NOW with Alex Wagner | March 18, 2013
>>> this is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world. states like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil , arming to threaten the peace of the world.
>> ten years ago, america went to war in iraq based on a series of lies, false intelligence, imagined threats and unproven claims. a new msnbc documentary, "hubris" reexamines the war and the salesmanship that led to us the invasion. it began on the the afternoon of september 11th , when george w. bush and his national security team tasked a top aide to find the connection between osama bin laden and saddam hussein .
>> we all looked at each other like what, what are they talking about? who the hell -- saddam hussein ? bin laden hates him, thinks he's a heretic. there's no connection between saddam hussein and al qaeda .
>> at the time, intelligence discounting the hussein/ bin laden link was discarded by the bush administration . the white house instead continued to use exaggerated and unsubstantiated claims to make the case that saddam hussein had weapons of mass destruction . but the administration did not act alone. story of how we went to war in iraq is one of widespread institutional failure. implicating both congress and the media.
>> the threat of saddam hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real.
>> it is a vote that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our president. and we say to him -- use these powers wisely and as a last resort.
>> i think the bush administration took a great deal of satisfaction in being able to cite the supposedly liberal "new york times," in making their case for it.
>> we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.
>> and so, ten years ago this week, america set out to topple saddam hussein 's regime. it took less than three weeks to destroy his government, but the war that everyone thought would be short dragged on for nine bloody years. the war in iraq may have officially ended, but the costs and blood and treasure continue to haunt us. the iraq war cost more than $3 trillion. it killed nearly 4500 americans and wounded 32,000 others. it killed an estimated 114,000 iraqis. and while the death toll is a stark reminder of the cost of war , the lesson to be drawn from the last ten years remains unclear even today. joining us from new york is msnbc's rachel maddow . her book, "drift" is out now in paperback. rachel , thank you so much for joining us on such an important topic.
>> sure, thanks for having me.
>> you've done some great writing about war and what war means to america . i guess in thinking about all that and the writing that you've done and of course the documentary, do you think there is a lesson to be taken away from the iraq war ? and if so, what is it?
>> you know when we did "hubris" one of the things i thought was important to do is not time it to the invasion of iraq . the anniversary of the invasion is tomorrow and wednesday, but to time it sort of to the lying that got us into the invasion of iraq . i mean for me, the lessons are, the lessons that we've got to learn, which i'm not sure we've learned are about how we got there. the case to go to war was full of holes, it was made up. it was deliberately made up. and our political system, including the media, was not good enough, was not rigorous enough to ferret that out. so there was something wrong institutionally with the debate not being good enough. the other thing that happened was sort of a more meta problem. and that is that we thought that going to war would be easy in iraq . george w. bush did an interview with "reuters" after the supreme court case that decided he would be president and before he was inaugurated. he did a 45-minute interview with "reuters" in which before he was even sworn in, he was threatening to go to war with iraq . once 9/11 happened, they said how can we use this to get the public to go along with what we already want to do. why did they already want to start a war? why did they think it was solve problems? and why did they think it would be so easy? that, i think, is not just a george w. bush administration problem, that's an american problem with us coming to think that the military is the easiest solution to many of our biggest problems.
>> robert, i want to ask you as someone who has worked in the administration and has worked with the president, who is currently in office, how much has the legacy of iraq shaped president obama 's view in terms of military engagement? we talk about syria a lot and there's some thinking, there's some wisdom out there that he doesn't want to get involved there because he understands what a quote-unquote quagmire it can be to get involved in a situation where there is no clear end point.
>> well i think first of all, he's the commander-in-chief because of that decision. we, we forget because by the time we came into office in 2009 , it was all about the economy. but the animating event really for three years, leading up to that election, was iraq . i definitely think, i think it is, i think it will have a huge impact, it has on this commander-in-chief and will have on future commanders in chief. because they understand that without some popular support, it's hard to go about doing -- a lot of military action . without some broad popular support among people to do something like this, there's very little taste to park tens of thousands of people in a place like syria. that even though it's important, has less of a connection to folks here at home. they understand now probably more than ever, the real costs of the war. not just in dollars, but in lives and in injuries and in things like ptsd, which we'll quite frankly be dealing with for a lifetime.
>> rachel i want to talk about the veterans ' angle on this and we speak about the cost of war . we often forget about those still living if you're look at what's happening to veterans , there are 600,000 of veterans who have backlog claims waiting for benefits. the average waiting time is 273 days. if you're in a big city in a veteran, it's 642 days in new york . you've written in your book, in "drift" you talk about how the whole country doesn't fight wars any more. we don't pay war taxes and the battle is effectively outsourced to a very small group of americans who are willing to go over. how do we change that? sort of reinstituting a draft, what do we need to do to treat our veterans bet centre these concerns should be first and foremost when we talk about the costs of war and what it means for our country to go to war.
>> i mean it was roughly 1.1 million american who is fought in iraq . but for those 1.1 million americans , they did 2.3 million deployments. so we had 2.3 million people there, but the burden was shared by people who were going on average more than twice. so fighting the longest war in american history , which we're in right now, for eight and a half of the years we were in that war, we were also fighting a second, simultaneous large land war . and in total, we had 1% of the population do all of that fighting in both of those wars for us. now some people look at that and say -- we ought to have a draft so that the sacrifice is shared more broadly. that's no magic bullet . certainly there's a good argument to have about whether or not sacrifice like that should be more widely shared. but now that we have done that, this isn't just something hypothetical. we've now got 12 years of veterans that we created in this country. that we've got to do right by. and i do think that the public loves veterans and i think that we respect them for their service and we consider them to be heroes for a reason. but that hasn't necessarily been followed through with policy. it's more of an emotional thing than making sure that we are doing right by them. that backlog at the v.a. is getting worse, not better. and for that to be happening while we all feel great about veterans and want them to be treated well -- for me is a real moral hazard , for us as a country. you can't have the emotional pay-off without the responsibility. it becomes sort of emotionally pornographic to feel good about it without making sure it's right. that's what's happening right now with the v.a. being stuck in reverse.
>> eugene, the unemployment rate among veterans is 9.4%. 203,000 of them were looking for jobs last month. one in ten of our vets is looking for a job.
>> unconscionable is the word. and it's something that you, that theoretically both parties agree on, you know, it makes everybody feel good as rachel said. to express our concern about the veterans . but it doesn't translate into policy. and guess what, look at the budgets that are coming out. it's not going to translate into policy. unless, unless things change .
>> rachel , before we go, i want to talk about sort of how the republican party has changed, we just have a lot of sound from cpac, talking a lot about rand paul . we've spent the last couple of weeks saying in terms of the drone program in terms of stand with rand. how the republican party has sort of a cleave and there's a wing of it has decidedly against military intervention . that is in contrast to national security hawks like john mccain and lindsay graham . you know, to what degree has iraq informed that position in your mind? and do you think that that we are seeing a real fundamental shift in terms of where that party has been on national security ?
>> it's such an interesting question. and such an important question. and i think the sort of paul -light wing of the republican party is not taken seriously by other republicans on national security . still look to you know, john mccain and lindsay graham as their serious guys on national security . and they think that the paul -lite wing is cute. but rand doesn't always get his facts right and he doesn't always comport himself with the seriousness that some of the things he talks about demands. he doesn't take himself seriously enough to always get what he's saying factually correct. but what he's offering as another way forward in republican thinking on foreign policy is sorely needed. it's a real problem that the republican party isn't willing to admit that the iraq war was about idea. when mitt romney gave his speech at cpac this weekend, he said iraq was a war of liberation , you can repackage the republican party all you want. but unless you guys are going it acknowledge that iraq was a bad idea, it was your bad idea, you were wrong to vote for it and you won't do it again, i don't think you're going to be attracting a lot of new young voters any time to you soon.
>> it's worth noting that 73% of democrats say we made a mistake going to war in iraq . 66% of republicans said we did not make a mistake. so the party lines are very clear. so rachel if we would invite you back every single day to talk about this, we would. but we know you have a show to put together.
>> thank you so much.
>> rachel maddow , the host of the " rachel maddow show" hubris, i will be talking more about "hubris" and the journalists who broke the story, with chris matthews and chris hayes .
>>> as president obama prepares for his first presidential visit to israel, support for the country has never been higher. but that doesn't mean that americans want the white house brokering a peace deal any time soon. we'll preview the president's trip and the unbreakable yet complicated bond between the two countries just ahead. oh this