Wheeeeee, down the memory hole!

News & Politics

This weekend hundreds of thousands of Americans commemorated the "third anniversary" of the war-with-no-name in Iraq; some in raucous protests, others in solemn candlelight vigils. But the ugly truth is that the fifteenth anniversary of this war passed on January 17th without comment.

So I'd like to propose a name for this un-named conflict: the Persian Gulf War.

Because seeing George W. Bush's war as distinct from that of his father is a luxury only Americans can afford. For the Iraqis, it has been fifteen years of hell at the hands of the world's Great Powers, with the U.S. in the lead.

In the twelve years between what we like to think of as the first and second Gulf Wars, coalition aircraft -- mostly American and British, but also French and Turkish in the early stages -- flew over 115,000 combat missions over Iraq. They bombed targets about every other day.

Two major bombing campaigns occurred during the war's twelve-year lull: Operation Desert strike in 1996 and Operation Desert Fox in 1998. Another intensive air campaign, Operation Southern Focus, began in June of 2002 to "soften up" Iraq's defenses prior to the re-escalation of the war in March of 2003.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died (PDF) between 1991 and 2003 under the most punitive sanctions regime in history.

In "Chaos Accomplished" on the front page, I threw around some numbers comparing Iraq's infrastructure today -- measured in hours of electricity per day, people with access to potable water, etc. -- with Iraq's "pre-war" capacity. We hear a lot about "pre-war" levels, but it doesn't really tell the story; during the first phase of the Persian Gulf War, 75 percent of Iraq's infrastructure was destroyed. The sanctions kept the Iraqis from importing many of the parts needed to repair that infrastructure. The real pre-war Baghdad -- pre-1991 -- had electricity around the clock.

And the painful reality of the whole thing is that, according to just war theory (where there is much room for debate, in my book), Iraq had a better case for invading Kuwait than the Coalition had for invading Iraq.

Kuwait had violated a treaty -- by exceeding its oil production quotas -- and was accused of expropriating Iraqi resources by "slant drilling" into Iraq's oil reserves. The two countries had a long-standing border dispute.

I'm not saying that the $14 billion dollars in war debt owed to Kuwait from the Iran-Iraq war wasn't the real reason Saddam invaded Kuwait. Just that it was a better case than that presented to justify invading Iraq.

We weren't told that the Gulf War was to rescue one two-bit oil dictatorship from another. We were told that Iraq was going to take over the region. We were told that there were a quarter of a million Iraqi troops lined up on the Saudi border, primed to invade. But that was just a lie. We were told that Iraqis were killing babies in Kuwait, but that was a lie cooked up by the PR firm Hill and Knowlton, one of dozens of firms the Emir of Kuwait hired to spin the conflict.

This isn't ancient history, but it's been vanquished from our national memory. Years from now, Americans will remember who the first American Idol winner was, but the Gulf War is gone down the Memory hole, even while we still fight it. That lack of national memory will no doubt serve our leaders well when they're pushing for the next war.

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