Thursday, March 28, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #101 - Part 4

Iraq at 10

I kept trying to prepare something, to write something, about the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. But I couldn't find the words. I couldn't find the words to express the sorrow and the anger, I couldn't find the words to express the memories of shame and frustration that we couldn't stop it, that we saw it coming, we watched it come and despite all our efforts, despite the efforts of tens of millions of people here and scores of people around that world, we were like King Canute trying to hold back the tide in the face of a megalomaniac White House and a Congress whose members stuffed their consciences under a pile of their campaign contributions and preferred passively imposing the risks and pain of war on others rather than accepting the merely political risks of casting which might have been an unpopular vote.

In recognition of the anniversary, we have seen a number of mea culpas from media figures shuffling their feet and going "gee whiz," trying with varying degrees of embarrassment to explain away what they now admit to have been their disastrously wrong endorsement of the war, often falling back on the line of "golly gee whillikers, everyone though Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction."

No, not everyone thought that. So as part of my own observance of the 10th anniversary and on my own behalf, I will note that in September 2002, I was writing to my Senators, telling them to resist demands for authority to attack Iraq. In that letter, I told about a silly joke that made the rounds when I was in college which “proved” not only that Alexander the Great had an infinite number of arms and legs but that he never existed in the first place. The first statement in this “proof” was that “All horses are black - proved by blatant assertion.” Of course, it later turned out that this was an important link in the chain of “logic” and by accepting it the listener had unwittingly helped the storyteller reach the obviously ridiculous conclusion.

It was, as I said, a silly, harmless joke - but it does, as I said at the time, point up the real-world dangers of accepting things “proved by blatant assertion.” Among which, I said, was the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, citing the work of former Iraq arms inspector Scott Ritter and then-head Iraq arms inspector Hans Blix.

And then, on March 6, 2003, just two weeks before the war started, I wrote an unpublished op-ed which began this way:

"Before we go to war on Iraq, there’s a question about its weapons of mass destruction that needs to be answered: What weapons of mass destruction?

"Seriously. What weapons? Where? Months of effort, hundreds of inspections at hundreds of sites" - because, remember, by this time the inspectors had been back in Iraq for several months, but all those inspections - "have turned up, for all practical purposes, zilch. For months, the administration insisted it knew from intelligence reports exactly where those weapons were, what they were, and in what quantities. So where are they?"

So no, not everyone thought Saddam had WMDs. The ones who did were the ones who wanted to fool themselves for their own purposes and those in the public who were misinformed and malinformed by the pandering pundits eager to get a "good boy" pat on the head from members of the media and political elite.

Oh, and those who were lied to. As we all were. Lied to. Persistently. Consistently. Insistently. The whole justification, every part of the justification, every part of the sales pitch for war on Iraq was a lie. It was all proof by blatant assertion.

They knew. They knew it was all lies. By the spring of 2003, they knew that their main sources - Ahmed Chalabi, “Curveball,” and Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi - were all known or suspected to be liars by US intelligence. They knew that when they sent Colin Powell to the UN it was with fabricated data and assumptions presented as irrefutable fact, as they took every “maybe” and “possibly” in intelligence reports and presented them to the public as “certainly” and “unquestionably.” They knew it was lies.

They knew it had nothing to do with any "threat" for Iraq, because there wasn't one. They knew it had nothing to do with WMDs, which weren't there. They knew it had nothing to do with terrorism because bin Laden hated Saddam as much as they did. And they knew it had nothing to do with "liberating" Iraq but did have to do with the interest that dare not speak its name: oil, as we now know from former Bush speechwriter David Frum, who just wrote in Newsweek of "The Big" Dick Cheney spending, quoting him, "long hours together, contemplating the possibilities of a Western-oriented Iraq: an additional source of oil, an alternative to U.S. dependency on an unstable-looking Saudi Arabia."

So they got their war. And it was a complete disaster. Nearly 4500 US soldiers killed. At least 32,000 wounded. Nearly a trillion dollars spent. And we don't know how many Iraqis were killed; the lowest estimate, using the strictest definition of war-caused death and the surest verification, is 112,000. Other estimates, using standard methodologies and a broader definition of war-caused death, run to nearly 1.5 million. What we do know is that there are now at least tens of thousands of people in Iraq who have been blinded or maimed or crippled because of the war.

And what have we gotten for all that pain, all that suffering, all that loss?

Is Iraq a democracy? No. In practice, PM Nouri al-Maliki is consolidating his personal power on the road toward a dictatorship.

Is Iraq peaceful? No. Bloody sectarian violence unleashed by our invasion continues. The car bomb in this photo went off outside the fortified so-called "Green Zone" in Baghdad on March 19. It was one of 12 bombs that went off in the city that day, killing 56 and wounding more than 200. Another eight bombs were detonated in other places, bringing the death toll to at least 65. Another attack earlier this month in Baghdad killed 30.

Unemployment is officially 10% - but some estimates say it's as high as 35%. Many still lack basic services such as water and electricity and corruption is rampant. A 2011 poll of Iraqi men under 30 by the Babil Centre for Human Rights and Civil Development found that 89% of them wanted to leave the country.

As for us? We got, for an abbreviated list, acceptance of torture, we got warrantless surveillance, we got the Patriot Act, more properly called the Traitor Act for its impact on our privacy and liberties, we got vastly expanded government secrecy and vastly expanded goverment ability to poke, prod, and pry into our private lives.

And what is worst, what is the absolute worst about all this? We have learned nothing. Nothing! Even now the war drums are beating about Iran. Even now the "threat" of Iran is being hyped with breathless references to some supposed nuclear weapons program. Even now we have President Hopey-Changey declaring that Iran is about a year away from developing a nuclear weapon. And just like 10 years ago, it's all proof by blatant assertion. There is no evidence that Iran is actually pursuing a nuclear weapon. Regular inspections have failed to turn up any evidence of that. The most recent National Intelligence Estimate says that there is no evidence Iran has made a decision to pursue building a nuke.

Despite that, when inspections reveal that Iran has converted some of its enriched uranium into a form that can't be used for weapons but only for research, this is not taken as any suggestion that Iran is not trying to build a nuke, but rather that, in the words of the March 11 issue of "Time," that "Iran itself has slowed down its efforts." In other words, it's taken to mean that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, it's just doing it more slowly. Proof by blatant assertion, embraced by a complicit, complacent media.

It's 2013 and it's 2003 all over again.

[A PS: Before anyone gives me grief about it, I know that the photo of the demonstration does not come from before the war started; in fact it's from 2005. But I was pressed for time and couldn't find a good shot of a pre-war demo that would look good on TV. Live with it.]


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