One of the fascinating aspects of the Iraq War has been the way in which some people have permitted their sense of reality to shift and mutate as circumstances have changed.
Recall that the primary justification for supporting the war was that Saddam Hussein was about to unleash a biological, chemical, or nuclear attack on the United States. People were convinced they were in danger. I recall many of them exclaiming, “I’m trusting my president! He has access to information that we don’t have!”
After the invasion, when it turned out that Saddam wasn’t planning an imminent WMD attack on the United States and that, in fact, he didn’t even have any WMDs, people’s mindset rapidly switched to a new reality. The new primary reason for the invasion became to help out the Iraqi people by spreading democracy and liberating them from tyranny. In fact, some people, quickly shifting to the secondary rationale for the president’s invasion, even blocked out of their minds that the only reason that they had endorsed the attack was because of the fear they had had that Saddam was about to level a WMD attack against the United States.
When confronted by information that was inconsistent with that new reality, people simply blocked it out of their minds. For example, while then relying on the democracy-spreading rationale, people simply ignored the long-time U.S. support of non-democractically elected dictators, such as Musharraf in Pakistan, Saddam in Iraq, the shah of Iran, and rulers in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan).
There were also the cruel and brutal U.S. and UN sanctions, which contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children, without any regret or remorse from U.S. officials. There are also the killings and maiming without any remorse of tens of thousands of Iraqis in the recent invasion and occupation, with the Pentagon refusing to keep track of Iraqi dead.
How can any of this information be reconciled with a belief in a genuine concern for the well-being of the Iraqi people? Advocates of the president’s war simply refused to consider it because it conflicted with their new reality of why the United States invaded Iraq.
There was also the suggestion that Saddam conspired to commit the 9/11 attacks, despite the fact that the president was forced to admit publicly that no such evidence existed. Even today Saddam’s participation in the 9/11 attacks is reality for some people who have apparently convinced themselves that the president secretly knows that Saddam was behind the attacks but can’t reveal the evidence for national security reasons.
There is the new reality that now characterizes many U.S. troops, whose minds are obviously being instilled with a newly issued mission statement to justify the perpetual existence of the military-industrial complex after U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq — that they’re fighting a worldwide war against radical Islam and Muslims who are determined to conquer us and take over our nation. The troops have convinced themselves that the real reason the United States is in Iraq is to fight this new enemy, but they block out of their minds two important points:
(1) The invasion and occupation themselves, together with all the other deadly U.S. interventions in the Middle East for the past several decades (i.e., unconditional support of the Israeli government, the Persian Gulf intervention, the deadly U.S. and UN sanctions, the stationing in U.S. troops on Islamic holy lands, and the illegal no-fly zones over Iraq), are what have produced the anger and hatred that have given rise to the Islamic terrorists that they’re now saying are out to destroy us.
(2) Their invasion and occupation have installed into power the very people the Pentagon claims to be fighting — radical Islamists. Thus, U.S. troops in Iraq are now killing and dying to preserve the radical Islamic regime in Iraq, a regime that has aligned itself with the radical Islamic regime in Iran, which the president is now thinking about attacking.
Finally, there’s the “reality” that things are going well in Iraq. The military generals who are now revolting against Rumsfeld have thrown a dose of cold water on that false reality, especially in military circles.
The late psychiatrist M. Scott Peck wrote that mental health entails an unwavering commitment to reality at all costs. It’s a point that Americans would do well to ponder as their minds gradually begin to accept the reality of the Iraq debacle, a debacle rooted in the simple reality of a decades-long U.S. foreign policy of overthrowing unfavorable foreign regimes and replacing them with regimes more palatable to U.S. officials.