Matt Taibbi gives an excellent run down on the multiple conspiracies leading to and spawned by Bush’s fool’s errand in Iraq. It disgusts me that John Bolton, who has learned nothing from this disaster, and now has the president’s ear. More wars coming up, with all the attendant waste of lives and treasure.
Fifteen years ago this week, George W. Bush invaded Iraq. It was an awesome drama, made more thrilling by the seemingly obvious craziness of it all.
People were looking at each other out of the corners of their eyes, shrugging, and asking: Can we really do this without a reason? That was the dramatic subtext of the invasion.
In the press, no one could really make sense of the supposed justification for the invasion. That it was compelling, no one could deny. Hell, just look at the fonts. We all used the biggest ones we had! The New York Timessaid it all with its dramatic banner:
“BUSH ORDERS START OF WAR ON IRAQ; MISSILES APPARENTLY MISS HUSSEIN”
GOON BOMBS CITY ON HORSESHIT PRETEXT would have been more accurate, but editors were giving everyone the benefit of the doubt back then, and getting on board, for patriotic reasons. The Gray Lady, who was playing such a key role in what was going on, was certainly getting in the spirit, giving in to the adrenaline rush of Bush’s evil gambit.
It was the same with CNN’s breathless coverage of that first night, with the creepy green-hued night-cams showing explosion after monster explosion.
Shock and awe, we called it: a new plan for “achieving rapid dominance.” What a great Hollywood name, and goddamn if people didn’t sit glued to their TVs to watch its rollout, getting off like a bunch of kids blowing up frogs.
Wars are great TV. The prolonged political lead-up and the decision to kill are rich with suspense, especially when wedded to the sight and the sound of the bombs, after waiting all those months for one nightfall, at the hour of crime and sex, to launch the first sorties from a secret location at sea – it all trips the senses. It’s a turn on. It makes the Super Bowl look like paint drying. The sheer drama is how they sold this thing to the public, fifteen years ago this week.
But that’s not how our rulers sold the war to themselves. They weren’t overcome with emotion, or some post-9/11 yearning for vengeance. They knew what they were doing.
The Iraq invasion, one of the great crimes of this or any age and destined to be a crossroads event in the history of America’s decline, was instead a cold, calculated, opportunistic power grab, aimed as much at future targets, and even our own population, as at the Iraqi “enemy.”
As citizens, we haven’t started to reckon with any of this. We write it off rather than deal with it. In fact, when we think of Iraq at all, we often describe the invasion as a mistake. Embarrassingly, even I did this a few weeks back, talking about how we “blundered” into Iraq.
It’s understandable. There are superficial plot elements from the Iraq narrative we lean on to soothe ourselves that the invasion was caused by an unlikely confluence of accidents and errors, not the inherent venality of our system.
We remember things that look on the outside like dumb miscalculations. First in line is the press corps that somehow all at once committed mass malpractice, falling for a plainly absurd WMD fable. It wasn’t a systemic problem caused by knee-jerk belief of government sources and the exclusive handout of network air-time to spooks, retired generals, and military strategists – no, we just all fell for the same error.
Then there was the Bush administration, which appeared to sincerely believe we would be “greeted as liberators” in Iraq, and that we’d be able to establish a Mesopotamian Switzerland overnight.
The Democrats will tell you they were genuinely convinced voting for the war was politically necessary, and/or that they really believed the intelligence about Saddam’s weapons programs.
Bullshit. The invasion was no mistake, and nobody above the age of eight believed the WMD story. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. We all knew what was going on.
Far from being an error, the war was a perfect expression of everything we stood for then, and still stand for now. And the survival of the comedy-of-errors explanation as popular media myth is almost as inexcusable as the original tidal wave of misreporting that preceded the invasion.
America by 2003 already had a long history of violent regime change. One study, cited recently in the Washington Post, concluded we tried to change other nations’ governments a mind-blowing 72 times between 1947 and 1989. Most of these efforts were justified under the aegis of the domino theory, i.e. that we had to step in to prevent the cancer-like spread of communism.
“If Indochina falls,” Dwight Eisenhower for instance said way back in 1951, “the countries of Southeast Asia and Indonesia would follow, followed by India…”
The domino theory justified rigged votes, arrests and assassinations of elected leaders, installations of military rulers, terrorist operations (or “sabotage,” as we called them in places like Cuba), even mass bombings of local populations. The death tolls from these operations are incredible – millions of civilians in Indochina alone. Of course, facing up to the shame of this blood-soaked past is not part of most American high school history courses.
If you ever want to feel fantastic about being American, watch this documentaryshowing Vietnamese parents weeping over their dead and napalmed children while Dick Nixon tells the world that “throughout the war in Vietnam, the United States has exercised a degree of restraint unparalleled in the annals of war.”
Or: look at these maps showing the vast areas where we sprayed dioxin over that tiny agrarian country, using bombers to dump poison by the ton, causing a generation of people to be left deformed, suffering and alive, with misshapen and/or eyeless heads, like this. That’s what our “unparalleled” restraint looked like.
After communism fell, the domino theory went with it, making it difficult for us to continue justifying this meddling. The Bill Clinton administration tried out the “humanitarian intervention” excuse in Kosovo, but how often could we play that card, really?
Still we continued the baseline practice of promoting colonial dictators in economically important regions. Which was odd because we continually lost ground over the years as we supported more and more ruthless regimes.
At the end of World War II, America had more power worldwide perhaps than any country in history. We controlled the Atlantic and the Pacific and our GDP was about 50% of the world economy. But from that point we experienced one foreign policy disaster after another.
We “lost” China (it was ours?) to a communist takeover in 1949. Vietnam fell out of French orbit in 1954, out of ours in the seventies. Iran threw us out in 1979. Castro overthrew Batista. The Sandinistas overthrew Somoza. We even got the Russians in our clutches after communism fell, but after one brief decade of brutal reform policies (leading to millions of premature deaths in an unprecedented economic disaster) and rigged elections, we lost them, too, to a nationalist backlash that replaced our vicious puppet Yeltsin with the equally vicious Putin.
The consistent thread throughout all of these foreign policy losses was our relentless, stubborn belief that would have succeeded, if only we’d been allowed to use more force and violence.
Whether it was Vietnam or Indonesia or the Dominican Republic or the Philippines or Iran or Chile or wherever, we consistently ignored our inability to connect and compromise with impoverished foreign populations, and instead blamed failures of technology and/military tactics.
If only the “Dixie mission” fellow-travellers in the diplomatic corps in China hadn’t let Mao come to power; if only the press hadn’t back-stabbed us in Vietnam and turned public opinion against the war; if only Jane Fonda hadn’t gotten in the way; if only we’d been allowed to “take the gloves off,” as Rambo complained in a common pop culture trope; if only we had the “full spectrum” weaponry we really needed to pacify all of these countries and complete our “varied tasks” around the world, as military think tanks like the Project for a New American Century infamously put it in the pre-Iraq days…