POST #3. IRAQ: THE ALLEGORY 1.0

Our deconstruction of the Trojan War myth began with a few hidden aspects of the sub-myths, the body of ancillary myths concerning the build-up to the war, the aftermath, or the lives of individual characters. In the 21st century, we had a new east vs. west war myth; that the United States invaded Iraq to stop Saddam Hussein from using biological and chemical Weapons of Mass Destruction against the United States and its allies. The technological and social changes in the intervening 3,200 years would be unfathomable to Bronze Age Greeks and Trojans, who’d never even encountered a sword made of iron, let alone a television or a computer. The deconstruction of the Iraq War myth thus began with information technology that streamed the war into American homes.

The “shock and awe” aerial bombardment of Iraq and the subsequent ground invasion were broadcast on the nightly news. During this in-depth coverage, in which “imbed” and “boots on the ground” became colloquialisms, Weapons of Mass Destructions were conspicuously not being shown. It soon became apparent that they’d never been there in the first place, that the war’s justification, its “we are the good guys” myth, was inaccurate. Because the military intelligence underlying the myth was clearly defective, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence undertook an investigation, and released an initial report in July of 2004. This initial report, referred to as Phase I, focused on the Intelligence Community’s information gathering and analysis, but did not address how the administration’s senior policy makers used the intelligence it was given, or what role, if any, they had in shaping the analysis of pre-war intelligence. Some believe that investigation of this later question was delayed because Republicans controlled the Senate, and therefore the Select Committee.

Because this blog is a companion blog to a novel, rather than a political or historical blog, what follows is a brief summary of the Senate Select Committee’s Report:

The National Intelligence Estimate of Iraq’s program to develop WMDs both exaggerated Saddam’s capabilities and contained assertions that lacked any support in the underlying intelligence. Though there were many failures in the Estimate, issued about five months before the invasion, the primary failure lay in the flawed methods used to assess and analyze  the intelligence. The question of why these flawed methods were used was not addressed in Phase I of the Select Committee’s investigation, and this highlighted political divisions within the committee. There were claims that analysts had been pressured to skew their analyses to conclude that Saddam did have WMD’s and systems for deploying them. Democrats, then in the minority, wanted to explore that issue, but the Republican majority ruled that issue would be explored in Phase II of the investigation. That phase of the investigation dragged on interminably, over increasing Democratic protest, though two volumes of the Phase II report, dealing with other matters, were released in September 2006.  In the November 2006 mid-term elections Democrats gained a majority in the Senate, and therefore the committee, and a Democrat, Jay Rockefeller (D. W.Va) became chairman.

In May of 2007, the committee issued a volume concerning pre-war intelligence estimates of post war Iraq. One of that volume’s conclusions was that, prior to the war, the intelligence community did know that Iraq was deeply divided, and that if Saddam were overthrown, the various factions would engage in violent conflict unless the occupying force took substantial steps to stop it. This is significant, because senior Administration officials were claiming just the opposite, in order to make the war more palatable to the American public ( see “They will welcome us as liberators” in People, Places, and Things, index or sequence, depending where you are in the novel.)

In June 2008, another volume was released concerning whether pre-war statements by administration officials were supported by intelligence reports (which the committee had concluded, in Phase I, were themselves skewed). The report concluded that Administration officials presented intelligence as established fact, when it was actually unsubstantiated, non-existent, or even contradicted by other intelligence data. In a press release about the final volume’s publication, Senator Rockefeller, Chairman of the Select Committee, said that the Bush Administration had long been fixated on Iraq, especially after the 9/11 attacks, and “led the nation into war under false pretenses … … there is a fundamental difference between relying on incorrect intelligence and deliberately painting a picture to the american people that you know is not fully accurate.”

To this day, pro war advocates (Senator John McCain comes readily to mind) insist that the Bush Administration acted in good faith, pointing to the fact that the British interpreted the raw intelligence data just as the administration did. However, the Butler Review, an investigative body set up by the British in February of 2004, found that the intelligence relied on to justify Britain’s entry into the war was unreliable and, more importantly, wrongly assessed and evaluated, the same criticisms the Senate Select Committee leveled against the United States. The Review also concluded that Prime Minister Tony Blair’s policy towards Iraq changed because of the 9/11 attacks, rather than because of intelligence concerning Saddam’s acquisition of WMDs. Like Phase I of the Senate Select Committee’s Report, The Butler Review avoided the question of the role pro war politicians might have played in skewing the analysis of the faulty intelligence. The Liberal Democratic and Conservative Parties so disagreed with this restriction that they declined to participate in the investigation. In 2009, one of the members of the Butler Review, Sir John Chilcot, was chosen as chairman of a much broader investigation into Britain’s role in the Iraq War, including pre-war events and conditions that led to Britain’s involvement. This became known as the Iraq Inquiry or the Chilcot Inquiry. The inquiry held open and closed hearings for more than two years. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair was called to testify, and it was reported that he’d conceded that there had been no growing threat from Saddam in the months leading up to the invasion, though he’d told the House of Commons, before the invasion, that there was such a threat. The Chilcot Inquiry’s protocol included a procedure known as “Maxwellisation,” in which individuals criticized in the report are notified prior to the report’s release, so they can prepare responses to the criticism. As of this writing, the report of the Chilcot Inquiry has not been released. British columnist Simon Walters, writing in the Daily Mail, interpreted the long delay in releasing the report as indicating that Tony Blair will be criticized for false claims about Saddam’s WMDs, and for agreeing to enter the war because of his political alliance with President George W Bush, rather than any threat Saddam posed with WMDs (which Blair admitted was non-existent.)

The deconstruction of the Iraq War Myth began almost as soon as the Myth was being propagated. The evidence for the deconstruction was documentary, recent, and therefore well-preserved. By contrast, the deconstruction of the Trojan War Myth began more than 3,000 years after the alleged fact. It had to rely on analyses of the ancillary myths, geography, and a certain amount of inductive reasoning. The parallels, however, are striking.

Both myths concern a coalition of western powers invading asian civilizations in the same part of the world (Iraq is on the southern border of Turkey, ancient Anatolia, with Troy in its northwest corner).

In both cases, the invading western coalition was far more powerful than the invaded asian civilization, but both invasions bogged down, and both wars dragged on interminably.

The ostensible justifications for both invasions (their respective myths) were heroic and self-serving, but unable to withstand analysis. The ancient and modern myths each disguised that their respective wars were fought for the same reasons all wars are fought: scarce resources, diplomatic and foreign policy failures, delusions of grandeur in the minds of leaders.

How ideas become myths is briefly (and cynically) addressed in the shadow of Xeno’s eye.  I plan to explore it further in this blog.

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