Eleven years ago today, the U.S. government publicly began marching towards war with Iraq when President Bush gave his State of the Union address in which he made this statement:
States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.
It is instructive to return to this appalling speech from time to time to remember how it was that the U.S. was led into the debacle in Iraq. It is important to note that the core claims in this speech were nonsense, and were recognized as such by some people at the time. The so-called “axis” was no axis at all. The Iraqi and Iranian regimes were mortal foes, and their interests were as divergent as they possibly could have been. The sole reason for including them together was to maximize the public’s fear and to conjure up bogus comparisons with the Axis powers.
One of the main pro-war arguments in the months before the invasion relied heavily on the idea that Iraq had “terrorist allies” and that it would hand over its alleged WMDs to them, but neither claim was valid. As it turned out, Iraq had no WMDs to give to anyone. If it had possessed these weapons, there is no reason to believe that a regime that had gone to enormous expense to build such things would give them away to a third party that could use them for its own purposes. The supposed connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq was simply made-up. The terrorist-with-WMDs scenario was particularly important for advocates of the invasion, because it was the only way that they could get around the reality that the U.S. and its allies could rely on traditional deterrence for their security.
As we learned in the years that followed, the cost of preventive war was quite high in lives and wealth, and all of the costs of the Iraq war were incurred in an entirely unnecessary and avoidable conflict. Had the U.S. been more “indifferent” and less intent on waging preventive war, many thousands of Americans and 100,000+ Iraqis would not have perished in the conflict. I hope never again to see our country embrace such a disastrous policy.