The carnage is not yet complete, and President Barack Obama's attempt to put the best face on the ignominious U.S. occupation of Iraq will not hide what he and the rest of the world well know. The lies that empowered George W. Bush to invade Iraq represent an enduring stain on the reputation of American democracy. Our much-vaunted system of checks and balances failed to temper the mendacity of the president who acted like a king and got away with it.
It is utter nonsense for Obama, who in the past has made clear his belief that the Bush administration's case for this war was a tissue of lies, to now state: "The United States has paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people." We paid a huge price simply to assuage the arrogance of a president that was unfettered by the restraints of common sense expected in a functioning democracy. Particularly shameful was the betrayal by the Congress and the mass media of the obligations to challenge a president who exploited post-9/11 fears to go to war with a nation that had nothing whatsoever to do with that attack.
With hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Americans dead and maimed and at a cost of $3 trillion to American taxpayers, the U.S. imperial adventure in Iraq has left that country in a horrible mess, controlled by a corrupt and deeply divided elite that shows no serious inclination to effectively govern. Nor can there be a claim of enhanced U.S. security when the real victors are the ayatollahs of Iran, whose influence in once bitterly hostile Iraq is now immense. The price in shattered lives and dollars will continue, as Iraq remains haunted by ethnic and religious conflict that we did so much to provoke.
Remember when most of the once respected mass media, and not just the obvious lunatics on cable, bought the Bush propaganda that democracy in Iraq, a harbinger of a new Middle East, was just around the corner? They based that absurd expectation on the fact that an Iraqi ayatollah disciple of the ones ruining Iran could order millions of his followers to hold up purple fingers. What a joke we have made of the ideal of representative democracy when Iraq is operating under an incomprehensible constitution, which our proconsul ordered, and is still without a functioning government six months after an election that our media once again dutifully celebrated.
Mark the obit on this disaster by John Simpson, the highly regarded BBC world affairs editor, writing Tuesday from Baghdad that "nowadays it is hard to find anyone who sees America as a friend or mentor." Dismissing the original American expectation that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would expand democracy in the Middle East, Simpson concludes: "On the contrary, America's position in the Middle East has been visibly eroded. ... America seems to have shrunk as a direct result of its imperial adventure in Iraq."
The one positive outcome is that with the formal end of the U.S. occupation many Americans have finally learned the lesson that imperialism does not pay. While Bush fiddled with a nonexistent terrorist threat from Iraq, the U.S. economy burned and the oil loot that some thought would make it all worthwhile never materialized. Remember when the neoconservatives were riding high and Paul Wolfowitz assured a supine Congress that Iraqi oil would pay for it all?
Nor did the invasion even make more secure our access to Mideast oil while competitors like China were busily securing foreign energy rights to shore up their bustling economies. Obama acknowledged this reality in his speech when he stated, "We must jump-start industries that create jobs, and end our dependence on foreign oil."
For all his talk about turning our attention homeward, Obama reveals his obsession with the imperial adventure in Afghanistan, where "because of our drawdown in Iraq, we are now able to go on offense." Once again there is the expectation that the occupied will embrace the occupiers and that the deployment of massive military power "will disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida," as if that is any longer relevant to our deep involvement in a treacherous civil war in which we have no reliable partners.
Al-Qaeda was never present in Iraq before we invaded, and according to Obama's own national security adviser, there are fewer than a hundred members of the group left in Afghanistan, unable to coordinate any actions. Obama deserves credit for extracting this country from a war in Iraq that he inherited, but it is mind-numbing that in his nation-building efforts in Afghanistan he is now repeating the same errors that were made in Iraq.