Who Deserves the Blame for Iraq?
And on yet another similar note to what I was driving at in We the People, I just came across an article in Time magazine which asks an important question: Shouldn’t the American Public admit to having been wrong in Iraq?
Americans are unhappy with President George W. Bush right now. In the New York Times/CBS News poll, his approval rating dipped to 29% during July before nosing back up a point. Approval of Bush’s handling of what is delicately called “the situation in Iraq” is only 25%. By 53% to 39%, we disapprove of the way he is handling the war on terrorism. “Looking back,” 51% say that the U. S. “should … have stayed out” of Iraq, while only 42% think the invasion was “the right thing.” Two-thirds of Americans think our “efforts to bring stability and order to Iraq” are going somewhat or very badly, and the same fraction think we should withdraw in part or completely.
Just after 9/11, Bush’s approval rating was as high as 90%. Only 5% disapproved. In the spring of 2003, when Bush launched the war, deposed Saddam Hussein, occupied Iraq and declared victory, public approval of his conduct of the Iraq “situation” rarely dipped below 70%. As the “situation” went south, so did Bush’s poll numbers, until now he faces snarling or sullen disapproval from two-thirds of the electorate.
This is not all the fault of the pundits or of “Washington” or of politicians. Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq was scandalously unilateral, but it did in fact have the support of most American citizens, which surely egged him on. The ensuing disaster is partly the fault of those Americans who told pollsters back in 2002 and 2003 that they supported Bush’s war and then in 2004 voted to re-elect him, which he took, quite reasonably, as an endorsement of his policies. Millions of Americans now apparently regret those opinions. But unlike the politicians and the pundits, they do not face pressure to recant or apologize. American democracy might be stronger if they did.
In the lead up to the Iraq war, there’s no question that the American people were deliberately lied to by the Bush Administration and the right-wing media machine with regards to the actual level of threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Bush misled the country into making a disastrously wrong decision about Iraq.
But here’s the 800 lb gorilla in this scenario. All the information necessary to make the right decision about Iraq was publicly available in 2003. In fact, there was a sizable minority (myself included) that saw through the deception early on – and I apologize for not speaking loudly enough on it at the time.
Bush can and ought to be blamed for his lies and deceptions in pursuing his predetermined course of action. But the American people allowed themselves to be misled in this way. The people could have challenged him, questioned him, devoted considerable debate to the most serious course of action Bush was proposing. Had they done so, they’d have come to an entirely different conclusion than the one Bush was selling and withdrawn their support for the war before it even began. That makes We the People culpable in the outcome.
Blaming “Bush”, “the government”, “the media” or even “the Democrats (for not standing up to Bush at the time)” might make us feel better about the situation we find ourselves in. But civic responsibility could have put a stop to this right at the beginning, and the blame for lack thereof lies squarely with the people.
On another note, the author of the article touches on another root cause (the root-root cause, perhaps?) for many of our country’s ails:
Although–or perhaps because–I manufacture opinions for a living, I am always amazed at the things people are willing to express opinions about. Is the “surge” working? Is there likely to be a terrorist attack in the next few months? Are “most of the insurgents in Iraq today … under the command of Osama bin Laden”? These are not matters of opinion. The correct answer may be unknown (e.g., the success of the surge), or it may be known perfectly well (e.g., bin Laden does not control most of the Iraqi insurgents), but one thing the correct answer is not is a matter of opinion.
What is true doesn’t matter nearly so much as what people feel is true – even about totally objective questions. Truthiness in a nutshell.