Born in the U.S.A: Watchdogs, not lapdogs

As I sat in the front seat of my mother’s car on the night of March 19, 2003, I listened intently to the words of President George W. Bush as he announced that American military action had begun in Iraq.

I was a week shy of turning 12 and, as far as politics went, all I knew at that point was that I was a Democrat because my parents were. But I knew that this was something, something big.

As the next day wound down, we watched the bombs fall on Baghdad in my sixth-grade math and science classes.

I remember having a discussion with one other student who told me that the war was a bad idea, and that we shouldn’t be involved. I couldn’t see us in the wrong. Saddam was the guy who helped bin Laden get us on Sept. 11, right?

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a full 10 years since the war in Iraq began. It’s even harder to believe that 10 years ago, this country launched an invasion of a state that had not wronged the U.S. and proved no threat.

In an event without any precedence in American history, the President of the United States directed the American military to remove the leader of another country from power not because that leader proved to be a threat to the U.S., but that, if left unchecked, that leader might one day be a threat to the U.S.

True, the U.S. had, in the context of the Cold War, removed many leaders from power that were not in and of themselves dangers to the U.S.

They were, however, allies of an avowed enemy of the U.S. and provided at least a justification for their removal. Not so with Saddam Hussein, who had since the end of the first Iraq War in 1991 not proved himself a threat to the U.S. or to the nations around him.

Even more bizarre is that the president was allowed to link the tragic events of Sept. 11 to Saddam Hussein and Iraq by the media, who should have known better.

To quote columnist Michael Lind, “The fact that Bush followed the invasion of Afghanistan, which had sheltered al-Qaeda, with the toppling of Saddam Hussein, will puzzle historians for centuries. It is as though, after Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor, FDR had asked Congress to declare war on Argentina.”

The media, supposed to act as the watchdogs, to ask tough questions, to question the tough. Instead put its tail between its legs and ran.

“Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president,” said Chris Matthews on the May 1, 2003 edition of Countdown with Keith Olbermann, commenting on the president’s photo op on the aircraft carrier with the now infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner.

The incestous relationship between Washington and the media that developed in the aftermath of Sept. 11 allowed the Bush administration to claim that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as a pretext for invasion.

We all know the truth now. There were never any weapons of mass destruction. A simple bit of research by the media at that time would have turned all that up.

There was never a good case for going into Iraq guns-blazing, shooting first and asking questions later. The inability of the media to do the research partly lead us into a desert quagmire that ultimately claimed the lives of 4,487 American troops, not to mention hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians.

Fortunately, public outcry led the media to re-examine Bush’s war. As the Bush years waned, the media made up for lost ground. But not nearly enough. It was all too little, too late.

As a columnist, I have the duty to ask tough questions and help express the opinions of those who cannot express themselves.

If I cannot fulfill that duty, if I cannot act as a voice for those with no voice and if I cannot hold accountable those who hold to account all of us, then how can I say that I, as a columnist and as a media figure, am doing my job?

We in the media have a duty to make sure that the public is informed and we have a duty to make sure that we answer all of the questions that need answering.

If the media had done its job, 4,487 American men and women in uniform might still be alive today. We might not ever have been bogged down in Iraq. We might not even be remembering this solemn anniversary 10 years hence.

Column by Devin Griggs, opinion editor. Devin serves as vice president of finances for the Murray State College Democrats.