Myself and every other Vietnam veteran I know tried to tell them they were screwing the pooch from the get go but nobody would listen. How could they ignore all that “experience?” Easy answer. They don’t care. All they were (and continue to be) concerned about is their own enrichment and that of their cronies in the military-industrial-congressional-educational complex.
War is good business. Invest your son. — jtl, 419
“I hope I’m wrong, but I am afraid that Iraq is going to turn out to be the greatest disaster in American foreign policy — worse than Vietnam, not in the number who died, but in terms of its unintended consequences and its reverberation throughout the region.” — Madeleine Albright
Quoting Madeleine Albright makes me queasy, but it shows even the progressives sometimes get it right. And as we look back upon Iraq, it can only be seen as an unmitigated disaster that has built up for a dozen years.
Following 9/11, President George W. Bush wanted Baghdad to be another Venice with the Tigress River as its picturesque canal. A dozen years later, American intervention has led to ethnic cleansing and the rise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Sunni leader of the Islamic State (ISIS), whose terrorist army has murdered tens of thousands of people in Iraq and Syria and who may yet set the Middle East ablaze.
Al-Baghdadi’s iron-fisted adversary was Nouri al-Maliki, until recently the prime minister of Iraq. Al-Maliki was not only handpicked, but he was mentored by Bush. That Bush’s efforts were all for naught became apparent when President Barack Obama pulled most U.S. forces out of Iraq in 2011. That was when al-Maliki began the systematic removal of Sunnis from senior positions in the Iraqi government and military. It reached a climax over the past 18 months when hundreds of peaceful Sunni protesters were slaughtered by al-Maliki’s Shiite Iraq army. It was then Sunnis, led by top military commanders from Saddam Hussein’s Republican guard, who joined ISIS.
In August, al-Maliki was forced to resign. Yet the Iraqi civil war is bloodier than ever, and it engulfs a growing portion of the Middle East. All of it is the result of Bush listening to neocons who insisted Iraq would emulate American ideals.
The Bush neocons made a case that without an invasion America could face a nuclear attack from Iraq.
Most don’t remember the nonsense that the Bush administration was sprouting in 2002, but members of the Bush cabinet continued to build a case for war because Saddam may soon have had nuclear weapons. For weeks, Sunday news programs carried their message.
In leading up to the invasion then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told CNN: “The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly Saddam can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
Bush gave the same warnings during the period leading up to the U.S. invasion:
“America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”
“If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy or steal an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, he (Saddam Hussein) could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year.”
“Saddam Hussein’s regime is a grave and gathering danger… The first time we may be completely certain he has a — nuclear weapons is when, God forbids, he uses one”
Hardly a soul questioned the reasoning. Our government officials insisted they were telling us the facts, that the Iraqis were mixed up with Osama bin Laden and had their hands on yellowcake uranium that was going to be, or already had been used, to build a nuclear weapon.
No one pointed out that Iraq was under scrutiny from a no-fly zone. There was little mention that the skies over Iraq were swarming with American jet fighters and sophisticated surveillance planes. Nobody said that Saddam’s military was terribly degraded after Desert Storm. Yet somehow, while barely managing to hang on to power, Saddam was building a nuclear weapon to be used against the United States.
It was utter nonsense. But I found out firsthand as the editor of a very large newsletter that saying such things got me in hot water not only with my readers but my bosses, too. One of my publishers admonished me by saying you can’t call the president a liar. I was incredulous. I asked him if he meant liars such as Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton. I could quickly see that argument would take me straight to the unemployment line, so I stopped writing about it in the newsletter.
The president of the United States and especially Vice President Dick Cheney swore up and down that it was true: Iraq was ruled by a leader with the ambitions and cruelty of Adolf Hitler, and he had terrible weapons that might include the bomb. To say otherwise was unpatriotic.
One of the few in the administration who suggested caution was former Secretary of State Colin Powell who famously told Bush before the invasion, “If you break it, you own it.”
In an interview Powell explained:
(It) was a simple statement of the fact that when you take out a regime and you bring down a government, you become the government. On the day that the statue came down and Saddam Hussein’s regime ended, the United States was the occupying power. We might also have been the liberating power, and we were initially seen as liberators. But we were essentially the new government until a government could be put in place. And in the second phase of this conflict, which was beginning after the statue fell, we made serious mistakes in not acting like a government. One, maintaining order. Two, keeping people from destroying their own property. Three, not having in place security forces–either ours or theirs or a combination of the two to keep order. And in the absence of order, chaos ensues.
If you want to be critical of what I say regarding mismanagement of Iraq, ask yourself this: How did America spill so much blood and treasure only to make things worse while the dictators of North Korea spent those years developing nuclear warheads and a ballistic missile delivery system? Perhaps nobody in Washington makes too big of a deal over North Korea because it lacks oil.
You can torture yourself with such thoughts. But if the CIA believes you to be an enemy of the state, its operatives can torture you. Until just recently they called it “enhanced interrogation,” but it is torture with all the crippling effects and sometimes even death.
I find it strange that in one column I quote Albright and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), but that is where I find myself. McCain went on the record Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” regarding the practices of the CIA:
I said these things are torture. They’re in violation of the Geneva Convention and the convention against torture… You can’t claim that tying someone to the floor and have them freeze to death is not torture. You can’t say 183 times someone is waterboarded.
That Republicans called him out for his comments is ridiculous. After ejecting from his Skyhawk, McCain was beaten, bayoneted and brutalized for five and a half years. I think that gives him special insight into what is torture.
Torture has been known as a poor way to gather good information. If our government doesn’t know this, it’s 70 years behind our British cousins.
A remarkable PBS “Secrets of the Dead” documentary, “Bugging Hitler’s Soldiers,” tells of how captured top Nazi officers were constantly recorded while being kept in luxurious accommodations at an English country manor. They were provided with German newspapers, radios, gourmet meals, fine wine and even sightseeing trips. During the entire time, their conversations were recorded surreptitiously. Unwittingly, the Nazi brass served up some of the best intelligence of the war, including the deteriorating state of Hitler’s mental health as well as yet unknown Nazi super weapons, including the V1 and V2 rockets.
Why this kind of intelligence is not used by the CIA is beyond me. But when it comes to Iraq, there is plenty of stupidity to go around. First, how could the neocons believe they could rebuild Iraq in America’s image? And second, why did the American public swallow bald-faced lies?
What stands out the most to me is that in killing more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians and torturing hundreds of Muslims our government has done more to recruit terrorists than bin Laden ever dreamed of.
Yours in good times and bad,
Note: Click here to watch an excellent documentary that details more than I had room for about the timeline from the invasion of Iraq to dealing with ISIS.
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