J’Accuse…! George W Bush and the Iraq War

“Tell me lies. Tell me sweet little lies.” Fleetwood Mac

On this, March 20, the 18th anniversary of when the United States and coalition forces began the war in Iraq, causing hundreds off thousands of military and civilian deaths, the one person responsible for this unnecessary and tragic war needs to be acknowledged.

When David Halberstam wrote The Best and the Brightest about the people who dragged the United States into the war in Vietnam, he didn’t intend to praise them. He meant, instead, to strike a sardonic tone, to mock the elite, highly educated and well-born men (and they were mostly men) who promoted the Vietnam fiasco.

The policymakers Halberstam highlighted in “Best and the Brightest” were high-level actors such as President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, McGeorge and William Bundy, George Kennan, George Ball, Clark Clifford, Walt Rostow, John McCone, and others. 

The U.S. war in Iraq was a replay, just with different faces.

The players who dragged the United States down the twisted road into the conflagration in Irag were first and foremost the president himself, George W. Bush. His supporting cast included a long list of enablers, including: Vice President Dick Cheney; Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz; Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith; Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter”Libby; Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; David Wurmser, a member of Feith’s Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group; and Richard Perle, who served as chairman of the Defense Department’s Defense Policy Board. The weight of the unnecessary war should still hang like an albatross on the necks of these so-called public servants.

Not surprisingly, that’s not where the official White House-appointed commission created to find out where things went wrong laid the blame. 

“We conclude that the Intelligence Community was dead wrong in almost all of its pre-war judgments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction,” said the March 31, 2005 Report to the President of The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction“This was a major intelligence failure. Its principal causes were the Intelligence Community’s inability to collect good information about Iraq’s WMD programs, serious errors in analyzing what information it could gather, and a failure to make clear just how much of its analysis was based on assumptions, rather than good evidence. On a matter of this importance, we simply cannot afford failures of this magnitude.” 

“Finally, it was a failure to communicate effectively with policymakers; the Intelligence Community didn’t adequately explain just how little good intelligence it had—or how much its assessments were driven by assumptions and inferences rather than concrete evidence,” the Commission added.

Bullshit.

It wasn’t the intelligence community that owned all the screw ups. There’s no question that deficiencies in intelligence gathering, including a lack of useful human intelligence and reliance on unreliable Iraqi defectors, played a major role in making bad decisions. CIA Director George Tenet contributed to the manipulation of intelligence to maintain his access to, and influence on, Bush and other administration officials.

But if you read the books, reports, essays, etc. written by people not appointed by the Bush administration, the real blame belongs on the shoulders of the top policymakers, all the way up to President George W. Bush, whose eyes were wide shut, refused to see things in plain view. He was determined to go to war and embraced questionable intelligence data to make it happen. 

The result was a war that twisted and perverted whatever it touched, over there as well as over here, as Luke Mogelson wrote in a New Yorker essay about Peter Van Agtmael’s book, “Sorry for the War.” 

Photo by Peter van Agtmael, “Sorry for the War.” 

Bush and his cadre of neoconservatives thought they were doing the right thing, pushing for the transformation of Iraq in the belief that would have a bandwagon effect on the fractious middle east. 

President George W. Bush said on Nov. 6, 2003 at the 20th Anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy: “Iraqi democracy will succeed –- and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran –- that freedom can be the future of every nation. The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.”

But in the end Bush and his acolytes were like the young idealist Alden Pyle in Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, set in Saigon during the French fight to retain Vietnam in colonial rule. “I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused . . . impregnably armored by his good intentions and his ignorance,” the novel’s narrator, Thomas Fowler, said of Pyle.

Yes, subsequent analysis has revealed serious intelligence shortcomings.

  • Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, known by the Defense Intelligence Agency cryptonym “Curveball”, reportedly told German intelligence that Iraq possessed stockpiles of biological weapons and had manufactured ingeniously simple mobile trailers to produce them. He was not considered a credible, reliable source and later admitted he had fabricated the story.
  • President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and other senior administration officials asserted that Iraq had attempted to acquire more than 100,000 high strength aluminum tubes for gas centrifuges to be used for enriching uranium that could be used to make nuclear weapons. Evidence showed that was not the case. In fact, the dimensions and the aluminum alloy were identical to those of tubes acquired for small rockets by Iraq.
  • The Bush administration alleged that a Sept. 11 hijacker, Mohamed Atta, met with an Iraqi intelligence agent, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, at a café in Prague five months prior to the 9/11 attacks. There was no evidence to support that claim.
  • The administration claimed that Iraq had trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases, strengthening a claim of close ties between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. A June 21, 2002 CIA report, “Iraq and al-Qa’ida: Interpreting a Murky Relationship,” stated that “the level and extent of this assistance is not clear.” The document noted the “many critical gaps” in the knowledge of Iraqi links to al Qaeda because of “limited reporting” and the “questionable reliability of many of our sources.”
  • The Bush administration claimed that Iraq attempted to obtain processed uranium from Niger in Africa as part of its effort to reconstitute its nuclear weapons programs. Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, sent to Niger by the CIA to investigate reports about Iraq’s attempts to acquire uranium from that country, concluded the claim was not credible and others asserted that documents allegedly detailing uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger were “not authentic.”
  • The Bush administration said Iraq was exploring ways of using unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical and biological weapons across broad areas, potentially for missions targeting the United States. The Air Force, it was later revealed, had maintained that Iraqi drones with chemical and biological weapons were not capable of posing any real threat to the U.S., or even to the countries bordering Iraq.
  • President George W. Bush and key members of his administration insisted that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program and that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that posed an immediate threat to the United States and its allies. There was no program for development of WMDs, nuclear or otherwise. The United States failed to find weapons stocks or active production lines.

But the fact is intelligence, or the lack thereof, on Iraqi weapons programs isn’t what drove President Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq.

As Paul R. Pillar, who served as National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia at the CIA from 2000 to 2005, wrote in an article published in the March/April 2006 edition of Foreign Affairs“What is most remarkable about prewar U.S. intelligence on Iraq is not that it got things wrong and thereby misled policymakers; it is that it played so small a role in one of the most important U.S. policy decisions in recent decades.”

The decision to topple Saddam Hussein was “driven by… the desire to shake up the sclerotic power structures of the Middle East and hasten the spread of more liberal politics and economics in the region,” Pillar wrote.

Where intelligence raised doubts about the reliability of information the policymakers were using to justify war, they disregarded it.

And American media mostly cheered them on, led by reporters for the major media outlets, particularly the New York Times and Washington Post. Then there was Congress, which, despite some misgivings, essentially gave President Bush a blank check to do his thing.

So Bush did.

As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe so eloquently put it, “A man is not deceived by others; he deceives himself.” 

 

 

 

“War, huh. What’s it good for?

On this Memorial Day, it seems like the United States has been at war for most of my lifetime. The cost in American lives has been unbearable. Parents of friends, and friends themselves, have died. The financial cost has been astronomical. The impact on our culture has been massive. The resulting erosion of trust in government has been substantial. What have we accomplished?

Vietnam

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson used reports of attacks on two American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin as political cover for a Congressional resolution that gave him broad war powers in Vietnam. There were only two dissenting votes, Senators Morse of Oregon and Gruening of Alaska.

As American involvement in the war and body counts escalated, so did anti-war protests at home. The end came when Saigon in South Vietnam fell to the communists in April 1975.

VietnamUStroops

David Halberstam wrote “The Best and the Brightest” about the overconfident people in leadership roles in the United States who pursued the war.

“The basic question behind the book,” he said, “was why men who were said to be the ablest to serve in government this century had been the architects of what struck me as likely to be the worst tragedy since the Civil War.” (The term “Best and the brightest “ has often been twisted since then to mean the top, smart people, the opposite of Halberstam’s original meaning)

Now, 41 years later, the U.S. and Vietnam are reconciling. The U.S. wants the business opportunities that are expected to open up in Vietnam and a counterweight to Chinese adventurism.

vietnamObama

President Obama reviewing a guard of honor during a welcoming ceremony at Vietnam’s Presidential Palace in Hanoi, May 23, 2016.

 

Cost of the Vietnam War to the United States                                            $173 billion

U.S. military fatal casualties of the Vietnam War                                             58,220

Grieving families of U.S. military fatal casualties of the Vietnam War       58,220

 

Afghanistan

The Afghanistan war began in October 2011 to oust the Taliban that sheltered al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

USTroopsInAfghanistan

The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan ended its combat mission in December 2014, according to the White House.

In terms of Western goals — things are right back where they started: needing to keep Afghanistan free of extremists and a viable country for its people, CNN recently reported. The result is thousands of refugees and a continued safe haven for ISIS.

The Taliban currently controls more territory than at any time since 2001, when it ruled from the capital, Kabul, Western defense officials say, and the United Nations says civilian casualties are at a high since it began keeping records in 2009, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The United Nations said 3545 civilians were killed in 2015 as Taliban stepped up attacks after British and American troops left at end of 2014.

Furthermore, U.S. intelligence agencies have been warning the White House that the Taliban could seize more Afghan territory, including population centers, during this summer’s fighting season, in part because the Afghan government and its military forces are so weak, according to the Journal.

 

Cost of the war in Afghanistan to the United States                            $686 billion

U.S. military fatal casualties of the war in Afghanistan                          2,381

Grieving families of U.S. military fatal casualties                                      2,381

Iraq

On March 19, 2003, the United States and coalition forces, began a war in Iraq against Saddam Hussein, the Sunni leader of Iraq.

When explosions from Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from U.S. fighter-bombers and warships in the Persian Gulf began to rock Baghdad, President George W. Bush said in a televised address, “At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.”

husseinstatue

U.S. soldiers hold back crowds as the statue of Saddam Hussein falls in Baghdad, April 9, 2003, by Peter Nicholls

The Shia-led governments that have held power since Hussein was toppled have struggled to maintain order and the country has enjoyed only brief periods of respite from high levels of sectarian violence. Violence and sabotage have continued to hinder the revival of an economy shattered by decades of conflict and sanctions.

Politically and economically, Iraq’s trajectory is currently a negative one, Brookings said recently. The country is politically fragmented at all levels and the centrifugal forces appear to be gaining strength. This, in turn, has paralyzed the government, suggesting that the most likely paths for Iraq are toward a situation analogous to the Lebanon of today.

Cost of the Iraq War to the United States                                             $818 billion

U.S. military fatal casualties of the Iraq War                                             4,491

Grieving families of U.S. military fatal casualties of the Iraq War       4,491

 

“War, huh

Good God, y’all

What is it good for?”

      “War” by Edwin Starr

 

 

Truth is the 1st casualty

Governments lie.

Even more so when the issue is war.

Obamadebate

“We will crush al-Qaeda,” Barack Obama insisted during the second presidential debate on Oct. 7, 2008. “That has to be our biggest national security priority.”

At various times, Obama has declared al-Qaeda to be “on the run,” “decimated” and “on their heels”. In Jan. 2014, he was quoted in a New Yorker article likening al-Qaeda to an ineffectual junior varsity team.

But just one week after ISIS carried out the Paris terrorist attacks, a group affiliated with al-Qaeda killed 20 people in Mali.

Then, in early December, al-Qaeda fighters seized two major cities in Yemen as part of its effort to expand its influence in the country.

So much for the collapse of al-Qaeda.

On multiple occasions Obama has also asserted that the last American troops in Afghanistan would return home by the end of his presidency, concluding the longest war in U.S. history. But fighting with the Taliban still rages.

On Dec. 21, a Taliban suicide bomber on a motorcycle slaughtered six American troops and injured two more near Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. And American troops will still be there when Obama leaves office.

“With control of — or a significant presence in — roughly 30 percent of districts across the nation, according to Western and Afghan officials, the Taliban now holds more territory than in any year since 2001, when the puritanical Islamists were ousted from power after the 9/11 attacks,” the Washington Post reported today.

As Afghan security forces deal with over 7,000 dead and 12,000 injured in 2015,  U.S. Special Operations troops are increasingly being deployed into harm’s way to assist their Afghan counterparts, according to the Post.

But Obama still insists American troops aren’t at war in Afghanistan any more, just “training and advising”.

Of course, the Soviet government wasn’t exactly honest with its people when it sent troops into Afghanistan in 1979 either, or during its next 10 years of war there.

The Soviet Union sent over 100,000 soldiers to fight in Afghanistan, withdrawing only after at least 15,000 of its soldiers (and more than a million Afghans) had been killed.

SovietsAfghanistan

Soviet BMP-1 mechanized infantry combat vehicles and soldiers move through Afghanistan, 1988

Oral testimony from the Soviet soldiers reveals that during much of the war the Soviet government told its people little more than that their children were building hospitals and schools, helping the Afghans build a socialist state and “…bravely protecting the frontiers of the fatherland…in the execution of (their) international duty.”

In fact, there’s a long history of deception in American wars, too.

In 1898, President McKinley said the USS Maine had been sunk in Havana Harbor by a Spanish mine, killing 266 officers and enlisted men and justifying the Spanish-American War. It turned out burning coal in a bunker triggered an explosion in an adjacent space that contained ammunition.

USSMaine

The destruction of the USS Maine

Then there’s the U.S. war in Vietnam.

In 1964, President Johnson ordered retaliatory attacks against gunboats and supporting facilities in North Vietnam after attacks against U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Spurred on by Johnson, the U.S. Senate passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution authorizing the president “to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.” Only two Senators, Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska, voted “no”.

But reports of the attacks were a lie, as were so many reports on the progress of the war in subsequent years and incursions into Laos and Cambodia.

And so began the tragedy known as the Vietnam War.

VietnamUStroops

Wounded U.S. soldiers await a medevac helicopter during a war that in time claimed 58,000 American lives..

David Halberstam wrote an often-cited book “The Best and the Brightest” about the overconfident, foolish people who pursued the war.

“The basic question behind the book,” he said later, “was why men who were said to be the ablest to serve in government this century had been the architects of what struck me as likely to be the worst tragedy since the Civil War.” (The term “Best and the brightest “ has often been twisted since then to mean the top, smart people, the opposite of Halberstam’s original meaning)

Years later, Daniel Ellsberg, who made the explosive Pentagon Papers public, said, “The Pentagon Papers…proved that the government had long lied to the country. Indeed, the papers revealed a policy of concealment and quite deliberate deception from the Truman administration onward.”

And then, of course, there were the “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.

“We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more,” U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003. “…should we take the risk that he will not someday use these weapons at a time and a place and in a manner of his choosing, at a time when the world is in a much weaker position to respond? The United States will not and cannot run that risk for the American people.”

powell

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell at the United Nations

And so the war began.

As columnist Sydney Schanberg wrote, “We Americans are the ultimate innocents. We are forever desperate to believe that this time the government is telling us the truth.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obama insists “I’m OK, you’re OK” in response to global terrorism

President Obama, speaking to an audience that included unrepentant leaders from repressive countries who couldn’t care less and who regularly brutalize their people and deny them basic human rights, argued on Thursday that force of arms was not enough and called on all nations to “put an end to the cycle of hate” by expanding human rights, religious tolerance and peaceful dialogue.

Barack_Obama_in_tank

“Oh sure, the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen actively plots against us, terrorists have murdered ambassadors, Americans have been killed at Ft. Hood and during the Boston Marathon, in Syria and Iraq the terrorist group we call ISIL has slaughtered innocent civilians and murdered hostages, including Americans, and has spread its barbarism to Libya with the murder of Egyptian Christians, we’ve seen deadly attacks in Ottawa, Sydney, Paris and Copenhagen, the Pakistan Taliban has massacred schoolchildren and their teachers, al-Shabaab has launched attacks from Somalia across East Africa, and in Nigeria and neighboring countries, Boko Haram kills and kidnaps men, women and children,” Obama said. “But hey, shit happens.”

Calling the slaughter of thousands of Ukrainians by Russian-backed rebels supplied with Russian equipment “a hiccup on the pathway to peace”, Obama insisted that the cease-fire that came into effect in eastern Ukraine on Sunday was holding. “The Russians are honorable, peace-loving folks,” he said, “and I’m sure that if Putin and I got together he’d be overwhelmed by the force of my personality and insist that the rebels pull back.”

As the rebels raised their flag over Debaltseve, Ukraine and celebrated their humiliating defeat of the Ukrainian forces, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed hope that this wouldn’t scuttle the peace deal.

Promising “swift, meaningful punishment for those who terrorize peaceful nations”, Obama called for another conference to be held at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. that would “offer more strong words in response to beheadings , immolations, child-killing, and other barbarities.”

“We’ll take an important step forward as governments, civil society groups and community leaders from more than 60 nations will gather in Washington for a global summit on countering violent extremism,” Obama said. “Our focus will be on community organizing, which I know a heck of a lot about, and empowering local communities.”

Dismissing concerns about his feckless foreign policy, Obama  said, ” Not to worry. I’m OK you’re OK.”