Iraq + 10 Years: The celebration continues!
By the time the American troops appeared in the center of Baghdad, on April 9th, everyone I knew had lost a relative in one or another of the bombings or the lethal street crossfires of the previous twenty-fours hours. For all their "smartness," enough bombs had gone awry or missed their targets to kill many hundreds of civilians. Still, among the Iraqis I knew, their mourning families attributed their losses to the fate of God while expressing their satisfaction that the Americans, after so long, had come to rescue them. They waited to be told what to do. No instructions ever came.
Instead, as the Americans allowed the city, including its armories, to be looted -- in many cases by members of the ancien régime -- while issuing fiats that disbanded the old army and banned the Baath Party, my Iraqi friends became first bewildered and then fearful. Within weeks, the "defeated" regime, with jihadist allies, had begun fighting back, of course, and the real Iraq war began. Almost every single Iraqi I knew then has had to flee the country and today lives in exile: in Sweden, in Cyprus, in the U.K., in the U.S., and many other countries.
-- The New Yorker's Jon Lee Anderson,
from "How We Forgot Iraq"
I realized that I should have plunked the above David Sipress cartoon from this week's New Yorker into my post last night, "Were the CIA and MI6 told that Iraq had no WMDs? Tony Blair's 'too busy' to comment -- how 'bout George and Big Dick?" Luckily, though, we're only just beginning the festivities to remember our great triumph in Iraq. Or to not remember, as it were. Here's more of Jon Lee Anderson's newyorker.com post (here's the link again):
. . . Iraq has become the Great American Unmentionable, the fiasco that was.(Just one question, Jon. This alleged "George W. Bush" of whom you speak. The name isn't ringing any bells. Can you supply any biographical particulars? I gather he was once somewhat well-known?)
Iraq has dropped from America's national discourse like a hot stone since the last U.S. combat troops were extracted. Its disappearing act rivals that of the man who launched the war, George W. Bush. Almost no one has said a thing, apart from notes on the anniversary, since [President Barack] Obama's chapter-closing speech, which dutifully highlighted America's achievements there. In the most surreal part of it, sounding for all the world like the C.E.O. of DHL, Obama described as a laudable achievement how "thousands of tons of equipment have been packed up and shipped out."
Notwithstanding the belated success of General Petraeus's 2007 troop surge and the concurrent Sunni Awakening, which permitted us to carry out our troop withdrawal with a modicum of decency, the Iraq war represents a geostrategic catastrophe of colossal proportions for the U.S., not to mention a humanitarian catastrophe for Iraqis. It remains a severely damaged country. Iraq today is effectively a Finlandized state, under the influence of a vituperatively anti-Western Iran
In keeping with national custom -- remember Vietnam? -- we calculate only the number of Americans who were killed in Iraq; their four thousand four hundred and eighty-six deaths have been carefully tabulated. As for the Iraqis, no one knows how many died. During the war itself, famously, the Pentagon declared that it didn't keep casualty figures for Iraqis, and there it remains. There have been wildly fluctuating estimates, but it would seem likely that, at a minimum, some hundred and twenty-five thousand Iraqis died as a result of our invasion -- and, it should be said, continue to do so today. But the only Hollywood movie that consecrates our Iraq experience, and that significant numbers of Americans went to see, "The Hurt Locker," is a self-referential film about our pain, not theirs. There are, meanwhile, popular video games, like Call of Duty and Full Spectrum Warrior, in which millions of us constantly return to Iraq, virtually, and win battles we actually lost, or never really waged.
The new normal in Iraq is a country where oil is pumped and nightlife has returned to parts of Baghdad, but where suicide bombs also go off, here and there, every few days, with the regularity of tornados touching down in Oklahoma. As if to drive that point home, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia -- the terrorist force that our ill-conceived invasion unleashed from Iraq's chest of horrors -- came out yesterday, on the anniversary of the initiation of hostilities, and set off bombs that killed at least fifty-seven people. As we celebrate -- what, no longer being there? -- let's spare a moment for Iraq, and the Iraqis.
[I should note that I've regretfully skipped over Anderson's opening paragraphs, with his on-the-ground recollection of Baghdad in the immediate Shock and Awe period. You really should check it out for yourself. -- Ed.]
LEST WE REMEMBER
Now if you're no-memory skills haven't been quite up to forgetting that whole, um, business in Iraq, you're not alone. Consider, for example, the large chorus of budget-deficit hawks who have worked so hard to make the need to slash so-called entitlement programs the centerpiece of their blunt insistence that the national debt is an American shame and a sin against future generations of Americans. How many of them have included in their white papers and sermons an accounting of how much of that debt is owing to our recent adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan? By my calculations, the answer is approximately zero.
Dontcha love that Dickie Perle?
However, in case you're still having difficulty forgetting Iraq (or is it Iran? is there a difference?), our Washington Post "In the Loop" pal Al Kamen is on hand to honor his "Quote of the Week" -- and a runner-up.
The 10th anniversary of the Iraq invasion reignited the bitter debate over the war. And once again it brought some great quotes from the war’s staunchest defenders.
But the quote of the week goes to Richard Perle, who was on the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board and a vociferous backer of the war.
Wednesday, Perle had the perfect answer to the inevitable question, posed by National Public Radio’s Renee Montagne.
"When you think about this, was it worth it?" she asked.
"I’ve got to say," Perle responded, "I think that is not a reasonable question. What we did at the time was done in the belief that it was necessary to protect this nation. You can’t a decade later go back and say, well, we shouldn’t have done that."
So critics should start being reasonable.
Then there's "Wolfman Paulie" Wolfowitz
Yes, the Wolfman, the onetime deputy secretary of defense, is responsible for Al's first runner-up quote, delivered in a Fox News column. Take it, Al!
The problem, it turns out, was really just a matter of strategy, Wolfowitz wrote. But it took four years to develop the right strategy, Wolfowitz said, noting "how different things might have been if the U.S. had been pursuing a counter-insurgency strategy from the outset."
Which brings us back to our David Sipress cartoon. This "we're right and they're wrong" ethos isn't, as one might at first think, a mere propaganda line designed to hornswoggle the unwashed masses. Simpletons of this stripe can be found in the highest reaches of government. So it may be that Wolfman Paulie isn't such a champion at forgetting. You don't have to forget what you never knew. For the record, Al Kamen points out:
[I]t’s not that the problems weren’t evident almost immediately, judging from an article by our colleagues Glenn Kessler and Dana Priest only a month after the invasion.
The headline? "U.S. Planners Surprised by Strength of Iraqi Shiites." The report found that "U.S. officials looking for allies in the struggle to fill the power vacuum left by the downfall of Saddam Hussein.
Just a week into the war, the Army’s senior ground commander in Iraq was saying, "The enemy we’re fighting is different from the one we’d war-gamed against."
AN ADMINISTRATIONFUL OF LYING LIARS
Wolfman Paulie makes a splashy appearance in a "Fine Print" column by WaPo's venerable sage Walter Pincus, "Iraq's lessons are there for the heeding." In fact, he's the lead player:
"Fundamentally, we have no idea what is needed unless and until we get there on the ground."None of Wolfie's questioners seem to have paid much attention to this, since the people selling the need for war in Iraq were assumed to have all these on-the-ground matters under control. Especially not when he was dishing out zingers like this:
That was then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz three weeks before the Iraq war began a decade ago. He was digressing from his script on what he thought would be positive results from a military action while appearing before the House Budget Committee on Feb. 27, 2003.
Disarming Iraq and fighting the war on terror are not merely related. Disarming Iraq's arsenal of terror is a crucial part of winning the war on terror.Of course this was based on the nonsensical lie that Saddam Hussein was the architect of 9/11, which even at the time was known to be utter nonsense by everyone who wasn't under the spell of the lying liars of the Bush regime.
It turns out that Wolfie wasn't being absolutely straightforward with the House budgeteers. Walter P rehashes a rasher of rationales thrown out by assorted boosters of an Iraq invasion, and Wolfie seems to have been aware of this too.
"The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason," Wolfowitz said more than a year later about the justification for the war, according to a Pentagon transcript of an interview he gave to Vanity Fair.It's apparently just a minor detail that "the one issue that everyone could agree on" was a lie.
It's hard to know whether Wolfie was lying or just kidding when, as Walter P recalls, he told the Defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, on March 27, 2003, a week after the invasion began:
There is a lot of money to pay for this that doesn’t have to be U.S. taxpayer money, and it starts with the assets of the Iraqi people. We are talking about a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon."He certainly was wrong about that," Walter P notes, and adds:
The fact is neither Wolfowitz nor Bush nor other senior policymakers knew much about Iraq's culture and domestic politics. The result was that they totally underestimated the task being undertaken, which meant the loss of 4,400 U.S. service personnel and 32,000 wounded.And he goes on to note, returning to a theme we heard him talking about in December ("Walter Pincus wonders how Americans lost the will to pay for our wars"):
The fact is neither Wolfowitz nor Bush nor other senior policymakers knew much about Iraq's culture and domestic politics. The result was that they totally underestimated the task being undertaken, which meant the loss of 4,400 U.S. service personnel and 32,000 wounded.
What many forget is that Iraq and Afghanistan also mark the first U.S. wars in which a president, first Bush and now President Obama, has not sought a war tax. The result: nearly $2 trillion in war expenditures put on the nation's credit card.Again, will the deficit hawks currently having riding high in full bamboozlement of the hapless infotainment noozers be chiming in on this debate? (Ha ha, like there's going to be a debate. Sure!)
Have those pushing for military action against Iran, North Korea or involvement in Syria mentioned asking taxpayers to support paying for such operations?