In the period leading up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Bush administration and its media accomplices waged a relentless propaganda campaign to win political support for what turned out to be one of the most disastrous foreign policy mistakes in American history.
Nearly two decades later, with perhaps a million dead Iraqis and thousands of dead American soldiers, we are still paying for that mistake.
Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, were key players behind the propaganda—which we can define as purposeful use of information and misinformation to manipulate public opinion in favor of state action. Iraq and its president Saddam Hussein were the ostensible focus, but their greater goal was to make the case for a broader and open-ended “War on Terror.”
So they created a narrative using a mélange of half-truths, faintly plausible fabrications, and outright lies:
Iraq and the nefarious Saddam Hussein were “behind,” i.e., backing, the Saudi terrorists responsible for 9-11 attacks on the US;
Hussein and his government were stockpiling yellowcake uranium in an effort to develop nuclear capability;
Hussein was connected with al-Qaeda
Iran was lurking in the background as a state sponsor of terrorism, coordinating and facilitating attacks against the US in coordination with Hamas;
Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and other terror groups were working against the US across the Middle East in some kind of murky but coordinated effort;
We have to “fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here”;
The Iraqis would welcome our troops as liberators.
And so forth.
But the propaganda “worked” in the most meaningful sense: Congress voted nearly 3–1 in favor of military action against Iraq, and Gallup showed 72 percent of Americans supporting the invasion as it commenced in 2003. Media outlets across the spectrum such as the Washington Post cheered the war. National Review dutifully did its part,