As we all sit around and cluck our tongues about what a bastard Russian boss Vladimir Putin is, a lot of us will hardly notice that Monday is the 20th anniversary of our own foray into overthrowing a sovereign government, slaughtering countless civilians, and destroying precious infrastructure.
That’s right: March 20th marks two decades since the United States of America invaded Iraq. The undeclared war lasted eight years, eight months, and 29 days and cost the lives of more than 4600 US soldiers, a couple of hundred others from participating coalition nations, more than 17,600 Iraqi fighters, and — at very least — more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians. Some estimates of civilian deaths range as high as 300,000. If you want to split the difference, go ahead. They’re only numbers. A hundred thousand or three hundred thousand matters only to accountants and statisticians. Whether it’s the low end or the high that’s accurate, countless mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles, spouses, lovers, friends, neighbors, and many others mourned the loss of someone close to them.
So, yeah sure, Putin’s a bastard. But what was — is — George W. Bush?
To this day, the question remains: Why did the US invade Iraq?
You want an answer? Pick from this list:
- Iraq participated in planning and executing the 9/11 attacks
- Iraq’s leader was a no-good tyrant
- Iraq was thisclose to making its own nuclear weapons
- Iraq possessed chemical and/or biological weapons and was prepared to use them on its neighbors or even on us
How about this? Saddam Hussein was a mote in the eye of the global fossil fuel industry.
Or this? Pentagon wonks, relying on game theory models, foresaw a war between the US and Iraq somewhere down the road, so why not make it happen sooner rather than later, at a time and place of our choosing?
So, there’s six possible reasons why our holy land launched an attack that killed, at minimum, 150,000 human beings. Pick one or pick ’em all.
And, truth is, that’s likely precisely what President Bush and his trusted advisors did in the lead-up to March 20, 2003. They picked ’em all.
I haven’t even mentioned yet another casus belli, America’s ego. We got punked on 9/11 and beating the bejesus out of Afghanistan simply wasn’t enough for us to get our macho-man mojo back. The year 2003 was still only 30 years past our ignominious loss in the Vietnam (undeclared) War. Most decision makers and, hell, most Americans, still smarted over that disaster. We needed a big time win and Hussein’s Iraq was screaming out to be trounced.
Dang, Dutch, Rambo, and all the rest of the 80s genies whose lamps we rubbed in hopes our great nation could once again kick the living crap out another nation, just the way god intended, were itching like mad to sling semi-automatics over their shoulders again and march off to the shores of Tripoli. Our victory in the first Gulf War against Hussein was spectacularly unsatisfying inasmuch as Saddam remained in power, we never occupied Iraqi control centers, and that war’s end was less a moment of supreme triumph than the blowing out of a candle.
War against a real enemy, led by a man whom we could plausibly* compare to Adolf Hitler, and resulting in an inarguable W in the record books, became inevitable from 1979 on.
* Plausible, that is, to the vast majority of Americans whose idea of history was a six-month old rerun of “Cheers.”
Back in ’79, we got humiliated by that other I-country over there somewhere in the Middle East, or wherever, y’know…, they’re all the same, aren’t they? Islamic militants in Iran overthrew the Shah and took 52 American diplomats and office workers hostage, keeping them for 444 days, costing Jimmy Carter the presidency and us our swagger as The Country that Won World War II. The hostages were released a scant half hour after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the 40th President of the United States, a choreographed “coincidence” that became proof positive to the lunkhead set that Saint Ron had superpowers.
Even though we got the hostages back, thank god almighty, we hadn’t sliced the Ayatollah Khomeini and his wild-eyed revolutionaries into ribbons, giving the aforementioned lunkhead gang more time and reason to stew.
Thus began the slew of movies wherein the Vietnam War and other American humiliations were re-fought against fictional enemies. The were, of course, Rambo, Stripes, Commando, Top Gun…, hell the list goes on and on. Americans — the good guys — triumphing in those flicks made us feel good for a moment or two as we left theaters but only the real thing, a blood-soaked ass-whuppin’ administered by us to them — whoever they were — would suffice.
And when our nation was spanked and shut down by the several dozen fundamentalist loons bankrolled by Osama bin Laden, our urge to fight — whomever, wherever, it didn’t matter one iota — became irresistible.
Max Fisher writes in Sunday’s New York Times that many in the Bush braintrust had a hankering to go shooting in Iraq years before 9/11 or anybody had started whispering the initials WMD. Whereas Iraq’s purported nuclear program was, in reality, as close to non-existent as it could be, its chemical and biological weapons programs ditto, and game theory models are the stuff of, well, games, Bush’s people cobbled together all the reasons to go gunning into Iraq and simply picked the ones that would resonate with the American people the most and the best.
Fisher writes: “A critical mass of senior officials all came to the table wanting to topple Mr. Hussein for their own reasons, and then talked one another into believing the most readily available justification.”
And so began the eight year, eight month, 29 day undeclared war that cost anywhere from 150,000 to more than 300,000 people their lives. Don’t get me wrong, the world without Saddam Hussein is a better place but Iraq today is a failed state riven by violent factions. I don’t suppose Iraqis feel any much better today about their country than they did in, say, 2002.
As for us, the answer to the question posed above — But what was — is — George W. Bush? — is simple. He’s our bastard.
But, nevertheless, a bastard.