President Obama shocked many listeners last week in his Fort Bragg speech on the Iraq war, when he invoked 9/11, essentially echoing one of George Bush's favorite excuses to justify the war. Obama said there was an "unbroken line of heroes" from the American colonists who "overthrew an empire" to the American soldiers "who fought for the same principles in Fallujah (Iraq) and Kandahar (Afghanistan), and delivered justice to those who attacked us on 9/11."
The war in Iraq delivered justice to those who attacked us on 9/11?
This was not just a one-time lapse of speech by the administration. Last summer, Obama's Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, similarly told U.S. troops in Iraq: "The reason you guys are here is because on 9/11 the United States got attacked."
This excuse for the Iraq war, as an allegedly just response to those who attacked us on 9/11, was long ago discredited, as President Obama well knows. In the fall of 2003, even President Bush quietly acknowledged that he had seen no evidence that Iraq's Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks, as the New York Times reported that September.
Similarly, the 9/11 Commission concluded the next year that there is "no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qaida cooperated on attacks against the United States." As for any al-Qaida terrorist presence in Iraq, that apparently came after the U.S. invasion and the power vacuum it caused, not before.
President Obama clearly knows these facts. During his 2008 campaign, Obama stated that "the central front in the war on terror is not Iraq, and it never was," provoking Bush's anger at the time. In that same July 2008 campaign speech, Obama made the point that the Iraq war "distracts us from every threat that we face and so many opportunities we could seize. This war diminishes our security, our standing in the world, our military, our economy and the resources that we need to confront the challenges of the 21st century. By any measure, our single-minded and open-ended focus on Iraq is not a sound strategy for keeping America safe."
By perversely connecting the Iraq war to 9/11 in his closing speech on the war, Obama has forgotten his own conclusions about the war, and is dangerously re-writing its lessons for the American people.
Tens of thousands of American and Iraqi lives and one to four trillion wasted American taxpayer dollars later, his original conclusions bear repeating. The Iraq war diminished "our security, our standing in the world, our military, our economy and the resources that we need to confront the challenges of the 21st century."
These are conclusions that the American people should keep firmly in mind as jingoist political forces again use "anti-terrorism" excuses to argue for new and expanded U.S. wars elsewhere in the world.
published 23 December 2011 as an op-ed in the Daily Hampshire Gazette