By Michael Bryan
Now that the Iraq war has been "ended" by Obama's draw down of active combat troops (I scare quote here because of the thousands of embassy personnel and private defense contractors still in country), and the ten year anniversary of the invasion is upon us, it is perhaps time to try for a little perspective on this passage in American political history.
I continue to view the invasion and occupation of Iraq as a massive crime of control fraud perpetrated by the Bush junta to extract hundreds of billions from the public fisc to line the pockets of the corporate welfare state wards known collectively as the defense industry. But the historical treatment of that fraud and its long-term impact on American government and politics is what I think deserves more discussion.
As I write, a concerted effort at historical revision by many of the key players in the Iraq fraud is underway throughout the media. People who perpetrated and participated in the Bush Administration's national security follies now seek to cast the Iraq fraud as a successful, if costly, mission to free the Iraqi people from tyranny.
That effort is a subtle poison undermining American security.
Ask any soldier who served in Iraq whether they believed they were there to free Iraqis from tyranny. They will laugh at you. They were there because they were told, along with the American people and Congress, that Iraq constituted an immediate and dire threat to American security in the form of an imminent attack with weapons of mass destruction. Those claims (now widely recognized to have been a fever swamp of half-truths and out-right lies) were made more credible by the national trauma of 9/11, and are the sole reason America assented to launch a war in Iraq.
The revisionist effort to recast the Iraqi invasion as a war to liberate the Iraqi people is insultingly blatant to those who opposed the war at the outset, as well as to the great majority of Americans who came to oppose the occupation as it ground on through the mid-oughts. But it is credible to some, and thus serves as a useful marker of whom to mistrust in American politics going forward.
Anyone who espouses the view that the Iraq war was costly and horrible, but ultimately justifiable and served to secure freedom for Iraqis from Saddam's tyranny should be automatically excluded from any role in formulating or superintending America's foreign and defense policy.
Why? Because those who hold this view are dangerous to American security. Those who would espouse such views fall into one of three primary categories: those who participated in the Iraq fraud and seek to rehabilitate their own reputations; those would lead America into folly and waste again elsewhere for their own political or financial ends; and those who are too stupid, stubborn, and/or ideologically blinkered to admit of any error by those on their own 'team'.
We as a nation have lessons to learn from Iraq, and allowing it to be recast as a costly sacrifice for human freedom ensures that those lessons will not be absorbed.
We must learn to be humble about what military force can accomplish. It is tempting to overestimate the actual utility of the unparalleled military dominance American national security establishment have achieved. Military force is not suitable to achieve all our foriegn policy goals.
Those who sold the Iraq war made foolish claims of easy, low-cost victory and a rapid transformation of a complex and ancient foreign civilization. Those who continue to bruit the ability of military force to achieve all our policy goals in light of such a costly lesson should be deeply mistrusted. I take it a signal that many Americans have absorbed this lesson that persistent calls for an aggressive military reaction to Iranian nuclear developments during the last Presidential season were met with skepticism and, ultimately, electoral defeat. But I also take it as a signal that many have not understood that lesson that Obama's drone program has proceeded with barely a cavil, even by his most ardent opponents.
We have seen in counter-example to such militarist inverventionism the great strides toward freedom of the Arab Spring, which has fundamentally altered the political environment of the Middle East. Only the people of a society can fundamentally alter the nature of that society's political culture. It is an organic process that cannot be imposed by military force. Obama has deftly demonstrated that judicious use of American power and prestige can foster and encourage that change, but any claim that the Iraqi disaster opened the way for the Arab Spring is a insult to those who have laid down their lives to change their own societies. As in the velvet revolutions of the formerly totalitarian societies of the Eastern Bloc, once people stop consenting to be ruled by tyrrants, change can happen rapidly and permanently, and without massive foriegn military interventions. As Americans we should have more faith in our foundational democratic principle that the root of legitimate and stable governance can only be the consent of the governed.
We must keep in mind the opportunity costs and human toll of using military force. We waged the Iraq invasion and occupation on the national credit card, and the bill has come due. A substantial portion of the current national deficits and mounting national debt consist of the bills Bush left us for his fraudulent war. We have lost thousands of American lives, shattering thousands of families. We have tens of thousands crippled in their bodies and minds for whom we have duty to provide for decades to come. We have neglected human needs and economic opportunity to invest in future prosperity to fund the Iraq fraud, impairing the ability of Americans to compete and prosper. War literally steals bread from our children's mouths. We must not treat it as anything other than the greatest tragedy and absolute last resort to preserve our security.
With these lessons in mind, we should select and judge our leaders on their political courage, skepticism, and reluctance to use military force. Such reticence and obdurate dedication to a foriegn policy not founded on military bluster and adventurism should be required and rewarded by voters across the political spectrum. Only then will Americans real security interests be truly served by our tightly wound, finely honed, and far too easily misused national security apparatus.