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The Moral Degeneracy of Alternative Rationales for Invading Iraq


One of the most disappointing parts of the Democratically controlled Congress has been its refusal to conduct a formal investigation into whether President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, and other U.S. officials knowingly, deliberately, and intentionally presented false rationales for invading Iraq.

Everyone knows that Bush and his associates issued many statements that later turned out to be false regarding Saddam’s WMDs. But it seems that most everyone in Congress (with some exceptions, of course) automatically accepted the official explanation that it was all just an honest mistake — that there was no mal intent to deceive the public into supporting the invasion.

That’s a shame, especially in a moral sense, given the enormous consequences of the invasion. Hundreds of thousands of people are now dead. Countless are maimed. Families have been decimated. Millions have fled the country. Museums have been ransacked. Neighborhoods have been religiously segregated. Prisons are overflowing. Torture, suicide bombers, terrorists. For all practical purposes, the country is destroyed.

Prior to the invasion, Bush presented two alternative rationales for invading — the dire WMD threat posed by Saddam and spreading democracy. The primary rationale — the one that scared most Americans into supporting the invasion — was the WMD threat that Americans were facing from Saddam. Recall Condoleezza Rice’s famous statement about smoking guns and mushroom clouds. Recall Colin Powell’s famous WMD charts before the UN.

Later, after the WMDs failed to materialize, Bush and his associates immediately shifted their primary rationale from WMDs to helping the Iraqi people achieve democracy.

An interesting aspect of relying on these two alternative rationales is that it makes both rationales suspect. Suppose China was about to unleash a nuclear attack on the United States. Does anyone honestly believe that U.S. officials would announce that emergency steps were being taken to defend the United States from this attack but that, alternatively, another reason for going to war would be to help the Chinese people achieve democracy?

That would be crazy. If a foreign nation attacks your country, as Japan did at Pearl Harbor, that nation becomes an enemy nation. Wouldn’t defense of your nation from such an attack be your only priority? How many Americans would be fighting to defend their country from a Chinese invasion while, alternatively, fighting to help the attackers achieve democracy?

There is another interesting aspect to the WMD rationale. Once it was discovered that there were no WMDs, there had already been many Iraqi people killed and maimed by U.S. forces. Wouldn’t you expect Bush and other U.S. officials to express at least some remorse over this very grievous error? After all, once the discovery was made that Saddam had in fact been telling the truth about the WMDs, one alternative would have been for President Bush to have announced, “I have made a very bad mistake. I thought Saddam was about to unleash WMDs on the United States and I led Americans into thinking that and fearing that. It now turns out that I was mistaken and that Saddam really had destroyed his WMDs. Yet, I have taken many Iraqi lives. I wish to apologize for my mistake and am hereby ordering the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces to the United States.”

Instead, Bush didn’t skip a beat. There was no apology, no remorse, no regret, no repentance over what was obviously one of the most important mistakes in history. They just kept moving forward with the invasion, quickly shifting to the democracy-spreading rationale. In other words, in the wink of an eye Iraq was shifted from the ranks of an enemy nation to the ranks of a friendly nation where U.S. officials were killing countless people in the name of helping the survivors achieve democracy.

Throughout the 1990s U.S. officials had one goal, as manifested by their brutal sanctions against Iraq: the ouster of Saddam from power and his replacement with a U.S.-approved stooge. If both the WMD rationale and the democracy-spreading rationale were nothing more than intentional deceptions designed to achieve that goal, what greater moral degeneracy than that, especially given the horrific consequences to the Iraqi people?

One would think that given all the horrible consequences, the duly elected representatives of the people in Congress would want to conduct a formal investigation into what would seem to be a rather important question: Did U.S. officials, from the president on down, knowingly, deliberately, and intentionally present fake and false rationales for their invasion and occupation of Iraq? Unfortunately, one gets the impression that all too many members of Congress, both Democrat and Republican, would rather not know.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.