USA Today Still Rewriting the Iraq War

“Seven Years of War Provides Many Answers” is USA Today‘s front-page headline (8/27/10) over a story by Jim Michaels and Mimi Hall that attempts to take stock of the Iraq War. But one issue that the paper can’t seem to get right seven years later is how the war started.

USA Today provides this stunningly deceptive summary:

In October 2002, the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly to authorize force against Iraq. In November, the United Nations Security Council adopted a unanimous resolution offering Saddam “a final opportunity” to comply with disarmament. Three months later, Secretary of State Colin Powell said U.S. and European intelligence agencies believed Iraq was hiding its weaponry and seeking more.

The final U.N. inspection report stated that Iraq failed to account for chemical and biological stockpiles. U.N. inspector Hans Blix said he had “no confidence” that the weaponry had been destroyed.

In his 2003 State of the Union Address, Bush said: “Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words and all recriminations would come too late.”

At 5:34 a.m., March 20, 2003, a U.S. force backed by 34 nations crossed into Iraq. The war was on.

A more accurate chronology of the weapons inspection–like this one from the Arms Control Association–revealsthat while inspectors expressed frustration with someIraqi behavior, theywere encouraged by the progress they were making. They determined rather early in the process, for instance, that there was no Iraqi nuclear program to speak of. Thatwas one of the Bush administration’s most damning claims against Iraq; its falsehood should figure into any account of the pre-war period.

That chronology also recalls that there wasan effortto get the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution that would formally endorse the war, even though the weapons inspections process was not finished. The U.S. failed to prevail in that effort, and the inspectors were removed. Again, it’s hard to imagine a summary of the run-up to the war that discounts the fact that the United States launched the war without the U.N. approval it sought.

It’s not entirely clearwhere the Hans Blix quote (“no confidence”) comes from. He does use that phrase in regards to a “preliminary assessment of Iraq’s weapons declaration” (12/19/02)–pretty much the opposite of a “final U.N. inspection report”–explaining why such declarations have to be verified and can’t be taken at face value.

In his February 14presentation to the U.N., Blix seemed pleased with Iraq’s compliance:

Mr. President, in my 27th of January update to the Council, I said that it seemed from our experience that Iraq had decided in principle to provide cooperation on process, most importantly on prompt access to all sites and assistance to UNMOVIC in the establishment of the necessary infrastructure.

This impression remains, and we note that access to sites has, so far, been without problems, including those that have never been declared or inspected, as well as to presidential sites and private residences.

Blix also said:

How much, if any, is left of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and related proscribed items and programs? So far, UNMOVIC has not found any such weapons, only a small number of empty chemical munitions, which should have been declared and destroyed.

Recalling this history merely as Blix saying that he had “no confidence” that Iraq had destroyed any weapons isterribly misleading. But it ishelpful to those who still wish to argue that the Iraq War was a good faith effort to destroy the weapons of a madman.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.