The Iraq war was the subject of news today both in the UK, with the release of the Chilcot inquiry, and in the US with news reports of Donald Trump praising Saddam. David Weigel made a point that the media’s coverage of Trump’s statements appeared timed to help Hillary Clinton after the Clinton campaign used them to distract from James Comey’s statement which accused Clinton of being extremely careless with classified information, and demonstrated that she has lied to the public on several key points regarding the email controversy. Missing from the mainstream media coverage was Clinton’s support for the Iraq war based upon false claims.
A seven-year official inquiry in Great Britain on the Iraq war was finally released and repeats what many critics of the Iraq war were saying from the start, including that the reports of WMD were based upon faulty intelligence and non-military responses were not exhausted. CNN reports:
A long-awaited official inquiry delivered a devastating indictment of Britain’s decision to invade Iraq Wednesday, finding that the war was based on flawed intelligence and had been launched before diplomatic options were exhausted.
The findings of the 2.6 million-word Iraq Inquiry — seven years in the making — were released following a statement by probe chairman John Chilcot in London.
The former civil servant said that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein posed “no imminent threat” when the U.S-led invasion was launched in March 2003, and that while military action against him “might have been necessary at some point,” the “strategy of containment” could have continued for some time.
Chilcot said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was warned of the risks of regional instability and the rise of terrorism before the invasion of Iraq, but pressed on regardless.
BBC News sums up two key points:
Chairman Sir John Chilcot said the 2003 invasion was not the “last resort” action presented to MPs and the public.
There was no “imminent threat” from Saddam – and the intelligence case was “not justified”, he said.
The Guardian called the war an “appalling mistake” and began their editorial in looking at the victims:
As always in matters of military aggression, the humane perspective has to start with the victims. Since the US-led, UK-backed invasion of Iraq in 2003, estimates of the lives lost to violence vary from a quarter of a million to 600,000. The number of injured will surely be several times that, and the number of men, women and children displaced from their homes is put at between 3.5 and 5 million, somewhere between one in 10 and one in six of the population.
There is no disputing the vicious brutality of the regime that ran the country before, but there is no serious disputing, either, that the suffering captured in these statistics of war are of another order to anything that would be endured in even tyrannical times of peace. Thirteen years on, as the deadly blast in Baghdad last weekend illustrated afresh, the predicament of the Iraqi people remains misery without end. The topsy-turvy post-9/11 rationalisation for regime change from the chauvinist, parochial and sometimes proudly ignorant George W Bush White House produced predictably topsy-turvy results. Jihadi forces that Saddam Hussein had contained were not discouraged by his ousting, but greatly emboldened. In sum, failures do not come any more abject than Iraq, nor catastrophes any less pure.
George Bush’s communication director responded to BBC News with a rationalization based upon Saddam’s actions: “Despite the intelligence failures and other mistakes he has acknowledged previously, President Bush continues to believe the whole world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power.”
Donald Trump has expressed a different viewpoint on Saddam throughout the campaign. CNN reports:
While acknowledging that Saddam Hussein “was a bad guy,” Trump praised the former Iraqi dictator’s efficient killing of “terrorists” — despite the fact that Iraq was listed as a state sponsor of terrorism during Hussein’s time in power.
Trump, who supported the Iraq War before the invasion and in the early months of the war, said the U.S. “shouldn’t have destabilized” Iraq before pivoting to praising Hussein.
“He was a bad guy — really bad guy. But you know what? He did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read them the rights. They didn’t talk. They were terrorists. Over. Today, Iraq is Harvard for terrorism,” Trump said.
While Trump’s praise of Saddam is rather foolish (and debunked by The Guardian), David Weigel has a point that this is something which Trump has been saying on the stump throughout the campaign, with news media reports of Trump praising Saddam coming after the Clinton campaign made a point of it. Weigel wrote, “whaling on Trump gave the campaign a chance to pivot on a day when the director of the FBI held an unusual and damaging news conference saying that the Democratic candidate, whom most voters consider untrustworthy, had behaved recklessly with classified email. The media went along with this by noting the irony, and remarking that Trump stepped on what could have been a good news cycle.” Weigel further wrote:
The point is that Trump has been saying, for quite some time, that the United States should not have gone to war in Iraq, and that it should side with dictators as long as they “kill terrorists.” The Republican primary electorate endorsed that view. Clinton, as a senator and then as secretary of state, took another view, and backed the use of American power to remove both Hussein and Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi. There’s video of Clinton gleefully saying “We came, we saw, he died” upon learning that Gaddafi had been torn apart by his own people. This has never been treated like a gaffe; but Trump’s “Saddam killed terrorists” riff suddenly is.
By consistently covering Trump’s argument over time, and by following up on it, media outlets did their job to inform voters. That was why Tuesday night’s collective Captain Renault moment was so strange, and so demonstrative of why many media consumers are skeptical of what they’re hearing. Instead of a debate on the facts — should Hussein have been removed? Did he “kill terrorists,” in a contradiction of what Americans were told before the war? — there was manufactured outrage, straight from a rival campaign.
The media coverage certainly has helped Clinton, in both stressing the worst aspects of Trump’s views and in totally ignoring how strong a supporter of the war Clinton was. Not only did Clinton support the war based upon the faulty intelligence cited in the report, she went beyond the claims of many supporters of the war in falsely claiming there were ties between Saddam and al Qaeda. Clinton’s support of neoconservative regime change has been a disaster. However Trump also has himself to blame. As on so many matters, even in criticizing Clinton where she deserves criticism, Trump has failed to make a consistent coherent argument against her, with the media further assisting Clinton.