There is no peace treaty, no humbled enemy, no national glory and certainly no newfound freedom. The “liberation” of Iraq leaves a widely hated puppet dictator in charge with a mandate “to see that process of strengthened central authority continue,” in the words of a U.S. cable revealed by WikiLeaks.
Still, the U.S. has declared victory in Iraq after a war that lasted not nine years, as the media says, but 20 years, if you include the first war and the decade of cruel sanctions that separated it with the second war on Iraq. At least 4,500 Americans are dead, 32,226 are wounded, uncountable millions of Iraqis are dead, too, the Iraqi economy is in ruins and the American economy is more than a trillion dollars poorer.
As the Americans held somber goodbye ceremonies at a heavily guarded airport, hundreds of Iraqis burned the American flag and cursed the infidels as never before. On the very day that the Americans said goodbye, there were bombings in Tal Afar, Mosul and Baghdad that killed six Iraqis and wounded 44 more.
The deaths on that day hardly made the news at all because it is so routine. This once-peaceful and relatively prosperous country — people from all over the region and the world came to study in its universities and play for its symphonies — has been reduced to warring religious tribes with far-diminished populations after all the emigration over the years of war. The scars are deep and the resentment extremely high.
Yet to the U.S. governing elite, this is victory. During final ceremonies, official after official came to the microphone to assure the soldiers that their sacrifices have not been in vain, that they are brave and courageous and leave behind a wonderful legacy. But the soldiers themselves know otherwise. Everyone does. This war was a disaster from beginning to end, and it was wholly unnecessary.
Looking back to the first segment of war against Iraq, it was pushed because the first President Bush faced disastrously falling poll numbers, the end of the Cold War and growing cries to pull back on the American imperial presence in the world. He had a personal bone to pick with the one-time American puppet Saddam Hussein and a gigantic military budget that needed to be spent, lest the pressure mount give the money back whence it came.
The public-relations angle Bush chose was that Iraq had to be punished for invading Kuwait. Leaked cables have reinforced what close watchers already knew, namely, that the U.S. had been given a green light for that action by Iraq. Bush said that the aggression would not stand, but today, the U.S. not only owns and controls Kuwait — which is now populated by American troops — but also purports to control the future of Iraq, too. This type of aggression is perfectly fine.
So the first great opportunity for peace after the Cold War was squandered in a pointless struggle against one of the liberalized and nonfundamentalist, mostly Islamic nations where people of all religions lived in relative peace. Bush declared victory back then, too, but kept on the trade sanctions. President Clinton followed suit with punishing policies that kept the boot on the nation.
After Sept. 11, George Bush junior seized the opportunity to repeat the mission of his father and waged war yet again. Riding the wave of anger for terrorism on our soil, he attacked a country that everyone admitted had absolutely nothing to do with Sept. 11 (however, the terrorists did admit that that were partly acting out of vengeance for the sanctions), and then on the false pretense that Saddam was building weapons of mass destruction. We were really supposed to take seriously this idea that a now-impoverished country, with no real military and negative economic growth, was a genuine threat to the world.
Many people hoped that President Obama would stop the madness of what he called a “dumb war,” but he did not. He stepped up troop levels instead. There would be more violence, longer terms for soldiers, more pressure, increased surveillance, more authoritarian measures. Nothing worked. As The Wall Street Journal puts it, “The advanced U.S. military was brought low by primitive weapons: homemade bombs made from fertilizer or discarded artillery shells.”
The resistance grew and grew. The Iraqi people could never be made to love the empire that ruled them. The only genuinely successful Iraqi politicians these days are those who set themselves against U.S. presence. Finally, the incredibly obvious became undeniable, even to the arrogant conquerors: The only hope for Iraq was for the U.S. to leave.
The U.S. promised liberation and brought conflict, destruction and death. The pullout at this point is hardly a victory, but an incredible defeat, the very archetype of the truth that the world’s mightiest military force cannot finally prevail over a people that will not submit.
This lesson is not unknown to those who remain in Iraq. There are two bases and several thousand soldiers along with diplomats that remain. They are all targets and will continue to be for many years to come. Meanwhile, life in Iraq will certainly start to improve now. Income is lower there today than it was in 1940, so this wouldn’t be hard.
In truth, this pullout is one of the few pieces of good news that Iraq has had in many decades. And it should be a model for the U.S. for the future. Close the rest of the bases and pull the rest of the troops out. And do this in the other 140-plus countries in which the troops are stationed. That is the way forward.
In 2004, Dick Cheney declared of Iraq: “I think it has been a remarkable success story to date when you look at what has been accomplished overall.” He might as well have been speaking for the military contractors who, as Robert Higgs has pointed out, made off with the loot that this war stole from the American taxpayers.
And it is not only about loot: It is about liberty. War mongering and freedom are not compatible. This war and other wars like it have made us less safe and more dependent on the police state. They give health to a war machinery that should have been dismantled a quarter of a century ago. Instead, it survives to find some war somewhere to fight another day.