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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Iraq: what was the point « Previous | |Next »
September 1, 2010

The United States has announced that it is ending combat operations in Iraq. Obama is delivering on a campaign promise to wind down America's involvement in Iraq. That war was based on lies about the threat from weapons of mass destruction. The result was rendition, arbitrary detention and torture and catastrophe in Iraq.

So what was achieved by the neo-con invasion of Iraq that has cost the US around $700 billion or more, and resulted in the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, 2 million internally displaced Iraqis, more than 4,500 coalition deaths, a dysfunctional Iraqi government, few basic services such as electricity and water, and bombed out urban centres?


Juan Cole says:

How many Iraqis were killed in all this violence is controversial. It should be remembered that hundreds of thousands also died because of dirty water and lack of medical care, since many physicians and nurses fled the constant clashes. Surely the total death toll attributable to the US invasion and occupation, and the Iraqi reaction to them, is in the hundreds of thousands. Millions have been wounded. Some 4 million Iraqis were displaced, some 2.7 million of them inside the country, and most remain homeless. Iraq is a country of widows and orphans, of the unemployed and the displaced.

Iraq is not stable or democratic and its survival as a united and functioning state is now in question with the total US military withdrawal from the country by the end of 2011.

What was the purpose of the war when Iraq did not pose security threat to the US to justify an Anglo-American invasion that flattened the country and dismantled its entire political order?

In the New York Times the former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz says the US should stay in Iraq just like it did in Korea to ensure that Iraq us a stable country. Who is going to be contained by a semi-permanent military presence in Iraq? Containing a nuclear Iran?

The threat to regional security has more to do with the prospect of the prospect of a nuclearized Iran and the possibility of Israel endeavouring to stop Iran before it goes nuclear by a strike designed to cripple the Iranian nuclear program. This would involve bombing the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, the formerly secret enrichment site at Qom, the nuclear-research center at Esfahan, and the Bushehr reactor, along with the other main sites of the Iranian nuclear program.

Obama professes to believe that he can “turn the page” on history. In the shadow of two towers, the United States declared a new kind of global war, a war that it has been fighting for nine years with little end in sight. The pages of American history indicate that war is now the American way. Whilst Obama tries to extricate the US from the war in Iraq the guns blazing in a war in Afghanistan. Presumably “combat operations” in Iraq become “stability operations” in an enduring war in which the main danger to the US is “terrorism.”

There is no talk in Washington of closing the hundreds and hundreds of bases, large and small, that the US garrisons around the world? No one is saying that the US should dismantle its empire and came home. There is no debate about what would happen to the US if it were no longer the "sole superpower" or the world's self-appointed policeman. These are the kind of questions being asked by Chalmers Johnson in his Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope (American Empire Project)

America's official "century" of being top dog (1945-2045? ) is coming to an end. Whether the US dismantles its empire or not, China will become the world's next superpower.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:25 AM | | Comments (21)


Barton Gellman, a staff writer for the Washington Post, writing soon after the 1991 conflict, observed that: “Some targets, especially later in the war, were bombed primarily to create postwar leverage over Iraq, not to influence the course of the conflict itself.” Gellman quoted Colonel John A Warden, deputy director of Air Force strategy, doctrine and plans: “One purpose of destroying Iraq’s electrical grid was that you have imposed a long-term problem on the leadership that it has to deal with sometime.” Gellman added: “It gives us long-term leverage.”

Former UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, Denis Halliday, who resigned from the position in disgust in 1998, contends that epidemics of cholera, dysentery and hepatitis that have plagued Iraq since the 1991 Gulf War were the direct result of the US deliberately targeting Iraq’s infrastructure. He cites a recently released declassified US Defense Intelligence Agency document from the start of the conflict, pointing out Iraq’s vulnerable water situation. The document predicted that the shortage of pure drinking water resulting from the bombing of infrastructure could “lead to increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease”.

“I think there’s no doubt whatsoever that the Americans had worked out the vulnerability of Iraq in terms of clean fresh water,” Halliday said. “So they set about destroying electrical power capacity, which is essential, of course, for the treatment and distribution of water.”

Halliday estimated that by 1999 the destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure and UN sanctions had directly caused the deaths of 600,000 children and 500,000 adults through malnutrition and disease....

The welfare and safety of the Iraqi people was NEVER the primary motivation!

It has long seemed to me that the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are for domestic US consumption. The imagined threat of terrorism keeps the population tractable.

If that is true, why have a real war? Why not just use the resources of the media and Hollywood to report and dramatise an imaginary war, wherein hordes of evil terrorists (or Communists, or greenies, or whatever) are constantly engaged and defeated by heroic Right-wing US armed forces?

Thanks to the magic of television (and the right-wing US media), oodles of real money could still be transferred to the MIC to fight the imaginary war, thus drastically increasing the profit ratio.

Having a real war is soooo Twentieth Century!
"Baghdad year zero:
Pillaging Iraq in pursuit of a neocon utopia"
This 2004 article by Naomi Klein gives a powerful analysis of a major part of the motivation for the war.

The article gets better the further you delve into it.

I suspect the vast majority of Americans feel no safer today than they did when the glorious WoT kicked off.

thanks for the link to Naomi Klein's Baghdad year zero: Pillaging Iraq in pursuit of a neocon utopia in Harpers magazine. This is a great paragraph:

The great historical irony of the catastrophe unfolding in Iraq is that the shock-therapy reforms that were supposed to create an economic boom that would rebuild the country have instead fueled a resistance that ultimately made reconstruction impossible. Bremer's reforms unleashed forces that the neocons neither predicted nor could hope to control, from armed insurrections inside factories to tens of thousands of unemployed young men arming themselves. These forces have transformed Year Zero in Iraq into the mirror opposite of what the neocons envisioned: not a corporate utopia but a ghoulish dystopia, where going to a simple business meeting can get you lynched, burned alive, or beheaded. These dangers are so great that in Iraq global capitalism has retreated, at least for now.

What the neocons had created with their economic reforms in the form of shock therapy was not a model free market but a failed state no right-thinking investor would touch.

The neo-cons are still trying to rewrite history to show that Iraq was an American success in nation building.

"As long as people believe in absurdities, they will continue to commit atrocities"

Tony Blair is still justifying his decision to invade Iraq. In his book he says Blair admits that the intelligence that Saddam possessed a WMD programme "turned out to be incorrect".

Despite admitting this error, he says the invasion was still the correct course of action Saddam still had the intent to develop a weapons of mass destruction programme. The Iraqi leader only put his WMD programme "into abeyance" for short-term tactical reasons to end UN sanctions.

A point I would like to add is that sometimes we omit context and ask the wrong question.

For example I am 64 years old.

And without getting too pedantic about it I reckon the United States govt [plus cronies which all to frequently includes Australia]
has been at 'war', officially or unofficially, against some poor victim nation virtually all my life.
Thats lots of countries for lots of years. Too many. Its not accidental or coincidence.

Try listing the countries the United States govt has attacked, giving a variety of 'excuses', since WW2.

The 'normal' state of affairs for the US govt is to be actively attacking and killing people somewhere in the world.

The relevant question is not why the US govt [I'm stressing who is responsible here and to some extent exonerating the broad public, but not the vested intersts involved] attacked Iraq [or Afghanistan] but why is it ALWAYS attacking someone somewhere?

It's gratifying to sense a healthy contempt for US foreign policy and a bit of scepticism about their motives.
How fortunate to have that strong post from mars 08 backed up with that blood freezing quote from Warden provided by Gellman, providing the backdrop in terms of a generation of suffering for Iraqis.
We forget the Iran Iraq war,encouraged by the US and the million that apparently perished prior to the second gulf invasion. Finally we awoke to the sight of a comatose Iraq; post-invasion, ceding in writing all those infrastructure maintainence and supply contracts for Iraq's oil, a bit quietly, a couple of years ago.
The divvying up occured under the auspices of the US, with selected others, included as rewards and to buy off troublesome regional hegemons, such as Russia .

"...that strong post..."

Thanks for the compliment. The sad reality is that most people just swallow whatever is dished up to them... AND... they think that history started on 9/11.

Yep, nice one mars08, valuable input, necessary.

its not surprising the the US is continually fighting small nations and it has been in a state of permanent war since WW2. It is an empire--Washington rules--- that does not welcome threats to its superpower status by an emergent power eg., the USSR and China. It frames these challenges in black and white terms --as a struggle between good and evil--- to justify the claim of the essentially benign purposes of American power.

Andrew Bacevich states the assumptions in his Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War:

To consent to any dilution of American power would be to forfeit global leadership, thereby putting at risk safety, prosperity, and freedom, not only our own but also that of our friends and allies.The choices seemed clear enough. On one side was the status quo: the commitments, customs, and habits that defined American globalism, implemented by the national security apparatus .... On the other side was the prospect of appeasement, isolationism, and catastrophe. The only responsible course was the one to which every president since Harry Truman had adhered.

The instinctive response of an imperial presidency is to act as the world's cop ensuring law and order on its global periphery. It frames

I bow to no-one in my contempt for US foreign policy in general and the attack on Iraq in particular, but let's not forget our own eager participation. I've yet to sense that many Australians understand or are even interested in the enormity of the catastrophe we helped unleash on a nation that posed no conceivable threat to us. If you suggested that we should express deep remorse or devote substantial resources to trying to help the survivors - I mean 'substantial' in the sense they would cause real pain for Australian taxpayers - I'm sure the response would be a mixture of hostility and derision. Our nation committed the greatest crime against humanity of all - waging aggressive war - and there is no sign anyone of importance in the local ruling class even cares.

Ken... I reckon there are a bunch of reasons you don't hear a whisper of remorse from most of our fellow citizens.

Near the top of the list I'd guess there's... the inability to fathom what it feels like to go through decades of war and sanctions... the ethnic "exchange rate" for suffering (ie. one of their lives is worth about 500 of ours)... and then there's that river in Egypt.. denial.

Besides, we won!

re your comment: "Our nation committed the greatest crime against humanity of all - waging aggressive war - and there is no sign anyone of importance in the local ruling class even cares."

Despite the the façade of the "Global war on Terror", the era of US global dominance--“The American Century”--- is coming to an end with the emergence of China. A deeply indebted US no longer has the financial capacity to maintain a global military presence, to configure its forces for global power projection, and to counter existing or anticipated threats by relying on a policy of global interventionism.

The curtain is now falling on the American Century. Canberra has got a problem.

mars 08
re your comment "the sad reality is that most people just swallow whatever is dished up to them... AND... they think that history started on 9/11."

Since 9/11 fear has been fanned by politicians and the media and accepted by the populace. Fear has allowed the executive to assume greater and greater power, and any near-miss by terrorist attacks whips up an enormous media frenzy that serves to remind citizens of the fear they should be feeling.

Remarkably though Gary, many people in Washington carry on as if nothing has changed. Petraeus has just hired Fred Kagan to advise him about Afghanistan. KAGAN! Why not Bill Kristol and get someone who has been wrong 100% of the time instead of 75%? And Wolfowitz is demanding that Iraq be the new South Korea, with forces stationed there indefinitely (Why? Why not?).

Just imagine the perilous state of the world today if McCain had won in November 2008. And it's not impossible an even bigger war-mongering lunatic might win in 2012.

I agree that the US Empire is in decline, but it's got plenty of life in it yet and I'm sure a lot of people are gong to suffer and die at the hands of the American military over the coming decades. All in the cause of protecting freedom and liberty, natch.

re your "I agree that the US Empire is in decline, but it's got plenty of life in it yet and I'm sure a lot of people are gong to suffer and die at the hands of the American military over the coming decades."

yep. The US will drift through a number of wars during its period of decline. 'Drift' may not be the right word given this activity.

Let's not forget that the US actually requires a constant state of warfare, to sell its technology to tinpots who want to wage proxy wars against America's enemies, whilst it tidies up on sales debt-loaded onto obligated third world clients.
From there, the profits in part support research and development on more sophisticated weapons to sell at a later date when the ones they're currently sold become obsolete and the tinpots they have squaring off at each other again need to add debt to debt, to avoid becoming victims of a sort of built in obsolescence.
As long as the US maintains a techno edge on weaponary and ordinance it will continue to manipulate world affairs to suit itself, whilst profiting from it.
I remember getting to read the Roman statesman Cicero's detailed account of his governership of the Roman province of Cilicia, in current Turkey.
The similarities in some aspects to the way the Romans controlled their empire, to two thousand years later and "pax americana", continue to surprise this writer.

Freedom and liberty was the aim of the native Filipinos opposing the American armed forces... 11o years ago.

General Jake "Howling" Smith was determined not to let that happen. Either the troublesome natives surrendered to the Americans troops or any Filipino over the age of 10 was to be shot. Fortunately, most of Smith's subordinates showed restraint, but not all of them.

Over a century ago!