Tag Archives: Iraq

John Bolton, welcome back

In 2016, Donald Trump raised eyebrows for calling the Iraq War a mistake, causing Jeb! Bush to blubber. The replacement for H.R. McMaster supported the war well into 2011. This 2003 article reads like a bill of indictment:

In recent months, Bolton has convinced 10 other nations — including France and Germany, which opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq — to join the Proliferation Security Initiative, an ad hoc coalition of countries banded together to block shipments of materials for weapons of mass destruction. The initiative could include such provocative moves as stopping and searching North Korean ships suspected of carrying weapons.

Bolton has also negotiated agreements with 70 countries to exempt Americans from prosecution by a new International Criminal Court, set up to try those who commit war crimes and other crimes against humanity who might otherwise escape prosecution. The court is the sort of organization Bolton viscerally opposes — a supranational body that some fear could complicate the unilateral use of American military power. However, court supporters say it is virtually impossible that Americans would be prosecuted.

Rereading that article is a depressing reminder how the Beltway defines “intellect” as synonymous with “using pickax on opponents.” Remember David Addington? Brilliant. Intellectual.

Remind me how Donald Trump will govern differently than a Bush, Rubio, or Cruz.

Kill or be killed: ‘The Wall’

Using Hitchcock tactics to define the conflict between American soldiers and Iraqi resistance would have offended me more deeply if The Wall had ambition. Besides, after In the Valley of Elah, Redacted, and Lions For Lambs I’ve had my fill of swollen Hollywood prestige film rhetoric about Why We Fight. For eighty-one minutes, to the exclusion of every peripheral, Doug Liman’s film focuses on  American sniper Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), pinned behind the remains of a brick wall in the middle of the desert, and the wily counterpart, unseen but voiced by Laith Nakli, hiding in a rubbish heap. Each tries to outfox the other.

The other corner of this triangle is Staff Sergeant Shane Matthews, played by wrestler John Cena as a ham hock waiting to be sliced. On a counter sniper mission after contractors building a pipeline are murdered, he and spotter Isaac suspect something is amiss when the corpses of the dead sport kill shots in their heads. They wait more than twenty hours before descending the ridge where they’ve been camouflaged. These discoveries don’t stop Matthews and Isaac from engaging in the homoerotic banter and tampon jokes of six thousand other combat movies; Cena even wiggles his decent ass at the camera. Nevertheless, by isolating Matthews in the endless sand-blasted terrain, Liman builds suspense the old-fashioned way: something’s going to happen soon. Then Matthews gets shot. Trying to save him, Isaac gets his kneecap blown off. He crawls to the titular wall, behind which he learns after applying a hasty tourniquet that the sniper fire also damaged his radio. He and the prostrate Matthews are alone without water and food (do melted Skittles count?) until a rescue team deigns to save them. Meanwhile over a local frequency the nameless sniper taunts Isaac, encourages him to tell him more about his past. Isaac obliges, the better to get a fix on his location; even the bang of a metal door will do.

For the remainder of its running time, The Wall has to reckon with Dwain Worrell’s boring script. Do viewers need another movie in which the American is an ill-read Southern hick and his antagonist a mellifluous citer of Frost and Poe? An English teacher whose school was bombed by the American occupying force, the Iraqi sniper has no use for pieties about liberation. By turning fifteen years of arguments and counterarguments into survivalist hooey, perhaps The Wall isn’t so cynical a reading of the marketplace after all. We’ve had enough of pieties ourselves. Kill or be killed. It’s there in the ending, both harsher, more conventional than expected, not to mention of current realities in a Middle East to which we have turned repeatedly for blood sport.

GRADE: B-

Confirming the ‘enormous crime’ of the Iraq war

Inspired by Paul Berman’s Terror and Liberalism and, I must admit, Kenneth Pollack’s The Threatening Storm, I wavered in my commitment to opposing the invasion of Iraq in 2004. An exaggerated, deluded infatuation with the span of my moral imagination consumed me; if I could get thoughtful people to praise my ability to see Many Sides of the story, so much the better. Before Abu Ghraib, that is.

What made my attitude a travesty was my initial public disgust with the rush to war in late 2002 and early 2003. Whether Saddam Hussein kept weapons of mass destruction mattered less than the brazenness with which the Bush administration ignored the protocols it had agreed to: UN weapons inspectors, careful deliberation, publicly treating its British allies with the contempt reserved for footmen. The report issued by Sir John Chilcot yesterday confirms what we knew from the Downing Street memo. I can’t beat Daniel Larison for succinctness:

Even if Iraq had retained its unconventional weapons programs as Bush and Blair claimed, attacking Iraq would not have been justified. Even if the “threat” they identified had existed, it would not have justified the invasion and occupation of another country, the overthrow of its government, and the ensuing years of devastation and bloodshed. As it happened, the pretext for the war was a lie, and the threat was non-existent, but the Iraq war would still have been a colossal blunder and enormous crime regardless.

Because the months after 9-11 marked the last time I lived at home for any period with my parents, I haven’t forgotten the fear, often unsaid, that shadowed them. My father, who ran an operation that built airplane parts, watched with quiet anxiety the decrease in the demand for his products. For my parents, the clarity of Bush’s statements reassured them. Invading Iraq wasn’t revenge – it was a grim necessity. That period marked our first erections of bulwarks against unwanted data; we had started the process by which liberals and conservatives went to the internet in search of columnists and bloggers who confirmed our biases.

The process is complete.

Meanwhile there has never been any indication that George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice, nor their underlings, will face any judicial reckoning

‘I can defend the invasion of Iraq’

Ryan Lizza’s essential story on the calamity of Jeb Bush’s foreign policy includes cameos by many members of the Legion of Doom: Bill Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, Porter Goss, Stephen Hadley. Another nasty piece of work, Otto Reich, makes an appearance. Reich, I’m sorry to say, is a Cuban American whose most notorious sting was as the head of the excellently named Office of Public Diplomacy, charged with persuading the media to publish lies about the extent of Soviet involvement in Central America. Among the pearls: Soviets had MiGs in Nicaragua; that Nicaragua had chemical weapons; that American reporters, gay and straight, received sexual favors from Sandinista prostitutes.

Here is in 2015:

“I can defend the invasion of Iraq,” Reich told me. “What did the invasion of Iraq do? It caused all of the people who would’ve otherwise come and attacked us and killed Americans on our soil—it caused them to go to Iraq and die there. That may sound very brutal, or whatever, but we have seen what has happened when you have an Administration like the current one, that did not realize what Bush had done; sent the troops home from Iraq; created a vacuum that was filled by ISIS. And they’re killing Americans and everyone else—they’re mostly killing Muslims. I lay that at the feet of the Obama Administration.”

He added, “All Republicans say what I just did . . . but it’s not reported. Nobody listens. It goes against conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom is that Bush was a failure in foreign policy, because of Iraq. Well, history is beginning to tell a different story.”

One truth bleeds out of this human pustule. I have no doubt that the GOP believes “Iraq,” whatever this term means in 2015, is a success, or was at least salvageable had it not been for the perfidy of Obama and the Democrats cutting a surge that the Maliki government had no intention of supporting.

Now Reich’s new client has fictions of his own to peddle:

He has called for a no-fly zone over Syria that would help a Sunni-led army fight a two-front war against Assad and ISIS, but it’s unclear who would make up the forces. He told reporters that American airpower in Syria is “restricted by lawyers kind of imposing all sorts of conditions.” He would change the rules, he said, so “that it would be there to fight to win.” He didn’t specify which rules he would lift, but, as Graham noted, almost every military expert dismisses the idea that airpower alone can defeat ISIS…

To fight ISIS in Iraq, Bush made the familiar argument that America should arm the Kurds and “embed with the Iraqi military,” both of which Obama is effectively doing. When asked whether he would send more troops, Bush said that the U.S. already has thirty-five hundred troops in Iraq and that the real issue was how to better integrate them into Iraqi forces. Pressed further, he conceded, in a roundabout way, that he would be willing to send more American troops back to Iraq.

There it is. Send troops back to Iraq. Bush is so stupid that he thinks that he can restore American prestige by returning troops to the battlefield responsible for the biggest moral calamity in American foreign affairs since Vietnam.

‘The UK will follow our lead’

The death of outrage:

A bombshell White House memo has revealed for the first time details of the ‘deal in blood’ forged by Tony Blair and George Bush over the Iraq War.

The sensational leak shows that Blair had given an unqualified pledge to sign up to the conflict a year before the invasion started.

It flies in the face of the Prime Minister’s public claims at the time that he was seeking a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

He told voters: ‘We’re not proposing military action’ – in direct contrast to what the secret email now reveals.

The damning memo, from Secretary of State Colin Powell to President George Bush, was written on March 28, 2002, a week before Bush’s famous summit with Blair at his Crawford ranch in Texas.

In it, Powell tells Bush that Blair ‘will be with us’ on military action. Powell assures the President: ‘The UK will follow our lead’.

The disclosure is certain to lead for calls for Sir John Chilcot to reopen his inquiry into the Iraq War if, as is believed, he has not seen the Powell memo.

A second explosive memo from the same cache also reveals how Bush used ‘spies’ in the Labour Party to help him to manipulate British public opinion in favour of the war.

The documents, obtained by The Mail on Sunday, are part of a batch of secret emails held on the private server of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton which U.S. courts have forced her to reveal.

Former Tory Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: ‘The memos prove in explicit terms what many of us have believed all along: Tony Blair effectively agreed to act as a frontman for American foreign policy in advance of any decision by the House of Commons or the British Cabinet.

‘He was happy to launder George Bush’s policy on Iraq and sub-contract British foreign policy to another country without having the remotest ability to have any real influence over it. And in return for what?

‘For George Bush pretending Blair was a player on the world stage to impress voters in the UK when the Americans didn’t even believe it themselves’.

I’m not sure that the Benghazi committee intended to release these things. The other sickening point which no one in the American press will mention? This insider trading, as it were, was concealed for years by another political party’s presidential administration, and these memos would not have been released if it weren’t for the intrepid GOP-led Benghazi committee. Never let it be said that foreign policy mandarins don’t protect their own.

The legend of the surge

Recent history is most easily forgotten. Thanks to the surge, the slaughter of Sunnis declined but without the concomitant reconciliation between the ruling groups that would have established the monopoly of violence celebrated by Hobbes. Peter Beinart recounts the broken causal links on which the GOP relies to tell its sad story about what would have happened had the terrorist-coddling Barack Hussein Obama kept troops in Iraq:

Only when Iraq’s Sunni and Shia Arabs and its Kurds all felt represented by the government would the country be safe from civil war. As a senior administration official told journalists the day Bush announced the surge, “The purpose of all this is to get the violence in Baghdad down, get control of the situation and the sectarian violence, because now, without it, the reconciliation that everybody knows in the long term is the key to getting security in the country—the reconciliation will not happen.”

But although the violence went down, the reconciliation never occurred. According to the legend of the surge, Iraq’s collapse stems from Obama’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops at the end of 2011. “If we’d had a residual force of 10,000 to 12,000,” Senator Lindsey Graham said last year, “I am totally convinced there would not have been a rise of al-Qaeda.” In reality, the prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, began persecuting the Sunnis—thus laying the groundwork for their embrace of ISIS—long before American troops departed the country.

But this is the key point:

Once the surge succeeded in reducing violence, Maliki no longer needed American troops to keep him in power. By 2010, U.S. aid to Iraq had dropped dramatically. Iraq was buying American weapons, but had the oil revenue to buy them elsewhere if America stopped selling. And the Obama administration could not pressure Maliki by threatening to withdraw U.S. troops, because Maliki wanted them gone. So did most of the Iraqi people.

From their parlous bunker in the “Meet the Press” green room John McCain and Lindsey Graham have said often in the intervening years that it was Obama’s fault for not “pressuring” the Maliki government – the kind of magical thinking they allege Ronald Reagan, seller of missiles to Iran accompanied by a cake and inscribed Bible, had by the dram. Without leverage pressure is worthless. Maliki didn’t need American troops anymore; we’d strengthened his power in the first place by acting as his praetorian guard. I’d call it yet another example of unintended consequences except that the Bush administration intended to assemble a new Iraq from parts bought off the Target clearance shelves.

‘We insist that you settle your disputes with Kuwait nonviolently’

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The late Christopher Hitchens wrote an account of the absurd, hilarious shadowplay in which the United States and Iraq entertained one another in the summer of 1990. This led eventually to Saddam Hussein’s decision to invade Kuwait. Months after rebuking another former client named Manuel Noriega, George H.W. Bush said, “This will not stand,” read a Churchill biography, wooed a politically unstable Mikhail Gorbachev (more popular overseas in 1990 than in his crumbling country), and led an impressive global coalition with an Security Council imprimatur. The more we learn about Bush — we will learn more years after the former CIA directors’ death — the more the obvious looks obvious. Deposing heads of state whose testimony in court might implicate Bush in the selling of arms to Iran, the use of Panama as a narco-economy, and so on.

Anyway, Jeffrey Frank returns to the case of April Glaspie, ambassador to Iraq in the weeks before Saddam had had enough with a government that had sold arms to his sworn enemy in 1985:

According to the Iraqi account of the conversation, when Glaspie asked, “What solutions would be acceptable?” Saddam talked about the suicidal 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, during which an estimated half-million people died, and insisted that Iraq, its economy wrecked by the war, had legitimate territorial claims on Kuwait and its oil. When Saddam asked, “What is the United States’ opinion on this?,” Glaspie replied, “We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary [of State James] Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America.”

In 1991, in conversations with members of Senate and House foreign-affairs committees, Glaspie said that what she’d actually told Hussein was to “keep your hands off this country,” and that the Iraqi transcript included only “one part of my sentence. The other part of my sentence was, ‘but we insist that you settle your disputes with Kuwait nonviolently.’ And he told me he would do so.” But Representative Lee Hamilton asked a key question: “Did you ever tell Saddam Hussein, ‘Mr. President, if you go across that line into Kuwait, we’re going to fight’?” Glaspie replied, “No, I did not.” Still, the suggestion that the United States may have even unintentionally green-lighted Saddam’s war became an embarrassment for Glaspie, and pretty much ended any chance for another diplomatic posting. (She retired from the Foreign Service a few years later.)

Glaspie fell on her sword. Meanwhile we haven’t seen a comprehensive Poppy biography since the late nineties for the reasons outlined. And loudmouths bemoan the selling out of the U.S. to the Islamic Republic.