Back to the territory in Iraq, the part we do not claim -- that's the part we left littered with unexploded ordnance, or the part that's poisoned with depleted uranium (DU) weapons or the part that was environmentally destroyed by a massive military rolling through. We don't claim any of that. And we don't even pretend to offer to clean it up -- any more than we offer reparations to the survivors of those we killed, or medical help for those we maimed, or any other kind of help for those whose houses we blew up, whose orchards we leveled, whose herds we extinguished. We're not good about cleaning up after ourselves, especially when we can blame it all on al Qaeda and the rest of those crazy Arab suicide bombers.
The Iraq we have left behind is itself a war crime. In an international system that actually worked, the crime of Iraq would have been addressed long before there were headlines about Crimea. Seriously, which do you suppose is a better place to live?
"We ended our war," said the President, and that's pretty much on point -- "our" war is over, in the sense that we're no longer in it. But it's all "our" war, every bit of it -- we started it, we let it go horribly wrong, and the chaos raging now in Iraq now is every bit as much "our" war as the rest of it.
""we ended our war and left Iraq to its people
in a fully sovereign Iraqi state
that can make decisions about its own future."
None of that is true in any meaningful way. The Iraqi people have been brutalized and turned against each other in ways they hadn't experienced in centuries. For whatever it's worth, the Saddam dictatorship was also the creation of the Iraqi people in a sovereign state. Ironically, there are recent reports that, in the wake of American intervention, Iraq is again drifting into being a sovereign police state.
Actually, Iraq is just drifting toward being a police state again. Iraq hasn't been a fully sovereign state for some time, it's not clear just how long. But the Iraq government no longer has territorial integrity, it does not control all the land within its borders. The Kurdish region is always problematical, but western Iraq is out of the government's control.
Rebel/jihadist groups in Syria now control an area of Syria and Iraq that is about the size of Great Britain, according to veteran reporter Patrick Cockburn. He told Democracy Now:
"The al-Qaeda-type organizations really control a massive area in northern and eastern Syria at the moment and northern and western Iraq. The largest number of volunteers fighting with these al-Qaeda-type groups are Saudi. Most of the money originally came from there. But these people now control their own oil wells. They probably are less reliant on Saudi money."
So there's not much that President Obama said about Iraq that's very close to true. The Iraqi people are not sovereign and they do not control their own future. They have a fundamentalist-leaning Shiite government that's closely allied with Iran. The Iraqi people are victims several times over -- victims of the Saddam regime, victims of the American liberation and plunder, victims of phantom democratic choices, victims of jihadis on all sides. And our president talks of them instead as a sovereign people deciding their own future, because the truth is way too difficult. Iraqis are victims, and America doesn't do victims, America creates victims, sometimes America helps victims of natural disasters, but mostly America blames victims, at home and abroad, it's what we do.
And it turns out we don't do hope and change much, either. What happens to a country when the president the electorate thought it elected doesn't show up in the Oval Office? We've been finding out since 2009 and it's not over yet.
For now, at least, the President seems to have enough sense and strength to be able to treat going to war over Crimea as a "dumb war" worth avoiding.