Spencer Kellogg | @TheNewTreasury
What I recall is a camera perched high above the desert city of Baghdad. Rattling from a ground that quaked beneath heavy artillery, the early morning images showed a nation I had never set foot in, being bombarded by our military.
I was 16 then. We have been in an endless war ever since.
Source Washington Post
7,000 miles and a world away from the terrifying consequences of another costly interventionist war on behalf of ‘peace and freedom’, we all sat glued to our television sets. It was March of 2003 when we invaded and only weeks later, Iraqis toppled the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square.
We had won.
On May 3, 2003, less than 90 days after the first rockets struck Baghdad, George Bush triumphantly stood atop the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared our troops the victor.
Veteran and US Senate candidate from Michigan, Brian Ellison, described his experience serving in Iraq as such:
I remember the time I had to go out and help clean up the mess after a massive car bomb exploded just outside the gate killing dozens and wounding many many more. It was devastating. I’ll never forget the callousness of the American contractors that were responsible for removing the human remains and the pictures that they relished sharing. And the smell of burnt flesh. It was awful. These people were simply waiting in line to come to work for the occupying forces one minute, and their bodies were ripped apart and burnt the next minute. The death that we caused, that’s what I remember.
The official narrative surrounding the Second Gulf War has dramatically changed over the years. Labeled an “Axis Of Evil” terror threat by the Bush oligarchy, Iraq was a war justified by the lies of war-hungry government who willingly preyed on the fear of a psychologically depressed public after the events of September 11th, 2001. It didn’t matter that 11 of the 15 hijackers were citizens of Saudi Arabia (and that none of the hijackers were Iraqi). It didn’t matter that asleep at the wheel taxpayers had supported Hussein’s reign for whole decades of the 20th century. And it sure as hell didn’t seem to matter that Bush’s father had made the same ghastly and arrogant mistakes only 12 years prior when a US-led coalition attacked Iraq in the First Gulf War.
In the months that followed the Saudi-led terrorist attack on 9/11, Bush would reach an incredible 85% approval rating and few seemed spirited enough to question his serpent-like gaze at the oil-rich desert kingdom across the Atlantic. Bush officials pounded the proverbial desk as they lectured Americans about the catastrophic ramifications facing our nation if we did not act swiftly.
The leader and nation that we propped up and aided were now made the spear end of our bayonet. Hussein, once seen as an ally and treated as a King, was now pointed to as an example of a brutal modern dictator. The Bush administration adamantly suggested there was cold hard evidence proving that Hussein had developed Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD’s). In the wake of the deadliest terror attack in our nation’s history, Americans wanted blood and were passive enough to accept any middle eastern sounding country that our officials labeled dangerous.
In reality, our misadventures in Iraq (and the Middle East at large) date much further back. In a long-standing dispute between Iraq & Iran that boiled over in the summer heat of 1980, The United States sent billions in economic and military aid to Hussein. It was during the US-funded proxy war that Hussein used chemical weapons to murder over one million Iranian troops and citizens. Whether they knew it or not, the American taxpayer provided the cash for that terrorism.
Hussein, since his first murderous day in office, was always known to be a ruthless, tyrannical dictator. He was a man that was willing to use torture as a device of control and his psychopathy led to untold death and misery throughout the region. The late Christopher Hitchens, a surprising proponent of the invasion, detailed just how terrifying Saddam’s regime was in his narration of video footage from the Ba’ath led coup in 1979.
Four years later, in 1983, Ronald Reagan would send a special envoy to meet and broker deals with the Hitler-like authoritarian. Included in that convoy was Bush’s Secretary of Defense to be, Donald Rumsfeld, who smiled eagerly for cameras as he shook hands with the Iraqi leader. 20 years later, Rumsfeld would be a leading advocate for war with the man he once glowingly shared greetings.
As with most of The United State’s 20th-century expansionism, it revolved around oil. By the time George Bush Sr. took office, Iraq owed close to 15 billion dollars in debt from the war with Iran. Meanwhile, Kuwait had become a major producer of petroleum and threatened Hussein’s tight grip on the economic reigns of the Middle East. Over two days in early August of 1990, Iraqi forces swiftly captured Kuwait.
The coup was condemned by world leaders. Outside of Palestine, every traditional Iraqi ally demanded Hussein remove his troops from Kuwait. He refused. After the UN Security Council passed Resolution 660, Hussein’s army faced the consequences of a unified global army. The Iraqi Air Force was destroyed and within two months, a US-led coalition had driven Saddam back across the border.
Sensing Hussein’s weakness, George Bush SR pitched a coup from an ocean away. Speaking on February 15, 1991, Bush called for an uprising within Iraq to overthrow the Hussein regime:
There is another way for the bloodshed to stop: and that is, for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside and then comply with the United Nations’ resolutions and rejoin the family of peace-loving nations. – George Bush SR
In the year that followed, US officials would stoke the fire of revolution but never fully commit to defeating Saddam on his own lands. While Bush SR and his administration helped fund the rebellious factions within Iraq, our military stood down as Hussein decimated the poorly organized revolution in the South. As Saddam defeated the revolutionaries, Bush SR distanced himself and The United States from any perceived involvement with the uprising:
I made clear from the very beginning that it was not an objective of the coalition or the United States to overthrow Saddam Hussein. So I don’t think the Shiites in the south, those who are unhappy with Saddam in Baghdad, or the Kurds in the north ever felt that the United States would come to their assistance to overthrow this man… I have not misled anybody about the intentions of the United States of America, or has any other coalition partner, all of whom to my knowledge agree with me in this position. – George Bush SR
In the aftermath of war, an international embargo was placed on the Kingdom in 1993 after Hussein refused to comply with disarmament demands. Over the course of the next decade, the elite members of Iraqi society remain wealthy while the majority of the nation’s people grew poor and turned to radical sects of religion. During the next 10 years, a dark cloud permeated the country and Hussein ruled with an iron fist as the world watched from afar.
Astute historians will note that intervention without concrete ideas for a controlled state’s future inevitably leads to chaos and destruction. It is said that FDR’s administration spent over three years planning what do with Germany after WWII. What is most striking about the Bush administration was their lack of foresight in organizing a post-war Iraq. The poor oversight was indicative not only of a leadership hell-bent on war but a salivating public. Outside of a small opposition that included Ron Paul & Bernie Sanders, most citizens of the United States were blood hungry, ready to fight and willing to ask questions later.
In the chaotic aftermath of the initial strike, Iraqis freely looted the cities of Iraq as US military stood down on orders from the Pentagon. It is estimated that over 12 billion dollars of antiques, art, and building material were stolen or destroyed by the Iraqi public. The administration did not care about the historical or artistic nature of the Iraqi people and this lack of foresight paid dearly as Iraqis lost trust in our mission. The Iraq National Museum contained some of the earliest artifacts in the history of mankind and we did nothing to stop the destruction.
Rumsfeld joked about the startling images that showed the museum and city in chaos.
Meanwhile, US officials were lining up their chosen replacement for the governance of Iraq. Ahmed Chalabi, a founder of the Iraqi National Congress was selected. Chalabi was a well-known asset in Iraq and in the run-up to the war, it was his information on WMD’s and Al-Qaeda insurgents that was relied upon to stoke the fire within the American populace. In the years that followed the war, much of this information was proven to be fabricated and many believe Chalabi was working as an informant for the Iranians.
If it wasn’t obvious already, soon the US military came to find out that there was a decades-long civil war brewing beneath the surface of Iraq. By April, US forces were caught in the middle of a bloody war between Sunni and Shiite that boiled over in the lawlessness of post-Saddam Iraq. With no police force and 100,000 criminals released from jail before the invasion, Iraq quickly deteriorated into a complete mess. Our army was caught in a free for all without the proper intelligence about the society and how to help.
Although Hussein was condemned for the brutal tactics his regime instituted, the power structure of his grey empire kept warring factions in place during the 30 years he controlled Iraq. Without a dictator in charge, Iraqis turned to the mosques and Muqtada Al-Sadr rose to power. Against the ‘well-laid plans’ of the United States Military, Al-Sadr created a militia and took over the southern part of Iraq. The war had gotten wider.
To make matters worse, the Bush Administration placed Paul Bremmer in charge of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Bremmer did not speak Arabic, had never served in the military and had no prior experience with middle east or post-war reconstruction. Bremmer’s decisions while in charge of the CPA had massive unintended consequences that furthered the war and entrenched the enemy.
First, Bremmer set out to destroy Saddam’s Ba’ath party of Iraq. His method of De-Ba’athification created immediate instability as almost all of the government and infrastructure of Iraq was built through the Ba’ath party. To live in Hussein’s Iraq was to be a Ba’ath member and Bremmer’s move turned middle-class families into an impoverished class without the means to find work or make money. This sewed resentment and anger towards our army.
The policy destroyed the Iraqi government, education, and economy. It purged men and women who had joined the Bath party just to survive during Saddam’s regime. Within only months of occupation close to 30,000-50,000 people that were exercised from life. If that wasn’t enough, Bremmer made the mess worse by disbanding the Iraqi military full stop.
Under CPA #2, Bremmer and council decided to disband the Iraq military. 500,000 men were made unemployed overnight and instead of helping to prevent an insurgency, these men created one. Ten’s of thousands of Iraq families depended on the military for their salary and unemployment quickly skyrocketed to over 50%. Before they knew it, US military wasn’t so much fighting a war that could be won but surviving a war that couldn’t.
Danny Wolf, Founder of The Sentinel, served during The Iraq War:
I remember being 18 years old and scared shitless in Fallujah. And I remember learning a hard lesson at a young age…there aren’t always good decisions. Just decisions.
With or without the United State’s involvement, Iraq was prime for a catastrophic disaster. Quasi-ruling over disparate peoples became the work of private contractors outsourced to American third-party mercenaries. In 2007, the private military company Blackwater indiscriminately murdered 17 Iraqi citizens in Nisour Square. The disaster set back already strained Iraqi and American relationships.
While officials nor the media could ever find evidence of the alleged WMD’s, there was plenty of evidence that showed the feudalist methods American soldiers were using to gain information from prisoners. The news media centered on the detention centers and torture policies administered that ran markedly against our own country’s faith in justice and dignity. Videos leaked of guards humiliating and attacking innocent prisoners and the debate regarding Iraq quickly turned to our own undemocratic values.
As the administration fell under the watchful gaze of a critical media and a now frustrated American public, all hell broke loose in Fallujah. One of the largest cities in Iraq, Fallujah became the major point of the Sunni Insurgency. In the fighting that ensued, over 70% of the city was destroyed and nearly 100,000 citizens displaced.
On December 15, 2005. Muktada Al-Sadr’s and his United Iraqi Alliance win nearly half the seats in Iraq’s national government. Rumsfeld is replaced by Robert Gates and the staggering number of killings and kidnappings rise into the hundreds per day. The country we had once called friends had been reduced to rubble and confusion.
By the time Obama was elected in 2008, the war had shifted and Iraq was now the central front of Al Qaeda terrorism. Whatever gains had been made in the valleys of Afghanistan no longer seemed to matter. It was Iraq, all or nothing. After an estimated $500 billion spent on war and more than $1 trillion spent in economic overhead, Iraq became the war we lost both ideologically and economically.
Linda Lyons, a retired security manager, watched the war from afar:
What comes to my mind is the Chapel at our college. He was outraged when it happened. I remember having a long conversation with him about it. He thought that you couldn’t change countries like that and that it had gone on for 100 years. He thought we didn’t have any business going into Iraq.
I thought we were going to go in and help. Maybe I was stupid.
During the ripple effect years that cascaded throughout the Middle East as we plundered Iraq, old enemies were empowered. Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia both benefited economically from the war while growing their ideological reach in a region of the world that had no reason to trust the Americans. As the mosques filled, terrorists found refuge in the divisive ideology of radical Islam and whatever communication we had attempted to build was lost.
Today, the circus continues. We are still lingering on the deserted plains of Iraq and just this past month, President Trump attacked Syria after Assad allegedly poisoned rebels with chemical weapons. At some point, the American citizens will come to realize that these are wars not meant to be won. They are corporate wars that are meant to be endless with the individual taxpayer footing the bill.
Iraq is not a singular lesson but the continuation of wartime policy that has seen our country buck its anti-interventionist foundations for the policing of others in places thousands of miles away. Morally and strategically these wars harm our perception as the beacon of freedom for the world to aspire to and The United States has become known today as a hawkish war power that treads on the lives and sovereignty of others without a second thought. We have failed to preserve the enlightenment envisioned by our founding fathers and the painful recognition of our lost wars will be a history we cannot undue.
Image Source Wikimedia