(Page 2 of 7)
Back in August 2002, I wrote about what I called a “Baghdad Bait and Switch”: Invading and occupying Iraq was a non sequitur in the “global war on terror.” There was no pressing military or foreign policy goal involved. The move on Iraq was a political response to the failure to capture Osama bin Laden. When you can’t lash out at an actual problem, why not take a swing at a country—especially one ruled by an absolutely unredeemable figure such as Saddam Hussein—that you’ve already effectively contained?
That’s why the Bush administration sold the war not simply as a necessary step in stemming the supposedly existential threat of radical Islam but as an affordable exercise in nation- and region-building. Remember when Bush adviser Larry Lindsey got canned for suggesting that the war might be as much as $200 billion? We’re now looking at a $6 trillion price tag, a total that pales in comparison to the human toll, which is somewhere north of 176,000 people. It’s worth constantly recounting the cost and stupidity of the Iraq war because we’ve already started to forget it.
Indeed, we started to forget just how ill conceived and poorly executed the whole thing was even before we kinda sorta left Iraq. Recall how former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta tried to keep U.S. troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan for as long as possible—and beyond nominally appointed withdrawal dates. Panetta failed, but not for lack of trying.
Barack Obama was elected not because he was critical of the generally interventionist foreign policy that has prevailed in post-Cold War America (Bill Clinton ordered 25 major troop deployments in eight years, double the number than Ronnie Ray-Gun did). Obama bravely came out against dumb wars but has had nothing to say about forging a foreign policy for the 21st century that might lead to a safer and more peaceful world.
A decade after the Iraq war started, the one positive sign on the foreign policy front comes not from the Nobel Peace Prize winner in the White House but from a senator who has been attacked by members of his party as a “wacko bird” flying high on “isolationism.” Rand Paul’s February 6 speech at the hawkish Heritage Foundation (of all places) is the most promising step forward on a national conversation that should have been started even before George H.W. Bush put together the first Gulf War in 1991. Whether you agree with Paul’s ideas of containing U.S. enemies through a mix of economic, cultural, and military engagement, he is at least starting the sort of discussion that might avoid another decade of dumb war and tens of thousands of dead people in an elective war. We should have been ready to have that conversation without ever having invaded Iraq and it’s a point of national shame that only now do most of us seem ready to start talking.
Nick Gillespie is editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason TV.
The Iraq war qualifies as the worst U.S. government project in my lifetime. It has devastated millions, killed tens of thousands directly and hundreds of thousands indirectly, spawned mass displacement, and abused thousands of captives, many guilty at most of defending their country.
The propaganda and promises of a fast, cheap liberation were transparently absurd. Neocons warned against balsa-wood drones, mushroom clouds in New York, anthrax and radiation attacks against which we could shield ourselves with duct tape. The absurdity made Cold War duck-and-cover drills appear comparatively rational. Iraqis had no plausible responsibility for anti-American terrorism. Saddam’s genuine brutality never justified killing people who happened to live in Iraq. Yet the establishment and most Americans ignored millions of protesters’ pleas. They cheered as Bush inflicted the moral equivalent of 9/11 on a defenseless country. The hysteria of 2003 gave hints of how fascists rise to power.
Operation Iraqi Freedom unleashed terrorism, draconian Shariah law, and the systematic persecution of women and religious minorities. Bush’s gang established martial law, deadly checkpoints, and torture chambers; used white phosphorous, flooded the country with sewage and disease, destroyed infrastructure that twelve previous years of U.S. war and sanctions had yet left standing, confiscated Iraqis’ guns, and implemented central taxation and economic planning.
Wilson’s WWI bungling helped lead to communism, Nazism, and WWII; Bush’s bungling has exacerbated jihadism and will reverberate for decades. Scholars will never forget this attack on civilization’s cradle, including the ravaging of ancient Sumerian relics and the earliest known writing, which Chalmers Johnson compared to the Mongol destruction of Baghdad’s libraries in 1258.
Year after year, many of us demanded withdrawal, and “realists” told us that “we” must fix what “we” broke. The full-scale civil war, predictably sparked by U.S. intervention, only subsided when the Sunnis essentially lost and the U.S. military bribed many of its adversaries.
One good resulted: Global disrespect for American empire. Indeed, the war on terror should delegitimize the U.S. government for everyone.
Thousands of Americans were killed, maimed, and psychologically wounded. Many thousands more, deprived of the basic right to quit their jobs, endured numerous deployments, only to return home to an aggrandized government and weaker economy. The connection is inextricable. For any chance at liberty, Americans must reject war. Libertarians should lead the opposition to militarism as the core statist evil, responsible for expanding corporate socialism and abusive police power.
Those who were wrong should fess up and commit themselves to peace. Those who excuse or downplay this atrocity will always suffer in credibility.