UPDATE: A dying Iraq war veteran wrote an open letter to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, eviscerating them for their lies, manipulation and corrupt motives for going into the Iraq War. It's harsh and brutally honest. Here's one sentence from it: "I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded fighting in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. Had I been wounded there I would still be miserable because of my physical deterioration and imminent death, but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend the country I love." Worth a read if you can stomach it. Honestly, we need to come to terms with the Iraq War, so that we can reduce as much as possible the odds of making such a terrible mistake again.
Ten years ago today, George W. Bush addressed the nation from the oval office with these infamous words:
"My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger. On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Sadaam Hussein's ability to wage war. These are opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign."
The Iraq War continued through December 2011, nearly 8 years after it started. Yes, Sadaam Hussein, a brutal, murderous dictator was deposed, and eventually executed. Yes, Iraq now has a fledgling democracy, a startling achievement in the war-torn, despot-ruled Middle East (to speak in broad, but largely accurate strokes). And yet, the Iraq War was an utter travesty, and Bush, Dick Cheney, Tony Blair, John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, and even Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice, not to mention the cow-towing U.S. House and Senate deserve their share of blame for the war itself and how it was sold to the American people. So, here, on the tenth anniversary of a date that will live in infamy in American history are ten reasons the Bush Administration ought to be ashamed for the 8 years of the Iraq War.
1. 110,937–121,227 civilian deaths from violence.
The estimates vary on just how many people died as a result of the Iraq War. Some dip a little lower than the above tally, which is from the Iraq War Body Count Project. Other estimates are much higher: the Lancet Survey calculated over 600,000 deaths, and the Opinion Research Business Survey gives a number over 1 million. The wide range of estimates itself is more than a little troubling, but not as horrific as the body count, whatever it actually is. Granted, the deaths were largely caused by insurgent forces within Iraq, not coalition forces, but the insurgent attacks were triggered by the war and the way it was mishandled.
2. The Falsified Connection to 9/11
There is some argument about how widely believed it was that Sadaam Hussein had "weapons of mass destruction," and how eager he was to use them if he had them, but no one with the basic facts could credibly believe that Sadaam Hussein had any connection to the 9/11 attacks. Pop quiz: there were 19 9/11 hijackers, how many were from Iraq?
Have your guess?
Here's the answer: zero. Fifteen were from Saudi Arabia, and the other four were from Egypt, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. Wait, 15 from Saudi Arabia? Why did we not hear even a whisper about whether we should go to war there? Well, for starters that wouldn't have made much more sense than going into Iraq, which is to say, not very much at all, and we already had access to Saudi Arabia's oil. Which brings me to point 3...
3. This was clearly about the oil
It would be bad PR to start an incredibly expensive ground war over a natural resource, so the U.S. dreamed up some other reasons, but it's not like it was a coincidence that Iraq sits on the world's second largest oil reserves (after Saudi Arabia). America's economy assumes a steady supply of cheap oil, and we'd be screwed if oil suddenly jumped in price. So, yes, in that way we're all somewhat culpable here. Still, if the Bush Administration had been up front about what this was about, America wouldn't have supported it.
4. The flimsy case for WMDs in Iraq
In President Bush's speech announcing the war, he describes it as a defensive war. We are defending the United States and the world. From what? Sadaam Hussein never had anything close to the military capacity for a real air war, Bush was talking about the possibility of a nuclear strike on an American city. Which, at a minimum, would have required a nuclear weapon, something Sadaam Hussein never had. But the Bush Administration was desperate to make the case that he did. Their best piece of evidence was an unconfirmed report from an agent code-named "Curveball" about tubes used in a nuclear reactor being transported from Nigeria to Iraq. That piece of evidence was ultimately shown to be meaningless, but not before it was used as the fulcrum to send us into Iraq.
5. President Bush's supposed long-range powers of intuition
After it was established that there were no WMDs in Iraq and that Sadaam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11, President Bush had some explaining to do when he was running for reelection in 2004. John Kerry, his Democratic opponent, pressed the point during debates, pointing out that Bush removed his inspectors, the people who were looking for WMDs, before they had reached any conclusion. Bush responded that it was "naive and dangerous," to take the inspectors at their word (or bother to let them finish their work) because Sadaam Hussein was "deceiving the inspectors."
How did Bush know this? And how did he know that Sadaam was doing this successfully? And if he was so sure about this, maybe he could have called the inspectors to let them know? And isn't the whole point of sending in inspectors that they can see their subject with inspection with their own eyes, which tend to be hard to deceive? Nope, Bush was pretty sure about his hunch, no need to verify it, just go to war. Not naive and dangerous at all.
6. The failure to properly account for the post-Sadaam power vacuum
I'm going to give the Bush Administration the benefit of the doubt and assume that they knew that overthrowing a dictator would leave a massive power vacuum in Iraq. Whatever they had in mind for what would happen next, it didn't work, unless the plan was to let Iraq descend into chaos. Though Sadaam didn't last long once the U.S. came for him, there was no interim power structure to reestablish the rule of law once Hussein had been toppled. The assumption that the coalition forces would be "greeted as liberators," may have been the most deadly of the Bush Administration's many false assumptions.
7. Abu Ghraib
Abu Ghraib, in case you had successfully scrubbed it from your memory, was a prison in Iraq where U.S. officials routinely tortured Iraqi prisoners, supposedly for intelligence, but also, seemingly for their own amusement. Even the intelligence end of that is sketchy, because torture is known to produce unreliable information: victims tend to say what they think the torturer wants to hear, including confessing to crimes they did not commit.
8. The torture memos
The torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (conveniently in legally ambiguous territory as a U.S. property off of U.S. soil) was not the case of a few bad actors, it came from the top, with Dick Cheney and Condoleeza Rice known to have discussed specific torture techniques with other senior officials. The Bush Administration appointed Jay Bybee and John Yoo as legal counsel, who were known to believe in more or less unlimited executive power, provided one had a good enough reason. Legal analysts examining John Yoo's torture memo found his argument lacking in standard legal rigor, namely that he didn't address the most obvious counterarguments to his claim that torture is legal in the U.S.
9. $6 Trillion
So, war isn't free, and the oil didn't pay for it. The estimated total cost of the Iraq War is $6 trillion. The U.S. would have been better off giving that money to an 8 year-old and letting her do whatever she wanted with it.
10. Iraq, today
After all that, is Iraq better off? We can't really know, but today's top headline is a stark reminder that despite all the legitimate progress of the last ten years, all is not well in Iraq. A coordinated suicide attack killed 65 Iraqis today.