Monday, January 12, 2009

Et tu, Smithsonian?

TPM flags a whopper in the caption beneath the Smithsonian's new portrait of George W. Bush (which is fortunately being disputed by Sen. Bernie Sanders):

The current wording of the caption states that Bush's term was marked by "the attacks on September 11, 2001, that led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq."
The Smithsonian's historians should know better. The claim that 9/11 led to the Iraq war, in the sense that the U.S. entered into the Iraq war as retribution for 9/11, is demonstrably false, and no amount of partisan posturing should affect the Smithsonian's account of history. Yes, a few Republican egos will be bruised if the Smithsonian acknowledges that 9/11 had nothing to do with the Iraq war, but that's a small price to pay for an accurate description of something so historically significant.

2 comments:

Jane said...

I agree with you that Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11--but I disagree that 9/11 didn't lead to the war. Had there been no 9/11 attack, there would almost certainly have been no war; however much Bush wanted it, the American public wouldn't hve stood for it. We wanted to lash out, and Iraq was there.

Economics of Contempt said...

Sure, I agree with you, but that's not a distinction the Smithsonian caption makes. The U.S. entered into the Afghanistan war as direct retribution for 9/11; not so for the Iraq war. Grouping them together strongly implies that the U.S. entered into both wars as retribution for 9/11 -- so much so that I think it's irresponsible. Someone reading that caption 100 years from now would undoubtedly interpret it to mean that Iraq was involved in 9/11, and that's why we went to war with Iraq. The Smithsonian's historians should have known better, I think.

As a lawyer, I make these kinds of semantic distinctions in my arguments all the time; but I know when I'm full of shit. For lawyers, it's okay to rely on semantic technicalities. For historians, not so much.

(I totally agree with you that without 9/11, there's no way the American people would have agreed to the Iraq war. The contrast between the happy-go-lucky mood in 1999-2001 and the apocalyptic/take-no-prisoners mood in 2002-2003 still amazes me.)