Symposium: Aside from Bush & Cheney who is at fault for the Iraq War?

| Mar 20, 2023

We asked a range of historians, journalists and authors — who was the most underrated player in this debacle and why?

By Assal Rad, Nonresident Fellow

This contribution appeared in the March 20, 2023, edition of Responsible Statecraft’s symposium marking the 20th anniversary of the Iraq War.

Two decades later, many have come to admit that the Iraq war was a major U.S. foreign policy disaster. However, there was a chorus of voices before the invasion — from experts to activists—who understood that the Bush administration’s  narrative did not match the reality on the ground.

While President Bush’s legacy has been defined by this disastrous war — which caused large-scale death and destruction, gave rise to groups like ISIS, and has left Iraq an unstable state to this day — there are many architects and enablers that made the war possible.

The role of the U.S. mainstream media in selling the war to the American public cannot be understated. Rather than challenging the narrative of the state, calling for evidence, or even humanizing the would-be victims of the war, the Iraqi people, reporters such as Thomas Friedman with significant platforms like The New York Times most often parroted the talking points of U.S. officials. There was little critical journalism to question the existence of WMDs and little reflection on important issues, such as the U.S. role in supporting Saddam Hussein in the 1980s against Iran, international law, or the humanity of Iraqis.

Perhaps the most telling instance of the media’s acquiescence was a year after the Iraq invasion, when President Bush’s joke at the White House Correspondents’ dinner about finding no weapons of mass destruction was met with uproarious laughter from an audience of journalists. 

Read more of Assal’s contribution in Responsible Statecraft.

Written by Assal Rad

Assal is a nonresident fellow with the Independent America project at the Institute for Global Affairs.

This post is part of Independent America, a research project led out by IGA senior fellow Mark Hannah, which seeks to explore how US foreign policy could better be tailored to new global realities and to the preferences of American voters.

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