(On the occasion of the ten year anniversary of our invasion of Iraq I am posting an updated version of a piece written in December 2011 when the President announced the “end” of the war.)
On 19 March 2003 the United States bombed the Presidential Palace in Baghdad, beginning an eight year war in Iraq. Those eight years came at a stiff price. 4486 American military personnel were killed and 30,327 were wounded, 500 of them amputees, and it is estimated that some 20,000 veterans of the war now suffer some sort of psychological problem. 1487 coalition troops died, along with 281 media and aid workers; 10,569 were wounded. The war cost us about $1.7 trillion, and we are still paying, despite the fact that Iraq is now producing more oil than Iran. The war quickly eliminated the world-wide support for America in the wake of 9/11, fomented more anti-American feelings in the Muslim world, blew our reputation for moral behavior and distracted the US from serious operations against al-Qaeda.
The price for the Iraqis was much greater. The butcher’s bill is very hard to calculate, but while the media now regularly tosses off 100,000 dead, a variety of investigating NGOs has set that as the absolute minimum, suggesting 600,000 as more realistic; some estimates exceed a million. And they continue to die, as the expended depleted uranium ordinance and other toxins of modern war produce birth defects and cancers. Almost two million people fled the country, and a million internal refugees were produced. What little infrastructure the country possessed under Sadam was utterly destroyed, and it appears that the Sunni dictator has simply been replaced by a Shiite one. Meanwhile, all those billions in aid from the US flow into the pockets of the increasingly autocratic Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his completely corrupt government apparatus. Even their very country is falling apart, as the north has emerged as a more or less independent Kurdistan.
And what do we all get in return for this massive expenditure by the American and Iraqi people?
It is clear now, as it was to many then, that Saddam was absolutely no threat to anyone except his own people, and rather than “protecting” America the conflict has only exacerbated the terrorist problem and immensely strengthened the position of Iran. Iraq, once a bulwark against Iran (remember Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam?) is under its emerging Shia dictatorship already falling rapidly under Iranian influence. Only two states in the region have refused to go along with the Arab League and condemn the bloody Syrian government: Iran and Iraq. Indeed, Iranian aid to the Syrian government appears to be moving through Iraq. Under the guise of a program of reconciliation Baghdad is even releasing prisoners accused or convicted of murdering Americans, and as the economic frosting on this ineptly baked cake, it is primarily non-American companies that are signing up to exploit Iraqi resources, should that ever be possible.
Meanwhile, American diplomatic personnel will be hiding out in the biggest and most heavily fortified embassy on the planet, a target so protected that even American journalists are not allowed to see it. Bereft of troops, we will be hiring 5000 mercenaries to protect these people, further enhancing our wonderful image in the region. We get to look like an imperial power and pay mightily without enjoying any of the benefits associated with such a status. And outside the walls of Fortress America, euphemistically called the Green Zone, the life of the average Iraqi is, unbelievably, worse than it was under Sadam.
We got nothing out of the war. (Well, if you are Haliburton or Blackwater Mercenaries or the armaments industry, you actually got plenty, and the Pentagon certainly had a grand time.) Perhaps we learned something from this mistaken adventure? Not likely.
We promptly repeated the whole thing in Afghanistan. Trashing the Taliban for harboring our enemies was fine, but then, as if Iraq had never happened, we determined to create a democracy among people who have not a clue as to what that or nationhood means. The ill-advised and ineptly conducted war of aggression against Iraq appears almost sensible compared to our current hemorrhaging of lives and money for an unbelievably corrupt and ineffective government of an area that is even less of a country than the one time Ottoman province.
Even now, that blatant and shameless cheerleader for the war, the national media, is hypocritically discussing the mistakes of the war while saying virtually nothing of its own disgusting role. Perhaps as a measure of their ignorance and certainly of their arrogance, the neo-con architects of the war are unrepentant. Donald Rumsfield, who should be in prison for criminal incompetence as Secretary of Defense, at least had the good grace to resign and disappear. Dick Cheney, another of those hawks who somehow never found the time to serve (“I had other priorities in the 60s than military service”) and who appears to have been a prime mover in launching the war, even now claims it was justified, though he seems unable to say exactly why. (Perhaps I am biased: his wife put me on an academic black list of “Americans behaving badly.”) Paul Wolfowitz, recognized as the major architect of this stupid policy, continues to defend it, though Richard Pearle, another neo-con mover of the war, now denies he had any serious role, which is simply laughable. (Perhaps I am biased again: in a recent interview he responded to questions about the war by stating that looking back on history does not teach us anything. So much for my profession – and his intelligence or honesty.) These are the bozos who implemented a disastrous and dishonest foreign policy, yet they all still prosper, unlike the 4500 dead American soldiers and the entire country of Iraq.
So, happy anniversary. The date should be remembered, because this is when American seriously began to shed its historic image as the good guy, the protector of the weak and defender of freedom, the foe of brutality and torture. And in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somali and god knows where else the beat goes on.