Tuesday, April 23, 2013

iraq war analysis

I left this comment on this North Star thread (10 Years After The Iraq War: The Inevitability of Failure — and of Success):

After the first Iraq war (Kuwait), Christopher Hitchens visited Kurdistan and was embarrassed to see pictures of then President George H Bush ("wearing a jogging suit of all things") displayed prominently on the windshield of the jeep he was travelling in. When he asked the Pesh Merga soldier drivers why they did this they replied that they would be dead – murdered by Saddam's forces – without the protection of the no fly zone which was put in place by the first President Bush.

This forced him to rethink the whole issue. There was nothing like being on the ground, in the locality, for having a life and death reality check.

Let us translate this reality to the second Iraq war, initiated by George W Bush. Given the strength and brutality of Saddam’s dictatorship it turns out that the only chance for the elimination of that fascism was an imperfect one (the US invasion, which did create democracy, accompanied by a series of fuck ups) or a continuation of that particularly brutal fascism.

Insofar as I can project myself into that reality I think the imperfect external imposition of democracy from US imperialism was preferable. Rather than continuing to grovel to Saddam it would be better to risk freedom even at the tremendous cost that it led to. Easy for me to say from a distance but I think we all have to make that judgement call. Just as Hitchens had to make it when confronted by the Kurds. The only slogan about which I can be particularly clear these days is “Death to Fascism”.

To paraphrase:
“If it wasn’t for the imperialists we would be dead”.
“If it wasn’t for the imperialist we would still be living under the exceptionally brutal yoke of Saddam’s fascism”.
We have here on this thread an inability of some intellectuals to face reality in these simple terms – the terms under which the people of Iraq have lived and died.

If George W Bush and team hadn’t made so many mistakes – quite a few of which he admits in his account Decision Points – then not so many would have died and the war would have been shorter.

What mistakes does George W admit to?
  • intelligence failure (268) 
  • “Mission Accomplished” banner (257) 
  • failure to secure Baghdad and stop the looting (258) 
  • not enough troops sent in (258) 
  • Brenner’s order to disband the Baath army - not necessarily but needed to be discussed more (259)
  • “Bring ‘em on” statement (260) 
There were other mistakes too. Mistakes built into the imperialist apparatus so to speak, such as torture.

One of the great things Hitchens did was to expose water boarding as torture in a very personal way, by subjecting himself to it. Some arguments are more powerful than other arguments. On the ground arguments are more powerful than deep strategic analysis. Both are necessary but some are more powerful and actually more real. This is one reason why George W Bush’s account is more plausible to me than some of the comments on this thread.

I do accept – as arthur argues – that there was a strategic and very significant reversal of previous US policy, that the US came to support democracy in Iraq and the Middle East in general to be in their best imperialist interests. This was repeatedly stated by Bush and Condi and not believed and strangely, still not believed, even though it did eventuate.

However, Israel continues to be the albatross around the neck of US imperialism. Their continuing inability to deal with the Israel-Palestine “problem” means that the swamp which breeds the terrorists who continue to attack the US and modernity is not being drained in a way that is perceived as a genuine US desire. I think that reality somewhat undermines arthur’s grand narrative:
Following 9/11 ruling circles in the US recognized that the middle eastern status quo of stagnant autocratic swamps that they had encouraged in the interests of cheap oil, anti-communism, contention with the Soviet Union and support for Israel no longer served their interests (my emphasis) - comment above
I believe George W Bush when he says he was shocked, angry and sickened when WMDs were not discovered (p. 262) I also believe him when he says he planned for democracy in Iraq from the beginning. (p. 232).

But when the WMDs weren’t discovered it did mean that the two point rationale for the invasion became a one point rationale which in retrospect (from George W Bush’s perspective) may not have been a strong enough rationale for the invasion. The post 9/11 two points being:
  1.  Saddam has WMDs and will hand them to al Qaeda who will use them against the US Homeland
  2.  Democracy in the Middle East is the best option for the future prospering of US imperialism (post 9/11, post end of the threat from the USSR etc.)
I’m suggesting that Bush was neither particularly dumb (as the “left” argues) nor particularly smart (as arthur implies). I accept most of what Bush says on face value rather than peering into it for deeper interpretation simply because what he says is adequate based on my understanding of the conflict. In short, Bush muddled through.

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