Thursday, March 21, 2013

Iraq War anniversary

The anniversary of the US-British invasion of Iraq mainly makes me sad, remembering the rank irresponsibility of the decision to invade. I've haven't been obsessively following the 10-year retrospectives. But here are a few comments that I found notable.

From Juan Cole, who was consistently one of the best sources on the war and developments in Iraq real-time, What we Did to Iraq Informed Comment 03/19/2013:

The US public was always carefully protected by its media from full knowledge of what the US government did to Iraq. The networks had a rule, of never showing blood. They almost never showed wounded Iraqis with bloody bandages. Of course, they never showed dismemberment (bodies blown up, unlike in Hollywood movies, don’t just pile up whole). Since Arabic satellite t.v. showed such images every day, the Arab world and the US saw two different wars on their screens. US media almost never interviewed Iraqi politicians (magazine shows like 60 Minutes very occasionally took up that task). Frequently, Pentagon talking points were swallowed whole. Propaganda about ‘al-Qaeda’ and Zarqawi being responsible for “80%” of the violence was used to hide from Americans that there were both Sunni and Shiite resistance movements against American occupation, and that they were Iraqis and widespread. ...

At the height of the conflict probably some 2.5 million Iraqis were displaced from their homes, fleeing elsewhere in the country. I’d now revise down the estimates of those displaced abroad, but likely there were at least half a million of them, and the United Nations High Commission on Refugees estimated them as more like 1.5 million. Many of these 3-4 milliion people, some 1/6 of the population, are still displaced and permanently lost their property, suffering a decline into poverty. Proportionally, it would be like 50 million Americans being forced out of their homes to take refuge in tents and slums elsewhere in the country or in Mexico or Canada. ...

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.
And he notes parenthetically, "One of the many motivations for the invasion of Iraq was to further destroy the socialist model for global south economies." Their extreme free-market shock therapy compounded the disaster.

Art Laffin, A call to repentance on the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq National Catholic Reporter 03/19/2013 writes:

The invasion and occupation has also taken a terrible toll on U.S. troops. More than 4,400 soldiers died, and countless more were injured. A vast number of veterans now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and the suicide rate has been exceedingly high, not only for soldiers who were in Iraq but also for those who were deployed in Afghanistan. Pentagon figures show that there were a record 349 suicides among active duty troops last year.

Regarding the economic cost of the Iraq war, the National Priorities Project has found that the U.S. has spent more than $807 billion waging it. And a Brown University report just released ahead of the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq says the Iraq war has cost the U.S. more than $2 trillion, including $500 billion in benefits owed to veterans.
Gene Lyons focuses on the national media's generally sorry record during the lead-up to the Iraq War in Ten Years On, Iraq War Skeptics Have A Right To Say 'I Told You So' National Memo 03/20/2013:

Possibly you remember "Shock and Awe." No, that’s not the title of a Rolling Stones concert tour, but of the United States’ bombs-over-Baghdad campaign that began exactly 10 years ago. American soldiers went pounding into Iraq accompanied by scores of “embedded” journalists seemingly eager to prove their patriotism and courage.

A skeptic couldn’t help but be reminded of spectators who rode from Washington in horse-drawn carriages to witness the battle of Bull Run in July of 1861. They too expected a short, decisive conflict. Even on NPR, invading Iraq was treated like the world’s largest Boy Scout Jamboree, instead of what it turned into: arguably the worst military and foreign policy blunder in U.S. history.

Skepticism, however, was in short supply. Spooked by 9/11 and intimidated by the intellectual bullies of the Bush administration, American journalists largely abandoned that professional virtue in favor of propaganda and groupthink.
The overall role of the national press during that period was genuinely disgraceful.

Also on the press' performance over the war, Charlie Pierce responds to a criticism from Jonathan Chait that he doesn't seem to be interested in "a more open and rational debate" about the way so much of the national press drank Dick Cheney's Kool-Aid in the runup to the war (The Iraq Apology Tour, Continued Esquire Politics Blog 03/21/2013):

... I don't want an open and rational debate with these lycanthropes. They relied on journalistic convention and the soft agreements between gentlemen to peddle their poison. I want them dismissed from this anniversary because it's like bringing out the Manson family to discuss the film oeuvre of Sharon Tate. I want to see op-eds from Hans Blix, and from ElBaradei. I want to see long retrospectives, not from the liberal laptop warriors assembled by The New Republic, but from Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay. (A note: I generally credit "the McClatchy guys" for getting it right. I got that wrong. McClatchy bought out Knight-Ridder after Strobel and Landay did all their best work. They did that work under the aegis of Knight-Ridder and that should be properly recognized.) For all the fan-dancing that's being done by people in order to rehabilitate themselves, it is still the most important thing to remember that there were people who Luckily, over at his place, Bill Moyers put up the full-length television special he did a few years back on this very subject. Consider that my open and rational response to the disgusting spectacle playing itself out elsewhere.
Stephen Walt, Who was right about invading Iraq? Foreign Policy 03/06/2013 recalls how wrong the Very Serious People in the foreign policy establishment were about invading Iraq:

Going to war is a fateful decision for any country, but it is now clear that most of the U.S. foreign policy establishment performed abysmally during the run-up to the war. Top officials in the Bush administration told several important lies to bolster the case for war, such as the claim that there was no doubt Iraq had WMD -- indeed, they said they knew where they were - -and the charge that Saddam was in cahoots with Al Qaeda.

The majority of prominent Democrats and plenty of card-carrying liberals backed the war as well. Indeed, almost all of the top foreign policy officials in Obama's first term were vocal supporters of the invasion, with the president himself being a notable exception. Denizens of the usual Washington think-tanks -- including supposedly "moderate" organizations like Brookings and bipartisan organizations like the Council on Foreign Relations -- were also filled with pro-war cheerleaders. The same was true of the New York Times and Washington Post, whose editors and reporters swallowed the Bush team's sales pitch hook, line, and sinker. All in all, the decision to invade was taken with a degree of carelessness and callowness unworthy of any country with pretensions to global leadership. And one should never forget that this reckless decision cost more than $1 trillion and led to thousands of American battlefield casualties and many ruined lives. Of course, the Iraqi people have suffered even more over the past decade.

But not everyone thought invading Iraq was a good idea.
The Iraq War wasn't just a bad idea. It resulted in a widespread institutional breakdown in the functioning of democratic institutions in the US.

Digby also offers a reminder of the mindset of those most responsible for the awful fiasco in Mea culpas, "The Arab Mind"and the White Man's Burden 03/21/2013:

One of the most fatuous aspects of the Iraq war was the supporters' insistence that the US was doing something uniquely benevolent by invading and killing people in that country. And even more absurd, that they would love us for it. Let's face it, the throwbacks weren't in Iraq. They were here. That anachronistic belief in "White Man's Burden"got a lot of people killed for nothing.

It turns out that human beings are all pretty much the same when it comes to being humiliated, dominated and killed by strangers. They don't like it. Who knew?

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