War myths block the path to an honest assessment

“The first casualty when war comes is truth.” These words were famously coined by Hiram Johnson, a progressive Republican, more than 80 years ago. They have since been restated as “the first casualty of war is truth” and used by Democrats, Socialists and all others who oppose combat. The distortion, although a minor one, only goes to prove Johnson’s point. When at war, adherence to objective factuality goes right out the proverbial window.

To attempt to make a case for or against the war in Iraq at this point would be futile. Not only are most peoples’ minds made up, but as the war is on its downswing, declarations of support or opposition would likely seem too much like Monday morning quarterbacking.

The recent Iraqi elections, however, ensure that it will remain a contentious issue for some time to come. Defenders of the war view the election as the triumph of democracy and a crowning achievement of American effort, while detractors see it as a prelude to the rise of radical Islamism in an already fractured country.

Either way, the carousel of lies and hyperbole readies itself to spin around again.

The myths of the anti-war lobby are easier to pick apart, as they are more facially void than those of the pro-war brigade.

Let’s start by asking a few questions of the peaceniks and protestors. If this is a war for oil, why are gas prices so high? If the United States acted “unilaterally,” why did more than 30 nations join them in sending troops? If this is a war against Islam, why do we have Islamic allies and why did we appoint and Islamic interim prime minister?

Of course, not all anti-war rhetoric is as pathetically easy to dismiss. One of the more incisive points made by the anti-war crowd is that the Bush administration has acted inconsistently in invading Iraq to assuage concerns about brutal dictators and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) while failing to invade North Korea or Uzbekistan for similar reasons.

Indeed, this brings to light a problematic application of the Bush Doctrine, but it is not a case against war in and of itself. Saddam Hussein was still a tyrant, even if he wasn’t the only tyrant.

Many of these points have been posited by the pro-war crowd in a snickering, self-righteous fashion that overlooks the fact that war supporters have been no more truthful or forthright in their conduct.

I shall overlook the obvious – nonexistent WMD and phony al-Qaeda connections – in favor of some of the more subversive deceptions.

First and foremost, the pro-war crowd would have us believe that all of its mistakes were honest ones and that the faulty intelligence the Bush administration relied on was the same faulty intelligence everyone else relied on.

This is an overly naive assumption in that it ignores the fact that Bush had regular access to former CIA director George Tenet and the National Security Council whereas those who weren’t in the upper echelons of government did not.

In lieu of insider information, members of Congress were given the National Intelligence Estimate, a lengthy, confusing and often contradictory report.

To pretend that they were every bit as informed as the president is disingenuous at best.

Next, war supporters have attempted to discredit their opponents by claiming that the war has been opposed for entirely political motives. While it is easy to think of a partisan hack like Ted Kennedy criticizing the war to score points, the fact remains that this is not a left-right issue.

Prominent war supporters include Democratic presidential nominees Dick Gephardt and Joseph Lieberman and prominent leftist pundit Christopher Hitchens.

The war’s opponents include Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), archconservative commentator Pat Buchanan and neoconservative political economist Francis Fukuyama. Other Republicans, such as Sens. McCain, Hagel and Lugar and former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, have been highly critical of the war effort to date.

Finally, the pro-war lobby has been deceptive in its portrayal of the war in Iraq as a boon to the war on terror. CIA director Porter Goss recently admitted the Iraq conflict, “has become a cause for extremists. … Those jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced and focused on acts of urban terrorism.” Of course, when war opponents made the same points months ago, they were denounced as appeasers.

The sad truth in all of this is the extent to which each side demands accountability from the other while refusing to admit its own culpability in spreading lies and propaganda.

For me, this war has been horribly bungled – perhaps unforgivably so – by the Bush administration, but it is still justified by whatever good (a quasi-Democratic, Saddam-free Iraq) can come out of it. I hold no delusions about it being a matter of ultimate good or ultimate evil. The sooner the myths of war are abandoned in favor of truths, the sooner we will be able to gauge our success or failure.