When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf quickly became known as “Baghdad Bob” by declaring on Iraqi television that Saddam Hussein’s military brigades were successfully turning back the invading forces. During the same time the U.S. was handily dominating Iraq militarily, Bob told Iraqis that “We slaughtered them and will continue to slaughter them.” Bob claimed that U.S. soldiers were committing suicide by the hundreds and that American troops were “going to surrender or be burned in their tanks. They will surrender, it is they who will surrender.”
It’s hard to imagine someone making more erroneous statements-that is unless you listen to Senator Lindsey Graham.
WTMA talk radio host Richard Todd asked Graham during an interview last week, “4,427 American soldiers dead, over 34,000 wounded in Iraq, was it worth it?” The senator replied, without hesitation “Absolutely. Saddam Hussein is in the grave. A young democracy is emerging between Syria and Iran. The reason I went there… is to change the world for the better, and Saddam Hussein was a threat… he was a rogue guy…” Appearing three days later on Meet the Press, host David Gregory played a video clip of reporter Richard Engel claiming on NBC’s Today show, that the Iraq War was unnecessary, that Saddam was not a threat and that it was a huge distraction. Shaking his head, Graham accused Engel of “completely rewriting history” and defended the war along the same lines he did before. Gregory pointed out that our current “defense secretary, who’s a Republican says, ‘Iraq will always be clouded by how it began,” adding that “Three-quarters of the American people think it was not worth the cost.” Graham replied, “History will judge us, not by what we did wrong at the beginning, but what we got right at the end.”
And may history judge Graham by his uncanny ability to obfuscate fact with his own personal fiction. There are many different opinions on the Iraq War, but Graham’s inability to even consider something virtually the entire world now sees as obvious-that every reason given for going to war turned out to be wrong-says far more about the senator than the subject at hand. When GOP politicians like Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) can say “Now that we know that it cost a trillion dollars, and all of these years, and all of these lives, and all of this blood… all I can say is everyone I know thinks it was a mistake to go in now,” or Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) can now claim of his fellow Republican congressman, that “everyone would agree that Iraq was a mistake,” or even Defense Secretary Robert Gates can cautiously advise that “It really requires a historian’s perspective in terms of what happens here in the long run”-it becomes obvious that Graham’s absolutist defense of the Iraq War is more ideological than logical. In this respect, Graham is little different from Baghdad Bob who also created his own war narrative, formed primarily out of loyalty to his government. As propagandist, Bob’s job was to sell the Iraqi public a myth that would better serve the ruling regime-the humorous part is the extent to which he was willing to continue with the charade.
Graham’s mythmaking and charades are not as humorous. The actions of a nation with the power and military capability of the United States should be weighed and measured rationally, and such calculation necessarily requires acknowledging past mistakes in order to avoid them in the future. Few Americans want another Vietnam and knowing what we know now, few should want another Iraq. Saving face for the sake of national honor or psyche is perhaps understandable to a degree, but the complete dismissal of colossal mistakes by our government-by redefining them as triumphs-almost insures that those mistakes will be repeated. Not so coincidentally, this is exactly what Graham seems to want, or as he told Todd: “I’m glad we invaded the country. I hope we keep troops there after 2011. I hope we don’t withdraw troops next summer in Afghanistan… If we have to use military force against Iran… I want to do it… And at the end of the day we’re at war with a vicious enemy and if they go to Yemen or Somalia we ought to follow them throughout the globe, and follow them to the gates of hell.”
Graham’s case for perpetual war is the same neoconservative vision espoused by the Bush administration when making its pitch for war with Iraq, and in still dutifully subscribing to this narrow vision it continues to blind the senator to anything outside of it. This is not merely the politicking of a statesman assessing a sticky situation and proceeding forward, as Graham pretends-but a let’s-police-the-world ideologue who propagandizes accordingly, creating his own facts as needed.
All propagandists do this, or as Baghdad Bob told BBC News in 2003, his information came from “authentic sources-many authentic sources.” On Iraq, our intelligence sources turned out to be about as authentic as Bob’s, and Lindsey Graham’s refusal to confront or consider this makes him no less delusional than the Iraqi propagandist-though far more dangerous.