Summary: On the 11th anniversary of our invasion of Iraq, let’s remember who was right, who was wrong, and the consequences of our actions. Our amnesia about these things prevents us from learning. It keeps us weak and easily led. It’s unworthy of a free people, and makes effective self-government impossible. Let’s honor those who sacrificed their lives for this nation in Iraq by learning from that war.
“Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”
— Robert Louis Stevenson, no known source (perhaps apocryphal)
That our actions were both wrong and unwise was quite obvious at the time. For evidence see these articles from the 19 March 2002 issue of The Republic, powerfully summarized by Katrina vanden Heuvel (Editor and Publisher) in “This Week in ‘Nation’ History: The Horrific Legacy of the Invasion of Iraq“, 14 March 2014. It deserves your attention.
We should regard those writers with respect for going against the belligerent madness that held both Right and Left in its grip during those days, a mental fire skillfully fed by the senior officials of the Bush Jr team. Their articles read today as prophetic, although they were mostly statements of the obvious overlaid on sound journalism.
Building on their accurate predictions — and coverage since then — they summarize the results of our invasion and occupation (too mildly, in my opinion): “Iraq: Revisiting the Pottery Barn Rule“, John Feffer, The Nation, 27 January 2014 — Excerpt:
You might remember Powell’s famous quip about Pottery Barn. In his advice to President George W. Bush before the Iraq invasion, Powell warned the president of the Pottery Barn rule: you break it, you own it. The United States would be responsible, Powell implied, for whatever wreckage the military incurred in its headlong dash to unseat Saddam Hussein.
Pottery Barn actually has no such a rule, and it was New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman who “made up the whole thing.” But Powell, who apologized to Pottery Barn, still embraces the message.
“We were essentially the new government until a government could be put in place,” he told David Samuels in The Atlantic. “And in the second phase of this conflict, which was beginning after the statue fell, we made serious mistakes in not acting like a government. One, maintaining order. Two, keeping people from destroying their own property. Three, not having in place security forces — either ours or theirs or a combination of the two to keep order.”
We did none of those things, and Iraq, as a result, is broken. Nor has the United States made much effort to own it—that is, to own up to our responsibility for breaking the country. We gave up trying to sweep up the pieces. At this stage, all we do is take photographs of the damage, putting them in the newspaper accompanied by descriptions of the carnage. We mull over the consequences. We hope that our chickens don’t come home to roost.
The real Pottery Barn rule — the same rule that all retailers have — is to write off the broken merchandise as a loss. And that is what we have done to Iraq.
The latest violence in Iraq rivals the levels last seen during wartime. Last year, between 8,000 and 10,000 civilians were killed, the highest number since 2008. According to one recent study, half a million Iraqis have died from war-related causes since the 2003 US invasion, a figure that includes indirect casualties from the breakdown of the country’s social structure.
… There was nothing about apologies in the Pottery Barn rule. It was all about objects and ownership. But Iraq has never been simply a china shop. It is a country of people. When you break a person, do you own them? Of course not. And what we did in Iraq was far from accidental.
I’m not aware of any US administration that has apologized for our military involvement in that country. Getting rid of Saddam Hussein does not excuse us of responsibility for what happened afterward. So, we could start by apologizing for our mistakes.
But when it comes to countries, apologies are not sufficient. There should also be an element of restitution.
Although many reasons were given during the past 11 years for the invasion and occupation, it’s clear that among them were a desire by our leaders to get cheap access to Iraq’s vast oil reserves (among the largest in the world), and use Iraq as a base from which to project power across the Middle East. In these, as in almost every respect, the plan failed — at great cost both to our troops and the Iraq people. Plus the wasted funds, sorely needed by our decaying infrastructure, the damage to our reputation for competence, and the perhaps terminal damage to the international order which was the greatest accomplishment of the WW2 generation.
A full scorecard has not yet been drawn up for our deeds, but it will be — eventually. As will be an indictment, if only by historians, for our lies before and actions in Iraq. Both will lie heavy on our history.
Then there is the accounting for our long involvement in Afghanistan: our participation in the overthrow of a government far superior to anything they have had since, to the pointless invasion after 9-11 (against the evidence of the 9-11 Commission), to the mad occupation that followed. And then we can ponder our role in Libya (“Three Years After Qaddafi; The Implosion of Libya“, Patrick Cockburn, CounterPunch, 17 March 2014).
Last on the list is the matter of consequences.
We can erase our memories, but that will not help. Remembering — and learning from the experience — will produce valuable fruits, but requires a willingness to admit error (a quality rarely found in 21st century America).
For More Information
(a) For details:
- “What the War in Iraq Wrought“, Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker, 15 January 2014
- “The Horror of Iraq in Everyday Numbers“, Christian Christensen, Medium, 18 March 2014 — “Putting statistics from Iraq into everyday context makes them all the more disturbing.”
- Links to the the 100+ posts about our expedition to Iraq on the FM website
(b) Remembering about and learning from our war in Iraq:
- Important: What we did we wrong in Iraq – the simple, short version, 9 July 2008
- Looking back at how our folly and ignorance fanned the flames in Iraq, 3 June 2012
- Time to ask about lessons learned from our wars, a last opportunity to gain something from them, 30 October 2013
(c) The reasons we fought in Iraq:
- Stratfor’s analysis of US reasons for invading and occupying Iraq, 4 March 2008
- Why we fight. Causes of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan., 5 August 2009 — A look at one of Ralph Peters most brilliant and insightful essays.
(d) Accurate predictions about our “victory” in Iraq:
- The Iraq insurgency has ended, which opens a path to peace, 13 March 2007
- Beyond Insurgency: An End to Our War in Iraq, 27 September 2007:
- Iraq, after the war, 20 May 2008
- Slowly the new Iraq becomes visible, 18 July 2008
- If we won in Iraq, what did we win? Was it worth the cost?, 15 July 2009
- We collect our winnings in Iraq, 12 December 2009
- One criterion of victory in Iraq: when will the oil flow?, 3 February 2010
- The end of our Expedition to Iraq: war-boosters cheer despite its long-predicted failure., 24 October 2011