Hubris: Selling the Iraq War + Hubris Isn’t the Half of It by David Swanson

Dandelion Salad

Updated: Feb. 20, 2013

Grady Carter·Feb 18, 2013

As seen on MSNBC, Hosted by Rachel Maddow, based on the book Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, by David Corn and Michael Isikoff.……

We must not allow the perpetrators of the Iraq War to rewrite history. Their actions and the consequences of their actions must be remembered in infamy. We must not forget the sacrifice of our soldiers, and the lives of over one hundred thousand innocent civilians.

The same insidious corporatist forces in the private sector, and within the Congress and the Senate, now have found the nerve to blame our current President for the 3 Trillion in war profiteering they kept off the books when they were in charge. They defend the Pentagon’s budget with the Flag and the Bible, and insist that Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, Food Stamps, and other social programs for the poor must be cut. They say if the Pentagon’s budget must be cut it will have to be from our soldiers’ benefits. […]


Hubris Isn’t the Half of It

by David Swanson
Writer, Dandelion Salad
18 February 2013

As our government was making a fraudulent case to attack Iraq in 2002-2003, the MSNBC television network was doing everything it could to help, including booting Phil Donahue and Jeff Cohen off the air. The Donahue Show was deemed likely to be insufficiently war-boosting and was thus removed 10 years ago next week, and 10 days after the largest antiwar (or anything else) demonstrations in the history of the world, as a preemptive strike against the voices of honest peaceful people.

From there, MSNBC proceeded to support the war with mild critiques around the edges, and to white-out the idea of impeachment or accountability.

But now MSNBC has seen its way clear to airing a documentary about the fraudulent case it assisted in, a documentary titled Hubris. This short film (which aired between 9 and 10 p.m. ET Monday night, but with roughly half of those minutes occupied by commercials) pointed out the role of the New York Times in defrauding the public, but not MSNBC’s role.

Yet, my primary response to that is joy rather than disgust. It is now cool to acknowledge war lies. Truth-tellers, including truth-tellers rarely presented with a corporate microphone, made that happen.

MSNBC host and Obama promoter Rachel Maddow even introduced Hubris by pointing to another war lie — the Gulf of Tonkin incident that wasn’t — and a war lie by a Democrat in that case. Similar lies can be found surrounding every war that has ever been, which is why I wrote War Is A Lie. We have to stop imagining that “bad wars” are a subset of wars.

But, of course, using Maddow as the presenter and narrator of a film about Republican war lies during a period of unacknowledged Democratic war lies unavoidably gives the thing a partisan slant. Watching Hubris, I was reminded of something that Michael Moore tweeted last Friday: “Senate Repubs: U started 2 illegal wars that broke the treasury & sacrificed the lives of thousands of our troops & countless civilians.”

Of course, the Senate that gave us the two wars in question was in reality controlled by Democrats, and the war lies were pushed hard by Senators Kerry, Clinton, and their comrades. Hubris touches on this reality but not with sufficient clarity for most viewers — I suspect — to pick up on it.

The film presents a great deal of good evidence that the war on Iraq was based on lies. Unavoidably, endless terrific bits of such evidence were not included. Less excusably, also left out was an analysis of the evidence that only dishonesty — not incompetence — explains the propaganda that was produced.

Hubris is the wrong word for what took the United States into war with Iraq. The forces at work were greed, lust for power, and sadistic vengeance. The word “hubris” suggests the tragic downfall of the guilty party. But the war on Iraq did not destroy the United States; it destroyed Iraq. It damaged the United States, to be sure, but in a manner hardly worthy of mention in comparison to the sociocide committed against Iraq.

Hubris, the film, provides a reprehensibly ludicrous underestimation of Iraqi deaths, and only after listing U.S. casualties.

It was not pride but a disregard for human life that generated mass murder. Congressman Walter Jones, who voted for the war, is shown in Hubris saying that he would have voted No if he had bothered to read the National Intelligence Estimate that very few of his colleagues bothered to read.

Another talking head in the film is Lawrence Wilkerson. He is, of course, the former chief of staff of former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson is shown explaining that the reason not to attack Iraq was that doing so would take a focus away from attacking Afghanistan. Clearly this was not a reason that led to Wilkerson or Powell taking any kind of stand.

Wilkerson says in this film that he and Powell knew the war was based on lies, that the claims were junk, that no WMDs were likely to be found, etc. Yet, when confronted last week by Norman Solomon on Democracy Now! with the question of why he hadn’t resigned in protest, Wilkerson claimed that at the time he’d had no idea whatsoever that there were good arguments against the war. In fact, he blamed opponents of the war for not having contacted him to educate him on the matter.

The Hubris version of Colin Powell’s lies at the United Nations is misleadingly undertold. Powell was not a victim. He “knowingly lied.”

The same goes for Bush, Cheney, and gang. According to Hubris it may have just been incompetence or hubris. It wasn’t. Not only does overwhelming evidence show us that Bush knew his claims about WMDs to be false, but the former president has shown us that he considers the question of truth or falsehood to be laughably irrelevant. When Diane Sawyer asked Bush why he had claimed with such certainty that there were so many weapons in Iraq, he replied: “What’s the difference? The possibility that [Saddam] could acquire weapons, If he were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger.”

What’s the difference? In a society based on the rule of law, the difference would be a criminal prosecution. MSNBC and Hubris steer us away from any ideas of accountability. And no connection is drawn to current war lies about Iran or other nations.

But the production of programs like this one that prolong Americans’ awareness of the lies that destroyed Iraq are the best hope Iran has right now. MSNBC should be contacted and applauded for airing this and urged to follow up on it.



Lawrence Wilkerson and David Swanson Debate Colin Powell’s Lies at the United Nations

by David Swanson
Writer, Dandelion Salad
20 February 2013

When I wrote about MSNBC’s documentary on Iraq war lies this week, I linked to an earlier blog post of mine that drew heavily on a House Judiciary Committee report on the same topic, as well as to Lawrence Wilkerson’s recent debate with Norman Solomon on Democracy Now!

When Brad Friedman reposted my Hubris review, he suggested I ask Wilkerson for a response. I did and here it is:


Several misleading and even spurious bullets and headlines that make strong claims that are not supported in the surrounding narrative. For example, no one ever DID warn Powell about Curveball, in fact quite the opposite. This particular source–billed as an Iraqi engineer who had defected–was George Tenet’s–the DCI’s–strongest weapon. And incidentally, the title “Curveball” was never heard until well after the 5 Feb presentation.

Your use of INR’s assessment of “weak” repeatedly, is weak itself. INR was at the time one of 15 intelligence entities in the US intelligence architecture at the federal level. (Add Israel France, the UK, Jordan, Germany, et al, and of course you get even more). INR’s assessments were often viewed–indeed still are–as maverick within that group (and were particularly so viewed by George Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin. Indeed, INR’s insistence on putting a footnote in the October 2002 NIE with regard to its doubts about Saddam’s having an active nuclear weapons program was only grudgingly acknowledged and allowed by Tenet. And in truth, INR itself concurred in the overall NIE’s finding that chems and bios existed (and the NIE was the root document of Powell’s 5 Feb presentation).

I have admitted what a hoax we perpetrated. But it actually spoils or desecrates a fair condemnation of what is already a bad enough set of misstatements, very poor intelligence analysis, and–I am increasingly convinced, outright lies–to take the matter to absurdity with one man, in this case Powell.

To see my point dramatically, one must realize that whether Powell had given his presentation or not, the President would have gone to war with Iraq. That doesn’t relieve Powell or me or any of us who participated in preparing Powell of responsibility; it simply places the bulk of that responsibility squarely where it should rest.

You, Ray McGovern, and I will never reach accord on this I’m certain; but I must say that just as I may have biases from my long association with Powell, I believe both of you should examine your biases with regard to the man. Just as it was very difficult for me to face the fact I had participated in a hoax, it probably is just as difficult that you two admit you may be too aggressively critical of Powell. Both our conditions are recognizably human and yours more forgiveable than mine to be sure. lw

Here’s my reply:

Thanks for this response.
I’m CCing Brad Blog which posted my commentary and might want to post your reply.
Here’s my reply to your reply (also available to publish) :-)Whether or not anyone told Powell of Curveball’s reputation, Powell’s own staff, the INR, told him the claims were weak, the claims that came from Curveball and from numerous other sources. The INR told him the claims were weak and questionable and even implausible.

Powell used fabricated dialogue. He used evidence from a source who had admitted all the weapons had been destroyed years ago, but failed to mention that bit. Again, here is the catalog of bogus claims:

You yourself in Hubris state that claims you’d rejected were put back in. That is a moment to resign in protest, not to move forward and dismiss the INR, the State Department’s own experts, as “maverick.”

When the Pentagon and the White House build a transparently fraudulent case for war, rejected by countless experts, many nations, and much of the public, the State Department’s job is to support fact-based analysis regardless of whether it is “maverick.”

You recently accused Norman Solomon on DemocracyNow! and all other truth tellers of that time of having failed to warn you — as if we weren’t shouting into every available microphone. If word had slipped through to you, it seems you would have rejected it as “maverick.”

This is highly discouraging. If analysis within our government consciously engages in groupthink, where will we find the whistleblowers necessary to prevent the next war?

Please do not imagine that any of us suppose the President wasn’t intent on going to war at all costs. It was the transparency of that intention that created the largest public protest in world history. But to suggest that Powell and you did no harm by supporting a war that might have gone ahead even if you’d resisted is a complete breakdown in morality.

I don’t believe blame works that way. Blaming Bush more doesn’t blame Powell or you less. It just blames Bush more. Blame is not a finite quantity born of a drive for vengeance and distributable to a limited number of people. Blame is what we each deserve when we fail to take the best actions available, as explained here.


Iraq: A Twenty-Two Year Genocide by Felicity Arbuthnot

from the archives:

Five Invasion Plots, Three Continents, Identical Lies by Felicity Arbuthnot

Iraq: Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics by Felicity Arbuthnot

The Madeleine Albright Commemoration: Iraq Genocide Memorial Day by Felicity Arbuthnot

Iraq: Twenty One Years of Crimes Against Humanity by Felicity Arbuthnot

21 thoughts on “Hubris: Selling the Iraq War + Hubris Isn’t the Half of It by David Swanson

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  9. So, I probably misunderstood the documentary at Colin Powell’s section of it. But it seemed to be that he was deceived into lying. Wouldn’t that put him on the same boat as the rest of us?

    • You were deceived, you really believed Bush et al? I don’t think so. Neither was Powell. I think he just thought that it would all be “lost in the freedom jam” that would follow….

  10. 🙂 The PNAC said bluntly enough what they were up to on their website. Tom Engelhardt went through chapter and verse of the plan to decapitate governments in the energy sector of the middle east and Africa at Tom Dispatch. Leading to War website / movie laid out the trail of lies. Antiwar ( After Downing Street ) worked tirelessly to educate people to lies. CASMII warns of the similarities to today’s noises about Iran – though the attack on North Korea has never stopped since the 1950’s.The Paneliast laid out part of the situation as an example in its video ‘The Real Winner in Iraq was Monsanto’. It was always about the oil. Here’s Rumsfeld’s note about selling the war: And Wikipedia strikes again on the reason for the outing of Valerie Plame/Wilson and destruction of CIA front company Brewster Jennings

  11. For those following this blog post, I’ve updated it with a new article by Swanson, “Lawrence Wilkerson and David Swanson Debate Colin Powell’s Lies at the United Nations”.

    • Thank you Lo.

      This issue is acutely relevant to all concerned citizens ~ either of the US or the world at large, when so much hinges on what we really mean by “patriotism.” As Samuel Johnson was famously reported by Boswell to have said in 1775, especially when it is reduced to the “last refuge of a scoundrel.”

      Venal lies are just lies, the only exception is when an elected official as a genuine representative of their legitimate constituency, prevents atrocity or tragic miscarriage by deceptively outwitting an enemy of the state. It appears that Powell was knowingly, as they say, “economical with the truth.” The abuse of the privileged exemption that power bestows, is indeed a high crime and misdemeanor.

      Plato’s noble lie was never intended to serve such base and disreputable purposes. A dishonorable man or woman, a self-serving cheat or secret lackey of covert interests can never be considered noble. When base men (and women) are permitted to rule, disaster cannot be far off.

      What we need more than anything is radical disclosure from top insiders, to expose the hidden chain of authority that dictates the real terms of this foul pact with greed and deception for limitless private gain.

      As in any tyranny, the sooner educated conscience ensures intelligent defection from the ranks of a corrupt regime, the sooner it ceases to exercise the spell of power that sustains it. Our job is to educate and encourage such right action, not to reward it but to acknowledge the courage it takes.

  12. I must concur with that.

    It ought to be called “hierarchy” not “hubris.” I suppose I’ll have to endure the whole sack of tricks, just to detect the spin of omission behind it all; but frankly I’ve no appetite to further “amuse myself to death” with this grotesque narrative.

    I think Canadian Prof. Emeritus of moral philosophy John McMurtry gets it right in his Global Research essay on the “Moral Decoding of 9/11..” where he elaborates the Straussian (Rockefeller et al.) capital prerogative of full spectrum imposition:

    […] “Money-Capital Power UeberAlles: How Economic Rationality Leads the Plan

    The U.S. culture of money-sequence “rationality” is the underlying intellectual and moral disorder which leads to “limitless money capital accumulation” as the supreme moral goal. In formal terms, the equation of rationality to atomic self-maximization is assumed a-priori across domains. With globalizing Wall-Street-led “financialization”, this “rationality” becomes equated to private money-sequence multiplication across all borders as the ultimate Good. This is the innermost mutation of value logic and goal, the moral DNA, from which the cancerous world system develops on both sides of 9-11.[xxiv]

    This first principle itself is,in fact,built into formal economics, decision and game theory, and strategic science, as I explain step by step in “Behind Global System Collapse: The Life-Blind Structure of Economic Rationality.”[xxv] It is axiomatic but unexamined, life-blindly absolutist but not recognised as morally problematic. To make a long story short, competitive self-maximization in the market is assumed to produce “the best of possible worlds” by mathematical proof. “Pareto efficiency” is believed to demonstrate this by private money exchanges between self-maximizing atoms a-priori stripped of all life properties, relations, society, conditions of choice, and all natural and civil life support systems. Pareto himself recognised outside this formula what has since been covered up.

    Not only is the formula consistent with most having remaining impoverished by the “optimum” of “no-one worse off”, what none who cite “Pareto efficiency” as a standard academic mantra ever acknowledge or even recognise. Pareto himself is in no doubt of the implication. As the fascist party he belongs to rules Italy and Rockefeller creates the Council of Foreign Relations, he asserts with approval: “Very moral civilized people have destroyed and continue to destroy, without the least scruple, savage or barbarian peoples”.[xxvi]We glimpse here at the roots the supreme morality built into “economic science” itself.

    Yet, as demonstrated in “Behind Global System Collapse”, even the most liberal canons of America, including John Rawls’ classic A Theory of Justice, are grounded in the same meta principle.[xxvii] Rationality and value are equated to self-maximizing gain with no limit within game-theoretic interactions as the sole limiting framework of “limitless money capital acquisition”. The generic equation defines, indeed, the dominant intellectual and economic mind-set of America and the global system in action since 1980. The cabal internal to U.S. national security strategic planning follows the moral logic to its most radical conclusions with no constraints by life or law.

    The one absolute moral meaning is the spread of U.S. economic, military and political power as good for all, or, more exactly in Straussian language, limitless private transnational money-capital expansion as the highest right and moral duty. Only what is consistent with or serves this supreme morality, it follows, deserves to exist. This is the alpha and omega of the covert doctrine and state, and careful reading can find no disconfirmation beneath the rhetoric of “noble lies”.” […]


      • Hi kdelphi: thanks for your comment.

        Lo was generous enough to post this whole section of John McMurtry’s column that I thought was worthy of attention, and I grant you it is a bit short on punctuation and pretty long on syntax, but the essence of his argument I think comes through ~ endless, perpetual self-maximising gain as a moral duty (!) is the core rationale of the current (inverted) totalitarian dominance of the fascist elite.

        If it wasn’t such an obvious fact of corporate tyranny, it would be hard to credit such an insane notion with plausibility, but these nut-cases who run the game actually live by this credo…at everyone else’s expense and to our dire cost, and at the imminent risk of the enduring well-being of this precious Earth of ours.

  13. I could not agree more, as to “hubris” being the wrong word. I tried to watch some of it, but, that “scary music” in the background and Rachel’s “I am so serious” fake alto voice made me too nauseated. (But I can’t stand to watch any cabal news anymore)
    But, why in the world “applaud” MSNBC for such a half assed job?? Rachel was bad enough when she “embedded herself” with troops and wrote a book hailing the military. I feel horrible for the troops and vets, but, come on, she cheers on wars like she ought to be fightin’ ’em (maybe she should be! relieve someone of their 7th tour of duty , Rachel, show us you really care…) And David Corn?? Puhleeze, the guy that turned MoJo mag. into a Dem Party rag? I cancelled my subscription.

    Let’s pray for a doc called “How both parties lied like hell and millions died”…yeah, that’s about right 😉

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