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While many Americans seem to have awoken to politics and activism with the Iraq war, we need to remember that our ties to that country go back much further.
- From 1991 to 2003, the US and UK dropped a handful of bombs on the “no-fly zones” of Iraq between two and ten times a month.
-From 1990 to 2003, the US helped enforce stringent economic sanctions on Iraq. It is estimated that more than 400,000 Iraqi children under five years of age died during this period than had during comprable periods, some of which is certainly due to the lack of food and medicine caused by the sanctions.
- In 1991, of course, the US and its allies attacked Iraq for invading Kuwait, killing at least 20,000 people, soldiers and civilians.
And I won’t even get into the friendly relationship between the US and Saddam Hussein in the 1980s.
Searching for a Reason
I think I first realized what was going on around March of 2002.
Dick Cheney went on a tour of nearly a dozen countries in the Middle East to try to get them to support a war against Iraq. And to a man, every country said “yeah, we hate Saddam, but if you really care about the Middle East, you’ll work on the Israel-Palestine conflict first.”
Now, were we dealing with rational leaders, at this point the White House would have paused and said “wow, those guys have lived right next door to Saddam for decades and they’re not worried about him. Maybe they’re right.” But no, we were dealing with idealogues with an agenda and a bottomless bodybag. At this point in time, Americans should have scratched their heads and said “why does the president want to go to war with Iraq if even his neighbors don’t consider him a threat?”
The first credible answer to that question was “weapons of mass destruction.” The Bush administration claimed to have data showing that Iraq was filled to the brim with WMDs. The world seemed sort of surprised by this announcement, as no one else seemed to think that this was true, after all the years of weapons inspections and economic sanctions. Personally, I thought it likely that Iraq had some small amount of leftover chemical and biological agents (I mean, it wouldn’t be hard to stick a test tube full of something evil in a fridge somewhere) but not the “stockpiles” that the White House implied. Nor did it seem likely that they had a nuclear program, as there would be some sort of tell-tale signs of that.
But the Bush team said that they had such evidence, but it was top secret and we couldn’t see it. That seemed… fishy. On top of that, even if Saddam had these weapons, what was the likelihood he would use them to attack the United States? Not only was there a logistical problem (attack a country thousands of miles away), but there was no motive. He would want to attack the United States because…? Revenge? I guess that was possible, but the satisfaction of revenge wouldn’t outweight the costs. If Saddam Hussein attacked the United States, there would be instant retaliation and his country would be turned into a radioactive gravel pit.
Which then led to the terrorist alliance theory. To avoid retribution, Saddam would give his mystery WMD arsenal to Islamic radicals like Al Qaeda and they would use it against us. Somehow. However, the secular Saddam Hussein saw Islamic radicals as his enemies, and vice versa. The Islamists wanted to overthrow Saddam and replace his regime with a theocracy, and Saddam wanted to destroy the Islamists to safeguard his power. So while it was possible that the enemies could unite against a common foe, it was just unlikely.
Around this time, the international community seemed to think that it was a good idea to send weapons inspectors back into Iraq. The US actively opposed and undermined this possibility for quite some time. This seemed odd as well; if you thought that the country had illegal weapons, why not send people in to look for the weapons? You could always invade later. The Bush administration essentially argued that Saddam was just too sneaky for the inspectors, and as soon as they were gone, he’d take out his playset of evil and continue his pursuit of WMD… the WMD that he already had. Or something.
Once the propaganda campaign was in full swing, the Bush crew used language that was constant blurring the distinction between the dictator of Iraq and the anti-American Islamic radicals of groups like Al Qaeda. Government spokesmen were always intertwining the phrases “Saddam,” “terror,” “terrorist,” “tyrant,” “Al Qaeda,” “enemy” and “9/11.” To an American public that had scant education about the Middle East, its politics, religion and history, this blurring was highly successful in convincing many them Iraq was responsible for 9/11, and an invasion of that country would both protect American lives as well as get revenge for the loathed attack.
So the reasons given to attack Iraq seemed bogus on their face, yet BushCo continued to insist that we attack. Which obviously meant that they had another reason to attack, one that they weren’t telling us, one that they were sure we would not agree with. I spent a lot of time in the summer of 2002 trying to figure out what the hell that reason was. There were a handful of potentials, but all of them seemed somehow wrong, or incomplete. The sanctions were costing too much for Rumsfeld’s vision of a light, speedy military. The US wanted permanent bases in Iraq. Oil. Iran was about to change its oil currency to the Euro.
I remember hearing the term “neo-conservative” for the first time around September 2002. Jackpot.
At first, it just seemed too ludicrous. So ludicrous, in fact, that I was afraid to write about them at first, sure that people would think I was a conspiracy nut and never read my stuff again. But there it was.
Nearly all of Bush’s top advisors held the same insane view that overthrowing Saddam Hussein would be the first step in completely renovating the political landscape of the Middle East. This new Middle East would be friendly to the US and its goals, would agree with its forms of corporate capitalism, and would help find all the naughty terrorists. Once Iraq was quickly converted to a friendly “democracy”, the oppressed people of the Middle East would rise up and topple their dictatorial governments and replace them with their own “democracies”.
(Or, the governments of the Middle East would be so shit-scared of our ruthless invasion of their neighbor that they would realize we meant business, and obey our every command)
(And of course, the only reason the US cared about reshaping the Middle East was because of the oil reserves there)
No, seriously, this is why we went to war with Iraq. A bunch of fucking lunatics with delusions of grandeur thought that altering the ideas, goals, politics, and structures of a few hundred million people could be accomplished in months, with little to no planning, given the proper usage of bombs and bullets.
Of course, there are holes in this scheme that you could drive a truckbomb through, even in just the Iraq part. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the Bush administration felt so invincible that they didn’t even plan well enough to stabilize, rebuild, or turn Iraq into an actual democracy. They’re fuck-ups to the tenth power.
Here is a timeline of notable events from the Iraq war via Think Progress. “Mission Accomplished” in May 2003. Saddam captured December 2003. Abu Ghraib photos April 2004. US “transfers sovereignty” to Iraq June 2004. Dick Cheney claims insurgency in its “last throes” May 2005.
Needless to say, things have ended badly. Around 2300 US soldiers killed, another 100 British soldiers, maybe another 500-600 mercenaries (”independent contractors”). No one’s sure how many wounded, but the Defense Department puts the number at around 16,000. And there will be the broken families from soldiers in the field too long, the jobs lost for the same, and the mental illness that will come from the horrors of war. Get ready for a new wave of “Homeless Vet- Will Work For Food” signs.
But of course, it’s been far worse for the Iraqis. Somewhere between 30,000 and 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed. I have yet to see an estimate of how many Iraqi soldiers were killed in the invasion itself, and no idea how many Iraqis have been wounded. Kidnappings, murders, car bombs, the rise of Islamic fanaticism, assassinations, a military fucking occupation. Lack of steady water and electricity. Saddam Hussein was a murderous tyrant, but the Iraqi people have simply gone from one frying pan to another frying pan.
Despite the neocons’ goals of turning the Middle East into an America-friendly paradise, it couldn’t have gone more wrong. The United States is pretty much reviled around the world now, what with our illegal invasions, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Fallujah, extraordinary rendition, bullying, propaganda, lies, and hypocrisy. US actions have also brought to power the most radical anti-American political players in the Middle East: Shia fundamentalists in Iraq, Shia fundamentalists in Iran, Sunni fundamentalists in Palestine, Sunni fundamentalists in Al Qaeda. And depending on who you talk to, the Iraqi Sunnis and Shia are on the verge of civil war (others disagree, saying that they are already in a low-intensity civil war). And if that happens, the conflict could easily become a regional war, drawing in Iran, Saudia Arabia, Syria and Jordan. And, of course, if the Kurds do try to declare their independence, they might be invaded by Turkey. I’m hoping that things aren’t quite as bad as all analyses lead me to believe, but I’m not exactly optimistic.
With all of these nations and factions at war, the flow of Middle Eastern oil could easily be disrupted, shooting oil prices through the roof. And as oil is the backbone of the global economy, that could easily fuck up most nations on this planet. The cost of anything that has to be transported goes way up, your gas bill is doubled or tripled, and companies looking to cut costs start firing people. The war comes home.
Bush keeps talking tough against Iran and their proposed nuclear program, but who’s he going to fight them with? The long invasion and occupation have depleted the reserves of soldiers and hardware. Maybe the wounded Iraq vets can line up along the border and throw their prosthetic limbs at the Iranian forces.
By the time the war is all paid for and the debts and interest are repaid (to China and Japan, who’s loans have largely kept the occupation afloat), it’s estimated that the war on Iraq will have cost Americans $2 trillion.
So what’s the solution to all this? There isn’t one. The majority of Americans want the troops to leave, the majority of Iraqis want the troops to leave, the majority of troops want the troops to leave. The US military is not going to solve Iraq’s problems; frankly, their attempts to do so, even their very presence makes things worse.
But a few positive steps that could be taken:
1) Alternative fuels. All this death and imperial insanity is due to oil reserves in the Middle East. If we’d spent $2 trillion on alternative energy research, by now we’d all be driving cars powered by sunlight, or foot odor or something. Our leaders would have to find a whole new reason for us to kill each other. Maybe religion. Or coffee bean reserves.
2) Philanthropy and solidarity to the Middle East. The people of that region have been used and abused by the West for centuries, and they’re well aware of it. I’m not saying we should go in there and give reparations or give money with strings attached. I’m talking about honestly helping people who need help. Or even crazier, seeing people in the Middle East as people just like ourselves, and talking with them about how we can all work together to make things better for us all.
 Technically, the number 400,00 is from 1991-2002, not 2003. Just didn’t want to get too complicated.
 Of course, WMD is a tricky term. Nuclear weapon is a horrific threat, while chemical and biological agents are less so, because they are hard to distribute to large groups of people. A vial of anthrax really shouldn’t be lumped together in the same group with a hydrogen bomb.
 This is one of the dangers of rampant demonization. The US media had done such a good job of making Saddam Hussein a villain that no one thought about his motives. He was an evil madman, capable of anything, and therefore the idea that he was hatching a crazy scheme of no value to him seemed not only likely to Americans, but quite reasonable.
 In the lingo of the US government, “democracy” usually means “friendly to us, whether they’re a democracy or not”.
 I don’t want to underplay the severity of casualties. Every person killed in this war, American or Iraqi, is a family smashed to pieces. It’s a kid growing up without a mom. It’s a husband dead. It’s coming home and finding your home blown to bits and your entire family gone forever. It’s spending every day of the rest of your life with only one arm, or one eyeball.
 At this point, surely some conservative reader will say something like “yeah, let’s go over there and help the terrorists, you stupid liberal hippie!” No, I’m not saying “help the terrorists,” jackass. Seems pretty clear that 99% of the people in the Middle East aren’t interested in killing Americans, they just want to live their lives. The terrorists are not going to be won over to our side, so the West will just have to learn to defeat/capture/contain them without killing more innocent Muslims (which would create more terrorists).