Loss of Innocence
David and Goliath
He Who Pays the Piper
Future of Colin Powell
Requiem for Broken Dream
Gifts from Paradise
War On Iraq
Bush One, Saddam One
Remember J. Merridith
State of In-Betweenity
Words Do Matter
The Lynching of Iraq
Before the Riots Begin
A Dog's Life
Passing of PM Charles
Fin. & Econ. Survival
In Walks 'Madam Hawke'
Impressions - 05 Elections
Deep Throat Revealed
Beyond The Pale
Gospel of Judas
Rise of Barack Obama
© J.B. Sampson
November 12, 2005 - I have maintained a careful silence, but no lack of interest, since the US made this fateful and catastrophic decision to invade Iraq in March of 2003. In prewar articles months before the commencement of hostilities I took a cynical look at the evidence presented to justify going to war with a country that had not attacked the United States.
In a piece entitled “ War On Iraq” in the summer of 2002 I opined: “There is a growing concern among moderates who fear that a small cabal of right wing zealots have effectively high jacked US foreign policy and are about to precipitate the country into war without sufficient provocation or justification.”
In January of 2003, with the drums of war clearly audible, two months before the invasion of Iraq, I penned a piece entitled “The Lynching Of Iraq” in which I likened the Bush administration’s rush to war to a lynching of a country that was reminiscent of the horrible experiences of black people during the dark days of racial violence and discrimination in the American south. “In the end Iraq may well end up getting lynched”, I noted, while observing that “it really strains one’s credulity to accept the argument that Iraq poses a threat to the United States that is greater than the threat posed by North Korea. So why the emphasis on Iraq? The answer is contained in three words: Oil, Israel and dominance.”
Fast forward to November 2005. Just a couple of weeks ago the former Chief Of Staff to former Secretary of State, Colin Powel, made a startling declaration in a major speech in which he claimed that the Bush foreign policy apparatus was dominated by a “cabal” consisting of Vice president Cheney and defense Secretary Donald H Rumsfeld who made all the major decisions in the period leading up to the war, while Bush simply “signed off’ on their decisions without the benefit of free and open discussions within the broader bureaucracy. And this is not difficult to believe when you consider the popular assessment of Bush as a person who famously lacks attention to details, who is devoid of the kind of intellectual curiosity for which Bill Clinton is known.
History cautions us not to make too much of events of recent vintage. The dust of time must be allowed to settle on an era before definitive conclusions can be drawn. Yet differences between how Bush handled the Iraq War, including its justification and execution, invites comparison with how John F Kennedy handled the Cuban Missile Crisis. One conclusion is obvious and irrefutable: America and the world were a lot better off having someone with the equanimity of John Kennedy in the White House to deal with the Soviets, rather than the current president.
But more broadly, the Iraq experience raises questions about the process of democracy itself. Here is a president who campaigned in the year 2000 without any mention of Iraq as an item high up on his agenda and soon after the elections we learnt of the existence a group of advisors labeled “neoconservatives”, or ‘neocons” for short, who were pushing an agenda of invading Iraq long before it was fashionable among mainstream conservatives to even contemplate that possibility. The camp of the neocons included the current defense secretary, Rumsfeld, and his then deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz who has since gone on to the greener pasture of the World Bank. What that group had in common was the idea that America had a historic opportunity, given its sole super power status, to use its military might and moral authority, but more the former, to reorder and remake the world in its own image, starting with the Middle East. This was indeed a major undertaking that failed to receive the benefit of political debate that we have come to expect from a democracy. On the contrary Bush himself said during his first campaign that he was not in favor of “nation building, one of several contradictions that have come to symbolize the Bush era.
It is noteworthy that after some 32 months since the invasion of Iraq the Bush administration is still struggling to win the argument about the war’s justification and its effect on the security of his country and the wider war on terrorism. The argument came to a boil last week when Bush gave speech in observance of Veterans Day in which he largely went after his critiques for criticizing him over manipulating and falsifying intelligence to justify the war. There is a tone of desperation in the president’s remarks: “It is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how the war began…These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America’s will..”
Presumably, President Bush wishes to say that it was “responsible” for him to have led (his critics would say ‘misled’) his country to war without verifiable proof of a threat to its national security, and that his critics are “irresponsible” or even unpatriotic for expressing their outrage for such a costly abuse of authority. I would contend that democracy itself took a body blow from his failure of leadership. New and emerging democracies cannot find comfort in the notion that what was touted to them as the best thing in the evolution of mankind would degrade into an error of monumental proportion: over two thousand Americans dead, over twenty thousand maimed or seriously injured or paralyzed, a cost to the country’s tax payers approaching 300 billion dollars, and America no safer from terrorism than it was before the invasion. In short, George Bush has not served America well.
While some equivocate about whether Iraq is better of with or without Saddam Hussein, I would suggest that the evidence shows that the number of innocent Iraqi civilians who were sacrificed during the war and since, and America’s own costs both in terms of lives and treasure, is of a magnitude that calls into question the sanity of those who proclaim that removing a brutal dictator was worth the cost. The law of natural attrition, if there is such a law, generally takes care of humans who eventually confront their own mortality. And besides, America has been known to support numerous brutal dictators in the past, Saddam Hussein himself being a prominent example when he was at war with Iran, an enemy of America then, as it is now. I am reminded of a famous quip attributed to President Richard Nixon, commenting on America’s friendly relations with another brutal dictator, Samoza of Nicaragua: “He may be a son of a bitch; but he is our son of a bitch.” So the litmus test for America’s foreign relations has never been grounded in morality, but rather, whatever is deemed to be pragmatic and considered to be in the national interest. A similar formulation can be used to explain America’s relations with China, “Red China” in the frigid days of the Cold War. Today China, despite its spotty record of human rights and its tenacious adherence to some of the fundamental tenets of communism, remains a key player in the global economy and a major creditor to the United States while Cuba, a neighboring communist country, continues to live under a painful economic embargo that has left millions short of food and medicine. Where is the morality in this inconsistent behavior?
So any suggestion that the invasion of Iraq was grounded in morality is not credible. It was grounded in self interest and the passion of a group of foreign policy zealots , the neoconservatives, who sold a naïve president a bill of goods wrapped in the guise of making America safer from terrorists. It was wishful thinking, as time has proven. The old American adage of being careful of what you ask for because you might just get it, comes to mind.
By far the most perplexing aspect of the Iraq debacle, in my view, is the degree to which otherwise intelligent Americans allowed themselves to be deceived on the way to war. One would think that the experience of the Viet Nam War, in particular, the well publicized historical record of bogus and fabricated evidence which gave rise to the Gulf of Tonkin resolution leading to that war, would have given pause to level minded and impartial observers and encourage them to raise questions about the direction their government was taking them. But not so. Most seemed to have allowed the shock of 9/11 to skew their judgment, both the general public and politicians of every stripe, with the exception of a few.
Now there is buyer’s remorse. What have we gotten ourselves into? How could this have happened? Congress wants an investigation of the use or misuse of intelligence leading up to the war. Leading politicians are trying to salvage what is left of their credibility by suggesting that if they knew then what they know now, they would not have voted for the war. But President Bush, who I compared a couple of weeks ago to a man who foolishly sticks his face into a hornet’s nest and while every one around him is lamenting his predicament and tries to find a way out, seems oblivious of the seriousness of his situation while he reinvents reasons to retroactively justify his decision. At first, it was weapons of mass destruction. When none was found, this morphed into creating a climate for democracy in the Middle East. And lately, the justification has been: if we pull out now Iraq will become a haven for terrorists and America will be less safe.
It’s about time that some tells them to wake up and smell the coffee. It has been brewing for a couple of years now. Iraq has become a haven for terrorists, which it was not before the invasion and what is more frightening is that they have begun to export it , to Jordan, as the hotel bombing last week has proven. Nor will the continued presence of US troops make the region any more partial to democracy. If any thing, the continued presence of foreign troops will only increase animosity and hostility to those labeled “crusaders”. By remaining in Iraq under any pretense the US will only further internationalize the jihad and cause the war to become more intensive and deadly.
Another unfortunate consequence of the Iraq fiasco is its effect not only on the American psyche, but on America itself and its values. Richard Nixon, whom I referred to earlier, in the midst of his Watergate troubles, said something to the effect that one should avoid hating one’s enemies because once this happens, you become like your enemies—full of hate and bitterness which is ultimately self destructive. This is exactly what has happened to America and American values. The Iraq war has resulted in a fundamental shift in American values. Just listen to the dialogue in the media and the ease and comfort with which they use the word ‘kill’ as if they are referring to an activity of a noble or moral character. Just consider the fact of holding suspects in secret jails overseas and openly in Guantanamo, Cuba, without the due process of law and in violation of the Geneva Convention to which America is a signatory and which regulates the treatment of prisoners. The British showed some sense last week when parliament handed Prime Minister Tony Blair a major defeat on his proposal to hold terror suspects in jail for 90 days without the benefit of due process. But just consider the well publicized treatment of prisoner abuse and the moral outrage that they have provoked throughout the world. Just imagine for a moment that the leader of the Republican majority in the senate, Bill Frist, makes a statement in which he claims that he is more concerned about the fact of a leak of the secret American prisons overseas than the existence of the prisons themselves. Again, just imagine yourself being among the 30,000 Americans who are randomly selected for surveillance with no prior evidence of activity in terrorism. But you do not have to imagine them. These are happening as I write and as you read this column. This points to a rather sad corrosion of the moral values that once characterized this great nation. America is losing its soul and it seems perfectly justified to some as long as it is labeled as part of the war on terror.
As the nation ponders on why and how it became entangled in the Iraq adventure, I hope it has learned the lesson of great empires that have risen and then fell, largely out of hubris. The ancient Greeks knew something or two about the exaggerated pride or self confidence, which is imbedded in this sin of hubris. And if American policy makers have any sense of history they will, if only belatedly, recognize that their Iraqi policy was a function of the hubris that permeated the ranks of the neoconservatives and as a consequence, the nation is paying a terrible price. For indeed what is often referred to as the War on Terrorism is, in a real sense, a clash of cultures, Western Judeo-Christian beliefs on the one hand, and Middle Eastern Muslim and Arab cultures on the other. Both sides appear to want to settle their differences by war of a kind not seen before.
At this difficult moment in George W. Bush’s presidency his poll ratings make him appear lower than the belly of a snake, to quote a favorite Bill Clinton metaphor. Perhaps American democracy will survive this latest body blow since we know that politicians of both parties pay careful attention to their poll rankings, even if they do not always admit it. But it would be better still if the American electorate had been savvy enough, and enlightened enough to unmask the slick oil salesmen who pass as politicians as they attempt to mislead their people in military adventures of dubious validity.