Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Shock and Awe Ten Years Ago Today

The American invasion of Iraq began 10 years ago today.  The biggest boondoggle since the Vietnam War began with the spectacular missile assault on Baghdad seen in the footage above.  The news media reported this with breathless excitement to a public in 2003 still eager for revenge after the September 11th attacks 2 years earlier.
The public and the news media were amply primed by an aggressive propaganda campaign by the Bush Administration that used massaged (and even forged) evidence and intimidation to create a case for the war.

There was a substantial number of people who were skeptical of the whole thing.

I was one of those people, but a tiny part of the huge protests like the one above in New York City that were almost completely ignored by the press, including the local media; never mind that these were the biggest protests the city had seen since the Vietnam War and snarled traffic for hours.  There were other similar protests of comparable size around the USA and around the world.

The Bush Administration succeeded in neutralizing the impact of these protests by marginalizing dissenters, claiming that they were not "mainstream" and impugning their patriotism.  The Administration used intimidation on an already cowed and eagerly compliant corporate media, eager to swallow without question whatever the government fed them.

And so the war was off, while those of us who thought the whole thing was the biggest mistake since our invasion of Peru after Pearl Harbor (*irony alert!*) could only sit by and watch helplessly.

This was the first American war that made extensive use of mercenaries ("government contractors") to make up for the manpower shortage created by the government's refusal to use conscription.  The discrepancies in pay between these mercenaries and regular soldiers were substantial.  Also, the mercenaries were exempt from military codes of conduct, and were granted legal immunity from prosecution under terms imposed on the new Iraqi government by the American occupation.
This was the first time in American history that the government cut taxes in time of war, compounding the fiscal crisis created by the mounting war debt that was kept off the official government budgets and out of the public eye.
Corruption was pervasive in the war effort among the many contractors hired to do what military quartermasters did in previous wars.  Billions were lost to corruption by the contractors and by the new Iraqi government.

Saddam Hussein's government fell quickly like a wet house of cards.  We soon found ourselves managing what everyone said would happen, a ferocious sectarian and ethnic war among Iraq's Shiites, Sunnis, Arabs, and Kurds that broke out soon after the fall of the regime.  The original pretext for going to war, that Saddam was building "weapons of mass destruction," that he was somehow involved in the September 11th attacks, turned out to be completely mistaken if not fraudulent.  American soldiers on the ground found themselves involved in difficult and tangled diplomatic negotiations with local leaders to try to end the sectarian warfare, or to minimize its damage. In these efforts, they were frequently successful, sometimes without support from Central Command or Washington.

In 2011, President Obama reluctantly withdrew the last remaining forces in Iraq after the new Iraqi government refused to agree to immunity for American troops and contractors from prosecution.

A lot of us of a certain age had a very bad case of deja vu during the years of the Iraq War.  The military contractors, the effort to win "hearts and minds" of the locals, the discrepancies in body counts (casualties among the locals were largely ignored), we had seen and heard all of these things before.

While the the numbers of American military casualties were much lower than in Vietnam (thanks to changes in tactics, technology, and advances in medicine), the damage from this conflict to American power and prestige, and to the rule of law at home, was much greater.  We are now largely impotent spectators to the stalemate in the Israeli Palestinian conflict.  Our credibility as any kind of champion of peace and democracy was destroyed by the scandalous treatment of prisoners of war, by the shocking use of torture as official policy, by the open embrace of methods that we hanged people for in the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials.  The military power of the Presidency is now virtually unchecked by any rule of law.  All of those new unchecked Presidential powers for the struggle against terrorists wait for a future unscrupulous ruler to use them to silence his opposition.  The Fourth Estate lost all credibility as any kind of "Watchdog of Democracy."  Today, the  established corporate media are the recording secretaries of the powerful and lap dogs of the privileged. I remain amazed that there was no accountability at all for those who started the war and who made the case for it.  The only prosecution coming out of the war is Bradley Manning for blowing the whistle on so much of it.  All of the pundits who cheer-led the war still have their jobs and are still revered as "authorities."

And in the end, who really came out a winner?  Not the USA.  Not the Iraqis.  The real winners in this long war were the military contractors and their shareholders who made out like bandits, and the Iranians.  The USA very helpfully removed a major check on Iranian ambitions in the region and installed a Shiite regime with very strong ties to Iran.

And now, it all is starting to disappear down the American Memory Hole along with perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead.  The collective amnesia is setting in even as the sectarian conflicts unleashed by the American invasion continue in Iraq.  I was amazed to see how thoroughly the Iraq War and its perpetrators, including President George W, Bush, were air-brushed out of the last Presidential election campaign.  To watch all the speeches and spectacles from last year from both sides, we would hardly know that the war happened at all.

1 comment:

JCF said...

Yikes, memory tricks! I just about posted "I'm in that NYC protest picture, somewhere", when I remembered, No, I was in NYC protesting the FIRST Gulf War, in '91! [I did go to Lansing, MI, though, to protest in '03]