Who Won the Iraq War?
As the troops come home, it’s time to count the cost
by Eric Margolis: South
China Sea Rivalries Recall Pre-World War I Era
2002 I wrote in the first issue of The American Conservative
an analysis of the impending Iraq War entitled The
Road to Folly.
A war that fails to achieve clear political objectives is
merely an exercise in violence and futility. Having covered
14 conflicts as a war correspondent, Ive seen a lot of violence
The White House
launched a thunderous, utterly shameless propaganda campaign about
phony threats to America and the world from President Saddam Husseins
non-existent weapons of mass destruction. And on cue, U.S. forces
invaded Iraq in March 2003.
the bodyguard of lies that Churchill said accompanies
every war swelled into an army of liars. The Bush administrations
neoconservatives played a leading role in engineering the Iraq conflict.
Media acted as megaphones for the war party. Thanks to the drumbeat
of lies and insinuations, over 80 percent of Americans believed
that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11.
A few observers
who dared critique George W. Bushs rush to war, this writer
included, were denounced as un-American, traitors,
or Saddam apologists rather rich in my case since in 1991 the
fun-loving Iraqi secret police had threatened to hang me as an Israeli
would be a disaster for all concerned, I predicted, except for Israel,
which would see a potential nuclear rival and the most technologically
advanced Arab nation crushed by U.S. power. Iran would also cheer
the ruin of the hated Saddam, who had invaded the Islamic Republic
with the support of the U.S. and its Arab oil allies.
is wrong if he thinks Iraq can be turned into another docile American
protectorate like Kuwait or Bahrain. He is committing an act of
imperial overreach, I wrote. I also insisted Iraq had no weapons
of mass destruction.
In the event,
Iraq, a nation of only 24 million, was shattered by U.S. military
power. The war laid waste to large parts of this formerly advanced
nation, already ravaged by a 12-year U.S.-led economic embargo and
was even denied lead pencils for its schools lest they be somehow
turned into weapons of mass destruction. During the 1990-91 Gulf
War, the U.S. Air Force destroyed most of Iraqs water purification
plants and sewage systems. Iraq was denied imports of chlorine to
purify its fouled water. The result, according to the UN, was true
mass destruction: 500,000 children died from water-borne disease
and lack of medicines.
of Saddams Sunni-led regime opened a religious-ethnic Pandoras
Box in Iraq, an artificial state created by Imperial Britain out
of Sunni, Shia, Jews, and Kurds to encompass its newly discovered
Mesopotamian oil fields.
In a supremely
idiotic act, American proconsul Paul Bremer fired all Baath Party
military and civilian officials, gutting Iraqs organs of government.
When U.S. forces failed to put down fierce resistance by Sunni fighters,
a much ballyhooed troop Surge supposedly crushed the
uprising. This is a Republican political myth.
As the Romans
used to say, divide et impera. Divide and rule. In reality,
Sunni resistance was broken by ethnic cleansing: the unleashing
of Shia death squads that inflicted untold barbarities on Sunnis,
creating four million refugees, half of them driven abroad. Millions
of dollars in American bribes temporarily bought off other Sunni
bill for conquering Iraq and its vast oil fields: at least 4,483
U.S. soldiers killed and over 33,000 seriously wounded, many with
brain injuries. Estimates of Iraqi dead run from 112,000 to over
one million. The Pentagon knows, but wont release the figures.
grubby Pentagon official Paul Wolfowitz, a leading architect of
the war? He glibly predicted invading Iraq would cost a mere $40
billion and would be paid for by plundering its oil.
jolly little war has so far cost $1 trillion. In spite of
the drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq, funding the remaining garrison
and the American-installed Baghdad regime remains enormously costly.
Much of the cost is hidden in the CIAs $54.1 billion black
The Bush and
now Obama administrations have concealed the wars cost from
Americans by refusing to pay for it through taxes. Instead, the
total cost of this conflict was put on the surging national debt,
leaving future generations to pay for Bushs folly.
Iranian-backed Shia militias gained ascendency in Baghdad. Rigged
elections produced a compliant Shia regime, allowing Washington
to trumpet the arrival of democracy in Iraq the same kind of
democracy it long nurtured in Mubaraks Egypt.
Up north, U.S.
and Israeli-backed Kurds established a virtually independent oil
state that infuriated Washingtons ally Turkey. The Iraqi Humpty
Dumpty is broken and wont easily be put together again.
Iraqi oil bonanza never materialized. Today, Iraq pumps less oil
than under Saddam. He threw out Big Petroleum; now, the big U.S.
and foreign oil firms are creeping back, hoping to exploit Iraqs
riches. Some 34,000 guards are being hired to protect Iraqs
pipelines. Perhaps Libyas liberated oil may lessen
some of the disappointment over Iraqi oil.
has vowed all U.S. combat troops will quit Iraq by the end of 2011.
But a shell game is under way. Two or more heavy mechanized combat
brigades are moving just a few hours drive south to new bases in
Kuwait, ready to quickly intervene to prop up the tame Maliki regime
is trying to keep 10,000-20,000 combat troops in Iraq, rebranded
as trainers and anti-terrorism forces. Iraq
has balked but may yet give in. The new, huge, heavily fortified
U.S. Embassy in Baghdad will have 16,000 employees and its own private
army of mercenaries. What happens to the 100,000 other paid mercenaries
in Iraq is uncertain. One certainty: $34 billion in aid lost through
fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan will never be recovered.
In the flat,
arid Mideast, air power is decisive. The most important indicator
of Iraqs future will be who controls its air space. The U.S.
may continue to do so from Kuwait and other Gulf bases, just as
Imperial Britain ruled Iraq by means of the RAF. Baghdad wont
be truly independent until it rules its own air space and once again
has a real air force.
the bottom line on the liberation of Iraq?
trillion spent. Burning hatred for America across the Muslim world.
Animosity in Europe, which warned against Bushs modern crusade.
Huge future expenses to sustain an obedient Iraqi regime while anti-U.S.
nationalist sentiment there is boiling. A big boost for Irans
regional influence. The deaths and wounding of thousands of American
plan to dominate Iraqs oil and set up bases there to rule
the Mideast has so far failed, and at titanic cost. As we look back
on this epic folly and again hear calls for war against Iran, we
remember the famed words of King Pyrrhus of Epirus, one more
such victory and we are lost.
originally appeared in The
him mail] is the author of War
at the Top of the World and the new book, American
Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the
West and the Muslim World. See his
© 2011 Eric Margolis
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