Despite the official US military withdrawal [in December 2011], American special forces “recently” returned to Iraq on a counter-terrorism mission, according to an American general in charge of weapons sales there. The mission was reported by the New York Times, in the fifteenth paragraph of a story about deepening sectarian divides.

Of course, in classic American interventionist style, this renewed involvement in Iraq works against the goals we’re trying to accomplish in the next country over:

The irony is that the US is protecting a pro-Iran Shiite regime in Baghdad against a Sunni-based insurgency while at the same time supporting a Sunni-led movement against the Iran-backed dictatorship in Syria.

Gah, it’s just so unbelievably stupid.

This Notorious Quagmire

On this ninth Iraqiversary, it seems important to pause a moment to take a look at the past, present, and future of this most notorious quagmire.

When we invaded Iraq in 2003, I was 15 and vaguely supportive of the war out of a naive assumption that if they said we had to bomb Iraq to keep from being nuked, then bomb Iraq we must.  Nine years later it is uncomfortably obvious (and indeed has been for quite a while) that I — and quite a few other people at the time who lacked the plea of youthful error — was wrong:  ”The most popular argument to support the Iraq war in 2003 was the one about Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs)….All of it turned out to be lies. Iraq didn’t possess a single WMD. Far from being a military threat to the West, the country quickly collapsed in the face of invading forces.”

As it soon became clear that WMDs were nowhere to be found, the ostensible mission switched to “spreading democracy” — Saddam was a bad, bad man, and we must kill him.  A bad man he was, and kill him we did, but at what cost?

Madeleine Albright may have thought that killing 500,000 Iraqi children (let alone adults) through sanctions in the 1990s was “worth it” to bend the erstwhile Mesopotamia to our will, but I can’t agree.  I especially can’t agree in regards to the additional 600,000 to 1 million (or more) excess civilian deathscaused by the war following our 2003 invasion.  Proportionally, this is analogous to killing everyone in Texas or California.  If this is what it takes to spread democracy, can anyone honestly claim spreading democracy is a worthy cause?

With the inauguration of President Obama, we were promised a new, less militaristic foreign policy.  Candidate Obama successfully conned millions into accepting him as the “peace candidate” of 2008, and if he was not already an undercover warmonger at the time of his election as I suspect, once in office he quickly proved Acton’s adage about the corruption power brings.  I’m not sure which is worse.

Come December 2011, Obama took the stage at Fort Bragg in North Carolina to declare the war’s end, saying “the final work of leaving Iraq has been done.”  While the specifics claimed in his speech may have been technically correct, the claim that the war was over could not have been farther from the truth:  “How can the war [in Iraq] be over when Americans who just don’t happen to be wearing uniforms are over there by the thousands, and get killed right now, and we’re sending $3.5 billion over there?  That’s not over.  That’s not over by any stretch of the imagination.”

Meanwhile, with this faux ending of the war allowing most Americans to mentally check this war off our lists, the war machine is ramping up again as Washington hawks salivate for a swipe at Iran.  Not only would this be a sad repetition of our past mistakes in Iraq and unquestionably far bloodier and more costly than those pushing for war attest, but it is without doubt not a step toward progress or peace in the Middle East.

Consider the death tolls and destruction in Iraq — and the extensive violence and unrest which continues to be a regular occurrence.  Consider that our involvement in Iraq has actually expanded Iran’s influence there, and that an attack on Iran would likely produce the same effect with other unsavory states in the region.  Consider that, like Iraq, Iran has not actually attacked us, and that the vast majority of its people do not want anyone in their region to have nuclear weapons.  Then consider that it is those people, unable to control their tyrannical government, who are certain to suffer most should we let our itchy trigger finger slip again.

Nine years from now, it would (sadly) not surprise me if the US were still in some way intertwined in Iraqi internal affairs.  But at least let us not also mark an Iraniversary.

Originally published on my blog here.

The threat of civilian deaths and widespread destruction is always an obstacle to winning public support for war. It’s why the Pentagon and the State Department profess to have the ability to make “surgical ” strikes – attacks so accurate and precise that they always hit their target and avoid any “collateral damage.” This is the argument they’re making about Iran: that they would only target nuclear facilities, far from where civilians live.

They made the same argument about Iraq – that they would only target military facilities – but the result was the opposite. Nothing escaped the destruction of war: from highways and bridges, to schools and hospitals, to oil refineries and sewage treatment plants, to mosques and cultural sites. In some cases, like Fallujah, whole cities were destroyed. The death toll of Iraqis is in the hundreds of thousands, with some counts as high as 1.2 million people – and this after 1.5 million Iraqis died as a result of the U.S./UN sanctions regime.

[…] If the U.S. or Israel launch a war on Iran, it would be a bloodbath.

“How can the war [in Iraq] be over when Americans who just don’t happen to be wearing uniforms are over there by the thousands, and get killed right now, and we’re sending $3.5 billion over there?  That’s not over.  That’s not over by any stretch of the imagination.”


All photos and captions via this slideshow.

Next week, March 20, 2013, is the 10th Iraqiversary.

Back in 1947, the promulgation of the Truman Doctrine kicked off Washington’s effort to put its imprint on the Greater Middle East, while affirming that Britain’s exit from the region had begun. U.S. power was going to steer events in directions favorable to U.S. interests. That effort now seems likely to have run its course. The United States finds itself today pretty much where the British were back in the 1920s and 1930s. We’ve bitten off more than we can chew. The only problem is that there’s no readily available sucker to whom we can hand off the mess we’ve managed to create. 

— Andrew Bacevich, “Ten years after the invasion, did we win the Iraq War?

The claim that DC’s attempts to steer the Middle East “in directions favorable to U.S. interests” has run its course seems dubious at best, but I certainly welcome the hopeful perspective.