War on Iraq

Still No Mission Accomplished

Was it oil? Empire? Human rights? The Israel Lobby? Three years later, there's no clear reason why we invaded Iraq, much less any idea how we'll get out.
On May Day next week, along with the more traditional observances of spring and socialism, we should pause to contemplate the anniversary of Bush's famous triumphalist landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln under the banner "Mission Accomplished."

Even three years after his hubristic landing and over 2,300 Americans and 100 or so British 6 feet under, and almost 18,000 wounded, no one has yet produced a coherent and convincing reason for the invasion of Iraq. The leader of a previous global empire, Lord Palmerston, said that only three people understood the Schleswig-Holstein problem: One of them was deceased, the other deranged, while he himself had forgotten it. When future historians come to consider the mystery of why the Iraq war happened, it is possible that George W. Bush may come up with a similar response -- albeit, one suspects, without the mordant wit.

I always regarded the blood oil hypothesis as somewhat simplistic, despite the Bush dynasty's Texan connections to the oil industry. As oil hit $75 a barrel this week, risking Republican control of Congress in the midterm elections, even after pausing to consider the recent $400 million retirement package for the CEO of Exxon-Mobil, surely no one can believe that the administration intended such a mammoth global energy balls-up.

Breaking the law to enforce it does not really ring as a slogan. Kofi Annan quite rightly pointed out that the invasion was against international law. Although Iraq was indeed in breach of international law by refusing admittance to U.N. weapons inspectors, it is worthwhile remembering that the occupiers have still not readmitted those inspectors even though the U.N. resolutions mandating cooperation with their work are still on the books. All the evidence suggests that Iraqi WMD's were an excuse, not a cause, for the invasion.

Then there is the human rights excuse. While Saddam Hussein was indeed tyrant, he had been at his blood-thirstiest while he was a favored ally of London and Washington. And any demand for historical justice should be set in the context of complete inaction over East Timor in the past, or indeed relative sloth over Darfur now.

It is certainly true that Israel itself and its U.S. lobby, AIPAC, were pushing for war on Iraq, as indeed they are now against Iran. Ironically, while pro-Israeli pundits have lambasted the authors of a recent report on the Lobby for their "anti-Semitic" chutzpah in saying this, AIPAC's own website claims corralling Saddam Hussein as one its major aims and achievements. However, while AIPAC certainly helped create a favorable climate for the invasion of Iraq, there is no way that it could have forced such costly military action simply because it was good for Israel.

One of the reasons for the success of AIPAC and some other strongly supported foreign policy lobbies, like the Cuban exiles, is that few of the players in Congress or the voting booths have a direct interest in foreign policy, and even fewer could give a tinker's cuss for the opinions of the rest of world if they are not reflected in campaign checks or votes.

In the case of Iraq, the Lobby was rowing with the current in the administration. The professional military had been ousted from the Pentagon by bellicose ideologues, and the White House was in a preemptive mode.

This leaves unanswered the question of why so many in the administration wanted a war. Even if Cheney and assorted NeoCons whispering in the presidential ear that Saddam Hussein was an Arab, and so was Bin Laden, therefore Baghdad must have been behind Sept. 11, could George W. Bush really be that stupid? Could he have been taken in by Karl Rove's handiwork in conflating the war on terror with war against Iraq?

Well, yes. But perhaps not in this case. Once again, this was an excuse, not a cause. Iraq was a preexisting obsession waiting for the World Trade Center to happen.

If we were to ask Bush the Palmerston question about the causes of the "Iraqi question," we know he is not deceased. That still leaves unanswered whether he is deranged, or has forgotten quite why we are at war.

Unlike President Reagan, he has no signs of Alzheimer's so we are left with the hypothesis that, if not exactly clinically deranged, the president is, as the phrase from the previous empire had it, not quite sixteen annas to the rupee. Sadly, it seems most likely over 2,300 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis have died to exorcise George W. Bush's (deeply deserved) feelings of personal inadequacy. His father left school at 18 to fight, bravely, in World War II. Bush Jr. pulled every nepotistic string he had to get into the Texas Air National Guard in order to dodge the Vietnam War -- and deserted before completing his term of service.

Since then he has worn unmerited quasi-military garb on his frequent visits to military bases and in every way behaved like the wannabe military equivalent of a cowboy on a dude ranch. And a year after Sept. 11, he told Texan Republicans about Saddam Hussein, "That man tried to kill my dad." It may not be a totally convincing explanation, but it makes more sense than some of the others. In the end, of course, like the war itself, it makes no sense at all.
Ian Williams writes on the United Nations for AlterNet. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus, The Nation and Salon.