The Sad Reality of How Warmongers and Elite Media Desperately Avoid All Responsibility for Iraq Disaster
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The Iraq War raises many questions still, 10 years after those first bombs sought out Saddam Hussein. Most of the coverage of this tenth anniversary will focus on the decisions leading to the war, the blend of lies and arrogance in the Bush administration, which never really learned a lesson from their vast carelessness. Others will focus on the naiveté of the liberal hawks -- Hitchens, Remnick, Ignatieff, et al -- whose self-righteousness could have lit up a metropolis. Or the spotlight will be on the fallen soldiers and marines, the 4,488 killed in Iraq, and the effect on their families.
What we won't hear much about is what happened to Iraqis. And having written about this many times, having commissioned a mortality survey in Iraq, and having developed an explanation for American indifference, I am hardly surprised that the national discourse about the war focuses the way it does.
As I reflect on the 10 years of the Iraq War, what is most striking with respect to the war's enormous human toll -- nearly one million dead, five million displaced, hundreds of thousands of widows and orphans, untold misery -- is the sheer callousness of the pro-war clique when confronted with these facts. As I argued in my book about this topic, The Deaths of Others, nothing stings the national security establishment like the charge of wanton killing. Even failure in war is more acceptable than culpability for large numbers of civilian casualties. And that, perhaps as much as any reason, is why the policy and media elites avoid the topic almost completely.
One expects the neocons, the right-wing media, and the Republican Party generally to be in denial. Their embrace of the war policy was steeped in mendacity and callousness from the beginning, as the respected intelligence analyst Paul Pillar has said repeatedly. In dissecting the rationales for invading Iraq, Pillar notes that the war's architects continue to cling to the demonstrably false claim that it's all about faulty intelligence regarding Saddam's alleged WMD program. "Intelligence did not drive or guide the decision to invade Iraq -- not by a long shot, despite the aggressive use by the Bush administration of cherry-picked fragments of intelligence reporting in its public sales campaign for the war," he wrote recently.
In my view, the Bush regime's motives were instead about getting rid of Saddam, transforming the Middle East, protecting Israel, and guaranteeing access to oil. The price to be paid by Iraqis for these grand and self-serving objectives was an afterthought, if it even rose to that status. The war makers maintain, says Pillar, that their only mistake was believing faulty intelligence. Their only mistake. The recent film about Dick Cheney drives this home as well -- no regrets.
But the neglect of Iraqi suffering is a bipartisan affair. One need only look back on the earlier phase of our belligerent stance toward Iraq. After all, we actually waged a 20-year war, beginning with Operation Desert Storm in 1991. The most durable policy of that earlier phase were the sanctions imposed by the elder Bush and sustained by President Clinton, sanctions which were calculated to squeeze Iraqis so hard that they would depose Saddam. The actual result was a social dissolution that, among other consequences, resulted in the unnecessary deaths of between 300,000 and 500,000 Iraqi children. When questioned about this catastrophe, Clinton's secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, told 60 Minutes that the suffering and mortality were "worth it" to punish Saddam. Clinton never disavowed the policy, either. A more callous display of indifference would be hard to find.