Ten years ago this week, the US and the UK and the “coalition of the willing” launched massive air attacks and a ground invasion of Iraq, which led to the overthrow of dictator Saddam Hussein.
That was the easy part. Decisions made in the weeks before and after the invasion—including the firing of 50,000 Iraqi civil servants and the dismissal of the entire Iraqi army by the supremely incompetent Paul Bremer—led to an insurgency and chaos that derailed the Bush Administation’s democracy-building project in the Middle East.
When General Eric Shinseki warned that a successful invasion and occupation would take hundreds of thousands of US troops (as the first Gulf War did), he was hooted down and cashiered. When economic adviser Larry Lindsey averred that the war could cost $200 billion, he was kicked out of the White House.
Instead of the two weeks neocon warhawk Bill Kristol predicted it would take, the war lasted 8 ½ years. A study by two Brown University professors estimates it claimed 190,000 lives, including 134,000 Iraqi civilians and 4,488 US servicemen and women, and ultimately will cost American taxpayers at least $2.2 trillion.
But the damage goes much, much deeper—to the wounded warriors who have to relearn the very basics of life, to servicemen and women whose psyches were irredeemably shattered, to children who will have to fill their empty hearts with fading images of the mothers or fathers they will never know.
And on a macro scale, the colossal failures of President George W. Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the multitude of toadies and cheerleaders who egged them on did more than anyone else to undermine this country’s position in the world.
At the beginning of the 2000s, the US had won the first Gulf War, ended the Cold War, and imposed peace in Bosnia and Kosovo. The French called us the “hyperpower.” But the embarrassing ineptitude and overweening arrogance with which the Bush Administration planned and managed the Iraq war shattered that image and destroyed our credibility.
And though other countries may have feared President Bush, they never respected him again. That, and the intentional looting of the budget surplus Bill Clinton left him—yes, intentional, you can look up his speeches on the subject—make him the most catastrophic US president of the last 50 years.
This week, a revealing documentary is airing on Showtime. Made by R.J. Cutler, it’s called “The World According to Dick Cheney.” In it, the vice president, Rumsfeld, and others speak about September 11th, Iraq, and the multitude of consequences it had—the expansion of warrantless wiretaps, secret prisons abroad, renditions from other countries, the “enhanced interrogation” (i.e., torture) exposed at Abu Ghraib, and other major assaults on our liberty.
Amazingly, none of the principals—Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al—showed one whit of remorse or regret. (Nor, for that matter, has former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.) “If I had to do it over again, I’d do it in a minute,” said Cheney.
And as I’ve written here many times, Republican neocons have yet to own up to the disaster they created. Why? Because it would probably cost them lucrative editorial jobs and prestigious perches at think tanks.
Veterans and Iraqi civilians don’t have that luxury, of course. They’re still suffering the consequences of the decisions these leaders made—or they’re beyond suffering. Our country has yet to recover, too.