Iraq: An Anti-War Perspective – posted 6/27/2014 and published in the Concord Monitor on 7/2/2014
This piece appeared in the Concord Monitor on 7/2/14 under the title “U.S. Role in Iraq Should Be Humanitarian”. Jon
It is eleven years since President George W. Bush declared “mission accomplished” in Iraq. Rarely have words been so wrong. We can now look back and see that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their crew of neo-conservatives cluelessly opened Pandora’s box in Iraq.
The costs have been incalculable. The economist Joseph Stiglitz has estimated the price tag of Bush’s war at more than three trillion dollars. Over 4,000 American soldiers have died along with an estimated 500,000 Iraqis. For the wounded American troops, the injuries have been grievous. IEDs have ripped off limbs and genitals, catastrophically affecting many lives. And that does not even touch the many thousands of traumatic brain injuries and PTSD cases.
In watching the further unravelling of Iraq, I have been struck by the shallowness of most political commentary about the war. Typically the narrative is a blame game. Democrats blame George W. Bush’s administration and Republicans blame Obama.
I want to suggest a different viewpoint. Both parties bear some degree of responsibility for the Iraq War. While the George W. Bush administration bears primary responsibility as the architect of war, it must be pointed out that many, many Democrats went along with Bush and supported the invasion. Both the neo-conservatives and the liberal hawks were on board.
It needs to be flat-out said: the Iraq war was a colossal fraud perpetrated against the American people. The Bush Administration submitted false information to Congress and the public. They manufactured a case for invasion based on complete falsehoods. The two major falsehoods were existence of weapons of mass destruction and the link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. While Obama took a pass on it, a strong legal case can be made that Bush and Cheney committed war crimes. There is an immense amount of blood on their hands.
United Nations charter law did not permit the President to launch the Iraq War unless there had been an armed attack by Iraq against the U.S. or unless the U.N. Security Council authorized the use of force. Neither condition was met. And I am not even getting to the matter of torture.
While many would, no doubt, dismiss this, I submit that the United States lacked legal authority to intervene in the affairs of the Iraqi people. This is quite different than our legal position relative to Al Qaeda after the 9/11attacks. A far stronger argument can be made to justify a military response to the perpetrators of 9/11. Al Qaeda did attack the U.S. and killed over 3000 people.
As politicians ponder next steps with Iraq, the history of the last eleven years suggests caution. It also suggests critical reevaluation of American interests. Really going back all the way back to the Vietnam War such a critical reevaluation is long overdue.
Politicians focus on questions like: should we use drones or air strikes? Or should we reintroduce combat soldiers? These are not the most important questions. We need to look harder at whether our national interest is actually threatened by a regional conflict. Too often we immediately answer “yes”.
Nations have a right to self-determination and it is not the job of the United States to be world policeman. I think it is a safe bet Sunnis will be fighting Shias and Shias will be fighting Sunnis for the foreseeable future. Why does the United States belong in the middle of this mix? Is it simply because of fear of a loss of face or fear of being criticized for presiding over another disaster where Americans are considered losers? If there is a role why should it not be diplomatic or humanitarian?
Before the war started, I remember the world-wide demonstrations against it. Along with millions of others all over the world, I demonstrated in Concord in front of the State House. The demonstrators all knew the war was wrong before it started but nobody listened to the demonstrators. Many of us had the insight that the war made little sense, was unrelated to 9/11, and was probably about oil. Whatever politicians say about terrorist threats, access to oil still remains a central concern of American policy.
One profound irony of the Iraq War of the last eleven years is the reality that the American invasion set into motion a terrorist advance. There would be no ISIS without the Americans. ISIS is blowback. Whatever the awfulness of Saddam Hussein’s rule as a military strongman, he had held the country together and squelched Sunni-Shia rivalry. The American invasion and aftermath created the context for the demolition of the country into Sunni, Shia and Kurd power blocs. The amount of bloodshed unleashed by our invasion has been staggering.
When I think of those who acted honorably around the Iraq war, one political name comes to mind: Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California. Facing an avalanche of criticism including death threats, Congresswoman Lee was the only member of either House of Congress to vote against President Bush’s broadstroke authorization for the use of force after the 9/11 attacks. In explaining her vote, she said:
“It was a blank check to the president to attack anyone involved in the September 11 events – anywhere, in any country, without regard to our nation’s long-term foreign policy, economic and national security interests, and without time limit. In granting these overly broad powers, the Congress failed its responsibility to understand the dimensions of its declaration.”
Now Congresswoman Lee is emphasizing that President Obama needs to come to Congress for any war authorization. She is also advocating no more money for combat troops. I think she has been a lonely voice of wisdom and remains so.
It is predictable that military hawks will fulminate about ISIS and push for deeper military involvement in Iraq. Witness Dick Cheney reappearing last week on TV and in the Wall Street Journal. Discredited is too kind a word for that individual. Before the war in Iraq in 2003, Kurt Vonnegut described people like Cheney as PPs – psychopathic personalities. To quote Vonnegut:
“PPs are presentable, they know full well the suffering their actions may cause others, but they do not care. They cannot care because they are nuts. They have a screw loose”.
We need to resist the siren song of the neo-cons.Given their track record, why anyone would listen to them now is beyond imagination.
At least as far as the role of the United States, I am reminded of a saying from A.J. Muste, a peace activist from an earlier generation: “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.” Considering the results from eleven years of war, I do not think that is bad advice.
There is much more that needs to be said about our militarism and our American tendency to overreach. I will write more about this in the future.