N.T. Wright Repeats Jim Wallis’ Error

I wrote last week about Jim Wallis’ harsh (and I think unfair) criticism of the U.S. war in Iraq (click here to see it). Wallis alleged that President Bush manipulated the U.S. into invading Iraq by intentionally deceiving the American people into believing that Iraq was behind 9-11. In a recent essay for the Washington Post‘s “On Faith” forum, N. T. Wright makes the same charge. He writes,

“I believe, and have said so from early 2002 when the idea was first mooted, that for Britain and the USA to go to war in Iraq was not, could not be, and would not be seen as a just war. It was not defensive – the WMD argument was always just a smokescreen, as many in western intelligence must have known – and was clearly and nakedly the ambition of many in the White House and elsewhere, so much so that they were eager to exploit 9/11 as ‘really Iraq’s fault’ right from that tragic day onwards.”

To allege that the Iraq War is not a just war is one thing. But to presume to know some secret, sinister motive that was really driving George Bush and Tony Blair is quite another. It’s just not credible to claim that the “WMD argument was always just a smokescreen,” as if President Bush and Prime Minister Blair had to sell a bill of goods to the world before going to war. They did not. Iraq’s possession of and desire for WMD was the unanimous consensus of every major intelligence agency in the world, not just Britain and America’s. Does Wright really wish to imply that Bush and Blair somehow manufactured a worldwide intelligence consensus that existed more than a decade before either of them took office? Pardon me if I’m a little bit incredulous at that suggestion. (E.g., see U.N. Security Council resolutions against Iraq for the entire decade leading up to the war).

Wright also alleges (in agreement with Wallis) that the White House misled America into believing that Iraq was responsible for the attacks of 9-11. Wright is simply, factually wrong on this one. I hope the error is unintentional. But at no time did President Bush ever suggest that Iraq was behind the attacks of 9-11. Never did he make such a claim, and I defy anyone to produce the speech or interview in which he did. It never happened. This is a red herring frequently repeated by President Bush’s critics in order to make him out to be a liar, but the claim is verifiably false.

I don’t think President Bush is inerrant or that he and his administration have done everything right in Iraq. I am now of the opinion that Rumsfeld’s decision to prosecute the war with as few troops as possible was a mistake. We had plenty of troops to effect regime change, but not enough to occupy and secure Bagdad. The U.S. is reaping the consequences of that miscalculation right now.

That being said, I don’t think it’s helpful to make an antiwar case (as Wright does) based on a distorted and tendentious description of the run-up to the war. Even when it’s repeated in not so many words, the “Bush lied, people died” mantra is tired, untrue, and not helpful.


  • rich


    You are a great spokesperson for the Republican Party.
    I believe Bush means well and seems to be a nice guy but good intentions can become evil. In other words, Just because you are sincere and committed to some idea does not make it right.
    I think the war was a mistake. Getting Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaida in Afghanistan was the mission. There were no WMDS in Iraq except maybe the ones that was sold to them by The Reagan Administration with cooperation of Robert Gates(he took Rumsfield place)


    I’m not saying that it is not good that Saddam is gone but the administration has totally made a mess of the situation and it is not the fault of the troops but their commander in chief and his cronies.

  • dennyrburk


    This is not a partisan post, even though it does cut against Democrat talking points and conventional (erroneous) wisdom. In fact I do not believe that one’s political opinions should be shaped by loyalty to either party. The rightness or wrongness of the policies are what interests me.

    This post points to two errors on Wright’s part: (1) the charge that Bush and Blair were lying about WMD, and (2) the charge that Bush lied about Iraq being behind 9-11. What do you think about either of those two points?


  • Scott


    I think you’re absolutely right, to an extent. To say that Bush lied or purposefully misled the country about WMD’s lacks any evidence. For critics of Bush (of which I am one) to claim this level of evil intent on Bush’s part is disingenuous.

    However, just because some people go too far in their criticism doesn’t mean that serious criticism isn’t warranted. I think ther IS plenty of evidence to at least support the claim that the Bush administration had decided to got to war against Iraq before even evaluating Iraq’s weapons programs. Thus the intellegence community, in America at least, didn’t begin objectively, but rather went about making the case for war. Once you decide you nead a reason to go to war, then you’re going to elevate all the evidence in your favor, and discount anything that contradicts your initial decision–something that history may blame Rumsfeld and Cheney for more than Bush.

  • rich

    I’m not going to side with the ideologues on the Left and say that Bush lied intentionally and decieved our country but I believed Bush was led to believe those things by the neo-cons that surrounded him especially VP Cheney. I believe that Bush is well-meaning but Cheney is like his mentor Nixon who was paranoid and plain mean. You can believe in a policy so mush that it blinds you to the realities that it is not working and that is Bush’s dilemma.

  • dennyrburk


    The WMD argument leading up to the war always had two planks: (1) Iraq had failed to verify the destruction of its WMD stockpiles, and (2) Iraq had developed or had made plans to develop new stockpiles of WMD. Only part of #2 proved to be wrong. The rest of it was right.

    With respect to number one, Iraq never verified the destruction of its pre-1991 WMD. We still don’t know where they are to this day, and that is why the military has uncovered over 500 chemical munitions in Iraq since the start of the war. We keep finding them here in there. This is no small point because the U.N. sanctions against Iraq, the inspections regime, and security council resolutions were aimed at dismantling the pre-1991 WMD. Go read security council resolution 1441 (which is linked above). The U.N. threatened serious consequences if Iraq failed to verify the destruction of these old weapons systems. Iraq never complied, so the U.S. and its allies invaded in 2003.

    With respect to number two, we have learned that Saddam did not develop new WMD to the extent that intelligence had suspected. He did retain capabilities and personel so that he could start building again as soon as international pressure was removed. But he did not produce any new weapons, as far as we’ve been able to tell. This was the key misjudgment of the world’s intelligence communities.

    I say all this just to point out that it was not just the neo-cons who held these opinions. The world’s intelligence communities believed both numbers 1 and 2. And that is why so many Democrats voted in favor of the war in 2002. Thus I don’t think we can say that the WMD argument was a result of a neo-conservative cabal. It wasn’t just neo-cons who were saying that Saddam had and was developing WMD’s.


  • Scott


    I don’t think your explanation accurately describes the run-up to the war and the manner in which “intelligence” on Iraq was portrayed to the world, both in Bush’s pre-war State of the Union and Colin Powell’s address to the U.N. Neither speech focused on a lack of verifying the destruction of stockpiles, neither did they focus on this matter of developing new WMDs. Both speeches relied on faulty intelligence to make the case that Iraq already had WMDs and an active WMD program. This intelligence was wrong, and my previous post merely pointed out that we might attribute the intelligence failure to the pre-determined decision to go to war.

    My post was not meant to create further divide on this discussion, but rather to develop some common ground (Rich used the term “neo-con,” not me). I think your response may have read more in to what I was saying than what I intended.

    When we simply decide to take sides, then we get nowhere – I’m can be as guilty of it as anyone else. But I think taking sides kills the conversation before it gets anywhere productive, and we end up making arguments that speak past one-another rather than at one-another.

    Just one example. You pointed out that even the Democrats voted in favor of the war. This does not address my fundamental point: the administration was determined to go to war and this had an implicit effect on the interpretation of intelligence. If my problem is with the lens that tainted intelligence gathering and interpretation, then it is irrelevant to point out that Democrats (and others) believed the conclusions of bad intelligence. They were not the ones who directed the CIA to validate the intention to go to war.

    I think you can agree on this point (though you may not) without having to deny that Bush is/was well intentioned and doing his best to protect our country as he sees fit.

  • rich

    Well the Neo-Cons were all behind the bad intelligence but Scott ditto on:

    If my problem is with the lens that tainted intelligence gathering and interpretation, then it is irrelevant to point out that Democrats (and others) believed the conclusions of bad intelligence. They were not the ones who directed the CIA to validate the intention to go to war.

  • Don

    Dealing with pre 9-11 intell. and the fact that Bin laden would seek WMD’s Iraq was in the overall picture. No Iraq would not use WMD against us , but would get them to the bad guys. Also WMD were removed before we went in. For all who say Bush lied; fine then so Did Clinton, Kerry, and many other leading Dems. In 1998 Kerry is on tape calling for a US invasion into Iraq. Let us not forget who voted to go into Iraq. It is easy for them to run from their vote now. Not so for Mr. Bush. I believe the admin. has made big mistakes by not being aggressive enough and holding our troops and commanders in the field back. Denny great article

  • adam

    Denny, you make some great points.

    FWIW, I find it bizzare to see Cheney being tagged as a neo-con. I suppose the folks making such an absurd claim are simply parroting talking points, but having spent many years in the neo-con ghetto, I can promise folks, Cheney is innocent of that charge.

  • theseldomscene

    There’s overwhelming evidence there was a connection between al Qaeda and the Iraqi government. I am very confident that there was an established relationship there.” – Vice President Cheney, 1/22/04

    CLAIM: �The regime of Saddam Hussein cultivated ties to terror while it built weapons of mass destruction.� � President Bush’s UN speech, 9/23/03

    CLAIM: �Iraq [is] the central front in the war on terror.� � President Bush’s UN speech, 9/23/03

    CLAIM: �You can’t distinguish between al-Qaida and Saddam.� � President Bush, 9/25/02

    CLAIM: �There’s no question that Saddam Hussein had al Qaeda ties.� � President Bush, 9/17/03

    CLAIM: �There was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda.� � Vice President Cheney, 9/14/03

  • dennyrburk

    To “theseldomscene” in #11,

    There are some problems with the quotations you have provided:

    1. All but one of them are dated after the start of the war and therefore were not used as arguments in the run-up to the war.

    2. You provide no sources for your quotes. Thus we can’t examine the context of the one quote that you said came before the war: “You can’t distinguish between al-Qaida and Saddam.” Even in this quote, President Bush does not claim that Iraq was behind 9-11.
    In fact, it looks like a statement of the policy that he announce right after 9-11, “We will not make a distinction between terrorists and the states that sponsor them.”

    3. None of your quotes say that Iraq/Saddam was behind 9-11. At best, they merely suggest that Saddam had ties to al-Qaeda. To say that Saddam/Iraq had ties to al-Qaeda is not the same thing as saying that Saddam/Iraq was behind the attacks of 9-11. Probably the most vocal advocate of the view that Saddam had ties to al-Qaeda is Stephen Hayes of the WEEKLY STANDARD. Not even Hayes says that Iraq was behind 9-11. He just thinks there were ties, but not anything that makes Saddam responsible for 9-11.

    So, none of these quotes are at all relevant. I reissue my challenge. At no time did President Bush ever suggest that Iraq was behind the attacks of 9-11, and I defy anyone to produce the speech or interview in which he did.

    If anyone else does decide to take up the challenge, please provide sources.


  • theseldomscene

    i don’t provide sources…i responded to this because it is at the pub that is all….i won’t give a source if i don’t feel like it…period…if that is a problem for you…i don’t care…if you would rather i not respond to your post becuase they show up at your blog…fine by me…if they are at the pub…i will anyway as i hang there…if you can stop me from doing so…fine by me…i cpoy what i want to point out and discuss and will place the copies in the forum and respond to them as i feel like…(oh yes i will)…

    also, to hide behind such as statement is paramount to lying…

    no bush has never said that iraq was behind 911…but has many times justified iraq with the 911 attacks as he did in his last years state of the union address…(if you need a source to find…sorry)…so…

    with hearing those things and then challenging any to show where bush said they were tied togerther is just stand with dishonest men who lie and falsify the truth to kill…

    so do you say then, that the president saying those who speak against the war in iraq need to remember 911…he did not tie the two together?..

    is that the dishonesty you wish to show?…that is all that is shiney through with the treachery you are propagating…
    have a nice day…(and i could

  • dennyrburk

    Dear “theseldomscene” in #16,

    My original post meant to challenge the false charge made by Wright, Wallis, and others against the justification for the Iraq war. The false charge consists in accusing the President of misleading the country into war by saying that Iraq was behind 9-11.

    Yes, I know that President Bush related the Iraq war to 9-11, and he did so repeatedly. No one (including me) disputes that he did that. But he did not say that Iraq caused 9-11. He said that Iraq was a part of the “axis of evil” (Iran, Iraq, North Korea), those nations that had or were seeking weapons of mass destruction. He also argued that Iraq could be a potential vendor of weapons to the U.S.’s terrorist enemies. That is much different than saying that Iraq was behind the attacks of 9-11.


  • William

    If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, sounds like a duck . . .

    I suppose we cannot really know Bush’s motivation for going to war — who can know what is in a man’s heart?

    So, when Wallis and Wright accuse Bush of wrong intentions, they cannot know for sure. Ok, but on the other hand, we cannot know for sure that his intentions were completely noble, either.

    The concept of Just War has always included intentions, and we have to take our best guess when evaluating this component. Wallis and Wright take their best guess based on the evidence. You look at the evidence and see a different conclusion. Who’s right? God only knows.

    I don’t think there’s much debate about whether or not this was a just war in the classical sense of the term. Rather, we seem to be re-defining just war to fit this circumstance.

    We shoot the arrow at the wall, then draw circles around the arrow. Look! I hit the bullseye!

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