'Dumb' Bush War in Iraq Ends

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: President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama welcome home troops at Fort Bragg in North CarolinaBy Ernest Corea
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

WASHINGTON DC (IDN) – It's over. The "dumb war", as described by Illinois State Senator Barack Obama and continued by Nobel peace laureate Obama, was ended by President Obama two weeks ahead of its scheduled termination on Dec. 31, 2011.

The end came some nine years after the administration of President George W. Bush began an invasion designed to create "shock and awe" in Iraq. The war, as well as domestic violence, was heavy in casualties: over 100,000 Iraqis and some 4,500 US troops dead and 33,000 US troops injured. (The website Iraq Body Count puts Iraqi civilian deaths at between 104,080 and 113,728.)

The war cost the US at least $1 trillion. The renowned economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz estimates that the actual figure is much higher: $3 trillion or more. These expenditures are believed to have contributed to the recession from which the country is only now emerging.

Regime Changed

A brief ceremony at the highly secured Baghdad international airport marked the war's end. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta officiated, as American troops lowered the US flag and prepared it for transport home. Panetta assured the assembled military personnel, universally known as war veterans or "vets", that they could take pride in "knowing that your sacrifice has helped the Iraqi people to cast tyranny aside."

Panetta was reported to have said in Afghanistan on his way to Baghdad: "We spilled a lot of blood there (i.e. in Iraq). But all of that has not been in vain. It's been to achieve a mission making that country sovereign and independent and able to govern and secure itself" (Iraq got its independence from the UK in 1932 and was admitted to the League of Nations in the same year. Iraq was one of the 51 "sovereign and independent2 founding members of the UN.)

As US troops began their final withdrawal, Iraqis were divided on the impact of the war's end on their lives. Some welcomed the departure of foreign troops; others were fearful that sectarian violence would erupt when Iraqis were left to themselves.

Public Support

Back at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in the US, President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama welcomed returning troops with mellow words that honoured the dead and sought to strengthen the spirit of the living. They were greeted with many rounds of "hooah", the military form of applause.

Later, Obama wrote to supporters, drawing particular attention to the sacrifice of US military personnel and their families. The emphasis on honouring returning troops is meant to prevent Iraqi war vets from suffering the derision and disrespect that was showered on Vietnam War vets.

Some of Obama’s critics and opponents condemned the end of the war and criticised him for not leaving a residual force behind. (A standby force of 4,000 troops will be stationed in Kuwait.) Senator John McCain commented: "I believe that history will judge this president's leadership with the scorn and disdain it deserves."

The public overwhelmingly supports the end of the war, the Pew Research Centre for the People and the Press reported. In a nationwide poll that Pew conducted in November 2011, 75 percent approved Obama's decision to end the war and bring troops home no later than Dec. 31. Nine-in-ten Democrats endorsed that decision while Republicans are divided. Independents support the decision by 79 percent to 18.

There was less agreement on the reasons for the war, as there will continue to be on the basis of domestic partisanship. Pew found that 48 percent say the US made the "right decision" to use military force in Iraq; 46 percent disagree.

Obama who fiercely opposed the war even before he was a presidential candidate did not render judgment on that issue when he spoke at Fort Bragg, but invoked history.  "Policymakers and historians will continue to analyze the strategic lessons of Iraq -- that’s important to do," he said.

Key Features

But there are several aspects of the Bush War that stand out even now. Five of them are particularly relevant.

First: Saddam Hussein was a dictator, with an expansionist inclination. In addition to the normal restrictions of a dictatorial regime that he imposed on his people, the mass graves and horrendous skeletal remains of the "disappeared" were silent testimony to the depraved brutality of his regime.

One of his most egregious acts was to invite his two sons-in-law who had fled to Jordan to return, on the guarantee of no reprisals, and then have them bumped off.

It might be argued that the Bush intervention conformed with the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) requirement that "if a State is manifestly failing to protect its citizens from mass atrocities and peaceful measures are not working, the international community has the responsibility to intervene at first diplomatically, then more coercively, and as a last resort, with military force."

This is different from invading a country with the justification of a brazen lie, and then claiming that the consequent regime change is good for the country and will be good for the region.

The invasion, while it toppled a dictator from power, unleashed a period of chaos during which violence and grotesque human rights abuses were almost as common as sand in the desert. That was partly because Bush's viceroys in Baghdad dismantled the structures of governance while having nothing with which to replace them. The situation was aggravated by extreme measures of interrogation, including personal humiliation, which in most manuals would be called torture.

Some of the worst perpetrators of the latter excesses have been punished. Domestic violence, meanwhile, has abated but not ended.

Weapons Mirage

Second: Although Bush and his spokesmen used the danger Saddam posed as an owner and potentially a purveyor of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) – to terrorist groups, perhaps – as a justification for the invasion, Iraq had no such weapons when the invasion of Iraq was launched. None were found by US troops because even the most knowledgeable and skilled experts cannot discover what does not exist.

The Bush administration knew this before the invasion began. Get it from the experts, just as the Bush administration did:

On Feb. 14, 2003 (a month before the "dumb war" was launched), Hans Blix, the head of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) formally addressed the UN Security Council, and through it the world, as follows: "How much, if any, is left of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and related proscribed items and programs?

"So far, UNMOVIC has not found any such weapons, only a small number of empty chemical munitions, which should have been declared and destroyed." Blix and his staff had already made the facts known to senior members of the Bush Administration.  They carried on, regardless.

On March 7, 2003 (just 12 days before "shock and awe" began) International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei said in a report to the Security Council that the IAEA found "no evidence or plausible indication" that Iraq has revived its nuclear weapons program.

Third: Suggestions were made by the Bush Administration that links existed between the Saddam Hussein regime and Al Qaeda. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, for instance, claimed that the US had "bullet-proof" evidence of such links. Unsaid but implied was the assumption that operational or financial support to Al Qaeda by the Saddam Hussein regime posed an existential threat to the US.

It did not need so much as a child’s "pop gun" to rip apart the "bulletproof" evidence. Contacts existed between the two parties, but these were minor and did not involve operational collaboration or support. Proof was never forthcoming of an alleged clandestine meeting in a third country between Iraqi intelligence operatives and Al Qaeda activists.

In fact, Al Qaeda substantially enhanced its presence and activities in Iraq only in the chaos that followed the invasion. In addition, the fact of the invasion was effectively used as a recruiting tool by Al Qaeda "franchises" elsewhere.

Early Target

Fourth: Iraq was targeted for attack even before the US moved into Afghan to punish the Taliban who had supported Al Qaeda and provided Osama bin Laden with a safe haven.

Political analyst Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, has summarized in his book Bin Laden's Legacy some of the evidence confirming the existence of a "go, git 'im" attitude towards Saddam Hussein in the top layer of the Bush Administration.

Among those cited as itching to take on the Iraqis are Rumsfeld and top Pentagon official Douglas Feith. Bush himself reportedly asked White House official Richard Clarke "to see if there was evidence of Iraqi involvement in the 9/11 attacks."

Richard N. Haas, president of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in War of Necessity, War of Choice that "the first instinct of the president (Bush) was to push the bureaucracy to find a connection between Saddam and the (9/11) attacks. Paul Wolfowitz, then deputy secretary of defense, argued at the Camp David meeting convened on September 14 that the attack was too grand for al-Qaeda. to have accomplished on its own and that the US should go after Iraq."

Obama, then an Illinois state Senator, told an anti-war rally:

"I don’t oppose all wars. And I know that in this crowd today, there is no shortage of patriots, or of patriotism. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war.

"What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne….. That's what I'm opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics."

That did not prevent Obama from pursuing the same war until December 2011.

Fifth: Iraq produced 2.3 million barrels of oil per day during the last years of the Saddam Hussein regime. To move Iraq's precious energy resources from being under the control of pro-Hussein bureaucrats to control by managers more inclined to march in step with the US oil industry with connections to the Bush administration had to have been a tempting prospect.

Was that the "unstated major premise" behind the war?

Moving On

Churchill said in the British House of Commons on November 11, 1947: "Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

If nothing else, Iraq has been endowed with this particular form of government which many nations enjoy today, and some nations find difficult to sustain. Elections are held periodically, but between one election and another, the rights and the will of the people are often ignored or suppressed.

The Iraqis, heirs to a rich culture and heritage, are now challenged to make their democracy work, or not. That's a privilege as well as a burden. [IDN-InDepthNews – December 17, 2011]

Copyright © 2011 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Ernest Corea's previous IDN articles:

Picture: President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama welcome home troops at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. | Credit: | Video link

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