For years people will debate the real reasons the US invaded Iraq. Was it an honest mistake, based on the belief that the Hussein regime was hiding weapons? Was it revenge for political disobedience? Was it about oil or regional control, Bush’s place in history, or bolstering the US military budget? Maybe it was only to satisfy the post-9-11 blood lust.
Given the mixed-up world of half-truths, lies, and duplicity that inhere in all war ambitions, these tantalizing questions may never be finally resolved, even by the most objective observers, of which there are few.
But this much we do know with apodictic certainty: virtually nothing in Iraq has gone as the US envisioned it. It is a calamity that might not quantitatively equal Vietnam in terms of the loss of life, but it is qualitatively equal to any of the great war failures in world history.
The Bush administration fanaticized about using shock and awe to "decapitate" the Iraqi regime, and then — King Midas-like — touching the country to make it prosperous, civil, and — most importantly, compliant. The Iraqi government fell quickly, but 27 months later, a complicated and bloody chaos reigns.
What we have in Iraq today is the very definition of barbarism: martial law, puppet government, civil war, daily bloodshed, spreading poverty and disease, and no end in sight.
Economic conditions are miserable. The numbers showing GPD growth are a hoax, propped up by reconstruction aid that lands in the pockets of American contractors. Despite the promise of privatization, the economy remains controlled and largely nationalized, and the legal regime is arbitrary and changing. This environment attracts no productive capital investment. A business that moves to Iraq today is on the take, looking for loot. Meanwhile, the country’s oil exports are spotty and unpredictable due to bad management and unrelenting sabotage.
The war is sowing and reaping hatred throughout the region, drawing recruits into terrorist armies, and expanding anti-Americanism. Whatever regime in Iraq earns the imprimatur of the US will be ipso facto loathed by the Iraqi resistance. Whatever regime is supported by the Sunnis will be opposed by the Shiites and vice versa, with further complications added by the Kurds and gradations among religious and ethnic attachments that Americans can’t hope to understand.
Details aside, the existence of the resistance is not hard to explain. That comes with invasion and occupation. The success of the resistance is not a mystery either. A private army using guerilla tactics can succeed over the long term where conventional government armies fail.
Incredibly, the Bush administration doesn’t seem to comprehend any of this. From the beginning, it has placed all its hopes on the glorious results that flow from the application of power and violence. This represents a deep form of intellectual corruption that has afflicted the American right wing since the early days of the Cold War, when an entire movement put its love for liberty on the shelf and acculturated itself to the merits of bombs and military socialism.
One might have hoped that the end of the Cold War would have reversed the tendency, but it did not. Never have Republicans been more slavishly devoted to their Party and its partisan (not principled) agenda. The right has shown itself willing to sell what remains of its soul to keep the opposition out of power. Thus does it back the egregious Iraq War, along with all its debt, demolition, and death.
The homefront has suffered too: some $200 billion in taxpayers’ money spent, 1,700 dead Americans, as many as 38,000 wounded, along with the high cultural costs of missing dads, skyrocketing divorce rates among the enlisted, and another generation trained in the idea that mass killing by the state is good and moral. The Iraqi dead approach 100,000.
I mentioned earlier that the Iraq failure has many precedents. Consider the Soviet failure in Afghanistan. The ostensible goal of the Russian government — which invaded the country by citing security concerns — was to replace a backward religious regime with an enlightened one that brought rights to all, guaranteed a higher standard of living, and put the country on the path to progress.
Of course we all saw through these lies. To us, the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was a transparent and brutal exercise of empire. It was evidence of the moral rot in the Kremlin. In the end, the Soviets controlled only the ground underneath their tank treads. It was the last hurrah of an evil empire.
Americans need to face the reality that most of the world sees our nation as the new evil empire, and many people in the Gulf region are dedicated to making sure that the Iraq War is the last hurrah for American militarism. How tragic to admit that the analogy is not entirely implausible.
“For what shall it profit a man," asked the first century philosopher whom Bush calls his favorite, "if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"
Isn’t this also true of a country?