So over the past 10 years way too many hours of television and way too many books have been written on the reasons for and meaning of the Iraq War. At the risk of contributing to all that jazz by adding my own perspective, I can’t seem to let go of the fact that I’ve never really been able to communicate how I felt about the origins of this war, how this war was conducted, and how I feel now that the war has ended. I can’t promise that this article will be brief–though it doesn’t matter, hardly anyone will read it anyway–but it will at least serve to purge my mind of my feelings regarding it.
I need to make a brief statement on the first Iraq War, Desert Storm. Regardless of the actual US reasons for entering the war (oil), I did fully support it because Iraq had actually annexed another country. We saw it, the rest of the world saw it, and we all went in and stopped it. Then we got out, which was smart. Desert Storm lasted from Jan 17 – Feb 28th of 1991. I agreed with President Bush Sr’s decision and in the words of Dick Cheney in 1994, “If we’d gone to Baghdad…it would’ve been a US occupation of Iraq…once you took down Saddam Hussein’s government what are you going to put in its place? It’s a quagmire…how many dead Americans is Saddam Hussein worth? In our judgment it was not very many.” Agreed, sir. A total of 294 US troops died in the Gulf War.
For me the second Iraq War was misguided from the start. It was driven by our executive branch of government preying upon our fears to put forth an agenda of their own, which had its genesis even before 9/11. No less a figure than Paul O’Neill, Bush’s Treasury Secretary, says in his book that at Bush’s very first National Security Council meeting an agenda involving Saddam Hussein was put forth. “From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,” says O’Neill, who added that going after Saddam was topic “A” 10 days after the inauguration – eight months before Sept. 11. He also obtained one Pentagon document, dated March 5, 2001, and entitled “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield contracts,” which includes a map of potential areas for exploration.
Not a lot of folks seem to remember that going into Iraq was first sold to us not long after 9/11, with our administration telling us that an invasion of Iraq was necessary because they were behind, or at least linked to, the terrorists that attacked us. Dick Cheney famously said on Meet the Press that “We learned more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida that stretched back through most of the decade of the ’90s…that al-Qaida sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems that are involved. The Iraqis providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the al-Qaida organization.” Then in ’04 he said there was “overwhelming evidence” of a relationship between Saddam and al-Qaeda. These were all lies. We know clearly that Iraq had no link whatsoever to 9/11. The 9/11 Commission has said it, Richard Clarke has said it, Colin Powell has said it also. In fact, President Bush received on September 21 2001 a classified President’s Daily Brief indicating the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the September 11th attacks and that “there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda.” Here’s the 9/11 Commission’s quote: “to date we have seen no evidence that these or the earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship. Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States.” Richard Clarke–the chief counter-terrorism advisor on the National Security Council at the time–has said that on Sept 12th, the day after the attack, the President wanted Clarke and his team to find “an Iraqi hand behind 9/11 because they had been planning to do something about Iraq before he came into office. Donald Rumsfeld said there were no good targets in Afghanistan. They said let’s bomb Iraq. We said but Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, and that didn’t seem to make much difference.” Clarke resigned his position in 2003, the same year we invaded. Al Qaeda was much more closely linked with Saudi Arabia then it ever was with Iraq (at least before the war), but they had too many close ties with the White House and the Bush family to ever be seriously looked at. So the first reason given to us for invading Iraq after a half-hearted attack on Afghanistan was that Iraq was actually the menacing figure behind 9/11. The lying seemed to work. A Time/CNN survey from 9/03 famously stated that 70% of Americans actually believed “it is likely that ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.” Well not me.
The second reason given was, as we all remember, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. WMD’s = nuclear weaponry. This was also fiction, and the US government knew it. First, Iraq was a country that had never attacked America and had never threatened to attack America. Second, there was never strong evidence implicating the development of nuclear weapons, and what evidence there was has been generally acknowledged as being terrible. In July 2002 the infamous Downing Street Memo was sent. Downing Street is the residence of the British Prime Minister, much as Pennsylvania Ave is for our White House. The memo recorded the head of MI6–the British secret service– stating “[George W.] Bush wanted to remove Saddam Hussein, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” It also quoted Foreign Secretary Jack Straw as saying that it was clear that Bush had “made up his mind” to take military action but that “the case was thin.” Just a few months later Resolution 1441 (the resolution eventually used as the legal basis for the invasion of Iraq) was passed which called for Iraq to completely cooperate with UN weapon inspectors to verify that it was not in possession of weapons of mass destruction and cruise missiles. The UNMOVIC was given access by Iraq but found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Following the invasion, the U.S.-led Iraq Survey Group concluded that Iraq had ended its nuclear, chemical, and biological programs in 1991 and had no active programs at the time of the invasion. Before the Gulf War, in 1990, Iraq had stockpiled 550 short tons of yellowcake uranium. In Feb ’02, the CIA sent former ambassador Joseph Wilson to investigate reports that Iraq was attempting to purchase additional yellowcake from Niger. Wilson returned and informed the CIA that reports of yellowcake sales to Iraq were “unequivocally wrong.” The administration ignored this and Bush said in his State of the Union in Jan of ’03 that Iraq was trying to buy uranium. This led to Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame being publicly identified as an undercover CIA agent, remember that? In September ’02 the Bush administration, the CIA and the DIA said there were attempts by Iraq to acquire aluminum tubes which they said pointed to an effort to make centrifuges to enrich uranium for nuclear bombs. The DOE (Yup, our own Dept of Energy) and the INR argued that the Iraqi tubes were poorly suited for centrifuges, though it was technically possible with additional modification. A report released by the ISIS (also in ’02, before the war started) reported that it was highly unlikely that the tubes could be used to enrich uranium. So with all of this evidence to the contrary, why was a nuclear/biological arsenal being sold to us as a reason to go to war?
It was being sold to us because the administration was going into Iraq because they wanted to, probably for oil drilling rights and to establish a power base, although alternative motives have been ascribed, such as forcibly democratizing the Middle East to make it safer for Israel–our only ally in the region. Not because they felt Iraq was a threat on any level. This would help explain how in ’02 Halliburton (Dick Cheney’s company and the second-largest oilfield company in the world, which he had just retired from two years previous) in the run-up to the Iraq war, was awarded a $7 billion contract in Iraq for which only Halliburton was allowed to bid. It was also reported that Donald Rumsfeld’s office took control of every aspect of Halliburton’s Iraqi oil/infrastructure contract. Then in 2007 Dow Jones announced that Iraq’s puppet parliament was considering a law “which the US gov’t has been helping to craft” that would give giant Western oil companies 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi oil. Additionally 75% of the profits in the early years would go to the foreign companies, compared to an average of 10% in other oil-producing companies. Don’t take my word for it, look it up yourself.
I never bought the official line and neither did virtually any other first-world country, which is why the UN did not sanction the invasion and the “Coalition of the Willing” that our President put together to go into Iraq included countries like East Timor, Romania, El Savador, Estonia, Mongolia, and Iceland. The only countries that actually supplied troops during the initial invasion were England and Poland. How a man as intelligent as Tony Blair could be fooled into this I don’t know. I do, however, remember him being invited to the US to talk with President Bush, and that not long after he returned he said that Britain supported us and would be sending troops. My own personal opinion is that Bush and his cronies worked hard to persuade Blair, and there was probably at least some element of bullying involved. Most of America was already terrified because of a terrorist attack on American soil, and now because they were being convinced another attack would come, this time from Iraq. “Fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here.” Right. This ought to go along with the other famous statement “We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” Thanks Mr. Cheney, what a prophetic observation.
Blair wasn’t the only one being bullied. If you were an American and you opposed the war, you were called unpatriotic if not an outright traitor. This was a culture that was instigated and perpetuated by our government. We were told repeatedly we had been attacked by terrorists and that terrorists lived in Iraq. Unlike Vietnam nobody blamed the troops for being sent, so instead we blamed anyone who didn’t support the war. This is how you shape public opinion to conform to the leadership. A quote that perfectly fits this comes from Field Marshall Hermann Goering, one of the highest military commanders in the Nazi party: “Of course the people do not want war…but after all it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along… the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them that they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism.”
Just a few months into ’03, President Bush gave that “Mission Accomplished” speech in which he declared victory over Iraq. This was true only in the sense of overwhelming Iraq’s standing military and taking Baghdad, not the way the White House intended the message to be: that we’d won the war. Of course Saddam Hussein was still at large and we had 8 more years of war ahead of us. Kinda like a quagmire. It was particularly funny how the Navy and the White House blamed each other for putting up that banner on the ship. The White House later conceded that they actually hung the banner.
When we “discovered” that there were no WMD’s in Iraq in ’06, a third reason was sold to us. The Iraqis need freedom! They needed democracy, those noble savages, and we were just the ones to give it to them. By this time of course, it was too late. We’d been involved in this war for years, destabilized the government of Iraq and much of the Middle East, provided a gathering ground for terrorists where it hadn’t existed before and managed to tick off the Sunnis, the Shiites and the Kurds in the process. Actually the Shiites are probably thanking us because we allowed them to sieze control of the government; most of their leaders studied in Iran theological institutions so they see Iran as a friend. Our own troops had committed atrocities against the very people we were trying to free, we’d set up a prison of our own in Guantanamo Bay which now seemed to condone torture, and the prisons that we ran over in Iraq such as Abu Ghraib had us acting like the very terrorists we were trying to fight. Meanwhile many of the citizens and newly-strengthened terrorist elements in Iraq were killing off our soldiers month by month. In another atrocity, five US Army soldiers of the 502nd Infantry Regiment raped a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and then murdered her, her father, her mother and her six-year-old sister. The soldiers then set fire to the girl’s body to conceal evidence of the crime.
The war dragged on and the administration put together the Iraq Study Group, remember that? The report was released at the end of ’06, led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton. What did it find? “The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating” and “U.S. forces seem to be caught in a mission that has no foreseeable end.” What, you mean like a quagmire? In ’07 we sent the Surge. That year Iraq’s own Parliamentary lawmakers sent us a petition to set a timetable for our withdrawal. None was set. What little coalition troops were with us were pulling out and turning over authority to the Iraqis. There’s debate on whether the Surge worked or not–a Pentagon report said it did, but independent reports raised a lot of questions about the Pentagon’s. There was a reported trend of decreasing U.S. troop deaths after May ’07 and into ’08, and violence against coalition troops had fallen to the “lowest levels since the first year of the American invasion.” Later data from the Pentagon and the GAO claimed daily attacks against civilians in Iraq remained “about the same” since February. The GAO also stated that there was no discernible trend in sectarian violence. What I do know is that entire neighborhoods in Baghdad were ethnically cleansed by Shia and Sunni militias and sectarian violence broke out in every Iraqi city where there was a mixed population. The rate of US soldier deaths in Baghdad nearly doubled during the first 7 weeks of the Surge, and in August of ’07 the single deadliest attack of the whole war occurred in northern Iraq, killing almost 800 civilians. You figure out the Surge, because I can’t.
Anyway, the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement was approved by the Iraqi government in December of ’08. It established that U.S. combat forces will withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009, and that all U.S. forces will be completely out of Iraq by December 31, 2011. I’m totally convinced that the only reason we are out of there by that deadline is because a Republican is not in office, and it’s an election year for our current President.
So here we are, the war is over. Was it worth it? That’s the biggest question of all. Let’s look at the costs and benefits. First, the fiscal cost. On average we spent $16 billion a month during the war. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz coauthored a book on the cost of the war, estimating an “ultra-conservative” cost to the US economy of $3 trillion and how the war has contributed to the US economic slowdown. The cost of oil has quadrupled since 2002. The war in Iraq cost a lot, but that’s not to say we didn’t make money from it. From 2005 to 2008, the United States had completed approximately $20 billion in arms sales agreements with Iraq, primarily from M-16 and M-4 rifles, but also including our tanks and armored vehicles. In 2011 we agreed to sell Iraq 18 F-16 fighter jets. F-16’s? Some of the most advanced flight technology on the planet, and we’re selling it to the Iraqis. We shouldn’t be selling them to anyone.
Next, the cost of respect. The name of our great nation has been dragged through the mud as a result. Yes it’s true, and yes it does matter. Just a brief look on the net found a poll from back in ’07 from 25 different countries which estimated 73% of the world disapproves of our handling of the war. This is because we DID mishandle it!
The cost in terms of human rights abuses. The Iraqi security forces we trained have used torture; Iraqi death squads since the new gov’t is in place have committed numerous massacres and tortures of Sunnis. I’ve already talked about abuses our own soldiers committed. I won’t mention in detail our use of white phosphorous, the disproportionate force used in Fallujah in ’04 or the planting of weapons on noncombatant, unarmed Iraqis by U.S. Marines after killing them.
The cost in terms of lives. This we will never know for certain. The most reliable numbers I can find come from the Iraq Body Count project. How’s that for a grisly name? They estimate between 104,000 – 113,000 civilian deaths alone. Folks like you and me. They add “it should be noted that many deaths will probably go unreported or unrecorded by officials and media.” The World Health Organization partnered with Iraq back in January of ’08 and estimated between 104,000 – 223,000. How many US troops were killed? Well that’s even tougher to find out. By May of 2010 there were 4,404 dead, 31,827 wounded in action. The chart I’ve found on the left gives a 2011 number at 4,483. This number does not document the suicides by US troops, or the estimated 1/3 with PTSD or other mental health problems. That tends to happen when you serve a tour in Iraq and then the government decides you will serve another one, and another one, and another one. How many broken homes are the result of multiple forced tours in the worst warzone in the world at the time? “Bring it on” doesn’t seem like the best mantra here.
The cost to Iraq: Iraq today is simply a shattered society, shaped by two major international wars, bombings, debilitating sanctions, civil war, emigration of millions of its people, deadly insurgency and counterinsurgency and foreign occupation over 20 years. About 1.8 million Iraqis had fled their country by November of ’06, many of whom were their best-educated, most of whom will likely not return. To my thinking it’s probably double that number by now.
The cost to the US: The cost in money, in lives, in our faith in our government, in our reputation as a nation, in human rights abuses and the general compromising of our moral values.
The benefits of the war: Saddam Hussein is dead. Whatever abuses, tortures, and killings that were in place under his personal regime will no longer happen. The government in Iraq is now “an Islamic, democratic, federal parliamentary republic.” There have been improvements made in public security, at least ostensibly.
So again, was it worth it? The question I’ve most often seen asked to challenge those who opposed the war in Iraq is “So are you saying you’d rather have Saddam Hussein in power? You want the rape rooms back?” As if opposing a war is the same thing as condoning rape or supporting a dictator. Was Saddam Hussein an evil man? Yes. Was he a dictator who was vile and oppressive to his people? Unquestionably. Is this enough of a justification to instigate a war against his country? This is the key question that needs to be answered, as all of the other reasons we were given have proven to be false. Again, had Iraq’s government ever threatened to attack the US? No. Did Iraq have anything to do with 9/11? No. Did they have any WMD’s? No, and our government knew it. While some good did come out of the war, in my opinion the reason for waging it was to get access to oil and establish a power base in the middle east, and this was a goal even before 9/11. If a country is led by an evil government that piles up human abuses on its citizens and they possess a credible threat to our national security, why aren’t we at war with China or North Korea? First answer: there is little oil in these places. Second answer: they could actually fight back, and fight back hard. If going to war with any country is justified solely (or mostly) on the basis that we don’t agree with their government we will eternally be at war. To answer my own earlier question, no, I don’t think Saddam Hussein’s existence alone is a good enough reason to wage war.
If you’ve read this far, kudos to you because I don’t think I would have! I don’t think the reasons for the Iraq war justified it. I would have been happier if we went into Afghanistan, went in hard in the beginning, got bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and went on to break the back of al-Qaeda. Would it have been that simple? Nah, but it would’ve been the right thing to do. Instead we gave up looking for these guys and focused almost entirely on Iraq, our own President at the time stating he doesn’t think of or worry about bin Laden. Still, Saddam is dead, and his regime is ended. This is a good thing. Overall, was it worth it? I don’t know. I wish I did.
But that’s just my opinion, and I could be wrong. 🙂