Manipulated Agenda: The War in Iraq
Controversies and Ethics
If initial incentives of patriotism and fear supported the Bush administration's efforts to topple Hussein's power base and bring the dictator himself down, it became known to the public, and rather quickly, that a valid casus belli was still not evident. That is to say, two elements were increasingly highlighted by the media's coverage of the war: the first was that no actual evidence of weapons of mass destruction had been uncovered in Iraq, and the second was that the U.S. presence in Iraq, following Hussein's fall, was at best an ambiguous and suspect enterprise (Mahnken, 2007, p. 12). Suddenly, with what had been presented as the “evil” force removed, there appeared to the public the likelihood of an agenda not in keeping with the purported causes of the action. It became evident, in fact, that President Bush and his conservative platform were acting to achieve, not the liberation of a people and the removal of a direct threat to U. S. security, but a foothold within the immensely valuable Arab states.
To accuse a President of so unethical and nefarious a practice is serious business. It is, however, an accusation that has benefited from enormous research and validation. In a truly exhaustive study of 2010, authors Bonn and Welch set forth exactingly obtained empirical data that irrefutably implicates the Bush administration in a manipulative – and strikingly thorough – agenda. For example, the study searched many thousands of New York Times articles in which references to Saddam Hussein, Iraq, and potential hostility to the U.S. are contained. Between March 1, 2000, and March 18, 2003, nearly five news articles per day were released meeting these criteria. This is a staggering figure, compared to other administrations' input to the media in regard to a single nation; it is also, as the authors note, reflective of only the one resource (Bonn, Welch, 2010, p. 82). While Bonn and Welch offer no direct evidence that those in power actually orchestrated the publication of these inflammatory articles, they similarly point out that such a strategy was unnecessary. What mattered was that the key members in the Bush program, such as Vice President Cheney, spoke of Iraq as a threat; it was inevitable that the press would relate the views of such high-ranking officials. The sheer volume of the Times pieces, along with the precise timing of their explosively large presence in the media, provides significant evidence that the Bush administration was determined to create a moral panic.
The ploy was, of course, successful, and the the climate of moral panic generated proved to be remarkably resilient. Even before 2004, when the flush of optimism from the capture of Hussein was at its zenith, allegations were being reported in the media that Bush had misled the American people. He was nonetheless reelected in 2004 to a second term, which “indicates how effectively the moral panic over Iraq manipulated public attitudes and opinions concerning the alleged threat to national security” (Bonn, Welch, 2010, p. 121). It is perhaps also worth mentioning, and less to the credit of the Bush agenda, that citizens are typically uneasy about changing leadership in the midst of a war.
Most damning to the Bush agenda is the famed issue of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), noted earlier as pivotal to the Bush rationale. That it was never fully confirmed that Iraq possessed WMD has been long and widely discussed; supporters of the war point to the extreme likelihood of it, as opponents refer back to the fact that the existence of them was never proven. Far more unsettling, however, are the words of President Bush himself, in retrospect. In his autobiography, he somewhat vacillates on the reliability of the intelligence he received regarding WMD. What he prefers to assert is that he himself simply believed them to be in place: “If Saddam didn't have WMD, why wouldn't he just prove it to the (U.N.) inspectors?” (Bush, 2010, p. 242). This is an extraordinary statement, seen in any context. Aside from the fact that the President is utterly discounting the seemingly likely possibility that Hussein wished to be viewed as a more substantial threat, the remark bespeaks an arrogance contrary to the expected behaviors of a world leader. More precisely, Bush is making it clear that he chose to rely upon his own ideas of what was true, rather than facts, and that he largely based a military operation that would claim untold thousands of lives on this confidence.