Calling Out Rachel Maddow On Her Ill-Informed Whitewash Of Iraq War Democrats
Maybe I was wrong. I mean Rachel Maddow is very smart and has great sources and I really trust her more than almost anyone on TV other than Ragnar Lodbrok. But Monday night when she said (in the clip above about how we look at contemporary history) "In American politics, there were plenty of Democrats who went along with the Iraq War 10 years ago, who believed it, who fell for it, who advanced it and made the lie more convincing by virtue of their Democratic endorsement. On the Democratic side though, since, that at least has since become a source of shame. It's a strike against you in Democratic politics, right? It's part of the reason we have a president named Barack Obama, who was not part of that mess, and not a president named Hilary Clinton who, frankly, was part of that mess. In the Democratic Party people who were wrong on the Iraq War are seen as having been wrong about the Iraq War. They have had to apologize and explain why they were wrong. That vote for the Iraq War is held against them."
I'm sure she goes to different cocktail parties than I do-- actually, I don't go to cocktail parties; I've never even tasted a beer in my entire life. But those lines above that I took the liberty to make bold... I don't know what she's talking about. Other than Hillary having to wait 8 extra years before being allowed to move back into the White House and Dick Gephardt being forced to take a job as a millionaire sleazy K Street lobbyist, which Democrats have been held accountable for their pathetic role in pushing the Iraq war-- or even "had to apologize and explain why they were wrong?"
The roll call on that fateful October day in 2002 shows 81 House Democrats voting with Bush (and Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt) and 126 Democrats voting against Bush and with soon-to-be Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. But when you look at the names of the Democrats who voted for the war, who, in Rachel's words, "who believed it, who fell for it, who advanced it and made the lie more convincing by virtue of their Democratic endorsement," you see a lot of current party leaders-- and not a lot of politicians who have apologized or explained anything-- at least not on a level of Republican Congressman Walter Jones (NC), for whom that vote was a road to Damascus moment that cured him of warmongery forever. Those Democratic leaders... not a chance. We'll come back to party big shots in a moment. Let me start with a less-known figure.
Eliot Engel, an AIPAC stooge and barely concealed agent of Israel's far right Likud Party, purportedly represents New Yorkers in the Bronx, New Rochelle, Mt. Vernon, Yonkers, Scarsdale, Rye, Hastings-On-Hudson. He was most recently in the news bolstering Republican lies about Chuck Hagel being too anti-Israel to be confirmed as Secretary of Defense. Just before that he was in the news because House Democrats voted that he would be their new Ranking Member on-- what else?-- the House Foreign Affairs Committee. If the Democrats recapture the House in 2014, unapologetic warmonger and Iraq War booster Eliot Engel-- who would like the U.S. to attack Iran immediately-- becomes the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Did Rachel miss that one?
Nancy Pelosi, essentially the lame duck leader of the House Democrats-- she's practically begging to retire-- is surrounded by a team of Iraq War boosters, none of whom have apologized for anything and none of whom have learned the kinds of lessons Walter Jones has learned about war. Here's her team in order of rank within the caucus:
• Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Whip/heir apparent- voted for warLet's look at a random dozen of some of the other Democrats who voted for Bush's Iraq War but who were never held accountable (other than karmically in a few cases), a where are they now paragraph:
• Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Assistant Leader- voted against war
• Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Caucus Chair- voted against war
• Joe Crowley (D-NY), Caucus Vice Chair- voted for war
• Steve Israel (D-NY), DCCC Chair- voted for war
• Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), DNC Chairman/Speaker-in-waiting- AIPAC shill but wasn't in Congress in 2002
• Shelley Berkley (NV)- virtually the only Democratic serious contender to lose a Senate bid in 2012
• Rod Blagojevich (IL)- serving time in federal prison
• Leonard Boswell (IA)- one of the only Democratic House incumbents defeated in 2012
• Harold Ford (TN)- banking lobbyist/Fox TV clown; has become a national punchline for late night comics
• Ralph Hall (TX)- switched parties; now a Republican beset by teabaggers
• Jane Harman (CA)- driven out of electoral politics; now a glorified AIPAC lobbyist
• Tim Holden (PA)- one of only 2 Democratic incumbents defeated in a 2012 primary
• William Jefferson (LA)- serving time in federal prison
• Ron Kind (WI)- new chairman of Wall Street-oriented New Dems
• Jim Matheson (UT)- single biggest supporter of Boehner inside the Democratic caucus; ProgressivePunch crucial vote score for 2013- 18.18%, worse than 37 Republicans
• Mike McIntyre (NC)- teetering on the brink of defeat, rescued by immense DCCC expenditures last year & looking forward to the same support this year, despite a consistent GOP voting record
• Al Wynn (MD)- defeated by Donna Edwards in a primary; currently a crooked K Street lobbyist.
Since it's anniversary time, let's take a look at Juan Cole's clear-eyed examination of what the U.S. actually accomplished in Iraq through the war that much of our political elite supported (unapologetically). I recommend the whole piece (at the link) but I'll just go to his conclusion.
The US destroyed the Iraqi state. It dissolved the army. It is not true as Bush apologists say, that the army was anyway gone. If they had offered soldiers money to show up at their barracks and report to their sergeants, they would have, for the most part. It still is unclear who exactly got rid of the Iraqi army and why. Jay Garner, the first proposed US viceroy in Iraq, suggested that the Bush administration was afraid that a Baathist army devoted to socialism and a strong state would get in the way of their plans for an Eastern European style “shock therapy” in the country. (One of the many motivations for the invasion of Iraq was to further destroy the socialist model for global south economies). Of course, some elite units were heavily Sunni Arab, but they could have been integrated. Instead, they were fired and sent home (it was even threatened that they would not even get pensions). Some of them joined the guerrilla resistance.Should Steny Hoyer, Steve Israel and Joe Crowley-- who did all they could to push that war forward for Bush-- be leading the House Democrats now... and after Pelosi retires? We'll have to ask Rachel.
The US also destroyed the public sector, dissolving state-owned companies and creating massive unemployment, especially in Sunni provinces such as al-Anbar, which naturally emerged as among the most violent centers of resistance.
Most damaging of all, the US backed the ‘debaathification’ program championed by Shiite politicians like Ahmad Chalabi, which actually involved firing some 100,000 Sunnis from government jobs (even, often, fairly low-level ones) and then giving those jobs to members of the Shiite parties that were coming to power. As late as 2010, the debaathification commission was trying to interfere in the parliamentary elections. This massive piece of social engineering did more than anything to fan the still-burning flames of sectarianism, since it awarded material benefits on the basis of ethnic and sectarian identity. You can’t do much about your ethnic and sectarian identity. If you were punished for belonging to a party, you could change parties. But the Sunnis in particular weren’t allowed to escape their former political history (many Shiites who had been Baath Party members escaped punishment). If you’re punished for being who you are, and it is signaled that that will go on forever, then you might be tempted to turn to violence.
The vaunted ‘sons of Iraq’ or ‘awakening councils’ program that the US adopted from late 2006 involved organizing what were essentially pro-American Sunni militias to fight radical Sunnis. The Shiite government did not want these some 100,000 armed Sunnis left behind as a problem. It declined to give most of them employment as the Americans withdrew. It actually prosecuted some of them for their former guerrilla activities (before they switched teams and joined the awakening councils). Not only were they often left unemployed, but they no longer had the command of military force to protect themselves from reprisals by the radicals.
The political system the US imposed on Iraq is a one-chamber parliamentary system. It has been demonstrated by political scientists in societies with a structural minority, this system virtually guarantees frustration and violence (Sunni Arabs are probably like 18% of the population, Shiites 60%, with the rest Kurds, Turkmen and a dwindling number of Christians). Assuming Shiites can get their act together (not a foregone conclusion), they can always dominate the government. The prime minister in Iraq faces few de facto checks on power, assuming he or she can avoid a vote of no confidence. PM Nouri al-Maliki stands accused by his rivals of making the military and security forces his personal fiefdom and using them for his own purposes.
Iraq’s broken political system has what is more or less a permanent hung parliament, since the Sunnis, Kurds and two major Shiite factions can never for very long unite behind a particular prime minister. There is no relief from this political gridlock on the horizon.
The US actually stole billions from Iraqi petroleum receipts, which is illegal in international law, using it to badly administer the country and possibly just embezzling large amounts of it. More billions of US taxpayer funds also went missing. Most reconstruction efforts were poorly suited to the local conditions and most of that effort and money were wasted. Iraq needs 14 gigawatts of electricity generation but has only 9 gigs (the government keeps promising that new plants will open this year). Much of the country lacks potable water and people are forced to drink sewage. Half of the country’s physicians were forced abroad in the last decade, and many Iraqis still have to seek medical care outside the country.
The war was illegal in international law. Since the US had no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq, likely there would have been an Iraqi spring in 2011 and the regime would have been prevented, as in Libya, by US air power from putting it down with military force. The regime would have been gone, but by the Iraqi people acting unitedly, instead of by a foreign imposition that championed one ethnic group over others. The outcome would surely have been more stable. The worst thing was, the whole nightmare was unnecessary.