SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
It may be, as Winston Churchill said, that “the first casualty of war is always the truth.” But in a democratic society, a war-maker must have the informed consent of his people; without it, the war is seen as illegitimate and the consequences of that are grave both for the process of war-making and the democracy. Churchill and Roosevelt proved models in this regard. Both developed an amazing rapport with their people at war, keeping them continuously informed as to objectives, progress and even setbacks. They kept morale high and kept the focus on the drive towards victory. But again, the core was a rapport with the truth–keeping their public informed of the cost and sacrifice necessary to win the war.
What an amazing contrast is presented by the current administration of George W. Bush and Richard Cheney. For these two men, who had “better things to do” when the call went out for service in the Vietnam War, the war on terror is a political game that requires no sacrifice for the public–except of course, a sacrifice of the truth. They have waged a war of choice in Iraq and nothing has characterized it from its inception quite so thoroughly as the Big Lie. The target of the Big Lie was not the enemy (those sorts of lies are indulged in wartime, of course), but the American public and Congress, which is set out as the Constitutional watchdog over the war-making powers. The war started with claims that pre-emptive attack was necessary because Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. That turned out not to be true. And still later it turned out that the intelligence analyses prepared by U.S. intelligence professionals were on the money, or close, all along; they never accepted the view that Saddam had WMDs.
(There were many other lies tosses out at the same time, some incendiary – for instance, the claim that Saddam had responsibility for 9/11, or was allied with Al Qaeda, also known to be lies from the outset).
Then there were the lies about process. We would be greeted by children with flowers and candy, we were told. No need to dig in for a costly occupation. Indeed, what cost? The vast oil wealth of Iraq will pay for everything, and make gasoline at the pump in America cheap, said a confident Paul Wolfowitz. He was rewarded for that brilliant prognosis with the leadership of the World Bank, where his venality and pettiness were exposed for the entire world. Again, we now know that the intelligence professionals told the administration from the outset that this was a dangerous delusion. We would be in for stiff resistance and a tough time. Indeed, our invasion and occupation would likely lead to a brutal and bloody civil war in which America would have no obvious and trustworthy ally among the Arab population base. Again, the American public got a double serving of heaping, steaming lies. (Where was the media in all of this? That’s the other question, of course. They retained the role of unstrained lie-conveyor.)
Then we come to the funding of the war. Every year a budget goes in to Congress, and Pentagon spokesmen go to the hill talking about cost. And that’s a lie too. Indeed, every year supplementary funding has to be sought. And then supplementary funding to the supplementary funding. And this doesn’t take sight of the vast sums related to the war now hidden in the budgets of other agencies, such as the Department of State. So the actual cost of the war is hidden. It’s now at $2 trillion and rising, which means it’s going to affect not just the lives of all Americans today, but generations to follow us as well. And no, you’ll not hear that from any Pentagon budget guru. (Again, hardly a whimper about this charade from the party in nominal opposition, or the media).
But one of the most curious lies has been the consistent understatement of the force presence in Iraq. We were told about 125,000 for some time. But in fact there were 100,000 contractors there backing up the soldiers, so that the total force presence was always much higher. And a large part of those contractors are gun-toting, fatigue-wearing contract soldiers. (Again, more lies. General Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when asked if there were U.S. security contractors in Iraq, answered “no.” He knew better. But Pentagon policy at that point was to lie, and avoid inquiry into a growing defense contractor racket).
And today we learn about the latest package of lies. Seems that very modest force surge of about another 25,000 or so, which was debated extensively and swallowed grudgingly by the GOP mainstream, was never in fact a surge of 25,000. It’s now cruising, as I have noted several times before, to a force peak of over 200,000 by the end of this summer. And it will “just happen”–no discussion, no announcement. It may be a correct (or incorrect) assessment of force strength needs–I’m not commenting on that. I’m commenting on the consistent pattern of lying to the public about what’s being done. The Arizona Daily Star reports on the matter. We’ve long passed the point at which the only appropriate reaction is outrage.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm
Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
Ratio of the amount of water used to make the containers to the amount of bottled water consumed:
Police in Pforzheim, Germany, detained an owl who was drunk on schnapps.
In the United States, legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act was advanced by the House Ways and Means Committee after 18 hours of deliberation, during which time the Republican members of Congress passed around candy.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."