|"Shock and awe" initial attack on Baghdad 20 March 2003|
A false basis
Now, on the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War, a lot of assessments of this event are being written. And this is not easy to do, because the effects are so sweeping. To begin with is the terrible example of responding to a terrorist attack by a group based in one country (Afghanistan) by making war on another country (Iraq) unconnected with the attack. This was a war fought entirely under false pretenses, and leaders, press, and the American general public went along with it. The pretexts should have been patently false to anyone. There was no evidence that Saddam Hussein had links with Al Qaeda. There was no proof that he possessed "weapons of mass destruction" (an ominously vague coinage for nuclear weapons) and might use them on the US. When the falsity of these claims became obvious, the Bush administration switched to the claim that they were liberating the Iraqi people from a tyrant. Indeed Saddam Hussein was a tyrant. But the US loves tyrants and does not make war on them, not in the open, anyway. The irony is that Iraqis today feel less safe now than than under Saddam. They were not liberated. They were delivered into evil and destruction.
The worst thing the Iraq War proves about the US is how mindlessly Americans feed on mainstream TV "news," with no sense of history, collective memory, or understanding of politics, world affairs and geography. This is what Noam Chomsky describes in his book, Manufacturing Consent. This makes the American public ripe for incitement to another pointless, dangerous, brutal, costly war of choice like the Iraq war. Next on the agenda clearly is Iran, to please Israeli hawks. Americans are easily deceived into accepting their government's arbitrary, violent acts of imperialism. Little ones, like the takeover of Grenada under Bush Senior, go almost unnoticed, accepted as routine. Big ones, like Vietnam or Iraq, are enthusiastically supported with dollars and lives, until people wake up and realize they were a mistake all along.
The many costs
As I predicted at the time, the 2003 invasion of Iraq further destroyed the already beleaguered but then still internally secure country and left it in a state of chaos that today just gets worse. No one could have predicted just how spectacularly the US would mismanage the aftermath of the war, sowing the seeds for civil war and disorder, greatly strengthening Al Qaeda in the region. Moreover Iraq's current leader, Nouri al-Malaki, a client and handpicked ally of the US like Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, himself is a tyrant. Bush II's claims that the US and their allies were bringing freedom and democracy to the country were a mockery. The US is weaker, impoverished by the two long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Afghanistan is as ungovernable as ever. Iraq is closer to Tehran.
The human, material, and monetary costs of the 2003 Iraq War are staggering. For US taxpayers, the price tag is estimated at $2 trillion and rising, some say eventually to $6 trillion. Hundreds of thousands died in Iraq, and the deaths are ongoing. Iraq Body Count lists 312 violent deaths already in Iraq this month. For 2006-2009 the most common number of refugees given was 2.5 million, mostly to Syria and Jordan. (Nowadays the revolt in Syria accounts for 100,000 Syrians listed as refugees to Iraq.) Ever since 2003 Iraq has remained one of the world's most unsafe places.
|Falluja baby with multiple birth defects|
The most horrible toll of the Iraq War is ongoing collateral damage to the innocent. In the foreground now are the cancer and manifold birth defects caused by depleted Uranium and other toxic materials, particularly white phosphorus (both forbidden by international law) heavily employed by US forces in areas like Basra and Fallujah. Cancer and birth defects have recently been reported to be definitely more numerous in those locations than they were in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the atomic bombs, possibly up to 14 times more numerous, the birth defects also individually more extreme.
The Iraq War has taken a terrible toll on Americans and Allied troops who fought there too. We hear little of them but we do get wind of the neglect of veterans and the constant suicides. One victim was Tomas Young, featured in in the 2007 documentary Body of War, a young soldier paralyzed in his first minutes of combat in Iraq. Young had joined up to fight in Afghanistan, thinking that was where the trouble came from. He never wanted to go to Iraq, and after he returned disabled he became an anti-war activist. This week Democracy Now! reported on Tomas Young's recent letter to Bush and Cheney calling on them to admit to their war crimes and his current plan to end his own life of constant pain.
The US governing elite has not learned from any of this. When Obama visits the Middle East, Israel first of course, bypassing Gaza and the Palestinians, he speaks of "all options" concerning Iran being "still on the table," a menacing phrase pleasing to Netanyahu.
What "shock and awe" really means
The "shock and awe" approach, known in military doctrine as "rapid dominance," is simply the use of overwhelming force. It's favored by the US, which has by far the greatest military strength in the world, as a method of defeating the opponent (or victim) psychologically as well as militarily. But a corollary benefit that the Bush hawks and their predecessors and ideologues the ultra-right Project for the New American Century clearly expressed is to show off that the US is the dominant power on the planet. This is what "shock and awe" really means. To be the bully in the schoolyard. Except that the schoolyard is left strewn with corpses and deformed babies, an environment of chaos, no longer habitable.
Strength of mind?
But let's return to our calm warnings, presuming a world of reason still exists, as editorial writers like to do. In one of his typically savvy and straightforward op-ed pieces in the NY Times, Paul Krugman used the Iraq War anniversary lessons to point in a column called "Marches of Folly" to the way group think also fosters misguided actions on the economy - here as in Europe (led by Angela Merkel, whose country, Germany, wields key purse strings) to ignore the fact that in a weak economy what's needed is stimulus and jobs, not deficit-hawking. Confusion is as easily sold on these matters, Krugman argues, as on going to war in Iraq. Don't believe in any of these public matters that "everyone" thinks something, Krugman warns. Think for yourself.
Well, I never believed any of the claims to justify the war in Iraq. I did not see any real point in war in Afghanistan either, for that matter, though immediately trapping Osama in his lair would have made sense if it could have been done. Apparently since it took the CIA ten years to find him, it couldn't. Anyway you do not make war on a whole country to track down a small band of terrorists. The police tracking goes on, even if its results can be slow; various Al Qaeda attacks have been stopped, just not, alas, the 2001 ones. War serves other purposes, unfortunately. It galvanizes the country, and makes its leaders appear strong. The Iraq War was very profitable to war profiteers like Blackwater, K.B.R.-Halliburton, CACI and Titan. It was profitable to oil companies and oil rich Gulf nations. But I did not believe Condaleeza Rice's "smoking gun." I was deeply embarrassed by Colin Powell's Power Point lecture to the UN; you could almost hear the humiliation already in his voice. But the trouble is, I and those like me didn't speak up loudly enough. As Yeats says in his poem "The Second Coming":
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
|US Marines in Falluja|
Note: In the Independent in March and April of 2012 Robert Fisk published a series of three articles about the children of Falluja with birth defects:
The Children of Fallujah - Sayef's story..
"The Children of Falluja - the hospital of horrors. "
The Children of Fallujah - families fight back.