Friday, October 21, 2011

The Iraq War Ends

American soldiers touring the ancient Ziggurat at Ur in Iraq

President Obama announced the complete withdrawal of American troops by the end of the year. Apparently, no agreement could be reached with the Iraqi government for legal immunity for American soldiers, so all of them will be withdrawn. Thus ends the biggest and deadliest boondoggle since the Vietnam War. The invasion of Iraq turned out to be as necessary as an invasion of Peru after Pearl Harbor. Despite heavy publicity and strong-armed attempts to massage meager evidence into an urgent casus belli, there was no real cause for the USA to invade Iraq. Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction (he would have used them if he had them on our invading forces). There was no Iraqi involvement in the September 11th attack (though there was plenty of Saudi money involved and the Pakistani military provided the getaway and the hideout for the real perpetrators). Al Qaida had no presence in Iraq until we invaded.

The invasion and occupation cost the lives of 4,407 American soldiers. The British medical journal The Lancet, estimates an Iraqi death toll of more than 650,000. Billions of dollars were lost to corruption on the part of Iraqi officials and private contractors and still remains unaccounted for. The cost of the war was kept off of the federal books and was largely paid for by borrowed money dramatically escalating the national debt. The full cost of the war will probably end up in an economy-wrecking figure of trillions upon trillions of dollars. This was an imperial adventure paid for on a credit card.

After the lives lost, the biggest cost was to the power and moral authority of the United States. We squandered our power and influence in this invasion. The real winners of this war were the military contractors and their shareholders who made huge profits. Iran was also a big winner in this invasion. We very obligingly took out the one major check on Iranian power in the region. We alienated our sometime ally, Turkey which now has no reason or incentive to even listen to us. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains stalemated and insoluble with our capacity for influencing either side reduced to zero.

Our heavy-handed approach to prisoners of war was a gift to our enemies and an albatross around the necks of our allies. Our role as champion of human rights and democracy became a horribly ironic joke after we joined the ranks of nations who abuse and torture prisoners of war in the name of expediency. The pictures from the Abu Ghraib Prison of American soldiers humiliating and torturing Iraqi prisoners is something we will come to regret as deeply as the detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

The reluctance of our leaders to resort to the draft meant that troop levels were never adequate to the task of invading and occupying a large country, so their numbers were augmented by mercenaries. They were called "contractors," but they were in fact mercenary soldiers. They were paid far more than the regular troops, and were not bound by the same military legal codes and international treaties. They could, and did, kill civilians with impunity. This was our first major conflict to make extensive use of mercenaries, the bete noir of Machiavelli who dated the decline of Roman imperial might to the beginning of its reliance on mercenary forces.

There is the cost to the moral authority of the United States at home. Our leaders clearly learned nothing from the Vietnam War and instead seemed determined to do it all over again, only this time to "do it right." The same lies (in some cases word for word) were brought back to justify and explain the invasion. The reliance on military contractors (some of them fraudulent) instead of quartermasters for the equipping, billeting, and feeding of troops caused many to question the sincerity of all the "support the troops" rhetoric coming out of Washington. The pointlessness of the invasion, the lies used to justify it, the cronyism and corruption associated with it, the abuses it created caused Americans from right to left to call into question the very legitimacy of all of their institutions, and not just the federal government. Our compliant and corrupt corporate press with its class of privileged pundits must bear a large amount of blame for cheerleading this war. Corporations, especially military contractors, profited very well off of this adventure. Academic and religious institutions played their role in creating legal and ethical fig leaves for what was essentially a giant national smash-and-grab. The authority and legitimacy of entire classes of professionals emerges from this conflict dripping in slime.

Small wonder people are taking to the streets and dissing their leaders. Our rulers, both political parties and the media, forfeited their legitimacy in this conflict and in the epic grand larceny perpetrated by the all dominant financial industry at the same time.

The rest of us are left with a shrunken and impoverished democracy, with over 4000 dead, and thousands of severely wounded veterans who will need medical care for the rest of their lives.

George W Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, the whole Neo-Con cabal, Tom Friedman, Judith Miller, George Will, Christopher Hitchens, Charles Krauthammer, Fox News, et al, thanks for nothing. What are you guys doing still walking around loose?


Robert Brenchley said...

They're on the loose because they're effectively above the law. It's the bane of so many countries; institutions aren't strong enough to control the rich and the powerful.

Robert Brenchley said...

They're on the loose because they're effectively above the law. It's the bane of so many countries; institutions aren't strong enough to control the rich and the powerful.

Tristan Alexander said...

And the Repuglicans are slamming the President over his decission to bring the troops home and end the war! They complain we will leave and bad stuff will happen. They just HATE not having war! (they still have Afganistan) and they HATE that President Obama is keeping a campaign promise and a big reason he was elected! They would ratehr have more troops die then have President Obama do ANYTHING that makes him look good!

Anonymous said...

Why in the world would we, the U.S. Taxpayer, be expected to pay for the protection of U.S. Security Companies who hire themselves out (for huge fees) to serve the Iraq Government?

Thanks for this and a bravo to President Obama!

Republicans have destroyed our society and intend to keep on doing wonder the World fears/hates us with the likes of Bush/Rumsfeld still staggering around. Leonardo/Len

Counterlight said...

As one wit pointed out, if a Republican President had presided over the deaths of Bin Laden, Qaddafi, and Anwar al-Awaki, the right would be clamoring to put him up on Mount Rushmore.

Sarah Strohmeyer said...

This was really well said. Thank you. And to think I came here looking for more insight on Caravaggio. I especially appreciate that you mentioned Judith Miller.

JCF said...


Eleanor Mills said...

Dear Counterlight,

I hope you can help me. I'm writing from the Royal Academy Magazine (published by the Royal Academy of Arts, London). We are running a feature about Russian constructivist art, mentioning Rodchenko's hanging sculptures. I notice that you have reproduced 'Rodchenko, Hanging Sculpture, 1920' on your blog. Can you tell me where you got the image from? I really need to get hold of it by the end of Friday in high resolution. Please could you get in touch with me as a matter of urgency? My email is and I'm the Editorial Assistant on the RA Magazine. My direct line is 020 7300 5820 if you'd prefer to call me.

very best, and hope to hear from you soon,