December 6, 2010
Fair Game is a film that I saw a couple of weeks ago and about which I keep thinking. It is the story of Valerie Plame, the covert CIA operative who was ‘outed’ in the press in concert with administration conversations about how to rein in her husband. Joe Wilson was a career member of the Foreign Service who had been an ambassador in the Clinton administration and who had written an op-ed piece for The New York Times. He believed that a statement made by President George W. Bush in a State of the Union address was wrong, and importantly so, as it was part of the justification for the invasion of Iraq and was made contrary to the report of an investigation he had carried out as a temporary consultant for the CIA.
The movie is really more about the effects on the lives of Plame and Wilson more than it is a political screed. Nonetheless, it brings me back to the question I have had since the beginning: Why did we invade Iraq? I once had the privilege of being in a small group in conversation with journalists Judy Woodruff and Ray Suarez, soon after the infamous “Mission Accomplished” declaration. Neither of them could really answer the question as to why we had troops fighting and dying in Iraq. The idea of there being WMDs that had been sold to us in a concerted campaign that included the President’s State of the Union Address and Colin Powell’s ‘Adlai moment’ at the UN had been discredited, as had the basis for that belief.
I think it came down to people in an administration who were ‘believers’. The believed that Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator and may well have been correct about that. They believed that Iraq and the world would be better off without him leading a strategically critical country. They also believed that Iraq, with its vast oil reserves and relatively ‘secular’ government was ripe for ‘nation building’ and the creation of a real ally in the Region. It is not clear that these last beliefs were based on much beyond a certainty that any right thinking person would want democracy as their form of government. That strikes me then and strikes me now as a flimsy basis for sending troops to fight and die.
We were the aggressors in that war. Traditional notions of ‘reparations’ don’t seem to apply. And it looks as though we will be paying for our choices for a long time to come. Our financial situation in general and our national debt in particular are not solely the problem of bankers and sub-prime mortgages. Surely trying to wage the most expensive war in history without asking for sacrifice from everybody to pay for it is bonkers. We really should require that engaging a war on this scale should require an automatic commitment to a draft. That would help clarify the decision making process and ensure that we are not dying for the opinions and beliefs of those who have only political ideas at stake.