Browsing the archives for the Iraq War category.

Stuff to Read

Iraq War

The NY Times is publishing a four-part series called “The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld” by Errol Morris that is brilliant, and I think most of you will enjoy it. Here are the links:

Part 1: Three Reporters

Part 2: The Known and the Unknown

Part 3: A Failure of Imagination

Part 4: Absence of Evidence Isn’t Evidence of Absence


Michael Kelly Is Still Dead

Bush Administration, Iraq War, News Media

Michael Kelly, a prominent cheerleader for Bush’s War, died just over ten years ago. He was in Iraq to cover his glorious little war when his Humvee overturned and plunged into water. Kelly drowned.

Kelly was the worst kind of smugly infuriating propagandist, leading the pre-Iraq War assault on reality and reason. A lot of my early blogging amounting to griping about Kelly. And then he was gone. And I haven’t even thought of him for years.

See Tom Socca, A Stupid Death in a Stupid War: Remembering Michael Kelly

The premise of Kelly’s argument for invasion was that escalating the war, carrying it to Baghdad on the ground, would settle the problems “easily and quickly.” Like his fellow poets, Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens, he presented his romantic vision as clear-eyed advice. Evil must be opposed. Good would triumph. Anyone who disagreed was benighted, mistaken, immoral. …

… Perhaps, like Sullivan, he would have changed his position on Iraq, had he lived to see our military might losing control, the easy liberation collapsing into hell, Saddam’s torture prisons reopening with American torturers. What might he have written, if he’d had the chance to engage with the terrible truths of this past decade? What might a hundred thousand other people have done, if they’d lived too?

And we’ve never properly mourned, have we?


We Did This. We All Did This.

Iraq War

Via Digby, Dan Froomkin’s description of

Calling it a case of “collateral murder,” the WikiLeaks Web site today released harrowing until-now secret video of a U.S. Army Apache helicopter in Baghdad in 2007 repeatedly opening fire on a group of men that included a Reuters photographer and his driver — and then on a van that stopped to rescue one of the wounded men.

None of the members of the group were taking hostile action, contrary to the Pentagon’s initial cover story; they were milling about on a street corner. One man was evidently carrying a gun, though that was and is hardly an uncommon occurrence in Baghdad.

Reporters working for WikiLeaks determined that the driver of the van was a good Samaritan on his way to take his small children to a tutoring session. He was killed and his two children were badly injured.

In the video, which Reuters has been asking to see since 2007, crew members can be heard celebrating their kills.

“Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards,” says one crewman after multiple rounds of 30mm cannon fire left nearly a dozen bodies littering the street.

A crewman begs for permission to open fire on the van and its occupants, even though it has done nothing but stop to help the wounded: “Come on, let us shoot!”

Two crewmen share a laugh when a Bradley fighting vehicle runs over one of the corpses.

And after soldiers on the ground find two small children shot and bleeding in the van, one crewman can be heard saying: “Well, it’s their fault bringing their kids to a battle.”

I watched enough of the video to see for myself what was in it. It is a hard thing to watch. In short, a few men milling around in the sunlight in the middle of a plaza were assumed to be insurgents, and the camera equipment carried by a couple of them were assumed to be weapons, and the passer-by with his children in a van who stopped to help was assumed to be carrying weapons. And the troops in the helicopter — who were in no danger at the time — opened fire.

From the New York Times:

Late Monday, the United States Central Command, which oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, released the redacted report on the case, which provided some more detail.

The report showed pictures of what it said were machine guns and grenades found near the bodies of those killed. It also stated that the Reuters employees “made no effort to visibly display their status as press or media representatives and their familiar behavior with, and close proximity to, the armed insurgents and their furtive attempts to photograph the coalition ground forces made them appear as hostile combatants to the Apaches that engaged them.”

If you watch the video, you see what a crock that statement is. Clearly, the troops in the Apaches were too far away to tell camera equipment from Ak-47s; exactly to whom were the cameramen supposed to “visibily display their status as press”? What “furtive attempts to photograph coalition ground forces”? It was a small group of men hanging around an open area; what were they doing that made them appear as “hostile combatants”? Nothing that appears in the video. Yes, the video is edited down, but it goes on for a while before the shooting started, and there was nothing shown in the video that warranted shooting.

At least one other man appears to be carrying a rifle, but (a) it could be something else, and (b) maybe he’s carrying a rifle to protect himself form insurgents.

There are various ways to view this. One is knee-jerk, blindfolded apology. But I also agree with Oliver Willis that knee-jerk denigration of the troops isn’t called for, either.

The truth is, we’re all responsible for this. We’re responsible as a nation, because as a nation we put toops into this situation. We’re responsible even if we opposed the war from the beginning and marched against it and wrote out congress critters about it. We did this.

We send soldiers into situations in which they are under horrific stress and become desensitized to killing. And people who are desensitized to killing are very dangerous people. But we made them that way. We did this.


Iraq = Fail 2

Bush Administration, Iraq War

I’ve written in the past about how the wingnut political cosmos is something like old Greek mythology (see, for example, “Why Sarah Palin Is a Goddess.”) In rightie mythology, many presidents — Republican ones, anyway — are gods with the power of bending mortals to their will with simple words and the occasional lightning bolt.

For example, in rightie myth, President Ronald Reagan went to Berlin in 1987 and called on the Soviets to “tear down this wall.” And then, in 1989, the wall came down. And if you listen to righties, you’d believe it came down entirely because of the godlike will of Reagan, who wasn’t even President in 1989. In the Real World, there were, um, lots of other things going on that caused the Berlin Wall to be dismantled. Brave people all over eastern Europe were rising up against Soviet dominance. And at long last the once-mighty Soviet Union was too depleted by its own blunders to maintain control.

So the Berlin Wall came down, as it surely would have done anyway, even if Saint Ronald of Blessed Memory had never made the speech. But saying that out loud is blasphemy in Wingnut World.

Lately some of the losers who were gung-ho to invade Iraq in 2003 are crawling out of the woodwork to declare victory (see, for example, “Iraq=Fail“). As I have written before, these declarations never take into account (1) the original, stated objectives of the invasion were never met; (2) the U.S. considerably weakened itself militarily and economically, possibly permanently. And, as of the most recent count, 4,382 American soldiers have been killed during their tours in Iraq.

Now we’ve got Jeff Jacoby, in a column headlined “Mission Accomplished, Indeed,” arguing that George W. Bush is responsible for “the transformation of Iraq from a hellish tyranny into a functioning democracy.” And then later he wrote, “Where Saddam once ruled a ghastly ‘republic of fear,’ Iraqis live today in democratic freedom and relative peace, dispelling daily the canard that democracy and Arab culture cannot co-exist.”

OK, so in the recent elections about 100 bombs went off, killing 38 people. I would say Jacoby’s standardas of “relative peace” are pretty low.

I also liked this part:

“Iraqis are not afraid of bombs anymore,’’ a middle-aged voter named Maliq Bedawi told a New York Times reporter as they stood amid the rubble of a Baghdad apartment building destroyed by a Katyusha rocket.

See, back in the days of Saddam Hussein’s hellish tyranny Iraqis were afraid of bombs because they were so rare. But according to some figures, by 2007 about 78,000 Iraqis had been killed by coalition airstrikes. I suppose you have to get numb after awhile. And thanks to the invasion and occupation, Iraq became a lightning rod for terrorist hotheads.

Further, I can’t tell from here whether Iraq is truly a “functioning democracy” or not. Voting by itself does not a “functioning democracy” make. The real test of a “functioning democracy” is whether the people of a nation are really governing themselves through elected representation, or whether the elected officials are mostly serving their own ends and just going through the motions of representing the people. One could ask the same question of the U.S., of course.

But if Iraq truly does become a functioning democracy, the primary credit has to go to Iraqis. If they can dig themselves out of what was done to their country and make something positive come of it, this would be a monumental accomplishment. I also think there were many ways the U.S. and the rest of the world could have hurried Saddam out and helped Iraq become democratic that would have been much less costly and violent.

Yes, there were some things the U.S. occupation did long after the invasion that were helpful to Iraqis, but this was not accomplishing our “mission.” This was cleaning up after our mess.

But in Wingnut World, if Iraq becomes a functioning democracy, it will be because the well-protected George W. Bush bravely sat in front of a camera and declared the U.S. would invade Iraq. The simple brown people of Iraq are now enjoying the benefits of Bush’s godlike beneficence.


Iraq = FAIL

Iraq War

There is nothing more pathetic than someone who continues to grasp at his delusions after the real world has told him he’s a fool. A good example is the hack economist sited in the last post, who approvingly repeated a Wall Street Journal claim that a rise in teenage unemployment was caused by minimum wage increases.

Apparently someone pointed out to him that, um, dude, unemployment is up everywhere. He writes in a newer post, “It’s true that unemployment rates for all groups were rising over that period, and the rising jobless rate for teens might have been because of the general economic slowdown and not necessarily as a result of the minimum wage hikes, and that’s a valid criticism.” Actually unemployment rates for teens did not increase as much as unemployment as a whole.

Anyway, then the economist writes, “However … ” and follows this with a bizarre word salad of a “rebuttal” that boils down to “because I said so.” He still refuses to compare teen unemployment increases with unemployment increases among other Americans, including skilled workers, for the same time period, which the most basic logic dictates is the first thing he should have done before drawing conclusions of any sort.

Now we’ve got Marty Peretz, the man who turned the once-fairly-decent New Republic into mostly a suckfest, writing “Sorry, But The Verdict Is In On The Long American Excursion In Iraq. And It Is Favorable.” I’m serious.

First, a number of bloggers have already smacked Peretz for blatant racism against Arabs in this piece; see Jeff Fecke and Glenn Greenwald. I have nothing to add to what’s already been said about this, so I’m wading further into the article.

Peretz implies, but weasels around arguing directly, that the decision to invade Iraq will be justified by the eventual outcome — “Iraq is on its way to making its own inter-ethnic and inter-sectarian history, and it will be a relatively democratic history.” He bases the argument that invading Iraq was “right” on three “pronunciamientos” — his word, not mine –

  1. Gordon Brown said so.
  2. Tom Ricks thinks it’s too soon to evacuate. (To me, the question of when and how to leave is separate from the question of whether we should have gone in the first place.)
  3. Fouad Ajami said so. Fouad Ajami is the new Ahmed Chalabi. In fact, he’s an old pal of Ahmed Chalabi who no doubt noted the, um, opportunities to be had in playing the role of “good Iraqi” to delusional neocons.

Robert Dreyfuss:

More than anyone else, it was Chalabi who convinced the neocons that he and his Shiite religious friends would install an American-friendly democracy in Iraq, and they suggested that the US invasion of Iraq would create momentum that would topple the domino next door, in Iran. Unfortunately, Chalabi and his allies, including the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Islamic Dawa Party — that would be the party of Prime Minister Maliki, who supports the purge — were Iran’s friends and allies, and in some cases, outright agents. Oops!

Over the past several months I’ve tripped over a bucketful of arguments that the invasion of Iraq should be considered a success because Saddam Hussein is dead and Iraq is now more or less a republic. Yes, but as I remember our objectives at the beginning of the invasion were (1) destroying al Qaeda — didn’t happen — and (2) saving the world from Saddam Hussein’s dreaded weapons of mass destruction — which didn’t exist.

Basically, the apologists are saying that the invasion was justified because we’ve cleaned up some of the mess we made doing it.

Or, put another way, we wanted to set a fire in the fireplace and burned down the house, but we saved the photo album and the silver candlesticks, so it’s all good.

But in the great chess game of international relations, the truth is that Iraq was a bad move in our part. We were lured into taking a pawn so we could be checked by the rook. And after we were lured there was no “good” move left to us that wouldn’t damage us further.

Since the rest of Peretz’s column is just repeating the dubious claims of the self-interested Fouad Ajami, I want to move on to the comments. A commenter named roidubouloi wrote,

Let us grant for the sake of argument all of the wonderful achievements recited by Peretz above. If Bush, or Peretz for that matter, had said to the American people in 2003 that we will go to war in Iraq to achieve these ends at the loss of some 4,000 American lives and many more grievous injuries, tens of thousands of Iraqi lives lost, a cost to the United States of roughly $1 trillion, the exhaustion of our military, and the erosion of our diplomatic stature in the world, including … our ability to deal with more threatening problems including terrorism, what do you suppose the reaction would have been? Anyone suggesting such a thing would have been branded forever as insane. That, however, is the most favorable possible description of what actually occurred.

I dimly remember that in some college political science course the professor told us that nations had a hierarchy of interests, and that sensible nations don’t rush off to war over every foreign policy objective. For one thing, costs and risks have to be weighed against potential gains. The history of human civilization is littered with once great nations that exhausted themselves through war.

So sensible nations only go to war when the survival of the nation and its most vital institutions are facing a real and present threat. They don’t go off to war, suffer the loss of lives, weaken the economy through debt, deplete the military, and erode relations with other nations because some tinpot dictator on the other side of the world who was no direct threat to us is a bad guy who once insulted the President’s daddy.

No, the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq are not a “success.” They are a fail. The only thing history has to determine is the size of the fail.

Other stuff to read, unrelated: the New York Times, “If Reform Fails,” and Barry C. Lynn and Phillip Longman, “Who Broke America’s Jobs Machine?


Set the Iraq Record Straight

Bush Administration, Iraq War, Obama Administration

As we settle into collective amnesia over Iraq, the Brits actually are holding a public inquiry into how they got themselves into that misbegotten adventure. In today’s news we learn from Sir Christopher Meyer, former ambassador to Washington, that at least some people in the British government had realized before the invasion they had no solid proof of weapons of mass destruction hidden in Iraq.

The UN weapons inspectors were not given time to finish their jobs, Sir Christopher said. This was no secret. Blix’s briefing to the UN Security Council in February 2003 basically said, Ladies and gentlemen, we’re inspecting up a storm, but we haven’t found WMDs. We need more time to know what’s going on. The Bush Administration’s response, even before that report, was to undermine Blix.

The problem, Sir Christopher said, essentially is that the Bush and Blair administrations had gotten themselves so solidly committed to war that when evidence for a cause didn’t turn up, they had to fabricate one.

Sir Christopher Meyer said the “unforgiving nature” of the build-up after American forces had been told to prepare for war meant that “we found ourselves scrabbling for the smoking gun”. … Asked about Tony Blair’s meeting with Bush at Crawford, Texas, in April 2002, where, some observers believe, the decision to go to war was made, Meyer said: “To this day I’m not entirely clear what degree of convergence was signed in blood at the Texas range.”

Again, this is not news to most of us who followed events closely at the time. However, it’s important to rub the nation’s nose in the truth about how we got into Iraq. If you young folks will indulge me, let me draw your attention to the aftermath of Vietnam.

With Vietnam, once the Paris peace accords were signed in 1973 the American public didn’t want to hear about Vietnam. Attention was paid to the fall of Saigon in 1975, of course, but that was an exception. Once the U.S. was out of Vietnam, few people wanted to talk about it or think about it. We were tired of it.

This was understandable, but the problem with not talking about it is that there was no processing of what had happened. Everyone’s opinions, impressions, and knowledge of the war remained frozen in place as they were in 1973. And the problem with that came to light during the Bush II Administration. People talked about the “lessons of Vietnam,” and it became apparent that entirely different sets of lessons had been learned.

For some of us, the lesson of Vietnam was that you don’t commit to a foreign war on trumped-up reasons, and without clear (and essential!) goals and an exit strategy.

For others, the lesson of Vietnam was that it’s wrong to dissent against war because it will lead to defeat. Therefore, war dissenters have to be shut up and the military effort supported without question.

The latter position, of course, is held by the same people who whine incessantly that liberals want to take away their “freedoms.” But I digress.

I realize the Obama Administration probably figures it can’t afford to stir up more hard feelings on the Right by making them admit they screwed up while he’s trying to push through health care reform and other vital issues. But I don’t see what difference it would make. The people who would be worked up into a snit over facing facts about Iraq are the same ones fighting the Administration already. How crazier can they get? What trouble could they possibly stir up that they aren’t stirring up?

In a just world, Bush, Cheney, Rove et al. would be too ashamed to be seen in public, if not serving time. We cannot sweep this under the memory rug, or else in a few years the Next Generation of evildoers will be staging a comeback. And that comeback will be built on the uncorrected lies of the Bush Administration.


The Unrelease

Iraq War, Middle East, Obama Administration, torture

I’m about to butt heads, and not with righties. I understand there’s a lot of anger at President Obama because he changed his mind about releasing more prisoner abuse photos. I respect a difference of opinion on this matter.

But I also think the reason given for the reversal is understandable — commanders warned that the images could set off a deadly backlash against American troops. Even if it’s only a small chance this would happen, I might have made the same decision President Obama made. If something could stir up more violence against U.S. troops in the Middle East, and doing that something isn’t absolutely imperative for the survival of the nation, I would think twice about it, too.

Thers writes, “So there will never be a “good” time to release them. Release them now and face the music.” The ones “facing the music” are in Iraq and Afghanistan, and while there might never be a “good” time to release the photos, there ought to be a “better” time, which is after most troops are withdrawn.

I realize this isn’t going to happen right away. But, at the same time, it isn’t as if we don’t already know there was terrible prisoner abuse, some of which caused deaths. I don’t personally need to see any more photos. I can barely look at the ones that are in circulation already.

So, I don’t think the President’s decision necessarily means that he’s got a Dick Cheney microchip planted in his head. What’s more important is that there are investigations into who ordered what, and who knew what, and who approved what.


When Failure Is an Option

Bush Administration, conservatism, Iraq War, Middle East, Obama Administration

Rush and other mouthpieces for movement conservatism are not backing down from their public wish that Barack Obama fails. As Dave Neiwert says, his excuse for this is the time-honored foundation of all conservative morality — That other kid did it first.

Limbaugh: Did the Democrats want the war in Iraq to fail?

[Crowd shouts:] Yeah!

Limbaugh: Well, they certainly did. And they not only wanted the war in Iraq to fail, they proclaimed it a failure! There’s Dingy Harry Reid, waving a white flag, ‘This war is lost. This war — ‘ They called General Petraeus a liar before he even testified! [Boos.] Mrs. Clinton — [Loud boos] … Said she had to suspend, willingly suspend disbelief for whenever one had to listen to Petraeus. We were in the process of winning the war and the last thing they wanted was to win. They hoped George Bush failed.

Dave’s comment:

It would be one thing if Republicans were simply warning that Obama’s stimulus plans were doomed to failure. We’d understand that. It certainly would mirror how we felt about the Iraq war: we believed it was a doomed enterprise that would not only cost far more in human lives than anything that might possibly be gained from it, but would actually worsen the conditions for terrorism it purportedly meant to combat. We recognized that Bush’s rosy scenarios might come to pass, but we doubted it deeply — and said so, and rightly.

But it’s another thing altogether to openly hope for failure — in the case of the Iraq war, because it meant American soldiers would die needlessly, an outcome no one who loves America would want; and in the case of the economy, because it means that America is doomed to slide into a Depression. It will mean that millions of Americans will lose their jobs, millions will slide into poverty, and misery will be rampant.

Of course, from the moment the invasion of Iraq became public discussion, any arguments against it evoked howls about “Fifth Columnists” and “Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys” from the Right. I do not believe most of them see a difference between expressing the opinion that X is a bad idea and wanting X to fail. There’s a huge difference, of course, but I suspect it would be easier to teach algebra to a gerbil than to teach that difference to your standard wingnut. I personally would not want to waste my time trying.

However, it’s also the case that when a wingnut evokes “Iraq” and the rest of us speak of “Iraq,” we’re talking about entirely different things. I go back to my contention that right wingers, like the Tamarians of Star Trek TNG, see everything as part of a vast mythology.

When most people think of the War in Iraq, they see the Mother of All Boondoggles; a hopeless mess that was entered into foolishly, for reasons that proved to be false, and without proper planning, that has wasted billions (at least) of taxpayer dollars, has taken the lives of 4,255 American soldiers (so far), has caused immeasurable stress and hardship for military and reservists’ families, has drastically decreased our military’s ability to respond to other (and possible real this time) crises, has eroded American prestige, has probably increased the risk of another terrorist attack, and has generally pissed off the planet.

When you say “Iraq” to a wingnut, however, out of the misty haze of his brain comes a mythical vision of good versus evil, where the shining forces of righteousness (righties) eternally battle the dark, malevolent Other (everybody else). And victory over the Other is not really about the Middle East or even 9/11. It’s about preserving Christmas and Jesus and gun shows, and the right of white Americans to hear no language but English spoken in the aisles of Wal-Mart. And, of course, conquering the Other requires unwavering faith. To doubt is to embolden the enemy. Through our very brain waves, we doubters gave strength to the Other; and because we refused to clap, the fairy almost died.

For the rest of us, who think somewhat more analytically, if we are accused of wanting the war in Iraq to “fail,” I’d have to ask for clarification. What part of it exactly did we want to “fail”? We on the Left do have a pubescent fringe whose antics are lovingly documented by Michelle Malkin as representative of all of us, but the truth is that Democratic Party leaders and the huge majority of liberal political activists have been supportive of the troops all along, and have not spoken against military victory in Iraq. Nor am I aware of anyone who has opposed democratic elections in Iraq or hoped the government of Iraq would fail and be replaced by a junta of Islamic radicals.

What we’ve opposed, other than the damnfool invasion itself, is the incompetence and corruption. It’s the way the Bush Administration was perpetually six months (at least) behind in responding to ongoing developments. It’s the way billions of taxpayer dollars have been soaked up by corrupt contractors or just plain evaporated. It’s the way the Bush Administration was forever coming up with post-hoc strategies that were more about domestic consumption than real-world application.

Because we actually noticed this stuff, and commented on it out loud, we were not playing by the rules of rightie myth. “Winning” requires us all to shut our eyes, keep visions of John Wayne at Iwo Jima in our heads, and to speak only of honor, glory and resolve.

On the other hand, if President Obama’s stimulus programs fail, we and much of the rest of the planet will be plunged into another Great Depression. We might end up there, anyway, for policies that are too little and too late. But not acting pretty much guarantees it.

Now, it may be that righties really don’t want another Great Depression, any more than I supported Saddam Hussein or wanted Iraq to collapse into a failed state. (Note to wingnuts: I didn’t, and I didn’t.) They just don’t comprehend that we’ll end up there if we don’t get currency moving through peoples’ hands again, and fast. Whether they don’t understand this because they’re blinkered by ideology or just plain stupid, I’ll let you decide. The fact is that the Right hasn’t come up with a alternative plan beyond oh, let’s just keep doing what we’ve been doing, which is what got us into this mess. Not an option.

Then you’ve got the faction (most righties, I suspect) who sincerely believe Barack Obama is an agent of totalitarian socialism who is trying to undermine republican government and turn the U.S. into a gulag. These are the same people who are insulted if you call them “John Birchers,” mind you.

If one really believes this, then I suppose it would be one’s patriotic duty to want Barack Obama to fail. I would argue it’s their patriotic duty to get professional help.

Update: See John Cole.


Reassurance on Iraq

Iraq War, Obama Administration

There has been much grumbling about President Obama’s current plans for leaving Iraq. Some critics say he is backtracking on his campaign promise to get us out of Iraq. Juan Cole says there is no reason for alarm, and that “we’re really leaving Iraq.”



Bush Administration, Iraq War

Bush On Al Qaeda Not Existing In Iraq Before Invasion: ‘So What?’»

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