Joe Wilson: Bush waged war under “false pretenses.” He investigated, there was no yellowcake uranium. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

AWE, SHOCKS: If curiosity killed the cat, how is it we now have a feline overpopulation problem so great that 63 species of birds have disappeared off the face of the earth? Could it be that cats, in reality, are even less curious than their Homo sapiens owners? 

Giving rise to this question was the 20th anniversary of the United State’s invasion of Iraq, which we observed this Tuesday with a flurry of newspaper articles, and immediately lost in the cyclone bomb of what passes for news. Twenty years later, we still have no idea why we really invaded Iraq. Twenty years later, we’re not even curious.

Almost immediately after we launched the invasion, we learned that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein really wasn’t stockpiling weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) as members of the Bush Administration repeatedly warned us they were. Even they never believed Hussein was close to building a nuclear bomb, no matter how many times they told reporters, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” Admittedly, it was a great line — conjured, by the way, by the same insidious group of White House factotums who would explain why they didn’t start selling the war effort in earnest until September 2002: Nobody ever unveiled “a new product in August,” they told us. You always waited until after Labor Day.

Lois Capps stuck her neck out and voted against a majority of her colleagues who gave Bush a blank check to wage war in Iraq | Credit: Courtesy

Clearly, they were right. In the second week of October that year, Congress voted — by more than a two-to-one majority — to give President George W. Bush the ability to wage war against Iraq whenever he deemed it appropriate. The Twin Towers were still a smoldering mountain of rubble. On January 23, 2003, Bush told the nation that Hussein had tried to buy weapons-grade uranium from the African nation of Niger. That was false and he knew it. On March 20, he launched Shock and Awe. 

We’ve been paying the price ever since. 

Here’s some of what’s on that tab. In Iraq alone, 4,550 U.S. military personnel lost their lives. Another 4,000 American military contractors — mercenaries — did too. Of the 1.5 million who were stationed in Iraq, 30,000 sustained serious wounds. Another 30,000 would kill themselves afterward. At one point, we were clocking 17 suicides by veterans each day. 

The word “trauma” gets bandied about a lot. This is why. 

These casualties had families. Sons and daughters. Loved ones. The second-hand smoke is still with us; we’re choking on it today. Sometimes, pulling up one’s socks is not an option. And none of this counts the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis and the millions more who have been permanently displaced — and traumatized. 

“At one point, we were clocking 17 suicides by veterans each day.”

Depending on how you count, we’ve either spent or committed to spend $3 trillion for the combined wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We attacked Afghanistan to wipe out the Al Qaeda camps that trained the 9/11 terrorists, and the Taliban while we were at it. However futile that effort proved to be, it at least made sense. 

But Iraq? 

Was it weapons of mass destruction? Oil? To flex our muscles in a world where we were briefly the only superpower? To build another regional Air Force base if Saudi Arabia imploded? Or because George W. Bush had unresolved daddy issues? More recently, I have been notified that there was an important portal for UFOs over Iraq, and that Saddam Hussein was in possession of powerful artifacts. As crazy as that sounds, it makes as much sense as any other explanation. But the fact this theory never made it as an episode of The X-Files — created by Montecito resident Chris Carter — makes me suspect there’s nothing to it.

Don’t ask. No one would tell you anyway. 

It’s worth noting that our congressmember at the time, Lois Capps, got it right. She resolutely refused to sign the war authorization act — even though the vast majority of her Democratic colleagues did. Capps pretty much predicted everything that then happened: the sectarian fragmentation of Iraq, the destabilization of the region, the cost to the treasury, the cost in human life, the cost in failed nation building, and the massive loss of trust suffered by the United States, both internally and internationally.

No, Capps did not predict Donald Trump, but with the traditional country-club wing of the Republican Party in disgrace, the door opened for what’s become the GOP’s whack-job insurgency. 

Thank you, Lois.

The Independent, it turns out, got it right too. Unlike the New York Times — lick-spittle lackey for the war effort that it was — we ran a full-page editorial against the war authorization act, arguing that the evidence of WMDs was unfounded. No doubt, Bush missed it. We hadn’t gone online just yet.

Truth not spoken here: Condoleezza Rice, George Bush, and Dick Cheney relentlessly misled the nation about the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction which they knew didn’t exist. | Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Department of State, Eric Draper/White House, Wikimedia Commons

The Santa Barbara City Council got it right, too, voting narrowly in favor of a resolution opposing any
unilateral and preemptive military action by the United States. One councilmember who disagreed
got up and walked out of the room, voting with his feet. Another insisted the council should confine
its foreign policy pronouncements to potholes, barking dogs, and cats in trees. Then councilmember
Gregg Hart — now our assemblymember in Sacramento — also voted against the resolution, arguing the
situation was too fluid and suggesting historic parallels between Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler
between the First and Second World Wars. Times change, and people do too. Hart was very much in
his neo-con incarnation back then. Councilmember Babatunde Folayemi — the first and only Black
person to serve on the council — led the charge for the resolution. “One of the things that continues
to blow my mind,” Folayemi said, “is that we continue to talk about the threat of weapons of mass
destruction when we’re the only people to ever use them.”

Bottom line: All politics is local even when — and perhaps especially when — matters of war and peace
are at stake. I haven’t been able to track down how many people from Santa Barbara served in
Iraq — or how many were injured or killed there. But we do know that 4,326 veterans now living in
Santa Barbara County served in Iraq. In the tri-county area, the number is almost 14,000.

Joseph Wilson — a UCSB graduate — risked a stellar diplomatic career by contradicting claims Bush made in his 2003 State of the Union address: that Hussein was trying to buy weapons-grade uranium from an unnamed African nation. Wilson had been dispatched by the CIA at the instigation of the Vice President’s office to investigate those very concerns a year before Bush made them. After spending eight days investigating such claims in Niger — where he had served diplomatically — Wilson concluded there was no evidence to substantiate the concern. Upon returning to the United States, he reported his findings up the food chain. When Bush cited British intelligence sources in his speech in order to say otherwise, Wilson wrote an op-ed in the New York Times accusing the president of taking the country to war “under false pretenses.” For his efforts, Wilson — who had received medals of commendation from Bush’s father for personally standing up to Hussein during the 1990 Iraq-Kuwaiti war — was smeared, and his wife, an undercover CIA operative, was outed by stooges working for Vice President Dick Cheney.

At the time of his op-ed, Wilson noted that 200 American soldiers had lost their lives. “We have a duty to ensure that their sacrifice came for the right reasons,” he wrote. Later, in an interview I had with Wilson at a Goleta sushi bar in 2019, he was considerably more blunt. “I am not opposed to war per se,” he stated. “I am opposed to stupid wars. I am opposed to illegal wars. This was a preemptive war, which was and still is a violation of international law. This was a war waged on false pretenses, using manufactured intelligence. How many hundreds of thousands of people died because of it?”

Thank you, Joe.

Maybe it wasn’t curiosity that killed that cat. Maybe it was something else. No wonder no one bothers to ask. 


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