Monday, February 20, 2023
Speaking of Which
I'm pretty upset at Twitter and Facebook. My initial tweet on
Speaking of Iraq didn't even show up in my feed. On closer
examination, it appears it has only been seen by 75 of my 589
followers. It looks like my Music Week announcements usually
get close to 300 views, but Speaking of Which rarely (and then
only barely) tops 200. I complain about Matt Taibbi flooding
the feed with multiple links to his Substack pieces, but maybe
he's just fighting the algorithm. I decided to try again:
Why is it that what's remembered of Bush's war on Iraq is the lies,
which were obviously lies at the time? Deeper question is why did
anyone buy the logic that the lies supported going to war. I look back
at 2003 here. If I knew better, why didn't you?
I also tacked a comment onto a Rick Perlstein response to a gripe
about "2000s progressive blogs" messing up. Clearly, I didn't, but
while there were a few putative leftists backing the war (Christopher
Hitchens, Paul Berman; less known at the time was Peter Beinart), they
were few in number. The real test of principles and understanding was
Afghanistan, one that was failed by a lot of people who should have
known better (including Bernie Sanders; Barbara Lee was the only one
in Congress to object).
I rarely post notices to Facebook (aside from Music Week, which I
send to the Expert Witness group), but I put a lot of work into this
one, and thought this was important enough to share. So I posted
this. It, too, hasn't showed up in my feed, nor do I see any
evidence (comments, likes) that anyone else has seen it. I was
less pressured for space, so I wrote a bit more there:
For the 20th anniversary of Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq, I
thought I'd dust off my old blog posts and see how they've held up. I
cut the blog posts off on the 1st anniversary, but you can follow
links to the rest. I also added a new introduction and some notes on
later events, to check how much I got wrong (very little -- even
without all the info, my gut reaction that Bush didn't know what he
was doing, and would screw even that up, was pretty sound. I also went
through the book notes file and pulled out a reading list for Iraq, so
you'll find more there, both background and direction.
By the way, in looking through my old notes, I found this quote
from Patrick Cockburn's 2006 book, The Occupation: War and
Resistance in Iraq:
Much of this book has been about the peculiarities of Iraq and the
mistakes made by Americans when occupying it. But not all the reasons
which led Washington to invade were unique to the US. For the two
years before 9/11 I lived in Moscow. I had seen how Vladimir Putin had
risen from obscurity in 1999 in the weeks after four apartment
buildings were mysteriously bombed in Moscow killing 300 people. Putin
had presented himself as Russia's no-nonsense defender against
terrorism. He used this threat to launch his own small victorious war
against Chechnya and manipulated a minor threat tot he state to win
and hold the presidency. He speedily demolished the free press. George
W. Bush followed almost exactly in Putin's footsteps two years later
in the wake of the September 11 destruction of the World Trade
Center. Civil liberties were curtailed. The same authoritarian
rhetoric was employed. War was declared on terrorism. The American and
Russian governments, the two former protagonists in the Cold War,
latched on to the same limited 'terrorist' threat to justify and
expand their authority. Putin and Bush, though neither were ever in
the army, started to walk with the same military swagger.
Bush, of course, was retired by term limits, not that his 21%
approval rating at the end of his second term would have gotten
him a Rooseveltian third term. Putin escaped that fate, mostly
because Chechnya was better contained (although the war wasn't
without its embarrassments, including some terror incidents). In
short, Putin lived to fight another day, which he did in Georgia,
in Syria, and now in Ukraine. The first two worked out OK, for
reasons I won't go into. What matters, of course, is once a leader
gets a taste for war, that will be favored as an option until it
leads to disaster.
The problem we've seen both in Bush and Putin is that both had
trouble recognizing disaster when it struck, which has only led
to further pointless suffering. There's a story about when they
met, when Bush claimed to look into Putin's soul. He seemed to
like what he saw. As far as I know, Putin isn't on record about
Bush's soul, so one can only speculate.
Given the amount of time I spent on Iraq, I skipped over economic
issues (including bank bailouts) completely. Also Israel, train
wrecks, and I barely noted the big climate disaster (bad as Iraq
is now, I hate to imagine it in 2030).
Top story threads:
Climate: This should be the week's top story, but I've
only barely seen it reported:
Trump, DeSantis, et al: Trump's getting most of the press
this time, in anticipation of his first indictment. But also I skipped
a bunch of DeSantis links, because they seemed too lame. It's clearer
than ever that he's running, and straight up the Trump lane.
Iraq: 20 Years In: Scattered topics then and now, the past
much better reported than the present, although there are still big
gaps in our understanding of the past.
Ben Burgis: [03-20]
The Invasion of Iraq Wasn't a "Mistake." It Was a Crime.
Robert Draper: [03-20]
Iraq, 20 Years Later: A Changed Washington and a Terrible Toll on
America: This always worried me more than the terrible things
that war would do to the Iraqi people, partly because it's hard
to discern and evaluate. Could be a long subject, and I'm not sure
this even scratches the surface.
Connor Echols: [03-17]
A requiem for a lost Iraq: "Two decades after the invasion, the
Iraqi people are still struggling to pick up the pieces."
Max Fisher: [03-18]
20 Years On, a Question Lingers About Iraq: Why Did the U.S. Invade?
Huh? His "Searching for Motive" parades a lot of crap which has been
thoroughly debunked. He quotes Wolfowitz as admitting WMD was picked
as "the one issue that everyone could agree on." Yet he has no clue
why that should matter. There is a simple reason that nobody talks
about: Saddam Hussein's very existence was an insult to American
power. Bush's mob saw the US as the world's supreme superpower, and
expected everyone to kowtow to their wishes. Perhaps elsewhere (say,
North Korea) they could have ignored him, but past history, as well
as oil and Israel, precluded that. So they felt they had to destroy
him, to reassert the natural order of American world power. And the
people who still defend that decision, who take pride in it, do so
because they can claim a measure of victory in destroying Hussein.
Sure, it shows they cared not a whit about anything else, least of
all the cost and waste of their hubris. But the original goal says
as much. If you didn't hear that at the time, it just shows how
sheltered you were from the idea that these guys were pure evil.
Nicholas Guyatt: [03-20]
Twitter thread: "For those too young to have lived through what
happened twenty years ago, a thread of the self-styled left/liberal
types endorsing the invasion of Iraq." Image is The New York Times
Magazine cover story by Michael Ignatieff, called "The American
Empire (Get Used to It.)." Additional entries include snaps of key
quotes from Ignatieff, David Remnick, Bill Keller, Leon Wieseltier,
Lawrence F Kaplan, Elie Wiesel, Paul Berman, Joseph Nye, Anne-Marie
Slaughter, and Thomas Friedman endorsing the war. He also shows book
covers of: Noah Freedman: After Jihad: America and the Struggle
for Islamic Diplomacy; and Kenneth Pollack: The Threatening
Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. And an additional quote from
Jonah Goldberg. One of the commenters also nominated: Dan Savage,
Peter Beinart, Sam Harris, George Packer, Christopher Hitchens, and
Jonathan Chait. Many more good comments.
John B Judis: [03-19]
Iraq, the U.S., and The New Republic: 20 Years Later, Lessons
Not Learned: "I was one of the few TNR staffers in 2003 who opposed
the invasion. The magazine's case for war has not aged well."
Louisa Loveluck/Mustafa Salim: [03-18]
U.S. veterans won justice for burn pit exposure. Iraqis were forgotten.
Link title was: "How a cancer-causing environmental debacle looms over
the U.S. legacy in Iraq." But somehow the actual title put the Americans
Ray McGovern: [03-20]
The Uses and Abuses of National Intelligence Estimates: Cites
Robert Draper from 2020:
Colin Powell Still Wants Answers.
Alissa J Rubin: [03-20]
20 Years After U.S. Invasion, Iraq Is a Freer Place, but Not a Hopeful
Nadine Talaat: [03-20]
The Bloodbath in Iraq Shows the US Can Never Be a "Global Policeman":
Not the way I'd put it, but the phrase "global policeman" has always
been a source of confusion. The problem is that American soldiers are
rigorously trained to kill people and blow things up, and really aren't
much good for anything else. Put them in a situation the don't understand,
and threaten them, and they'll kill people and blow things up. That's
their nature. A subhed here is "International Law in Ruins": That should
be elaborated on more. International law was never in very good shape,
but suffered a massive setback when Bush gave up on the UN and decided
to form his "coalition of the willing."
Ishaan Tharoor: [03-20]
How the U.S. broke Iraq.
- Peter Van Vuren: [03-16]
How I spent a year losing hearts and minds in Iraq.
Robert Wright: [03-17]
Bush's lies weren't the problem: We now know that WMD was never
the reason Bush wanted to invade Iraq. It just seemed like the easiest
(which is to say scariest) story to spin to the masses. But it required
a mountain of lies, which were unraveling almost as fast as they could
be concocted. But also, invasion was the worst possible way of keeping
Iraq from using WMDs (which really only ever meant chemical weapons,
as that was all Iraq had the technology for). Much better to have an
agreement to dispose of them (which had been in place since 1990) and
inspectors on the ground to verify conformance (which had happened
for several years, and again for several months under threat of war).
The problem is that the inspectors didn't find any. If eliminating
WMDs was the goal, inspections already had that covered. So clearly
that wasn't the reason for launching an invasion.
Responsible Statecraft: [03-20]
Symposium: Aside from Bush & Cheney who is at fault for the Iraq
War? They asked twenty-some notables, who singled out (some named
two, which I've generally split):
Joe Biden (2),
Michael R Gordon and The New York Times,
Robert Kagan (2),
Richard Perle (2),
Colin Powell (2),
unknown mastermind behind the Niger memo forgery,
the Israel lobby.
Before I comment on the list, my pick would have been Bill Clinton,
who failed to
solve the problem with Iraq, and who made it worse with his capricious
bombing runs and his support for the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998. I
also blame Clinton for his pro-war stance in 1989, which once he was
elected in 1992 politically vindicated the hawk wing of the Democratic
Party, notably Al Gore Jr. and Joe Lieberman (who share significant
blame for the later war, and legitimized those who voted for the war
in 2003, including Biden, Richard Gephardt, Hillary Clinton, and most
egregiously John Kerry).
As for the rest: I blame Wilson for lots of things, but his attempt
to turn America away from isolationism is only loosely relevant here.
Moreover, Wilson pointedly refused to join the war against the Ottoman
Empire, or to participate in the colonial carve up of the Middle East.
If you want someone from that vintage, Winston Churchill is your man.
The British invaded Iraq, used poison gas, and installed a puppet king,
a dynasty that controlled the country until 1959. The Baath was largely
a reaction against British misrule, and Americans never forgave them
for breaking the Baghdad Pact (CENTO). Blaming Hussein because Americans
never figured out how to deal with him is also silly. After GHW Bush
likened him to Hitler, no American dared deal with him. The failure to
get rid of "Hitler" in 1990 did more than anything to make a second war
There are three other non-choices: Why pick Laura Bush, who had
very little public profile (other than allowing herself to be trotted
out to promote women's rights in Afghanistan)? Why pick some anonymous
CIA functionary for the instantly discredited Niger memo when George
Tenet was still waiting on the sidelines? And why the Israel Lobby?
Well, there, at least, Israel had singled Hussein out as public enemy
number one, and practically everyone else was carrying their water.
The rest are a conspicuous but incomplete rogues gallery of neocon
functionaries and media supplicants (Hitchens is an outlier, but tried
so very hard to get in). All contributed, as did many others (Donald
Rumsfeld is the most glaring omission). It strikes me that this
list is light on generals (other than Powell; although I've seen
reference that some prominent ones, like Anthony Zinni, Norman
Schwarzkopf, and Barry McCaffrey, had misgivings; the current
brass went along, although some of them got out quick after the
"mission accomplished" banner). Also politicians:
the aforementioned Democrats (who should have known better), but
also the even more hawkish Republicans, like John McCain and Lindsey
Graham. Oh, and let's not forget Tony Blair. Without him there wouldn't
have been a "coalition of the willing." And Ahmed Chalabi, who did
so much to seduce Washington? I also recall writers like Fouad Ajami,
Bernard Lewis, and Samuel Huntington -- hacks who were taken seriously
Matt Taibbi: [2016-03-22]
16 Years Later, How the Press That Sold the Iraq War Got Away With
It: Four-year-old excerpt from his book, Hate, Inc. And
why there were no consequences for getting it wrong, as long as they
erred on the side of the official line.
Ukraine War: Continues, of course, with intransigence on
Abortion: The "pro-life" terror continues. I skipped over a
link about a South Carolina bill that wants to establish the death
penalty for women who have abortions. There's no limit to what they'll
Daniel Bessner: [03-06]
Does American Fascism Exist? Review of Bruce Kuklick: Fascism
Comes to America: A Century of Obsession in Politics and Culture.
After noting various definitions and their discontents, asks the
question: "Should we on the left use the term 'fascism'?" As someone
who knows a fair amount about the history of fascist movements in
Europe between the wars, I find it helps with comparisons, but as
a label for organizing against the far right, I doubt it's all that
useful. And sure, part of the problem is that the right has been
extremely sloppy in using the term, which at least they have the
decency to regard as a negative (mostly using it on the left). Also
see the comment on this review by Jonathan Chait: [03-13]
The Republican Party May Not Be Fascist, but It's Definitely
Getting Fasci-er, subhed: "The left-wing case for downplaying
authoritarianism is not convincing." More proof that Chait never
misses a chance to disparage the left, apparently complaining that
we're the ones who don't call Republicans fascists enough.
By the way, there's a link here to a 2020 piece by Bessner:
America Has No Duty to Rule the World This is a review of Steven
Wertheim: Tomorrow the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy.
I've read that book, which shows how quickly influential Americans
came upon the idea of American global supremacy as soon as the US
declared war on Germany and Japan. For details of how those ideas
played out, you'll need to turn to later histories, like the works
of Gabriel and Joyce Kolko: The Politics of War and The
Limits of Power.
Jonathan Chait: [03-20]
Why Joe Biden's Honeymoon With Progressives Is Coming to an End:
"Expect a lot more Democratic infighting." It's true that Biden has
disappointed on several issues lately. Maybe this has something to
do with Jeffrey Zients replacing Ron Klain as chief of staff. If so,
it might get worse, but unless a serious challenger emerges -- like
Teddy Kennedy going after Jimmy Carter -- I expect the disputes will
be strictly over issues. And the democratic wing of the party has
issues that are too popular for Biden to ignore.
Matthew Cooper: [03-15]
Let's Retire the Word "Woke": Fine with me. I doubt I've ever
used the word, except when quoting right-wingers ritualistically
decrying it (which, to be sure, is often absurd enough to be amusing).
As I understand it, the word was meant to convert a negative (not
sounding or acting racist) into a positive (being anti-racist).
While that seems laudable, the proof is often in pointing out how
other people are racist, sometimes subtly or even subconsciously.
I don't doubt that there are times when that is called for, but
these days I'm more inclined to let minor slights slide (unless,
of course, they are embedded in power, as with cops and judges).
White people don't have to become woke. As long as they can avoid
public displays and/or respond positive to shaming when they don't,
racism will continue to fade into the past (as it's been doing for
decades now, even if not fast enough).
For more on woke, see:
Nathan J Robinson: [03-17]
Time to End the Use of "Woke" as a Pejorative: Starts with a bit
of interview between Briahna Gray and Bethany Mandel ("the editor of
a series of right-wing children's books"), where the latter couldn't
define "woke," then follows that up with various other clueless
right-wing definitions of "woke." The advice is to the right, but
they're unlikely to take it.
Whizy Kim: [03-17]
Prices at the supermarket keep rising. So do corporate profits.
"Is it really inflation? Or something else?" Every sector of industry
has been concentrating for years, but were restrained from raising
prices because no one wants to look too greedy (except to stockholders).
However, once word got out that we were in for a round of inflation,
companies moved fast to reap their monopoly gains, a self-fulfilling
prophecy. At least that's what I see happening, and that's most the
consistent explanation for profits increasing along with prices. Of
course, rising prices also mean costs, but big monopoly retailers
have more leverage to cap their costs.
Mike Konczal: [03-17]
A Better AEI Graphic of Inflation Over the Past 20 Years.
Nathan J Robinson: [03-20]
The French Understand That Work Sucks: French president Macron
is trying to push through a bill that raises the retirement age from
62 to 64, and it's very unpopular. It's worth remembering that you
don't have to stop working when you retire, but you do gain the
freedom to work as you want, without having to work for a living,
and without having to work under someone else's control.
Dylan Scott: [03-17]
Medicare is being privatized right before our eyes: "The enormous
success of Medicare Advantage -- and the potential risks -- explained."
The program costs more than regular Medicare, and delivers less. Why
is enrollment growing? For one thing, the extra costs are largely
hidden from the public. The advantage is that while the plans are
more restrictive, they often offer relief from the co-payments and
limits built into Medicare (supplemental insurance can eliminate
those, but costs quite a bit extra).
Ian Ward: [03-19]
The fringe group that broke the GOP's brain -- and helped the party
win elections: Interview about the John Birch Society with
Matthew Dallek, author of Birchers: How the John Birch Society
Radicalized the Far Right.
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