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March 2003 – Hard to imagine, it was seventeen years ago this March that the United States and a “coalition of the willing” consisting of the U.S., the UK, Australia and Poland invaded Iraq and toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein. Seventeen years later and that region of the Middle East is just as unsettled and volatile as ever – a U.S. presence is still there, though considerably less, and as of this month being asked, if not demanded by the Iraqi government to leave – but now everything is chaotic and seemingly just as unsettled as ever as the focus and the saber rattling fall on Iran. But in 2003 we were hearing of dire consequences from Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis – of “weapons of mass destruction” of vast stockpiles of chemical weapons, poised and ready. How some sort of attack from Baghdad was imminent – that we were being shown surveillance photos of what were purported to be missile launching sites, that there was irrefutable proof the Iraqis had chemical weapons. And that even after months of UN inspections, nothing turned up. We were all assured Saddam was busy shuttling his deadly cargo from site to site, evading discovery and that it was only a matter of time; maybe days or weeks, before Iraq would unleash a doomsday scenario on the rest of the world.
And even though some were skeptical and some lobbied for more time and a diplomatic solution, the wheels of military confrontation were turning and they refused to stop. Seventeen years ago we were told repeatedly that this was a just and necessary war – that this “Coalition of the wiling” would be greeted as liberators and showered with love and flowers from a grateful Iraqi people as we entered victorious into Baghdad. And that, as an added bonus, gas prices would plummet – all would be perfect and the forces of good would once again triumph over the forces of evil. And only later did we realize much that was threatened never really existed, much that was postured was bluff and that the long-term damage and the scars of war linger long after the firefights have stopped.
And seventeen years later we’re faced with another confrontation based on questionable motives. Finger pointing and posturing and a promise of total destruction from both sides. And on and on it goes – further evidence we’ve learned nothing from history and are doomed to repeat it – maybe.
As a reminder of what the lead-up to war sounded like seventeen years ago – here are two press conferences; one featuring members of the Summit, including President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the Azores on the 16th of March and the second, a Press conference from Secretary of State Colin Powell on the 17th of March.