Monday, March 25, 2013

Re-Writing The History Of The Iraq War

First, let's get the giant elephant out of the room. If WMDs had been found in the form and quantity advertised by the Bush administration, we would not be talking about Iraq today. There would be no hand wringing about the lives lost in the conflict or the cost. Who knows? We might have even gotten positive news coverage about Iraq instead of the current tendency of the world media to find a Sunni in Baghdad that pines for the days when Saddam was in charge.

For some reason the media just can't seem to find its way into Kurdistan. Or southern Iraq. During a PBS piece on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq invasion, the reporter mentioned that in Baghdad there are long lines at restaurants but no images were shown. They can't. The media narrative has been set in stone. The Iraq War is a total disaster. Any image, any report that suggests otherwise must be ignored or spoken about briefly in the midst of a torrent of negative coverage.

Just for the sake of speculation, what if the intelligence had been correct and the Bush administration had chosen not to invade Iraq? And let's suppose that such weapons found their way in a terrorist attack against the West. Is there any doubt that Bush would have been attacked for failing to act given the intelligence reports? Especially after 9/11, when the unthinkable happened. Moreover, many of the same voices that have criticized Bush for removing Saddam would have been at the forefront of attacking him for failing to take action.

What amazes me about the Iraq War is the complete re-writing of the history leading up to the March 19, 2003 invasion. It goes something like this: the United States had nothing to do with Iraq. And then Bush and the "eviiiil" neocons came along and - without provocation - decided to remove Saddam.

No clear reason is ever provided by the re-writers of history as to why Bush and the neocons were so determined to invade Iraq. Some say it was because Dick Cheney wanted to further enrich Halliburton. Some suggested that Bush wanted to avenge his father who was the target of an assassination plot by Saddam. Others suggest that Republicans are simply genetically wired to be war mongers.

Bush and the neocons, the story continues, were so desirous of war - apparently the Afghanistan war was not enough to quench their thirst for conflict - that they manufactured evidence that Saddam possessed WMDs.  Convinced Democrats like Bill and Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Joe Biden to support the war. They convinced  George Tenet - the Clinton appointee to head the CIA - who famously said that WMDs in Iraq were a "slam dunk."

So clever were the "eviiiil" neocons, that they managed to convince intelligence services of other countries to also conclude Saddam had WMDs. UN Resolution 1441 demanding that: "the Government of Iraq shall provide to UNMOVIC, the IAEA, and the Council, not later than 30 days from the date of this resolution, a currently accurate, full, and complete declaration of all aspects of its programmes to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other delivery systems," was adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council on November 8, 2002. Even Syria - no friend of the Bush administration - voted for the resolution.

Yet for all their cleverness and manipulative skills, Bush and the neocons made one glaring mistake: they did not plant any WMDs in Iraq for our soldiers to find. A head scratcher for sure. All the planning, deception that went into conspiring to have the US invade Iraq and yet not clever enough to plant WMDs. If they had taken this final crucial step, they would have been able to pull off the greatest conspiracy in, probably, world history.

I apologize for the sarcasm but that is the only way to deal with the re-writing of history. Any notion that we were not involved in Iraq prior to George W. Bush stepping into the White House is simply false. We were up to our neck involved in Iraq with no good exit options.

Our conflict with Iraq began much earlier when we botched the end of the First Gulf War. Perhaps even earlier, when the first Bush administration assumed that that Saddam would not invade Kuwait.

After seeing the images of the "Highway of Death", the next day George H.W. Bush declared the cessation of hostilities. At the time, the intelligence assessment was that Saddam's military assets had been so degraded that he would not be able to stay in power.

The reality turned out to be quite different. Iraqi forces - estimates range from 70,000 to 80,000 troops - were able to successfully escape from Kuwait. Cabinet tapes seized after the 2003 invasion revealed that Saddam believed that he had won the conflict and was surprised that the Americans offered a cease fire.

Believing that the Saddam regime had been mortally wounded in Kuwait, George HW Bush urged Iraqis to rise up. Thousands of Shia and Kurds did so only to be slaughtered when the US failed to come to their aid. An action for which the US government apologized for twenty years later. Eventually, the slaughter was stopped when no fly zones were established in northern and southern Iraq.

By the time George W. Bush was elected president, Saddam was firmly in control in Iraq despite our best efforts to bring about regime change by supporting dissidents. He had repeatedly violated the terms of the cease fire negotiated in 1991. Iraqi forces were firing at US and British aircrafts enforcing the no fly zones. Ten years of sanctions had devastated the Iraqi economy. The US was being blamed for the death of half a million Iraqi children. The oil for food program was riddled with corruption. American troops stationed in Saudi Arabia since 1991 - as part of the effort of containing Saddam - prompted Osama bin Ladin to launch his jihad against the United States.

A very different reality than what is being presented in much of the current commentary regarding the Iraq War. Even if Bush had opted to continue with containment, the policy would have been difficult to sustain as more reports of Iraqis dying due to the lack of food and medicine hit the world headlines. There were only two long term solutions: 1) remove Saddam or 2) just leave and send a message to Saddam wannabes around the world that the US was giant with clay feet.

Removing Saddam allowed the US to extract itself from Iraq without sending a message of weakness. No more troops stationed in Saudi Arabia to rile Islamists. No fly zones to enforce. No more corrupt oil for food program. No sanctions to monitor. No more trips to the UN Security Council seeking one more resolution against Saddam. Our conflict with Iraq is finally over.

I am not writing this piece to convince anyone that the Iraq War was the right the decision. I am writing this piece because I am concerned of the consequences of indulging the re-writing of history. The only way to draw valuable lessons is to stick to the facts. To the actual history.

The catastrophic mistake in Iraq was the intelligence failure regarding the WMDs. Ten years later, and we still do not have clear answers as to what happened to the weapons that the UN inspectors documented Saddam had prior to 1998. More importantly, we do not know what changes have been made, if any, to our intelligence gathering and assessment to prevent similar failures. Indulging conspiracy theories about the neocons is not going to lead us to the answers we need to make sure that we do not repeat the same mistakes.

Once again, the United States is drawing red lines in the Middle East. Obama has declared that he will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. He has warned Assad about using chemical weapons. In determining whether red lines have been crossed, are we using the same intelligence sources and methods that assured us that Saddam had WMDs?