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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

11 Years Ago: Baghdad Fell, War 'Ended'

On this day in 2003, April 9,  U.S. forces took central  Baghdad and millions watched on TV as locals toppled a giant statue of Saddam Hussein (it was only later revealed that U.S. marines played a large role).   I remember it well.  I was in New Orleans for a newspaper convention as editor of E&P and sat in a ballroom awaiting the arrival of Dick Cheney. 

Cheney told us that day that critics of our conduct of the war were merely ''retired military officers embedded in T.V. studios."   Media commentators suffered from premature ejaculations.  Chris Matthews on MSNBC gushed, “We’re all neo-cons now.”  Joe Scarborough, also on MSNBC, declared: “I’m waiting to hear the words ‘I was wrong’ from some of the world’s most elite journalists, politicians and Hollywood types.”

Fred Barnes at Fox News said: "The war was the hard part. The hard part was putting together a coalition, getting 300,000 troops over there and all their equipment and winning. And it gets easier. I mean, setting up a democracy is hard, but it is not as hard as winning a war."  Dick Morris at Fox News:   "Over the next couple of weeks when we find the chemical weapons this guy was amassing, the fact that this war was attacked by the left and so the right was so vindicated, I think, really means that the left is going to have to hang its head for three or four more years."

Extensive looting soon began in Baghdad and many other large cities, with prizes ranging from household items to deadly weapons and bomb-making equipment.   Donald Rumsfeld explained, “Stuff happens….Freedom’s untidy.”   Mobs were greeting Americans as something less than liberators.  With combat over about two-thirds of the embeds quickly exited. But Judith Miller had arrived to claim that  WMDs were in Iraq on the eve of war – but then buried, somewhere.

On April 18, tens of thousands of Iraqis demonstrated against a U.S. occupation in Baghdad.   Jay Garner arrived to serve as postwar administrator.  USAID Administrator Andrew Nastios told Ted Koppel that rebuilding Iraq could be accomplished with just  $1.7 billion.  In late April, in separate incidents in Baghdad and Fallujah, U.S. troops fired on demonstrators, killing more than dozen and inspiring grenade attacks on Americans.  Thomas Friedman wrote in The New York Times, “As far as I’m concerned, we do not need to find any weapons of mass destruction to justify this war….Mr. Bush doesn’t owe the world any explanation for missing chemical weapons.” David Ignatius of The Washington Post wrote a column along the same lines.  Richard Perle on May 1 advised in a triumphal USA Today op-ed, “Relax, Celebrate Victory.”

The same day, President Bush, dressed in flight suit, landed on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln and declared an end to major military operations in  Iraq – with the now notorious “Mission Accomplished” arrayed behind him in the war’s greatest photo op.  Chris Matthews called Bush a “hero” and PBS’s Gwen Ifill said he was “part Tom Cruise, part Ronald Reagan.”  Much more in my book on Iraq and the media, So Wrong for So Long.

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