Gwynne Dyer: Decade-old lessons from George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq

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      Why did George W. Bush choose March 19, 2003, to invade Iraq, rather than some day in May, or July, or never? Because he was afraid that further delay would give United Nations arms inspectors time to refute the accusation—his sole pretext for making an unprovoked attack on an independent country—that Saddam Hussein’s regime was working on nuclear weapons.

      The U.S. president couldn’t say that, of course, and so instead his administration’s spokesmen mumbled about the need to get the war over and done with before the summer heat made fighting impossible. Yet American soldiers proved perfectly capable of operating in that summer heat during the ensuing seven years of fighting, in which over 4,000 of them were killed.

      That was nothing compared to the number of Iraqi deaths. At least five times as many Iraqis have died violently in the decade since the U.S. invasion as were killed by Saddam’s regime in the 10 years before the invasion. The exact number is unknown, but Saddam’s secret police were probably killing less than 2,000 people a year from 1993 to 2003. An estimated 121,000 Iraqi civilians have died in the military and political struggles of the past 10 years.

      Iraq’s infrastructure has still not recovered to its prewar level. More than a million Iraqis still live in internal exile, unable to return to the homes from which they were “cleansed” during the Sunni-Shia sectarian war of 2006–2007. Another million have fled the country for good, including a large proportion of the country’s intellectual and professional elite.

      Iraq ranks eighth from the bottom on Transparency International’s corruption index, ahead of Somalia and North Korea but below Haiti and Equatorial Guinea. The government in Baghdad, though dominated by sectarian Shia politicians, does little for the impoverished Shia majority. The Sunni minority fears and hates it. And the Kurdish ethnic minority in the north just ignores Baghdad and runs a state that is independent in all but name.

      Iraq’s courts do the regime’s will, torture is endemic, and the swollen army and “security” forces (used almost exclusively for internal repression) eat up a huge share of the budget. And from the perspective of American grand strategy, the main result of the war has been to weaken the position of the U.S. in the Gulf region and strengthen that of its perceived opponent, Iran.

      The United States spent about $800 billion on the Iraq war, and will eventually spend at least another trillion dollars on military pensions, disability payments, and debt service. Yet it achieved less than nothing. Why on earth did it invade in the first place?

      Even the defenders of the invasion have stopped claiming that Saddam Hussein was cooperating with al-Qaeda terrorists who were plotting to attack the United States. They were also plotting to overthrow and kill Saddam, as everyone with any knowledge of the Middle East already knew.

      The UN weapons inspectors never found the slightest evidence that Saddam had revived the nuclear weapons program that had been dismantled under UN supervision in the early 1990s. The people in the White House who took the decision to invade must have known that there was no such program: the way they carefully worded their propaganda in order to avoid explicit lying is ample evidence of that.

      The strategist Edward Luttwak once suggested that the real reason was that the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 had been too easy. After 9/11 the American people really wanted to punish somebody, and Afghanistan had not provided enough catharsis. So another invasion was an emotional necessity, and, given the American public’s ignorance about the Middle East, almost any Arab country would do.

      There was certainly a parallel desire among the neo-conservatives in the Bush White House to restore American power to unchallenged dominance after what they saw as the fecklessness of Bill Clinton’s administrations in the 1990s. That required a short and successful war that would put everyone else in awe and fear of American military might—but, once again, any weak and unpopular country would have done. Why Iraq?

      The closest we can come to a rational answer is the argument, common in Washington a decade ago, that permanent military bases in Iraq would give America strategic control over the entire Gulf region.

      The role of those bases would not be to ensure prompt delivery of the region’s oil to the United States at a low price: only 11 percent of U.S. oil imports come from there. The bases would instead enable the United States to block Gulf exports of oil to China if the United States found itself in a confrontation with that country. (Geostrategic arguments are often frivolous.)

      None of these explanations can justify what was done, and we haven’t even gone into the damage done to international law by this blatantly criminal act. But can we at least conclude that the world, or even just the United Nations, has learned a lesson from all this?

      Probably yes for the United States, at least until memories fade. (Give it 10 more years.) Not so much for the rest of the world, but then most other countries are less prone to invade faraway places anyway.

      Comments

      16 Comments

      DR - Montreal

      Mar 17, 2013 at 1:50pm

      "None of these explanations can justify what was done, and we haven’t even gone into the damage done to international law by this blatantly criminal act."

      ...Right Bloody On.

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      Wrong

      Mar 17, 2013 at 5:01pm

      The massacre in Iraq was done to remove Iraq as a potential threat to Israeli hegemony in the area.

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      gilbert marks

      Mar 18, 2013 at 7:53am

      oil $20 bbl in 2003, now over $100. Nuff said

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      SV

      Mar 18, 2013 at 9:00am

      I always thought the invasion of Iraq was so the US could then invade Syria, neutralizing the two biggest threats to Israel in one fell swoop. And from their occupation of Iraq they could also contain Iran as a bonus. It didn't "quite" end up that way.

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      I Chandler

      Mar 18, 2013 at 10:38am

      "$800 billion on the Iraq war, and will eventually spend at least another trillion dollars on military pensions"

      Try another $7 trillion - but who's counting?

      "the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 had been too easy. So another invasion was an emotional necessity..."

      The claim that oil was playing a role in the desire to invade Iraq produced fast, vicious attacks:
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/18/david-frum-iraq-war-oil

      "But can we at least conclude that the US, has learned a lesson from all this? ...at least until memories fade. "

      The media lost it's credibility ignoring the Bush administration's 935 false statements in the two years before the invasion of Iraq.
      American historical amnesia is strong - Poll: 51% support US military action to stop Iran. The false statement may have started before 911...The embarrassing false flag anthrax attack is long forgotten:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2001_anthrax_attacks#Political_effects

      Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill accused Bush of wanting to invade Iraq before the Afghanistan invasion. It was announced that the US would begin a phased withdrawal from Saudi bases before the Invasion of Iraq. The Iraq War accelerated the militarization of US society:
      http://ericmargolis.com/2013/03/the-mother-of-all-battles/

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      Aequitas

      Mar 18, 2013 at 3:44pm

      Ah, but you see the Arabs are fighting one another now. And they will continue to fight one another for the foreseeable future. They don't have time to look at the USA as they kill their fellow citizens. The entire arab world has been neutralized. Live and learn.

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      Lewis S

      Mar 18, 2013 at 9:10pm

      The picture of Saddam Hussein in Iraqi prior to the invasion of the country George W Bush and aided by others such as Tony Blair is no where as idyllic as painted by Gwynne Dyer. An estimated half million Iraqi and Irani were killed in the attempted invasion of Iran by Saddam Hussein. Saddam not only used chemical weapons against Iran but at the same time against the Iraqi Kurds. A number of Iraqi marsh people were also killed in his chemical warfare further south.

      While is not a justification for the action of G.W. Bush, these facts should also be included to gain a better overall picture of the situation.

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      Let not the question die

      Mar 19, 2013 at 3:03pm

      Great question.

      To curry favor with Iran by 'freeing' Shi'ites?

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      Joe Mama

      Mar 19, 2013 at 5:18pm

      Lewis S, the Iran-Iraq ended in 1988, and the American invasion of 1991 completely neutralized the regime. They were not included because they are irrelevant to the invasion of 2003.

      I also have to question why it is so easy to point every conspiracy theory to Israel. The Israelis had absolutely nothing to gain from this invasion, as the 1991 invasion already destroyed Iraq as a regional power.

      Mr. Dyer correctly points out there were no good reasons for this war, just a bunch of macho chicken hawks in the US (and co-operating nations) government.

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      P.Peto

      Mar 19, 2013 at 5:49pm

      Well,suppose the US didn't invade Iraq because of WMD or to control the oil deposits or oil flows out of Iraq but rather to stop Iraq from going off the US dollar as payment for it's oil exports? Both Saddam and Gaddaffi were in the process of abandoning the US petrodollar as indeed is present day Iran. Perhaps the threat to the world's reserve currency was the real reason or a matter of US " national security". If true the wars were successful but paid for in inflated blood stained dollars. Further more, this is why Iran will also be destroyed; nothing can stand in the way of the hegemony of worthless American fiat currency.

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