Long Road to Hell: America in Iraq – CNN

I have seen this program three times and each time I watch it I get physically ill. The bald faced lies told by GW Bush’s administration and the lengths to cover up their deceit is astounding. The United States went into another sovereign country, dismantled their state, dismantled their army, their civil services, induced an oil and resource rich nation with petrol and water shortages where petrol lines wrapped around the block, nevermind the humanitarian crisis which is still going on today, all of this, done on false made up intelligence. The Iraq Invasion is nothing more than a pissing match between the younger Bush and the elder Bush. The younger Bush escalated the sibling rivalry in his family (the elder Bush favored his younger son Jeb Bush), decided to invade Iraq to ‘get rid of Saddam’ all to stick it to dear old dad. It was something the elder Bush didn’t do and couldn’t do.

This program is unique in the sense that Fareed Zakaria (the host of the program) was able to get top GW Bush administration officials to speak on camera, presumably all to wash their hands of this debacle. Some showed contrition. Their tone of this program changed from the Bush-Cheney administration approved rhetoric of ‘we received faulty intelligence’ to ‘we were lied to’ by Bush-Cheney. He was also able to get former Prime Minister of Great Britain Tony Blair, which was GW Bush’s co-conspirator in this debacle  to apologize on camera. There are calls from activists in Great Britain to charge Tony Blair with war crimes.

Richard Clarke, the counterterrorism czar who served from 1998-2003 said the Iraq war really started on September 12, 2001. As soon as the two planes brought down the World Trade Center, Bush 43 was already talking about trying to tie Saddam Hussein to the September 11 attacks. This was confusing to Clarke because at that time, there were only very vague ideas about who the September 11 attackers were, World Trade Center, The Pentagon were still on fire when Bush 43 decided he was already going to invade Iraq. The Bush-Cheney administration ordered the various intelligence agencies to come up with credible, actionable intelligence to support the president’s claim.

If Valerie Plame Wilson’s account is to be believed, Dick Cheney’s chief-of-staff Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby basically hounded and harassed the CIA to distraction so they would produce the intelligence the administration wanted so they can send our men and women into Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. According to the movie ‘Fair Game’, Scooter Libby was portrayed as a kind of pest who would not leave the CIA alone until he got something in his hands to show Dick Cheney. They sent Wilson’s husband, the Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV on a wild goose chase in Niger so that he could bring back evidence that Saddam Hussein purchased materials from Niger to make a nuclear bomb. When the former ambassador found evidence to the contrary and refused to go along with the narrative of the Bush-Cheney administration and wrote about it publicly in a New York Times Op-Ed piece: What I Didn’t Find in Africa, his wife Valerie Plame Wilson was outed as a covert CIA agent and their reputations were dragged through the mud. The mud-slinging which ensued afterwards was nothing short of comical. The administration said Valerie Plame Wilson overinflated her status with the CIA, she was just a low-level operative, not some big shot covert operative she made herself out to be and her husband was derided as a has-been, a former ambassador to a small African nation that no one has ever heard of. Regardless, the fact remains, Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV did what he was asked by his president, Valerie Plame Wilson lost her job with the CIA, a job she loved through no fault of her own and the Wilsons were in dire straits for a while as a result.

After reading many accounts about what led up to the invasion of Iraq, the Bush-Cheney administration threw the intelligence community under the bus when it became apparent there were no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and Iraq did not have an existing nuclear program. By the time the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the international sanctions which were placed on Iraq have severely degraded their weaponry system, their army and the general population of Iraq suffered from the lack basic lifesaving medicines and provisions.

After the administration hounded, harassed, threatened the CIA to produce the intelligence to suit their aims, when that didn’t pan out, they were tossed out with the trash. I personally do not blame the intelligence community, as Richard Clarke states, the CIA has the ability to produce any “evidence” to support any claim any administration wants to espouse. Also, if I were the CIA, I’d also show Scooter Libby anything just to not see his face again and hear his voice again. The ‘intelligence’ the CIA produced was specious and highly speculative. To any thinking person, one can easily figure out they only produced something for the administration just to get them off of their backs. CIA and other intelligence agencies produce reams and reams of ‘intelligence’ everyday, most of it is ignored or deemed not actionable or credible. It’s up to the people analysing the intelligence to decide what is actionable and what isn’t. The margin for cherry picking is very wide when analysing intelligence.

This program is helpful in the sense that facts are presented in a linear fashion, accompanied by analysis of people who were part of the decision making process at the time. The Bush-Cheney perfidy, greed and gross incompetency was exposed. They removed one regime, without having its replacement in place and ready to go. Iraq has since disintegrated to shell of its former self. The program’s host Fareed Zakaria laid out three major blunders made by the administration:

  • Power Vacuum: After the fall of Saddam, there left a power vacuum and chaos ensued. In the midst of the chaos, the various religious sects, tribes and ethnicities clung to their own identities for security. This was how the first seeds of sectarian divide was sown. You’ve got the Kurds, Sunni and Shia clinging to their own kind for survival. Over time, different sects and ethnicities began to have suspicions about each other and that deep suspicion lasts until today. Neighborhoods which consisted of mixed ethnicities, religions and sects started to be suspicious of each other. The diverse fabric which made up Iraqi society is now forever fractured.
  • De-Baathification of Iraq: First of the two most ill-advised foreign policies blunders in the modern era. Anyone who was once part of Saddam’s Baath Party were thrown out of the government and civil services. They, basically overnight, rendered hundreds of thousands of people unemployed and made them unemployable with the future Iraqi regime with nothing to fall back on. These people also happened to be the most well educated and capable people. People who knew how the government worked and how the Iraqi institutions worked. Being a member of the Baath party was a requirement to have any government job, a Baath party member doesn’t mean he is a rabid supporter of Saddam Hussein.
  • Disbanding of the Iraqi Army but not taking away their guns: In the same vein as de-Baathification, since the existing Iraqi Army served under Saddam’s command, they were decommissioned. So, again, you have several more hundred thousand young men turned out in the streets overnight. Except these young men were well armed, well trained and can withstand tough conditions. These are also young men who live in a conservative society, outside of their army posts, they’ve got nothing else to occupy their time. Doing drugs, drinking and socializing with the opposite sex is frowned upon in Iraqi society, anytime you have large groups of unemployed young men with too much time on their hands always spells trouble. But in this case, it was deadly. The seeds of ISIS was sown.

Besides these three blunders, you also have unlawful detention centers like Camp Bucca and Abu Ghraib prison where countless basic human rights violations occurred and was sanctioned by the administration under the guise of ‘national security’. Many of these men locked up in Camp Bucca were detained without charges, without access to an attorney and sometimes held incommunicado. They were beaten, tortured and stripped of their basic humanity because of possible terrorist or Al-Qaeda ties.

As Iraq disintegrated from a civilized society to anarchy due to a power vacuum, the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s response was “Stuff happens”, this is literally what he said to the press corp when he was grilled about the deteriorating conditions in Iraq. Water shortages, petrol shortages, permanent school closures thereby cutting off the education of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children, the looting of police and government buildings, neighborhoods descending into an anarchist’s haven – all Donald Rumsfeld has to say to this is ‘shit happens’.

The poor planning and military execution of the Iraq Invasion makes the Vietnam War look like military tactical genius.

Saddam Hussein was a tyrant. He was vile and depraved. He gassed his own people and subjected his political opponents to torture, abuse and ultimately their executions. He was a monster. Hussein’s regime, similar to Syria’s situation prior to the civil war, was one where the minority ruled the majority. Hussein’s secular Sunni Baath Party ruled Iraq with an iron fist so there will be no Shia or Kurdish rebellion. Getting rid of Saddam Hussein on a humanitarian premise does hold some water but there must be an equally powerful system in place to replace him once he is gone. For all of Saddam’s faults, his was a secular regime and he was able to, even if through force, control all the potential warring factions, even amongst his own Sunni tribes. So if you were an average Iraqi citizen who had no revolutionary aspirations, who was happy to play by the rules laid out by Saddam’s regime and paint within the lines of the dictatorship, you can live your life in relative security and many did, even in face of crippling sanctions. Life went on for the average Iraqi just like life goes on for the average Iranian under sanction restrictions.

After the fall of Saddam and Baghdad, what finally replaced the old Baath regime is a Islamist Shia regime. Since roughly 80% of Iraqis are Shia, it’s only fair they get to run the government with the Sunnis, Kurds and other religious and ethnic minorities be represented in the national government, except that didn’t happen. Nouri Al-Maliki, the man who was tasked to bring a broken Iraq together is one of the most divisive and sectarian figures. Al-Maliki’s aim is not to heal Iraq and create a government which is representative of all its peoples. His aim is to create an Islamist Shia regime and a safe haven for the Arab Shiites, similar to how the Iranian regime has created a safe haven for Iranian Shiites. Al-Maliki’s dearest wish is to deny the Sunnis and the Kurds a seat at the table and he gets free rein on how to run Iraq.

In one of the most informative articles I’ve read about ISIS and its genesis, ‘Middle East Research and Information Project: On ISIS’, it points out:

But political factors are more important in explaining why ISIS appeared when it did. The first appellation of the cells that became ISIS was al-Qaeda in Iraq. These men were enlisted not in some boundless global jihad but in the battle to rid Iraq of US occupation and the government dominated by Shi‘i Islamist parties that took over in Baghdad in 2005. From the outset, though the details remain murky, these jihadi fighters joined hands with the ex-Baathists who had been army and intelligence officers under Saddam Hussein and were the backbone of the insurgency after Saddam’s ouster.

The Baathist-jihadi relationship was consummated after the US invaded Iraq in 2003, particularly in Camp Bucca, Abu Ghraib and other jails of the occupiers. An illustrative, and perhaps integral, figure is a colonel named Samir al-Khlifawi, who served in intelligence agencies under Saddam and found himself abruptly unemployed and ostracized in 2003. Like other officers, he had expected his turn in command and was embittered to discover that he had no place in the post-Saddam order. […] But in any case it is safe to say that there would be no ISIS had there been no US invasion of Iraq.

[…]

The gray markets and smuggling routes that help to sustain ISIS are another legacy of the long decade of sanctions on Iraq and the years of the US occupation, particularly the fateful choice of US proconsul L. Paul Bremer to dissolve the Iraqi army, which pushed much of the officer corps into contraband rackets. The Iraqi insurgencies of the 2000s were also thus self-funded, and the collapse of the Syrian state next door has only fueled the war economy in the region.

Though the members of the upper echelons of ISIS command are rather opaque, their organization and execution of military raids are eerily “reminiscent of Baathist party structure.” So, it is safe to assume many of the people who were turned out in the streets during the de-Baathification process and the disbanding of the Iraqi army have regrouped and formed ISIS. Many former Baathist party members could be considered as secular Muslims, just like Saddam Hussein was, but they are willing to exploit the religious and radical Muslims to serve their own ends. Many disaffected Sunnis in Syria and Iraq have chosen the lesser devil and formed an unholy alliance with ISIS even if they find their ways abhorrent. It’s better than being ruled by Shia apostates. Many have come to rue this miscalculation.

I met an Iraqi girl of sixteen near our local park by the beach just a little over a year ago. She was spending a day out with her older sister and nephews. As we got to chatting by the swing set she told me she was from Iraq. Her father died when she was just 2 years old, he died in the war, she didn’t specify if he was a civilian or a soldier. Her mom took her, her older brother and sister and fled to Jordan and they applied for refugee asylum to come to the United States. She came to the US when she was about 7 years old, she speaks perfect unaccented English. She looks and acts like a typical American high school student. She told me she skipped a grade and is on honors roll, she wants to get a scholarship to go to university as her mother is a widow and has health issues, her sister has a family and her brother has just married. She laments that she will probably never see the land of her birth again and she said even if she did, it’s changed beyond recognition. It was not the Iraq of her parents and her older siblings (they are significantly older than her, by about 15 years). She said her family was from a very diverse neighborhood outside of Baghdad, her neighbors were Christians, Muslims, Kurds and it was a lively and beautiful place, they were all friends. She said many Iraqi families have both Sunni and Shia members and there was no conflict. She said she personally was a Sunni Muslim but she’s got first cousins who are Shia, and in her very charming girlish way, she said she couldn’t even tell me exactly what the difference was, except that there was one, obviously.

I told her I am very sorry for the loss of her father and homeland. I felt compelled to apologize on behalf of the president I didn’t choose, whose policies I didn’t support, who I believe is a war criminal and should tried at The Hague as such. She looked at me like I was a little nutty but she said “it’s ok, it’s not your fault.”

The program ends with almost everyone agreeing that going into Iraq in 2003 was a colossal mistake and history will ultimately judge the West and specifically United States very harshly about what took place. The people interviewed agree that Iraq and most of the Middle East has not modernized to keep up with the 21st century, but if at least those regimes implode on their own like Tunisia, Egypt and Syria, the blood is on their own hands and not ours.

The Arab Spring on the surface looks like it was borne out of political oppression and lack of basic First Amendment rights, but if you scratch the surface, it’s a revolution of poverty. There are huge swathes of impoverished populations in the Middle East. The spark that set off the Tunisian revolution was a street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi who immolated himself because his fruit stand was taken away by a corrupt local official who confiscated his goods and his scale (which he didn’t have the funds to replace and therefore can’t operate his business), when he objected, she slapped him, he went to city hall to file a complaint about the policewoman who slapped him, they laughed at him, blew him off and told him to go home. His little fruit stand was his only economy, the only way for him to support his family. His self-immolation was his last stand against corruption and economic deprivation.The initial uprisings in Syria was really about rural and suburban poverty and not so much political oppression. There had been a devastating drought for three years which plunged farmers into poverty so they all fled to the big cities to find work, but real work was scarce as you had to be connected to the right people to get a decent job. The Al-Assad regime did nothing to alleviate their pain or addressed their concerns. Bashar Al-Assad’s wife Esma was seen carrying new handbags and wearing the newest fashions whilst her countrymen were barely scraping by. All Al-Assad had to do was reform his country’s economy and provide relief to the farmers and the unemployed, even a symbolic gesture would have appeased his people, he didn’t need to liberalize the political system, people weren’t asking for that, they were only asking for enough to eat and live. This isn’t not doable or impossible, after all, the rich gulf nations are just as corrupt and repressive as their neighbors, but because they have enough cash to bribe their populations into submission, the people of these countries cashed the checks the government wrote and went on about their lives. It’s an unspoken quid-pro-quo.

This program has been shown on CNN several times, and it can be purchased on iTunes or here’s a grainy version of it on YouTube. It’s worth seeing, if nothing, it’s at least informative and the subjects interviewed for this program are at their most honest.

 

 

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