By David Swanson, Remarks at the Left Forum
When I lived in New York 20 years ago, the United States was beginning a 20-year war on Iraq. We protested at the United Nations. The Miami Herald depicted Saddam Hussein as a giant fanged spider attacking the United States. Hussein was frequently compared to Adolf Hitler. On October 9, 1990, a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl told a U.S. congressional committee that she'd seen Iraqi soldiers take 15 babies out of an incubator in a Kuwaiti hospital and leave them on the cold floor to die. Some congress members, including the late Tom Lantos (D., Calif.), knew but did not tell the U.S. public that the girl was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States, that she'd been coached by a major U.S. public relations company paid by the Kuwaiti government, and that there was no other evidence for the story. President George H. W. Bush used the dead babies story 10 times in the next 40 days, and seven senators used it in the Senate debate on whether to approve military action. The Kuwaiti disinformation campaign for the Gulf War would be successfully reprised by Iraqi groups favoring the overthrow of the Iraqi government twelve years later.
My Congressman in Virginia from 2008 to 2010 Tom Perriello, who was beloved by all the national progressive groups for reasons never explained and who is now president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund and one of the founders of Avaaz, holds up the first Gulf War as a model of a good and humanitarian war, while Avaaz pushes for war in Syria as philanthropy and Senator John McCain pushes for it as a way to overthrow a government that is allied with Iran, the same Iran strengthened by 20 years of war and sanctions against Iraq.
Are the lies that have to be told to get these wars going a necessary part of the process of stirring up weak souls' emotions for the truly necessary and noble work of war? Are we all, each and every one of us, wise and knowing insiders who must tolerate being lied to because others just don't understand? This line of thinking would be more persuasive if wars did any good that could not be done without them and if they did it without all the harm. Two intense wars and many years of bombing and deprivation later, the evil ruler of Iraq, and former U.S. ally, Saddam Hussein is gone, but we've spent trillions of dollars; a million Iraqis are dead; four million have been displaced and left desperate and abandoned; violence is everywhere; sex trafficking is on the rise; the basic infrastructure of electricity, water, sewage, and healthcare is in ruins (in part because of the U.S. intention to privatize Iraq's resources for profit); life expectancy has dropped; cancer rates in Fallujah have surpassed those in Hiroshima; anti-U.S. terrorist groups are using the occupation of Iraq as a recruiting tool; there is no functioning government in Iraq; and most Iraqis say they were better off with Saddam Hussein in power. We have to be lied to for this? Really?
I was back in New York on February 15th 2003 to oppose a new assault on Iraq. That effort, the single biggest day of protest in history, created international alliances, prevented the United Nations from sanctioning the war, dragged non anti-war groups into the anti-war effort at least as long as the president was a Republican, discouraged military recruitment, and kicked off a movement that -- along with other factors -- eventually ended a war in Iraq, is about to end a war in Afghanistan, and has thus far prevented a war on Iran -- a war that the masters of war have tried very hard to start a number of times in the past 9 years. Of course, the war on Iraq has neither ended completely nor ended in the way people are often told.
I got an email last fall from the Huffington Post telling me that Obama was keeping his campaign promise to get U.S. troops out of Iraq. Not quite. Obama said, "I will promise you this: that if we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am president, it is the first thing I will do. I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank." Here's how the Huffington Post claimed this promise was kept: "Fulfilling a long-held campaign promise, President Barack Obama announced Friday that he will pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of the year, as conditioned by the Status of Forces Agreement with the country." What exactly is a long-held campaign promise? Is it one that it takes you a long time to keep? Does that work even if the promise was specifically what your first action would be? Was this somehow Obama's belated first action? Of course, not. This was compliance with a treaty that Bush and Maliki had made three years earlier, which the Iraqi government had refused to modify to accommodate Obama's desire to keep troops in Iraq longer. That refusal, specifically the refusal to allow mercenaries and troops immunity from Iraqi law, was apparently motivated in part by the release of the collateral murder video allegedly given to Wikileaks by Bradley Manning, whom Obama kept in solitary confinement for a year and whom Obama's subordinates will now provide with the pretense of a trial following Obama's public declaration of his guilt.
The vast bulk of the U.S. occupation of Iraq is gone, much to the credit of the Iraqis and of the peace movement that existed in the United States three, four, and five years ago when peace groups were joined by Democratic groups that saw an advantage in opposing a particular war. But the United States had already built the world's largest so-called embassy, until it completes a bigger one in Afghanistan, and the treaty that Bush and Maliki rammed through without the Congress, as Obama consequently believes he can do for Afghanistan, only required the removal of troops employed by the U.S. Department of so-called Defense. Mercenaries employed by the State Department, as well as the CIA, can stay. In February, the State Department said it would be cutting its staff from 16,000 to 8,000. Thousands of those staff will be nothing other than armed mercenaries. The U.S. Army has also hired mercenaries to escort shipments of supplies from Kuwait into Iraq, although it also has use of an airport in Iraq. The United States has a military presence in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Eritrea, Djibouti, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Persian Gulf, and the Mediterranean, plus a closely aligned and U.S. funded military in Israel, and there are those in the U.S. government who want to bring back a larger occupation of Iraq, while President Obama does not hesitate to send drones anywhere.
As U.S. troops have been withdrawn from Iraq a number of things have not happened:
- Iraq has not descended into the worst hell imaginable, many times worse then the hell we've helped to create there.
- The reputation of the U.S. military has not collapsed to the point where every little nation with a grudge to settle has attacked Washington.
- The people of Iraq have not risen up to demand a longer occupation.
- The U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq have not come back from their graves to insist that their memories require additional years of pointless killing and dying by others, and
- The rule of law has not suffered a fatal blow (partly because it was already dead).
All of this suggests a few of things. One, it is possible that sometimes Fox News is wrong. Two, it is possible that the two-thirds of us who favor withdrawing from Afghanistan are right about that one as well. Three, maybe keeping the peace movement going would have been a good idea, and maybe we should revive it.
Not gone from Iraq are Exxon Mobil, BP, and Shell. They didn't get everything they'd hoped for, and Chinese, Russian, and Singaporean companies are in there too. But they got hugely valuable contracts that give them far more profit and the Iraqi people far less than is the norm. They also raked in huge profits from the increased price of oil during the war, as during the current threat of war with Iran. Also profiting, of course, have been the direct war profiteers, the weapons makers and other military contractors and mercenary firms. But outside of that group, which tends to profit enormously from military spending whether or not there's a war, the U.S. economy as a whole has been badly hurt -- from the 99% to the 1%. Even Donald Trump wants out of Afghanistan. This kind of madness doesn't benefit the conquering nation -- even if the threat of war facilitates the exploitation of other countries. I recently read an article about Iraq choosing to buy crops from nations other than the United States that quoted U.S. farmers who were absolutely furious that Iraq would choose not to buy their products after the United States had gone to so much trouble bombing and occupying Iraq. Michael Froomkin recently wrote: "The population of Iraq is about 32,000,000. So that means the war cost us about $25,000 per Iraqi. I think my suggestion back in 2003 that instead of staying in Iraq we just give every Iraqi $3000 per year for the next year or two is looking awfully good in retrospect." Of course, that model could be enlarged. Far more Afghan children starve and freeze to death than any soldiers massacre, and it would cost a lot less to feed and clothe them than it does to massacre them. And doing so would create a lot more peace and stability. A trillion-dollar army cannot win an occupation. There's no such thing as winning. That's what Iraq ought to have shown them. There will be no nuclear weapons moved into Afghanistan and no U.S. controlled pipelines. Apart from the weapons makers and mercenary profiteers, nobody gains.
We in the United States didn't just lose money in Iraq. We lost our civil liberties at home, our representative government, our vestigial restrictions on presidential war powers. Obama went into Libya without even bothering to lie to Congress, and Panetta just told Senator Sessions that Obama can go into Syria without Congress or the United Nations. We lost our prohibitions on torture, murder, and lawless imprisonment. We lost religious tolerance. And we lost the idea that there is anything a president can do, other than sex, that can get him impeached. We created temporary despots.