I have been thinking a lot about the Wars of the United States in the Middle East. There have been so many of them I have a hard time keeping track of them all. As I said in an earlier post on this blog, my American friend believes they should start another war, this time with Iran. He wants the Americans to “take out Iran.”
The first Iraq war was a response to the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein. He attacked a small country just because he could. He had been led to believe America would look the other way. Until then Iraq had been A US ally in the Middle East. I think some American describe Hussein this way: ‘He may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s our son-of-a-bitch.’ President George H.W. Bush had made the sensible idea of stopping the war as soon as Hussein was driven out of the country. Many in the US, particularly belligerent Americans, were disappointed, for they thought The U.S. should have gone ahead and driven him from power too. But Bush senior stopped when his limited goal was achieved. Regime change was not part of the goal. Limited goals are important. Too often, political leaders forget that in the heat of the moment when they are seeking blood and fame.
Does anyone remember how the 2nd Iraq war started? President George W. Bush, the son of George H.W. Bush, got America into the second Iraq war. No one was demanding it. In the American election that preceded it no one in the US was calling for it except some neo-liberals or neo-conservatives. It was not even an issue. Dick Cheney, Bush’s Vice-President and some like Donald Rumsfeld the Secretary of Defence wanted it. Just like John Bolton, Donald Trump’s recent security advisor, wanted war with Iran, Cheney wanted war with Iraq. They wanted “regime change”. Both thought victory would be easily attained. After all the US was the most powerful country in the world. They really believed that after a short war, the people of Iraq would thank the Americans for invading and removing a brutal dictator. This was hubris of the worst sort. We know what happened. A long war that right now, 18 years after it started, seems endless.
The Americans, led by Cheney and Rumsfeld, demanded that Saddam Hussein, their erstwhile ally, turn over all weapons of mass destruction. Inexplicably Hussein refused. How could he do that? Most Americans thought that was because he was hiding them. Well in time the answer was clear. He had none to turn over! Dick Cheney was convinced he had them and they would find them, but they never did. I remember hearing an interview with him where he confidently assured us those weapons of mass destruction would soon be found. So America went to war. This time only a few allies followed them, unlike the first War in Iraq led by the first George H. W. Bush where there was a broad coalition of supporting countries behind the US led attack.
When George W. Bush and his Vice-President Dick Cheney led America into the 2nd Iraq war they believed that after defeating Saddam Hussein a brutal dictator, the Iraqi people would welcome the Americans as liberators. After all, Hussein tortured and gassed his own people. They also believed this might lead the entire Middle East towards democracy. All they had to do was get rid of the oppressive dictator. It was simple! After he was toppled they fully expected the Iraqi people to embrace the Americans for delivering them from this cruel and vicious dictator.
But in war things are never that simple. As we all know, things did not work out that way. Not at all. War is a perfect time for humility not hubris.
The war was not over in May 2003 when George W. Bush was photographed aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier under a sign that read “Mission Accomplished.” In fairness to Bush, at that time he had only declared that the major battles were over, but his supporters thought he was being too modest. Yet, he was photographed grinning broadly under that sign with a thumbs-up sign of approval. The initial battle only took a few days and there was remarkably little American bloodshed. The mighty Iraqi army had crumbled in a few days. Hussein had promised “the Mother of all Wars,” but it was an empty boast. Or was it? 18 years later we might have to say he had a point. At the time the Americans appeared to have reason for self-satisfaction. But again, it was not quite that simple. Wars seldom are that simple. The U.S. has been there ever since continuing what more and more looks like an endless war.
What has happened to the war in Iraq since supporters of George W. Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” in 2003? Do we have something to learn from that war? I think so. Will we learn a valuable lesson? Listening to my belligerent American friends it seems unlikely.