The Iraq War, A Disgrace

18 Mar

Victims of the Iraq WarAbove all, when Iraqis – and an American Special Forces officer – criticize the United States’ performance in the Iraq War and in Iraq’s reconstruction, I’m embarrassed.

I’m embarrassed as a former Intelligence analyst.

The obvious example is President George W. Bush’s preemptive attack in Iraq. Prior to its start, the estimated cost of the Iraq war was less than $2 billion. There were even claims that it would pay for itself through oil revenue. The actual price to date exceeds $1 trillion with the final bill expected at $4 trillion, of which $1 trillion will be interest payments alone.

I’m embarrassed as a student of International Relations.

I think IR bears a special burden for the US use of force overseas, because, more than any other identifiable section of academia, we study that. Yes, the DC think-tanks also work in this area, as do diplomatic historians. But at the risk of cheerleading for our discipline, I believe IR conducts more basic research than these other two, and we’re far less co-opted than the think-tank set. We generate a lot of deep theory about how world politics works, particularly on the causes and consequences of war. Furthermore, a lot of us study US foreign policy specifically – just go open an random copy of International Security to see how much ‘America’ actually dominates our supposedly ‘international’ discipline.

So if there is anyone who should know what they are talking about, it should be us, right? If we can’t pronounce meaningfully on our country’s choices regarding force after 60 year of studying this stuff, then wha are we being paid for? And in fact, I am willing to bet that most of us were asked 10 years ago what we thought about the coming invasion by people who respected our opinion because of our supposed expertise. You probably talked at least to your family and friends, and they listened attentively. You probably changed a few minds. Again, this is what we do, right?

I’m trying not to chuckle, nervously. It’s not just that no one listens to smart people, or that the professor’s bully pulpit has gotten a whole lot shorter. Some academically-trained smart guys were much more influential than was, and is, good for the United States. These college-educated men, like Paul Wolfowitz, Richard B. Cheney, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, Douglas Feith…so many veterans of government, think tanks, and corporations in the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance were much too talented and articulate pitching a bad policy. It’s not that scholars did too little. The American system of government doesn’t listen to a powerless person, however smart she is. Short of protest, America’s representatives are encouraged to be tone-deaf and to go along with the party line.

Tony BlairThere’s also this seemingly contradictory, but reinforcing tendency for laypeople and little emperors to hear but not listen. Leaders attend conferences and digest vast amounts of information in briefings and prepared notebooks. They might read constituency mail. They might have read something in college. Usually the information that bombards a politician is trimmed and confirms to that man’s biases. Information confirms, but it rarely educates. Reason is not the way politicians discriminate, which is left for polls and money to decide. And, polls are easy to buy.

I’m embarrassed as a soldier. But, the intelligence analyst in me warns me, that Iraq was just the accidental victim of a unilateral neoconservative policy of revenge, against Iraq and America’s creeping enfeeblement after the end of the Cold War. It could have easily been any Latin American country (again), with oil, just for good accounting. Robert Kelly disagrees.

The Iraq invasion was to serve two purposes. 1) It was to be a demonstration strike against the Arabs. Gulf anti-western pathologies lead to 9/11, so the Iraq invasion was a warning to Arabs, and Muslims generally, to never to attack the US like that again. As Cheney put it in the film W, ‘don’t ever f— with us again.’ 2) It was to be a hammer strike to break the frozen, horribly dysfunctional Arab political status quo which generated those pathologies; this would force the region toward democracy it would never attain on its own. This thinking was summarized in the widely used expression at the time, ‘drain the swamp.’

Kelly misses the disappointment evokes by the Gulf War and the enthusiasm stoked by the end of the Cold War. He also misses, as Goodman narrates in his book, the entire increasing weight of a military establishment crushing the legitimacy of its diplomatic peers over decades. And, there’s just how “good” the intelligence community had become toppling states.

If anything, the Iraq War shows how intellectually and morally incompetent and corrupt this latest generation – what comes after a race of bronze? – has become.

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