Before the war in Iraq, the Bush administration cried out over the hill to the townspeople that a wolf was on the verge of attacking the sheep. They told the American people that Iraq possessed weaponry making it an immediate threat to U.S. security.
The administration said Iraq had a well-developed nuclear program that presented a threat to the United States before the war, but as it turns out, there was no wolf. U.S. military forces in conjunction with CIA experts have found no chemical or biological weapons and determined that Iraq’s nuclear program was in only “the very most rudimentary state” – hardly the threat the townspeople were alerted to by Bush, the supposed shepherd watching over national security.
An elite group of military Special Forces and CIA operatives comprise the Iraq Survey Group that has been combing the Iraqi desert for nearly six months with the explicit goal of uncovering weapons of mass destruction. To this date they have found little to support the pre-war claims. Congress and much of the American public, including this writer, believed the administration’s claims of widespread WMD programs brewing in Iraq and came running to support the drive to Baghdad.
Now that the dust has settled, however, it is apparent that Congress and the American public were misled. On Oct. 7, 2002 President Bush said, “the evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program… facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” On Thursday, the head of the Iraq Survey Group told congress that “to date we have not uncovered evidence that Iraq undertook significant post-1998 steps to actually build nuclear weapons or produce fissile material… it clearly does not look like a massive, resurgent program.” There is a real conflict in the “reality” of the Iraqi threat from before the war to after. Now it is questionable as to whether the townspeople will ever believe the shepherd again when there really is a wolf threatening national security.
The legitimacy lost is the worst outcome of the war in Iraq. Alone, the Iraq war is justified because in the end, it is better for the U.S. and for the prospect of Iraqi democracy that Saddam was replaced and the Baathist regime purged, but unfortunately the war does not exist in a vacuum. Whatever the end result and good that is done, the Bush administration sold the war on the basis of extensive WMDs and the immediate threat – it has cost the administration and the country to lose legitimacy in future actions, especially actions of “preemption.”
So next time when there is a real wolf, say North Korea or Iran, the American public and the rest of the world will be less likely to believe the American dictum of threats. The loss of legitimacy will be more threatening to national security than Iraq truly ever was.
In future situations when Iran or North Korea actively pursue nuclear weapons it will be nearly impossible for the U.S. to act with support of the public, a public fearful of being misled once again. Preemption is a worthy doctrine in the post-Sept. 11 world, but the Bush administration’s cry of wolf will forever doom the policy option that could have proved paramount to protecting national security.
-The writer, a junior majoring in international affairs, is Hatchet opinions editor.