence fed them misinformation, which they then repeated back to us—especially Eastern Europeans, who wanted to strengthen military relations with Washington. Even so, Germany, France, and the UN Security Council refused to support the war. There was also widespread opposition inside the U.S. military and by former U.N. inspectors, which was given little publicity by major conservative media. The big push for war came from neoconservatives and the Religious Right, evangelical fundamentalists who believed God wanted war to hurry up the second coming of Christ. Indeed, former French President Chirac wrote in his memoirs about the born-again George W. Bush telling him how God wanted war.
Conservatives opposed to empire and war included Pat Buchanan, Scott McConnell, Charley Reese, Paul Craig Roberts, Paul Gottfried, myself, Doug Bandow, Bill Kauffman, Sheldon Richman, Leon Hadar, Allan Brownfeld, Martin Sieff, Phil Giraldi, as well as other respected leaders such as congressmen John Duncan and Ron Paul and future senator James Webb.
Neither Buchanan nor any other anti-war writer could get published by The Washington Times. The Wall Street Journal op-ed would not accept any article opposing the war until one by Brent Scowcroft, who was too big a name to block. National Review, the Heritage Foundation, and the American Enterprise Institute’s publications and conferences would only promote pro-war opinions and propaganda. Fox News was a solid barrage of war promotion and panic-mongering. Human Events, the Cold War bulwark, had lost its great editor, Allan Ryskind, after which it just parroted the Bush administration.
The seeds and theories of American empire-wishers were planted after the collapse of Communism. Well before 9/11, I had tried to get National Review to publish my article “America Is not Rome.” I still remember how Bill Buckley, who was the godfather of my first child, waved my article off with an outstretched arm when I sat with him in the lobby of the Hay Adams in Washington. Later he changed his views and become an early defector over the Iraq War, though by then he had delivered National Review to the neocons. Similarly, when I wrote to the Heritage Foundation’s foreign-policy staff urging that they at least allow an occasional non-empire speaker at their Washington conference, I was told that those ideas could be heard at the Cato Institute. I knew most of the major conservative leaders from my years as an anti-Communist writer and donor to conservative causes and from my 17 years as a commentator on Third World issues for the Voice of America. My mother, Freda Utley, had been one of the earliest anti-Communist writers in America, and many knew her work.
What America’s imperialists did not understand was that the collapse of Communism meant that Washington had less power to control world events. Fear of Communist terror meant that other nations always followed Washington’s lead. Once the threat was gone, they didn’t need to obey us any more. Think of Turkey, a prime example, and even Germany and Japan, which refused to support the invasion of Iraq.
I know all this because I was also among those opposing the Persian Gulf War—i.e., the First Iraq War. And it was the first war that brought about the second one. Remember the three reasons Osama bin Laden himself gave for the 9/11 attacks were 1) the stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia during the first war, 2) the harm to Iraqi children resulting from nine years of American sanctions after the first war, and 3) the conditions of Palestinians under Israeli occupation on the West Bank.
The 9/11 attacks were obviously a consequence of the First Iraq War. What’s forgotten is that the first war was also based on Washington lies, in this case about the famous “incubator babies,” the secret, untrue satellite photos showing that Saddam’s army was posed on the border of Saudi Arabia, and Ambassador April Glaspie’s telling Saddam that Washington was not concerned with inter-Arab quarrels.
Conservative opposition to the Gulf War was led by the Committee to Avert a Mideast Holocaust. Its membership comprised conservative including Pat Buchanan, publisher Henry Regnery, Ron Paul, William Niskanen of Cato, Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell of the Mises Institute, John Chamberlain, Paul Gottfried, Sheldon Richman, and Justin Raimondo. I was a co-founder, along with Phil Nicolaides and Joseph Sobran. Our secretary and public-affairs director was the redoubtable Fran Griffin, a long-time conservative organizer. There was no Internet in those days, and we had almost no money, but we exposed the lies and did manage to do a number of direct mailings. But we were swamped by Kuwaiti money—for example, they brought a dozen tables at CPAC’s banquet, filling them with Young Americans for Freedom students clamoring for war. England’s Margaret Thatcher also demanded war to save Kuwait, which was a major depositor and funder of England’s banks.
The first Iraq War was also opposed by Yitzak Rabin, Israel’s great general and later peace maker, murdered by an ultra-Orthodox religious fanatic. He had warned that one never knows, when starting a war, where it will lead.
U.S. support for the first Iraq War did not just come from imperialists. It also came from many old anti-Communists, such as Reed Irvine of Accuracy in Media, where I was treasurer and a long time director. He and many others were still bitter and traumatized by the loss of Vietnam. They wanted America to show that it could “win” against a Third World adversary.
Going into the second Iraq War, Republican realists who advised Bush the father were excluded by Bush the son. I described the younger Bush’s naiveté in a parody of a long-ago medieval invasion, “The Second Children’s Crusade.” Most conservative leaders, including the neocons, knew little of the outside world and almost nothing about the developing world. In fact, those who knew the least about the outside world were the most enthusiastic to go to war in Iraq the second time.
There were many critical voices among libertarians. First of all there was the major libertarian website Antiwar.com, publishing daily, informative, fact-full articles and links about Iraq and the whole Middle East. (It was where I wrote most of my pieces.) LewRockwell.com also published numerous well-informed articles. The Cato Institute put out many papers and invited many speakers opposed to the war. The Independent Institute in California did the same.
In Iraq, UN inspectors, including the American Scott Ritter, had wide access, but Republicans ignored their reports. Under frequent and ongoing U.S. bombing and nine years of a very tight economic sanctions, Iraq was already in economic shambles.
On the left, particularly in The Nation, there were many critical reports about the war. Republicans and conservatives, however, would not read or give any credence to any leftist source. The TV networks were carried away by war fever—witness what happened to antiwar host Phil Donahue, removed from MSNBC to placate its owner, General Electric. Today it is revealing that, except for The Nation and the ACLU, most of the left keeps quiet about Obama’s continuation of many of Bush’s foreign-interventionist policies and the curtailing of our constitutional freedoms. Being in power changed them.
With The American Conservative there was a respected voice in Washington exposing the propaganda and warning of the catastrophic consequences of war for America. It gave Pat Buchanan a chance to be heard again. I took the magazine to all sorts of conservative groups and meetings. I belonged to many—the Grover Norquist Wednesday meeting, the Paul Weyrich lunch, the Philadelphia Society, the Council for National Policy, CPAC, and many lesser ones. Where I was prevented from speaking or only given a minute or two to talk, I could still distribute articles. At Paul Weyrich’s weekly meetings of leaders of major conservative organizations, the evangelical Christian Religious Right, in particular, were big war promoters. A dozen of them even petitioned to have me expelled, but Weyrich told them that they should also hear the antiwar side.
I had several large email lists of the organizations above and regularly sent out copies of articles contradicting the war-wishers and warning of the cost and consequences to come. The truth was easily available. Anyone who took the trouble to search Google would have found my widely linked “Lies About Iraq.”
So, in the year of the war’s 10th anniversary, remember that there were plenty of voices exposing the lies, incompetence, ignorance, and arrogance of those who favored starting unending wars in the Muslim world. We should thus be prepared for the next time. But instead we see much of the same gang frightening us again for another war, this time with Iran. America’s problem is that war is very profitable for the military-industrial complex and makes exciting TV for comfortable audiences at home. The consequences, however, wrote Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal, discredited the Republican Party, helped bankrupt America, and will be with us for years to come.
Jon Basil Utley is associate publisher of The American Conservative.