This report was posted on the website in late April 2016. Since then I have had a number of positive responses and some suggestions. I was advised to consider expanding the report into a book. There were a number of suggestions to include local reporting from the MENA region itself. I am most grateful for the interest shown and I am considering the ideas put forward. Many thanks to one and all.
MENA: renaissance from within
Table of Contents
Seeing the full picture
MENA must live with global economic contentions.
Role of powerful lobbies must be understood
SECTION 1: Turmoil in MENA is not too difficult to understand.
SECTION 2: US and Europe are not immune from turmoil in MENA
SECTION 3: Iraq’s story is more than just one war
SECTION 4: Desperate ways to justify an unjustifiable war
SECTION 5: 2003 war, planning, consequences, recriminations
SECTION 6: Business interests as top beneficiaries from the war.
SECTION 7: Not by bombs alone
SECTION 8: Destruction aimed at the fabric of a state and a nation.
SECTION 9: Misdeeds remain essentially unchallenged.
SECTION 10: Near unanimity at last: Iraq war was a disaster
Seeing the full picture
Every so often I go back to accumulated documents and press cuttings relating to MENA (Middle East and North Africa) that have been sent to me over the years by friends and colleagues. I did that recently (prompted by mounting mess in Iraq, Syria and Libya) and was rewarded with a new and deeper view of events in that part of the world.
There is a technical reason behind my practice of revisiting files over time. My specialist field in development studies concerns the treatment of nations as complex adaptive systems. These systems; very different from the more familiar mechanistic systems, need to be observed over long periods to understand their significant features. More to the point, such systems are in constant change.
There is, therefore, nothing fixed about MENA: the region could, and will change. Those who have given up hope about the future are simply wrong. However, we must understand the factors that are in action and seek to find the means to achieve a change in the direction of travel. Significantly, complex adaptive systems are shaped primarily by their internal interactions. There lies the key to MENA’s future: people in the region will determine their fortunes, good or bad.
There are limits to the above statement. Application of external overwhelming force could deflect a complex system from its normal mode of operation and that happened to MENA certainly from the First World War to the present. That war was a major factor in which major powers were fighting over colonial possessions. The war coincided with mounting importance of oil and the demise of the Ottoman Empire. There was unfinished business and the Second World War was meant to tidy up the global setup: the British Empire was no more and the USA assumed world hegemony. End of that war also left unfinished business: contest between USA and USSR and the two powers clashed in far off locations including MENA. End of the war however paved the way for the creation of the state of Israel, an unsettling event that continues to create waves.
Apart from the Palestinian/ Israeli conflict, world power machinations have diminished as far as MENA is concerned. In practical terms MENA is relatively unimportant to external powers. Skirmishes will continue but not on the scale and intensity of the last one hundred years. Populations in the region might blame others for its present condition but the future is a different matter. Local leaders, yes including those in Israel, will have to get down to the business of putting things right. This is the key message of this report.
However, past events leave their trace that could not be ignored completely. There are also factors that will continue to exert an influence. Survey of past press and other reports suggested an aspect that lay buried under the multiplicity of daily opinions and events that dominated the headlines for many decades. The key role played by a handful of powerful, mainly American based, lobbies in the instability and conflict that have plagued MENA for long was unerringly revealed. Activities of these lobbies are not likely to diminish in future. Recognition of their existence will help local leaders to deal with their influences. MENA could not be insulated from the ongoing global economic contest.
Evidence present in this report demonstrates that the public in the US, Britain and other European countries had little or nothing to do with what politicians and military leaders in these countries working, knowingly or otherwise, to dictates by a multiplicity of business and other lobbies, did to peoples in MENA. Obsession about past misdeeds will not help shape a better future.
The last two paragraphs of the report make this perfectly clear and are worth partly repeating here:
As far as the US is concerned its political interest in the Greater Middle East is well and truly over…Message to all people in MENA: you are on your own which is as it should be. Like most other people on earth you are mainly responsible for conditions in your countries.
MENA must live with global economic contentions
There was a time when the aim of European powers was economic gain imposed by direct control of colonies. This model was discarded after two World Wars and the transfer of hegemonic power to the USA. The aim changed into a project to create an open global economy controlled by an oligopoly of a few corporations, banks and media groups. Monopoly (by one company) was considered impractical and unnecessary. Oligopoly by several corporations presented a more attractive package with controlled competition.
Implementation was slow. The US served notice on Europe (through the Monroe Doctrine of 1823) to stay away from North and South America. The end of World War Two launched the ‘cold war’ between the US (and its allies) and the USSR that came to a formal end in December 1991 when the communist USSR was dissolved. Associated events were just as bloody as anything seen in MENA region at present and covered diverse locations such as Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. Conflict in the Balkans in the 1990s continued the process and provided clear parallels to what is happening in MENA. (N. Chomsky, ‘Crisis in the Balkans’ May 1999. https://chomsky.info/199905__/ )
Russia has moved towards a relatively open economy and the same happened in China and India but the economic contest continues. It is being waged at other locations; including MENA. “it’s the economy, stupid” might have been a slogan for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign but it expressed a much deeper belief.
The process, which has gone on since the end of World War Two, was given formal recognition by the Clinton Doctrine of 1993. President Clinton said in a speech in San Francisco: “It’s easy…to say that we really have no interests in who lives in this or that valley in Bosnia, or who owns a strip of brushland in the Horn of Africa, or some piece of parched earth by the Jordan River… the true measure of our interests lies not in how small or distant these places are, or in whether we have trouble pronouncing their names…But where our values and our interests are at stake, and where we can make a difference, we must be prepared to do so.” (M. T. Klare, ‘The Clinton Doctrine’ 1 April 1999. http://www.thenation.com/article/clinton-doctrine/ )
Nature of the ongoing contest must be understood to be handled well. It is an economic project in which a few corporations and banks are determined to reshape the world into an open economy in which they could reign supreme. These enterprises used to be mainly located in the USA and Europe but they awe allegiance to neither despite the fact that they rely on the military power of the states concerned to achieve their aims. In any case their equivalents are in evidence in China, India and elsewhere. These global enterprises exert colossal but hidden power.
Surprise was expressed by Saudi Arabia’s sudden lurch in late 2015 and early 2016 towards a neoliberal economy that included plans for rapid movement towards privatisation ‘along Thatcher lines’ and austerity politics along Greek model. This move to the right is consistent with the trend described above. It might be that Saudi Arabia has decided to move before it is pushed. (‘Saudi Arabia is considering an IPO of Aramco, probably the world’s most valuable company’ The Economist 7 January 2016, and M. Martin, ‘McKinsey Says Saudi Arabia Can’t Wait for World to Get Better’ 10 December 2015, in Bloomberg.com: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-12-10/mckinsey-says-saudi-arabia-can-t-wait-for-world-to-get-better
References included later in this report reveal the other side of the picture: persons such as Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Feith, and Blair in the US and Britain and their counterparts in MENA were and are little more than noisy actors and facilitators. The same could be said of Islam and its noisy factions and states in the Gulf and other parts of MENA, including Turkey and Iran. They are primarily ‘supporting actors’ (in the context of important issues) rather than prime movers. This applies to Islamic State and its predecessors and possible successors.
This does not mean individuals are totally unimportant. The narrowing tip at the top of the pyramid of huge corporations and their busy lobbies is mirrored by the vast concentration of exceptional wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer, mostly unseen, individuals. In 2010 some 388 people owned as much wealth as the poorer half of the world’s population. This number shrunk to only 80 people in 2014 and then to 62 people in 2015. (L. Elliott, ‘Richest 62 people as wealthy as half of world’s population, says Oxfam’ The Guardian 18 January 2016. The Oxfam Report is available at http://www.oxfam.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases/2016/01/62-people-own-same-as-half-world-says-oxfam-inequality-report-davos-world-economic-forum )
Yet another point of clarification is necessary here. By its very nature the report contains references to odious actions by odious people both from east and west. These are a very noisy but small minority of the world’s population. Most people on earth, including Muslims, Christians, Jews, Kurd, Arabs and so on, are peace-loving human beings focused on their families, neighbourhoods, countries, etc. There is more love and peace on earth than hate and cruelty. If we forget that we are lost.
Pattern of powerful US lobbies (and extraordinarily rich individuals) as prime movers, whose interests have focused in recent decades on MENA, supplemented by secondary individuals and entities essentially providing cover and distraction from the ‘main economic war’ is unmistakable. The activity is not orchestrated by America and Britain but by leading business, media, and other undertakings. The evidence presented in this report, therefore, allows us to go beyond irrelevant and distracting details and into the heart of what is happening in MENA.
Banks and oil, and to a lesser extent Israel, are mentioned prominently throughout this report. For the skeptical I offer two books that deal at length with banks and oil respectively. N. Prins (2014) in ‘All the Presidents’ Bankers: the hidden alliances that drive American power’ traced the close links between politicians and bankers in the USA almost throughout that country’s history. The ‘Cast of Main Characters’ on pages ix to xiii is especially useful as it also mentions bankers’ interests in oil and war.
The second book, by A. Y. Zalloum (2007), is ‘Oil Crusades: America through Arab eyes’. Written by a person who has worked in oil for decades leaves little doubt about what US principal motivations were and are in the MENA region.
Putting these two books together leaves little room for doubt. Matters, it is said, are often understood by their opposites. A book published back in 1939 (‘The Arab Awakening’ by George Antonius) shows the other side of the story. It traces the struggles of Arab communities recently freed from Ottoman control in their efforts to seek new paths towards progress and cooperation hindered by control by the winners of the war against Germany and its ‘sick’ ally; the Ottoman Empire. The book is a rich source of historic information. Appendix F, relating to agreements between the Arab Kingdom of Hejaz and the Zionist Organisation about the settlement of Jews into Palestine is of special interest.
One final word of clarification: the bulk of the report is based on what others have said over the years. I restricted myself mostly to Western sources. Arabic commentators are regularly accused of being biased and conspiracy driven. I chose not to open the door to that form of dismissal. In short, this is what ‘they’ said and are saying. It is not the ‘bleating’ of people driven by extreme religious and ethnic views, as some sectors of the media in the West are fond of assuring readers and viewers.
Role of powerful lobbies must be understood
Countries generally get what they deserve. Regional and global intrigues are an ongoing phenomenon but they do not leave a critical impact among nations of reasonably educated people who are blessed by competent, honest, and patriotic leaders. However, it has to be admitted also that the powerful forces that have confronted MENA, since the end of First World War would have been a challenge for most nations. This worsened after the Second World War.
The excerpts included hereunder demonstrate how difficult it is successfully to lead any country in MENA. The labyrinthine and fluid ‘national interests’ determined by diverse powerful lobbies (and few rich individuals behind them) are not easy to understand and accommodate even by the most cooperative of leaders. The Clinton Doctrine quoted above leaves no doubt on this score. Often these interests considered conflict and instability in locations far from the US as essential and desirable components for success.
The lobby system in the US is neither new nor unrecognised. Its origins run deep in US history. US President Lincoln wrote in November 1864, “…corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.” (http://www.ratical.org/corporations/Lincoln.html )
Eisenhower was rightly concerned about the increasing power of one specific lobby: the military industrial complex. He said in his farewell speech as President in 1960, “This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience….In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” (http://coursesa.matrix.msu.edu/~hst306/documents/indust.html )
Eisenhower has been proved to be right in his concerns. The military lobby in the US has become over the years an almost insurmountable global hindrance to peace and stability; especially in MENA at present. Over time one of the most fundamental pillars of democracy, civilian (administrative and legislative) control over the military has all but disappeared for all practical purposes. Professor Gregory Foster (of national Defense University) in ‘Pentagon Excess Has Fueled a Civil-Military Crisis’ described not only the military might of the USA and its associated vast cost and spread throughout the world but also its inability to win wars and generate peace and stability. He argued persuasively that civilian control over the military has now become a huge, and unacknowledged, problem for both the USA and the world. (http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176115/tomgram%3A_gregory_foster%2C_a_case_for_demilitarizing_the_military/#more)
Lobbying activity in the US (now becoming multinational) has evolved much since Eisenhower’s days. It is a determining factor in politics and it involves debate and competition between ‘interest groups’ whose needs and aspirations do not always coincide. However, the ‘business lobby’, which itself embraces several branches, is the most dominant by far. As feared by Eisenhower the military industrial complex is a component of this business lobby. The US government simply could not make any significant changes in policy against its wishes. Similarly, government could not ignore the wishes of other major business lobbies when it comes to domestic and foreign policies. To give scale to lobbying activity, there are well over 10,000 lobbyists in Washington DC alone and they spend (officially) over $3 billion annually.
Essentially businesses have the financial resources to win arguments and shape public opinion. “Corporations blow everyone else out of the water. Business accounts for roughly 80 percent of all reported lobbying expenditures, about $2.6 billion dollars a year now…The $2.6 billion in reported corporate lobbying spending is now more than the combined under $2 billion budget for the entire Senate ($860 million) and the entire House ($1.18 billion).” (L. Drutman, ‘What we get wrong about lobbying and corruption’ The Washington Post 16 April 2015)
As mentioned above, the US lobby system, dominated by business and military industrial interests is becoming a global phenomenon. As mentioned above, the interests of the leading lobbies do not always pull in the same direction. The impact of their activities abroad is therefore not consistently drastic. As discussed later this is unfortunately not the case for MENA. US actions (and those of its close allies) might appear eccentric and difficult to understand at times in the context of ‘national interests’ but this is an inevitable outcome of that broadening lobby structure. Leading lobbies include the ‘corporations lobby’, ‘banks’, ‘gun lobby’, ‘military industrial lobby’, ‘intelligence lobby’, ‘oil lobby’, ‘media lobby’ and the ‘Israeli lobby’. The sum total of their combined interests is in effect the ‘US national interest’. This does not necessarily correspond with what is traditionally understood by national interest. Hence US actions abroad often appear eccentric and difficult to fathom.
For MENA the US lobby structure could be simplified as military industrial, business, and Israel. See as an illustration John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, ‘The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy’. http://mearsheimer.uchicago.edu/pdfs/IsraelLobby.pdf
It should be said that the lobby system was not unknown during the time of the British and Dutch empires. The British East India Company and the Dutch West India Company were much more than companies. They had their own armies and colonies. They came into being at about 1600 and exercised their powers up to the late 1700s and 1800s!
To go back to modern times, the foregoing discussion puts conventional wisdom on it head. Strife and instability in MENA is not necessarily a ‘failure of US policies or actions’. Seen from the perspective of leading lobbies it could be viewed as ‘mission accomplished’. Commentators might lament that the ‘US keeps repeating the same mistakes’ in parts of the Middle East and North Africa but the beneficiaries from such ‘mistakes’ (see later) are of course not concerned with the damage done to MENA and might not be that worried about damage to the US itself.
The situation was illustrated to perfection when US policies to arm and train so-called ‘moderate’ opponents of the Syrian government spectacularly failed. President Obama claimed he knew these actions will fail but he was pushed into taking them. His supporters and opponents quickly joined the fray but the resulting activity did not lead to an improved policy. (P. Baker, ‘Finger-Pointing, but Few Answers, After a Syria Solution Fails’ The New York Times 17 September 2015)
Fundamentally, the examples included in this report point to one glaring conclusion: the US is not structured in a way that would predestine interference in other countries to yield beneficial outcomes to the countries concerned. That is hardly ever the object of the project. Furthermore, it could not be assumed that such interference would be of benefit to US citizens at large either.
In the case of Iraq, and the war on that country in 2003 and the lengthy events over the decades that led to that catastrophe, two lobbies stood to gain most: the business lobby (with its different branches including oil) and the Israeli lobby. Conjunction of their interests was critical and as the documents presented herein demonstrate the influences of the lobbies were visible to all. There is ongoing debate about this or that politician and their guilt or otherwise on both sides of the fence but the combination of the aims of these lobbies was overwhelming and lethal. And yet this feature does not seem to attract the attention it deserves.
An interesting viewpoint was published in Asia Times about the motivations for the 2003 war (a topic that will feature large later). This included reference to Israel and oil but puts forward a more sinister explanation for the chaos that followed the war. (M. LeVine, ‘Iraq: the wages of chaos’ Asia Times 1 March 2006. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/HC01Ak05.html )
At this point some readers may feel that the emphasis on lobbies and the power of businesses and oligarchs might be questionable. To those readers I offer a book ‘Dark Money’, written by Jane Mayer and published in 2016 by Doubleday. The book provides a vivid description of the power exercised by some major businesses and their leaders over the political system and politics in the USA. However, just as usefully, the book explains the means by which these businesses and lobbies manage to influence not only politics but also public opinion. This is done through the creation and funding of ‘independent’ think tanks as well as “philanthropic” donations and grants to universities and academics.
I decided to include an executive summary at this point as an aid to readers. A large number of documents are cited later to present a convincing case and that inevitably made for a lengthy document. I hope this summary will be found to be helpful to put the individual documents into an overall context.
The direct and indirect costs of US interventions in MENA prompted by powerful lobbies at home and abroad will feature prominently in the references given later in this report. Focus on Iraq was intentional because the harm done to that country through bombing and sanctions before 2003 and then the invasion of that year was exceptional and is worth underlining right at the outset. David Swanson wrote, “Iraq lost 1.4 million lives, …saw 4.2 million additional people injured, and 4.5 million people become refugees. The 1.4 million dead was 5% of the population. That compares to 2.5% lost in the U.S. Civil War, or 3 to 4% in Japan in World War II, 1% in France and Italy in World War II, less than 1% in the U.K. and 0.3% in the United States in World War II. The 1.4 million dead is higher as an absolute number as well as a percentage of population than these other horrific losses.”(Iraq War Among World’s Worst Events, David Swanson, Posted 17 March 2013, http://coldtype.net/Assets.13/PDFs/IraqTenFinal.pdf )
Subsequent events in Libya and Syria present similar levels of loss and devastation. There were and are benefits for the US, albeit accruing to the leading participating lobbies and individuals behind these organisations. However, costs were not trivial inconveniences that would lessen any time soon. The demons unleashed by wars in MENA are not yet fully revealed but they are becoming clearer and more painful as time passes.
Actions by the US, Britain, and other minor partners have generated deep anger and resentment. Without that the so-called Islamic State and other such groups could not possibly have the support they now attract. It is baffling why this simple truth is so difficult to grasp in the West. Those who considered chaos and conflict as positive advantage were and are of course not concerned with turmoil and dangers created for the nations involved on both sides of the fence.
In short, people in the US, Britain and other European countries should be considered as victims of the actions undertaken by their governments in response to pressure by several ruthless lobbies.
Excesses committed, officially or unofficially, in the course of the various military operations in MENA, specifically in Iraq, did much harm to US and European image in that region. Innocent people; as in the case of terrorist actions in Paris and Brussels, are paying a heavy price for the ‘zeal’ shown by individuals and groups during occupation and interrogation. CIA’s interrogation and detention programmes launched after theSeptember 11 terror attack were both brutal and useless. This was reveled in a Senate report published in December 2014.The report contained details that were most disturbing and actions that were condemned by the US President no less, but they provided prefect material for those seeking to radicalise young people to become terrorists.
(S. Ackerman, D. Rishe, and J, Borger ‘Senate report on CIA torture claims spy agency lied about ‘ineffective’ program’ The Guardian 9 December 2014)
Conflict and instability were inflicted by design (see later reference to Condoleezza Rice and her “creative chaos” for instance). In consequence, MENA now seems to behave more like a psychiatric case than a rational entity. It is hoped that the excerpts presented below will reveal the process by which the region was reduced to that pitiful state. Just as important, they will demonstrate that the process is amenable to logical analysis.
That does not make the situation any more acceptable but it might encourage local commentators and decision-makers in MENA to overcome an idea now gaining ground that suggest problems in the region are inevitable and caused by ‘genetic’ abnormality in the region and its people. Above all else, it is hoped to show that religion and ancient rivalries (and their noisy advocates) are invented diversions rather than primary driving forces for good or bad.
Source of confusion is easy to see. It is not readily clear in MENA who is playing what game anymore. Actors and their actions often change. It is possible to identify the US state as the villain when bombs are being dropped by the US air force. By contrast, it is almost impossible to identify the lobby and individuals that are behind this action or that.
Basically, there are no principles involved on all sides. Lobbies are in search of advantage and that is the sum total of the ‘war’ and its battles at this or that location.
As mentioned above, Bush, Blair, Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc. were little more than minor actors. The same applies to ‘names’ that dominate the MENA scene from time to time. Their noisy pronouncements and quarrels (and for some legendary corruption) are minor events on a much bigger canvass. However, they attract attention by design that diverts the observer from seeing the true nature of ‘MENA’s problem’.
Israel, as always, looms large in the fabric of the canvass and again focusing too much on that element diverts attention from other possible and even more significant actors.
The need of the military industrial complex to keep regional wars going is just as important if not more so. Sale and consumption of weapons is a key driving force that motivates US (and allies) foreign policy. The only requirement is to keep these conflicts far from the US and, if possible, Europe. The needs of US businesses and banks are just as critical. On the other hand, and despite all the handwringing, the consequences for US and European citizens are of little concern.
The gradual aggregation of businesses into a few powerful entities is now well established. A handful of mammoth corporations dominate the global market. The same is evident in relation to banks and media companies. In other words, a few individuals on the boards of these entities wield massive power that is able to easily challenge any state including the US administration. (A. Lutz, ‘These Ten Corporations Control Almost Everything You Buy’ 25 April 2012. http://www.businessinsider.com/these-10-corporations-control-almost-everything-you-buy-2012-4?IR=T Also C. Miles on same subject on 4 November 2013. http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article36743.htm)
The US administration is unable to ignore the demands of these powerful bodies. The contest here is not only over markets but also about dominance over emerging industrial and business giants in China, India and elsewhere. The cold war that went on for decades between the USA and USSR was of course the prime example of the power that could be exercised by these corporations (and their lobbies). That phase ended by the triumph of neoliberal economics over communism but as mentioned earlier the wider war goes on.
MENA is geographically a convenient venue for that economic war to continue, backed when necessary by brute force. However other less obvious lobbies are just as involved. The gun lobby in the US, for instance, is just as eager to exaggerate the danger of ‘foreign terrorists’ to Americans at home. Arming oneself is now a popular preoccupation. “According to the New America Foundation, since 9/11 there have been 45 Americans killed in jihadist terrorist attacks, and 48 Americans killed in right-wing terrorist attacks…But about thirty Americans are murdered every day with guns, and a hundred die every day in car accidents. (P. Waldman, ‘Why do we freak out about terrorism, anyway? Here’s why we shouldn’t.’ The Washington Post 10 December 2015)
The intelligence and security community (and private sector companies involved in these activities) has grown beyond recognition in recent years. Similarly, the US armed forces (see excerpts later) are now highly privatised. Their continued funding and growth depends on a constant demand for collection of information at home and abroad and regular battles both directly by US forces and, preferably, those purchasing weapons from Western suppliers.
When needs of several lobbies’ such as the above plus the Israeli lobby and oil lobby come together, as they did and do in MENA, the effect is devastating. The region offers all the right conditions for invasion and conflict creation: weak states, corrupt regimes, negligible governance, religious and ethnic factions, and historic rivalries that could be magnified and exploited.
Any or all of the above factors could be cited as reasons why external powers need to intervene. The aims are also easily trotted up: democracy creation, restoration of order, elimination of nuclear weapons and WMDs, defeat of despots, fighting terrorism and so on. Again the examples given later illustrate this tried and tested process perfectly. The activity does not have to be subtle: after decades of amicable collaboration with Saddam, the ‘USA’ discovered he was a dangerous dictator only in the late-1980s!
Focus on military solutions to most problems is inbuilt into the US system. This is not said lightly. President Obama no less in a lengthy interview published in the April 2016 issue of The Atlantic highlighted the matter directly and indirectly on several occasions. He said at one point, “There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses.” Interestingly, Obama also discussed the lobbies that infiltrate the US establishment. It was reported in the same piece “he resented the foreign-policy think-tank complex. A widely held sentiment inside the White House is that many of the most prominent foreign-policy think tanks in Washington are doing the bidding of their Arab and pro-Israel funders.” (The Obama Doctrine, The Atlantic April 2016 Issue/
Above all else there are willing partners in the region to facilitate actions and manage conditions based on military option, including those in Israel, Iran, Turkey, and Gulf states as well as individuals in MENA who are prepared to do anything for the right price. Circumstances are choreographed to present convincing explanations and justifications. Is it a conspiracy? Not at all: there is no need for meetings and discussions behind closed doors. The needs of individual lobbies dictate subsequent actions. The media, owned and controlled by large corporations can be relied upon to polish the process into a well-presented finished product. Politics, religion, ethnic differences and so on are paraded as explanations and justifications. They form good catalysts and diversions. Progress will begin to be made in MENA when this is fully understood.
What about the fears and aspirations of local ‘powers’ such as Turkey, Iran, and Gulf states, the Kurds and their hopes, ISIS, ISIL and IS and whatever ‘extremist’ entities that seem to appear on order? Basically, they are at present not primary motive forces for good or bad on their own. They feature much in the excerpts presented but their actions are governed by the dictates of others and the help and encouragement they receive from them. This is a pointer for future remedial action.
The above are the major and minor partners in what makes MENA what it is today. The rest is simple theatre. Where did ISIL, ISIS, and Islamic State come from? Who funds them? Was Saddam a hated dictator? Did the citizens of Libya want nothing more than to rid themselves of Gaddafi? Is Assad acceptable or otherwise and is he good or bad for Syria? Is Iran an ambitious and threatening regional power? Which way will Turkey jump? Will Saudi Arabia and Israel come closer together? Will Iraq remain intact or fracture into three states? Should we bomb or not bomb and whom would we bomb? What about civilian casualties? How does the victor control territory after the bombing? Who are friends and who are enemies? It is pointless to try to give answers as the questions are irrelevant and change from week to week.
Endless articles are written, TV programmes shown, and talks given at academic conferences both in the West and in MENA on the above topics because they are easy subjects for lengthy speculation. In practice, they are dead ends. The various actors dance to one fundamental tune determined by those waging the global economic war on behalf of a small number of lobbies.
The above list of questions demonstrates what has been going on for decades in MENA. Analysts have been looking through the wrong end of the telescope. That is not an accident. Diversion from the real battle is necessary. An article in the New York Times gave a glimpse of the complexity that now typifies the region and all actions undertaken there. (K. Daoud, ‘Saudi Arabia, an ISIS That Has Made It’ New York Times 20 November 2015)
The shooting down by Turkish jets of a Russian fighter plane that is said to have entered Turkish air space on 24 November 2015 for 7 to 17 seconds (depending on whose version one accepts) demonstrates the tangled web of diversions in progress. News media (and politicians) spoke of nothing else for a couple of weeks and then the matter disappeared into thin air. Open-ended speculation was also rife at the time about what Russia was doing; is it bombing IS or Assad opponents, or both. That was not answered either well into 2016 when Russia suddenly and unexpectedly decided to withdraw its forces from Syria.
Turkey has provided a safe route for recruits on their way to fight the government of Assad in Syria on the grounds that Turkey is against Assad. A convincing reason for that animosity has not been given. Turkey, however, funded and armed the rebels. At the same time, recruits for Islamic State have also used the same safe route from Turkey into Syria and Iraq. News reports in the last few years of Muslims from Europe and elsewhere intent on joining Islamic State almost exclusively mentioned Turkey as their chosen destination for crossing over. Another message: Turkey supports IS? Yet another message: Turkey is against IS!
The same could be said of others in the region. Reports suggest that both those who were fighting against the Assad government and those joining Islamic State were receiving funds and help from Gulf sources. It hardly needs emphasizing that Turkey and Gulf states enjoy very close relations with the US. It is pointless to try and understand this conundrum. Worse, it is wrong to focus on it: you would miss the forest for the trees. Fundamentally, both Syrian rebels and Islamic State provide instability and opportunity for conflict that is conducive to the global economic war.
The above contentions are not presented lightly. A few words about the Islamic State would help here. Attention is directed at IS and its previous incarnations; ISIL and ISIS. Burning issue: how to fight and defeat IS. Obviously, the script goes, more weapons and training of local armies plus advisors from abroad. The military industrial lobby is happy with that. Clearly there will be more instability and destruction in Iraq and Syria. Israel is happy with that. But there would be an increased threat to Americans at home. There will be more sales of weapons in the USA for self-protection. The gun lobby is happy. The West needs to be even more vigilant about infiltration by terrorists. More information collection is urgently needed. The privatised intelligence lobby is happy with that.
It would seem Islamic State is not so bad after all for a number of influential groups. Would they be as satisfied if Islamic Sate is wiped out? Good question with an obvious answer. But where did IS and its earlier incarnations come from? Certainly they were not there during the Saddam era in Iraq and before the ‘uprisings’ in Libya and Syria, as the excerpts given later in the report show. They only came on the scene in Iraq after the US and its allies invaded that country in 2003. Was Iran that influential in Iraq and the rest of MENA? It was involved in side issues but it became a power to be reckoned with after 2003. What about religious conflict? There was some minor evidence of that but it became a major issue only after 2003.
The above thoughts have occurred to some commentators in Western media. When Assad’s Syrian Army assisted by the Russian air force and others defeated forces of the Islamic State and liberated Palmyra in late March 2016 the news did not elicit much comment by leaders in the US and Britain. (R. Fisk, ‘Why is David Cameron so silent on the recapture of Palmyra from the clutches of Isis?’ The Independent 27 March 2016)
The evidence presented later shows that the US and its partners followed an old colonial policy that served Britain well in the past: divide and rule. US authorities suggested to anyone that would listen that Saddam was a Sunni who was prejudiced against Shiites. The record does not support that claim. After 2003 Iraq was run intentionally on the basis of religious affiliations favouring one sect of Islam against another.
With increase in Iran’s influence in Iraq, Lebanon and other locations US authorities changed direction and leaned the other way. This change of policy suited (and relied on) Saudi and Turkish inclinations. The Assad government is nominally at least counted as a Shiite entity and hence rebellion was started to replace the dynasty by a Sunni leaning government that again suited Gulf states and Turkey. In time that led to ISIS and Islamic State and the so-called “moderate” (in the words of US commentators) resistance in Syria. This convoluted saga was described well by Hersh in an article that is worth rereading today. (S. Hersh, ‘The Redirection’ The New Yorker 5 March 2007)
How long will that redirection last is unknown and is irrelevant. The aim is to create turmoil that generates conflict and requires US presence and military help. This seems to be in line with Condoleezza Rice’s “creative chaos’ (see later). P. Van Buren wrote an article in TomDispatch.com on 17 January 2016 that suggested an approach to defeating ISIS based on US disengagement that made much sense. However, it is clear he understood the fundamental point that his sensible prescription would run contrary to what leading lobbies would see as the appropriate course of action! (‘You Won’t Like It, But Here’s the Answer to ISIS’ http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176091/tomgram%3A_peter_van_buren%2C_how_to_resolve_the_isis_crisis/#more )
One final key point must be included in this summary: MENA is not as important to US and its allies as it once was. The region is now an irritant rather than a critical area in which (with the exception of Israel which could look after its interests quite ably) the US has vital interests. The significance of oil is reducing dramatically with the growth of other producers and sources of power. The main attraction of MENA lies in weapons sales and their use both of which are highly negative aspects. Strategically, US focus is shifting back to Eastern Europe; ‘to counter Russian aggression’ and to South East Asia as part of economic rivalry mentioned at several points above.
President Obama articulated the above shift in emphasis in The Atlantic article referred to earlier. The article suggested, “Libya proved to him that the Middle East was best avoided. “There is no way we should commit to governing the Middle East and North Africa…The rise of the Islamic State deepened Obama’s conviction that the Middle East could not be fixed—not on his watch, and not for a generation to come…Asia “is the part of the world of greatest consequence to the American future, and that no president can take his eye off of this.” (The Obama Doctrine, The Atlantic April 2016 Issue/
It is hoped that these early ‘concluding’ remarks would help readers to understand the broader significance of the excerpts included below. This was a preferable form of presentation rather than going back on the basic themes on each occasion. For ease of reference the report is divided into numbered sections.
SECTION 1: Turmoil in MENA is not too difficult to understand
Churchill’s said in a radio broadcast in October 1939:
“I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.” (http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/31000.html )
It might be thought that the above quotation would describe the present situation in MENA. As in 1939 Russia there is a key in MENA’s case. Basically, the interests of a few powerful lobbies have converged in that part of the world with disastrous results. MENA, offering a collection of exploitable divisions, grievances, jealousies, and disputes, was ripe for onslaught by ruthless groups in search of easy pickings. Blaming politicians such as Bush and Blair is understandable but misses the point. Those who hold the real reigns of power were directing them, and other so-called political leaders. Do not look for the ‘national interest’ of the US or Britain, but look instead for the interests of the leading lobbies.
This is not a new development. The Arab Middle East has been under military and political attack for a very long time. Oil and location were always important but other factors were added in recent decades: primarily global economic issues and Israeli interests. Britain’s focus on Iraq goes back to the early years of the twentieth century when the Royal Navy converted from coal to oil. Iraq was an early target because of its abundant oil and its strategic location on the route to India. As mentioned earlier, those interested in that longer perspective should read ‘The Arab Awakening’ by George Antonius (1939). On page 360 Antonius mentions no less than four treaties (October 1922, January 1926, December 1927 and June 1930) imposed on the new independent state of Iraq by Britain. The pressures put on those in government were so intense that they led to the suicide of one prime minster!
The initial period in the history of modern Iraq is unique as it was one of the early instances when foreign air power was used to subdue a nation. First that power was deployed to quell nationalist uprisings but then it expanded to include collection of taxes and other revenues. It was also unique in the sense that it was one of the early cases of the use of mustard gas (by Britain) against civilians. As Winston Churchill famously said at the time (1919), “I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. We have definitely adopted the position at the Peace Conference of arguing in favour of the retention of gas as a permanent method of warfare.” So much for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs)! (Sluglett ‘Britain in Iraq: 1914-1932’; 176 and 262-270, as given in Global Policy Forum: (https://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/169-history/36384-the-royal-air-force-in-iraq.html )
As always the US inherited and then improved on British traditions. (G. Grandin, ‘How Diplomacy by Air Power Became on All-American Tradition’, http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176066/tomgram%3A_greg_grandin%2C_waging_endless_war_from_vietnam_to_syria/#more )
After the Second World War, British (and other European) control was replaced by American hegemony, bringing in a more thrusting and impatient approach to world affairs as well as a move away from overt colonialism and sharper focus on economic domination. There was also an associated shift: the increase in the significance of oil as a strategic asset. MENA was sitting on a lake of oil and it was concluded this had to be controlled by the West with the US in the lead. Moreover, for MENA the creation of a Jewish home in Palestine was another factor that complicated the situation greatly.
Transfer of control from European powers to the USA required a change in local ruling elites. This coincided with a counter current of reemerging nationalist aspirations in the Arab world that sought to move the region towards unification rather than fragmentation. It is possible that a transfer of hegemony was considered an opportune moment for that effort. For obvious reasons this was not considered an acceptable development by Israel. Predictably, this was also deemed unacceptable by the US.
That move against unification was highly unfortunate as it led to, and prompted, many conflicts and uprisings for and against the idea. Leaders were installed or ‘dethroned’ in order to frustrate the unification movement. Weak governments and unsavory leaders were the inevitable result. It is an open question whether Israeli and US interests might have been better served by a unified Arab state with a competent government than by the shambles seen today.
All the above conflicting local demands and hopes were being played out within a global ‘cold war’ between two giant powers with diametrically opposite political and economic philosophies. With good reason some commentators referred to that period as World War Three. The rivalry between the US and Russia did not finish in 1991. According to some commentators it is still ongoing as World War Four.
(E. A. Cohen, ‘What’s in a Name’ https://groups.google.com/forum/#!msg/soc.history.medieval/GgMgiPoYEPs/DK9ejKTO8fwJ )
NATO (essentially the US) and Russia are playing out that rivalry in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, as seen for example in the Ukraine events of 2014. To dispel any doubt on the subject the US announced in February 2016 that it will quadruple its military spending in Europe due to “Russian aggression”. (B. Farmer, ‘Cold War returns as US increases Europe military spending’ The Telegraph 2 February 2016)
However, the same conflicts are being pursued in MENA. The US is intent on opening MENA up to a global market controlled by a few giant corporations and on driving Russia out of that region. The Greater Middle East Free Trade Area (MEFTA) was launched by the US in 2003 in the hope that it would be a reality by 2013. The intentions behind that project were all too obvious but it has encountered many obstacles including US preference for military action in the region. Sometimes, the interests of lobbies cut across each other as happened in this case.
Russia on the other hand is seeking to maintain and consolidate its position, and bases, in the area. Actions are often undertaken through proxies. At heart, the ‘war’ is essentially an economic contest pursued by global business interests using the military power of the US and its allies as their leading weapon. At the same time, these actions also promote Israel’s interests in the bargain. This focus of several powerful interests on MENA is the main source of conflict, devastation, and lack of hope. It is also the main source of confusion as it is often difficult to discern the US ‘national interest’ through the actions undertaken by US forces.
Countries in MENA are being forcefully led towards a neoliberal economic system. As a sub-text states are being kept weak and disunited. Many would argue the economic vision (and smaller role for states) might not be an undesirable aim but such an economic drive requires radical social and political transformations that would take decades if not centuries to implement. The project has to show also some benefits to the local populations in terms of health, education, youth employment and so on. So far the exact opposite is what these populations have had. The excerpts included in this report show that powerful lobbies in the US (and its allies) are determined to bring this historic contest to a successful conclusion come what may. Chaos is an inevitable component. However, the appearance of extreme groups is also a predictable consequence.
Conflict between NATO (in effect the US) and Russia (and possibly China) is clearly a source of instability for MENA. However, some commentators see Russia’s involvement in the region in a more positive light as means to calm things down. (P. Cockburn, ‘Syrian crisis: Let’s welcome Russia’s entry into this war’ The Independent 4 October 2015)
Tossed by the above stormy conditions, states and nations in the region did not and do not stand a chance. It is most unlikely that any leadership could have found a safe passage through that violent whirlpool. In many cases coup-de-tats were the inevitable response. That itself was a problem. Some were aided or initiated by the USA or Russia. When they did not deliver on promises one side or the other attacked them.
Neutrality did not offer a refuge. “Neutrality,” proclaimed US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles in 1956, “has increasingly become an obsolete, and…an immoral and shortsighted conception.” (William Blum, ‘Killing Hope’, 2014: 84) This stance hardly wavered over the years. George W Bush said in essence in 2001, “You are either with us or against us.” The wish of some nations not to take sides was interpreted by the US as a provocative stance that required decisive action. That made perfect sense in the context of the economic war described above.
The above reference to ongoing economic war is not a piece of fiction. Blum catalogued, in 471 pages, military and CIA operations by the US since 1945 that covered virtually all four corners of the world. That economic war was and is a global project. Although Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa featured extensively in that effort the focus gradually moved towards MENA. In short, there is nothing special about current instability in this region. Others had to endure the same tribulations previously.
US interventions, which it has to be said, rarely ended in clear victory, have had a most disruptive influence on the target nations. It is generally thought that this bleak picture only applied to Vietnam and Korea and more recently to Afghanistan and, even more recently, Iraq, Syria and Libya. A detailed look at the record suggests a more chronic problem that should be heeded by political leaders in the US and those countries that seek its military help. Admittedly, frequent military adventures have benefitted the ‘Military Industrial Complex’ but that is the sum total of what has been achieved. (T. Engelhardt, ‘Don’t Walk Away from War: It’s Not the American Way’ http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175854/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_a_record_of_unparalleled_failure/ )
Lack of success of US interventions and wars is of critical importance to the fundamental message of this report. It is quite possible to argue that success or failure of wars is irrelevant to weapons manufacturers and traders. The basic aim is to sell weapons and make profits. Wars of course lead to destruction and waste of human and economic resources. But then construction companies and consulting firms would stand to benefit from the destruction. In MENA turmoil might well be in line with Israel’s intentions towards neighbouring Arab states. Nonetheless, whatever is the explanation it is beyond debate that US wars have led to little or nothing of value and much destruction and cost to all concerned including American citizens and those of US allies. (T. Engelhard, ‘War, What Is It Good For? Absolutely Nothing’ http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176108/tomgram%3A_engelhardt%2C_the_disappointments_of_war_in_a_world_of_unintended_consequences/#more )
As mentioned, MENA is not unique. World history is rich with examples of flux with countries falling apart or coming together, often through turbulent and painful processes. The Austro-Hungarian Empire that came on the scene in 1867 and disappeared in 1918 is one instance. The Ottoman Empire is another example; it came into being in 1299 and was dissolved in 1923. Mercifully, Hitler’s “one thousand year Reich” only lasted twelve years!
However, these and other instances were mostly events driven by social and political aspirations. The picture began to change with the rise of the hegemonic power of the US and became unmistakable after the collapse of the USSR. The economic dimension came to the fore and it is now the primary motivation nurtured by a handful of mammoth corporations. The only added feature that is unique to MENA is the Israeli factor.
That factor could not be discounted. Many American commentators have come forward, especially since the 2003 war, to suggest that Iraq (and possibly other states in MENA) should be divided up into smaller units. The scenario is virtually the same: Iraq is an artificial entity and only division would produce stability. The same was said of Libya and Syria. The Future of Iraq (2004) by L. Anderson and G. Stanfield is an example of that genre. Israel’s wish to dominate a region of ineffectual states is not often mentioned. However, John Bolton, not one to mince his words, is not so reticent. Hope “…of restoring Iraqi and Syrian governments to their former borders is a goal fundamentally contrary to American, Israeli and friendly Arab state interests.” It could not be made clearer (J. R. Bolton, ‘John Bolton: To Defeat ISIS, Create a Sunni State’ The New York Times 24 November 2015)
The world is now more indivisible than at any other time in history. Open-ended and fruitless wars that were unleashed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen had cataclysmic consequences not only locally but also in Europe and the USA. They could not be insulated against costs imposed by wars launched abroad by their military forces.
Millions are expected to seek asylum in Europe in 2016. About 700,000 refugees did that from January to November 2015. The EU Commission estimated that 700 children seek asylum in Europe every day. Free movement, a core element in EU thinking, began to fragment in early 2016 under the flood of refugees fleeing from war and instability in MENA and elsewhere. (‘Another 3 million refugees and migrants will arrive in Europe in 2016, EU says’, The Independent 5 November 2015)
Refugees are heading towards the USA as well. The 2016 Presidential campaign has shown how this could play out in US politics. As mentioned above, the refugee situation has already changed the borders policy in the European Union. Worse, it has changed the traditional mode of behaviour of certain European countries famed in the past for their tolerant attitudes. In early 2016 Sweden and Denmark (and cities within these countries) adopted policies that would have been considered extreme only a few months before. (D. Bilefsky, ‘Denmark’s New Front in the Debate Over Immigration: Children’s Lunches’ The New York Times 20 January 2016.)
The above developments became virtually unstoppable when terrorists killed over one hundred people in Paris in November 2015. Reactions echoed throughout Europe and the USA. Refugees are now linked in the minds of Americans and Europeans with terrorism. With few exceptions, there was little to remind people that such events are daily occurrences in MENA. One such exception informed readers that, “The number of civilians killed in Iraq jumped from 4,623 in 2012 to 9,473 in 2013 and to 17,045 in 2014.” (P. Cockburn, ‘Paris attack: Isis has created a new kind of warfare’. The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/paris-attack-isis-has-created-a-new-kind-of-warfare-a6734701.html )
In short, what started as lucrative business adventures in far away MENA intended to serve the purposes of a few powerful interests have crossed over into Europe and the USA to cause considerable and lasting damage. This has acquired an added edge with the associated appearance of a well-organised and funded Islamic State and the inevitable entry of Russia into conflicts in the region. To make matters worse, regional powers (using the term loosely) have also entered into the spirit of the time and started their own battles that soon cost them dearly. Instability nowadays knows no borders. (H. Naylor, ‘Yemen turning into Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam’, Washington Post 13 November 2015)
Were the consequences of what US and allies’ lobbies intended to do in Iraq, and the wider Middle East, difficult to foresee? Not really as several commentators warned at the time. Olivier Roy, a French scholar and author wrote, ”If the Americans destroy Saddam Hussein and then leave, the situation will be explosive. ‘Iraq won’t be a stable country. Neither will the region… The Middle East is in our neighborhood. And our large Muslim and Jewish populations make Iraq not only a foreign problem but a domestic one as well.” (E. Sciolino, ‘The World: Changing Places; War Talk Hits Its First Target: The Pivotal Ally’ New York Times 2 September 2002)
John Pilger writing on 15 November 2015 described the growth of Khmer Rouge in Cambodia from 5000 poorly armed guerrillas to a formidable army of 200.000 as a result of the bombing campaign unleashed by Nixon and Kissinger from 1969 to 1973. He drew a parallel between what happened then and what was happening in 2015 in MENA. He reminded readers that British officials informed former French Foreign Minster Roland Dumas they were preparing ‘something’ in Syria two years before the civil war started there. Pilger also described the process of gradual devastation that Iraq and its citizens were subjected to over the years. (http://johnpilger.com/articles/from-pol-pot-to-isis-the-blood-never-dried)
For further detailed analysis of the harmful intrigue that is undertaken by US and European intelligence agencies; including the ‘rat run’ of previous Gaddafi weapons from Libya to opposition fighters in Syria (including those associated with Al-Qaeda) with funding from sources in the Gulf and easy access through Turkey see S. Hersh, ‘The Red Line and the Rat Line’ London Review of Books, Vol. 36 No. 8 · 17 April 2014.
Gulf links with ISIS are not all that surprising, and this applies to Saudi Arabia in particular. Both are characterised by specific, somewhat extreme, interpretations of Islam. The root link goes back to Wahabism. On the other hand, links between the US and Gulf states and their leaders are equally clear. It is reasonable to wonder whether Saudi Arabian and other Gulf sources could have aided ISIS and Islamic State without US agreement. The following links should satisfy anyone who might doubt the implied linkages.
(D. Eshel, ‘Wahabism and ISIS – Did the Saudis Create a Monster They Can’t Control?’, Defense Update, http://defense-update.com/20150623_saudi_isis.html ) (P. Cockburn, ‘Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country’ The Independent 12 July 2014) (K. Armstrong, ‘Wahhabism to ISIS: how Saudi Arabia exported the main source of global terrorism’ New Statesman 27 November 2014) (R. Greenslade, ‘Saudi Arabia (white Daesh) is the father of Isis, says writer’, The Guardian 25 November 2015) (D. McAdams, ‘Gen. Wesley Clark: ‘ISIS Got Started With Funding From Our Closest Allies’, 19 February 2015 http://www.ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/peace-and-prosperity/2015/february/19/gen-wesley-clark-isis-got-started-with-funding-from-our-closest-allies/ )
The most sinister aspect of the current rise in terrorism in MENA concerns the role played by politicians in the US and Europe in creating the conditions for that activity to emerge and then grow ever faster. (P. Cockburn, ‘How politicians duck their blame for terrorism’, The Independent 19 March 2016)
In summary therefore, what is happening in MENA is reasonably easy to understand. A few powerful business lobbies (including those benefiting from the privatised military and intelligence services and the well-organised Israeli support groups) find conflict and instability in the region to their advantage. Significantly, they are not concerned about the crippling costs that fall on the local communities as well as people in the US and Europe. It is quite clear from the above that wars and conflicts they initiate or encourage do not yield any national or international benefits that could be offset against the widespread costs.
Basically, everyone is a loser apart from the lobbies and business organisations lurking in the shadows. This is the fundamental source of confusion about what has been happening to MENA for decades. The world power that seems to be behind events, and the one that in theory could change the direction of travel, appears to be oblivious of mistakes and quite happy to pursue policies that are seen by one and all to have consistently failed.
Why does the greatest power on earth persist in committing the same errors? Because contrary to expectations it is not in the driving seat. Americans and Europeans could also be considered as victims although obviously not enduring the same levels of agony as the long-suffering people in MENA as discussed below.
SECTION 2: US and Europe are not immune from turmoil in MENA
Costs of war and instability in MENA falling on Americans and Europeans are worth underlining. The gains by few businesses (and Israeli lobby) are not “free goods’ in economic parlance. Citizens in US and Europe pay a hefty price that is not often mentioned. For obvious reasons this linkage is strenuously obscured by politicians and the lobbies that control them.
Direct, immediate, and permanent harm caused to American and British young men and women who took part in the various adventures pursued in MENA by leaders tucked away safely in Washington and London are a painful example. The numbers are both staggering and, it seems, well hidden. By 2008, some 263,000 veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns were seeking Veterans Affairs Care in the US alone (Stiglitz and Bilmes, ‘The Three Trillion Dollar War’, 2008: 40).
Percentage of soldiers wounded and survived has increased substantially in recent conflicts as compared with conditions in Vietnam or World War Two. Numbers of soldiers affected by disease and mental illness are kept in a “separate, hard-to-find tally” (Stiglitz and Bilmes, 2008: 63). The authors added, “…roughly 3.5 million (and their survivors) receive disability benefits. Overall, in 2005 the United States was paying $34.5 billion in annual disability entitlement pay to veterans from previous wars, including 211,729 from the first Gulf War…” (Stiglitz and Bilmes 2008: 71) By December 2007 some 751,000 of those deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq had been discharged and were eligible for disability benefits (Stiglitz and Bilmes 2008:77). Later reports confirmed these statistics and indicated an increasing trend. (A. Smith, ‘A cost of war: Soaring disability benefits for veterans’ CNN Money 27 April 2012)
The situation in Britain is similar but naturally on a smaller scale reflecting the fewer numbers involved. (M. Townsend, ‘Soldiers to sue MoD for lives blighted by Iraq’ The Observer 24 January 2006)
At the time of writing (Winter-Spring 2016), war fever is in the air again following the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015 and heated debates were in full swing in European parliaments about whether or not to join the US in bombing targets in Syria as well as in Iraq. The conclusions of the debates were predictable. The ground was well prepared for positive votes. However, there were also warning voices. (I. Chernus, ‘Six Mistakes on the Road to Permanent War’ http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176078/tomgram%3A_ira_chernus%2C_six_mistakes_on_the_road_to_permanent_war/#more )
Equally, much is also being written about ISIS, Islamic State and Daesh. Sadly, the numerous academics, commentators and politicians do not appear to have added much to our understanding of these entities which have cropped up it seems out of nowhere and are now wreaking havoc with not only the MENA region but other parts of the world. Two articles would illustrate the widely divergent views held about these groups. ‘The Mystery of ISIS’, New York Review of Books, 13 August 2015 (author’s name withheld!) admits “the problem … lies not in chronicling the successes of the movement, but in explaining how something so improbable became possible.” (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2015/08/13/mystery-isis/ )
The other article; (D. Li ‘A Jihadism Anti-Primer’ (Middle East Research Project 276 Fall 2015) dismisses many of the ideas put forward about Islam and terrorism. It argues instead that the growth of these groups “is stunning but quite comprehensible as a consequence of the authoritarian rule, misdistribution of wealth and power, external intervention and other crises that have bedeviled this part of the world for so very long.” (http://www.merip.org/mer/mer276/jihadism-anti-primer )
What about the coalition against the Islamic State, ISIS, etc.? This is what Thomas L. Friedman wrote: “Kurds are not going to die to liberate Mosul from ISIS in order to hand it over to a Shiite-led government in Baghdad; they’ll want to keep it. The Turks primarily want to block the Kurds. The Iranians want ISIS crushed, but worry that if moderate Sunnis take over its territory they could one day threaten Iran’s allies in Iraq and Syria. The Saudi government would like ISIS to disappear, but its priority right now is crushing Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen. And with 1,000 Saudi youth having joined ISIS as fighters — and with Saudi Arabia leading the world in pro-ISIS tweets, according to a recent Brookings study — the Saudi government is wary about leading the anti-ISIS fight. The Russians pretend to fight ISIS, but they are really in Syria to protect Bashar al-Assad and defeat his moderate foes. It’s not exactly the D-Day alliance.”
(T. L. Friedman, ‘#You Ain’t No American, Bro’ The New York Times 9 December 2015)
Friedman is not alone in this view. Peter Van Buren addressed US hope that a coalition of local powers would appear to fight IS on behalf of the US. He analysed in turn the position of the Gulf States, the Kurds, the Turks, the Sunnis, and the Shias and concluded “Washington’s policy in Syria and Iraq is bound to fail, no matter who does the fighting.” (P. V. Buren, ‘Washington to Whomever: Please Fight the Islamic State for Us’, 10 December 2015.
It is perhaps worth stressing that there is no one US policy in relation to Syria, Assad, and those fighting against his regime. There has been much concern about the suggestion that there is a “moderate” opposition that would help the US, Britain and others to attack the Islamic State. Within the US administration there are those who see things differently from President Obama. (S. Hersh, ‘Military to Military’ London Review of Books, Vol.38 No. 1. 7January 2016, http://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n01/seymour-m-hersh/military-to-military )
This section was essential to show there is no exaggeration in what follows. What is going on in MENA is at times reminiscent of the proverbial mental hospital in which the patients have taken charge. Psychological, ethnic, religious, malevolent forces, and other factors are often advanced to explain why the region is in constant, often baffling, turmoil. What this collection of extracts shows is that the different players, domestic and foreign, have little conception of what they are doing and why they are doing it. They are pawns; admittedly ones that benefit in financial and other terms. Corruption is a constant companion of conflict and instability. A few powerful interests concerned with business and one or two other aims direct the pawns. They are intent on pursuing their interests regardless of whatever harm they cause to others, including citizens of the US and Europe.
The solution is obvious and has been suggested by a number of commentators: a Marshall Plan type project for MENA managed by the UN and funded by the world’s leading economies. There is no sign that powerful lobbies focused on pursuing their agendas would allow such an idea to derail their project. Equally, fanatic groups thrive on and welcome military action especially indiscriminate bombing from the air. This has been shown to be their best recruiting tool. It is most unlikely that they would be content to see peace and prosperity restored in the region.
SECTION 3: Iraq’s story is more than just one war
Mention of a ‘project’ in the previous paragraph might seem to be an exaggeration or a viewpoint driven by conspiracy theories. The lengthy process that was pursued in Iraq for decades to devastate a nation that was making some progress against difficult odds would suggest the use of that word is precisely correct. US long-running activities in Iraq (it is now fashionable to refer to them as adventures, miscalculations, etc.) gave every impression of being a consistent direction of travel. As befits an unpredictable complex adaptive system, actions in Iraq led to cataclysmic and haphazard consequences that are still unfolding in startling ways. By design or otherwise, the repercussions quickly spread beyond Iraq’s borders into Syria and further afield. Europe was not immune from the fallout as seen in terrorist explosions in Brussels on 22 March 2016.
When George W Bush assumed office as US president in 2001 he and his national security advisors took the USA into a frenetic era of wars to continue what Bush senior, Clinton, and others started. Wolfowitz, Feith, and Rumsfeld with enthusiastic encouragement by the neoconservatives viewed the Iraq war as one campaign among many: MENA was identified as a “huge war zone”. The wars were to be undertaken in part as “covert operations” carried out by Special Operations Command (SOCOM) that would offer limited congressional scrutiny. (S. Hersh, ‘The Coming Wars”, The New Yorker 17 January 2005)
The story of how Iraq was degraded as a functioning entity is, therefore, worth retelling here. Onslaught took several decades and then continued after the 2003 invasion. Documents presented below show the process was unremitting and spanned several administrations in both the USA and Britain. Naturally, the subject is painful and emotive in the extreme as it deals with the collapse and possible disappearance of a country that millions (Muslims, Christians, Jews, Kurds, and others) considered their home. Iraqis forced to live abroad are often heard to say, “the Iraq we knew is no more.” But then many consider what happened to Iraq as an intentional policy to subdivide and redesign a country. (I. Douglas, et.al. ‘US Genocide in Iraq’. http://www.brusselstribunal.org/pdf/NotesOnGenocideInIraq.pdf)
As mentioned, Iraq did not remain as the only theatre of action. At the time of writing Syria, Libya and Yemen are experiencing equally troubling times. Egypt is also being tested and Lebanon is, as always, on a knife’s edge. It is obvious that the whole region is in a process of radical change; possibly directed at disintegration into smaller states divided along religious and ethnic lines. It is no exaggeration to say that the associated demographic ramifications are on biblical proportions. As Ian Douglas and his coauthors argued (see above) these changes were not wholly, or even in the main, driven from within.
In the process of writing this report I concluded that there is hardly any need for public inquiries such as the long running saga of the Chilcot inquiry in Britain about the 2003 war. Basically, everything is known and readily available for all to see. This refers in particular to the ready willingness of politicians and others on all sides to tell lies in the name of the ‘national interest.’
The documents included in this paper show decision-makers in the USA and Britain knew or should have known exactly what they were doing and the risks associated with their actions. It is not correct to blame the ensuing ‘fiasco’ on stupidity or even extremism by one or two individuals as comments by George G W Bush suggested in a recent biography. That is a diversion intended to deflect attention from the main ongoing war. (A new biography of George HW Bush quotes the former president saying Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld damaged the reputation of the US. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/05/us-usa-politics-bush-idUSKCN0SU05620151105#YQc4a2SiOL86qZPK.97 )
On the other hand, the record shows honest and brave politicians and commentators who resisted massive pressure to fall in line, and exposed instead the misdemeanors and recklessness of those in power.
To go back to Iraq’s early history, the arm-twisting by Britain continued up to the coup-de-tat of 1958 when Britain was in effect replaced by the USA. Gradually, as shown below, negotiations turned even more violent.
Not long after 1958 the US became unhappy with Iraq’s new leader Qasim. The CIA made several attempts on his life; including one effort approved by the ‘Health Alterations Committee’ using a poisoned handkerchief! Another plan to assassinate Qasim featured Saddam who was injured in the attempt and, it was said, was spirited out of Iraq by the CIA. The cooperative link between Saddam and the US went on for several decades before and after that assassination attempt.
Bill Zeman described Saddam’s links with the American CIA in an MA thesis titled ‘US Covert Intervention in Iraq 1958-1963: the Origins of US Supported Regime Change in Modern Iraq’. The thesis was submitted to the California State Polytechnic in Pomona. Translation of the thesis into Arabic is available in Wisdom’s Voice; an institute in Washington.
The thesis is mentioned here not only to highlight the above strong relations, which were generally known, but because it revealed the close links between the CIA and other leaders in the Middle East. In 1958 the focus was on supposed fears about penetration into that region by the USSR but the details presented demonstrated paranoid tendencies by some US groups that survived to the present time. Effort to promote US interests is perfectly understandable but the agitation experienced by these groups at the slightest indication of possible risk and the ready use of force driven by that agitation is a feature that recurs over and over again causing much pain and suffering to all parties, including the USA.
Support by the US for Saddam as a useful leader for Iraq seemed a sensible policy at the time. He was not one to mull over options for long. His ready decision to engage in a lengthy war with Iran was a particularly costly miscalculation. There was hope in Washington that a war might topple the Islamic Republic that came to power in Iran in April 1979. The Iran Iraq war (September 1980 to August 1988) exhausted both countries. The US did help Iraq during the war but not in a manner that would have ended the conflict more quickly. Some one million people died in that war which might have pleased Kissinger who said at its start “I hope they kill each other.”
Toll of that war was described fully in a report for the Journal of the Singapore Armed Forces. The Iran Iraq (1980-88) War, www.mindef.gov.sg Debt repayments alone amounted to half Iraq’s oil income in 1990. (A History of Iraq, C. Tripp, 2007:242). By the end of the war, 70 percent of Iraq’s food had to be imported. (Scourging of Iraq, G. Simons, 1998: 137)
The Iran Iraq war was a key initial event in the destruction of Iraq. In any case the war was hugely beneficial to the arms industry. Sale of British arms to Iraq in the 1980s became a scandal for a while. An inquiry was set up, supposedly to investigate the matter. After several years and 1800 pages of convoluted and sometimes contradictory statements the report was published but without a summary. No one was found guilty! A leader in The Sunday Times of 18 February 1996 was titled ‘The stench of secrecy’. An article by Andrew Neil on the same page referred to the Scott Report as “Weasel words let guilty wriggle off…” To be fair to Scott, public inquiries in the British system are hardly ever meant to unearth the truth and expose the guilty.
The Sunday Times revealed that Britain was not only selling arms to Iraq but also subsidizing sales by funds from British taxpayers. In his submission to the Scott inquiry Norman Lamont, then minister for defence procurement said that his job was “to maximize defence sales.” (D. Leppard, ‘Britain’s secret cash help for Saddam’, Sunday Times, 18 February 1996.) This was not an isolated case.
Defence sales have been a significant consideration in US and British foreign policies. ‘Consumption’ of weapons in wars large and small is, therefore, a fundamental necessity to keep the lucrative business going and to enrich those involved. One such person, found “doors opening for ‘an opportunist on a gravy train.’” (Insight, Sunday Times, 9 October 1994.) The paper claimed he made “his multi-million” from Al Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia. He was part of a team that made £240 million commission on that business project alone.
The next adventure that Saddam inflicted on Iraq was his invasion of Kuwait in 1990. There were claims that the event might have been a trap by the US but if that were the case it reflected badly on his judgment. The consequences were just as bad as the Iran Iraq war. It is possible to say that the invasion of Kuwait was the beginning of the end for modern Iraq.
Actual fighting in Operation Desert Storm (August 1990 to February 1991) lasted in all 100 hours; an example of what happens when unequal foes decide to fight. It was an opportunity for the US to display its latest weapons and extensive use was made of videos for that purpose. In addition to its other aims, the war turned into a marketing event.
Bombing and other activities associated with the war almost shrink into insignificance when compared to the long-term damage resulting from the draconian sanctions imposed on Iraq by the UN Security Council. Sanctions were put in place on 6 August 1990 only four days after Iraq invaded Kuwait and remained in force until May 2003. The Security Council seems to have two speeds: extra fast and dead slow. Initially the purpose of the sanctions was to encourage Iraq’s army to withdraw from Kuwait but their scope increased later, including a demand for Iraq to disclose and eliminate weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). In time these became a useful claim to brandish against Iraq for many purposes.
Saddam remained in power after the 1990 war. This was also a popular excuse for continuing military action in Iraq: nothing that would have removed Saddam but enough to degrade the country further. Through the 1990s, while the sanctions were softening the population (see later) sporadic bombing made certain the infrastructure was kept in a state of utter dilapidation, with obvious effects on health and education.
The media in the West were mixed in their views about what was going on. Some British sources for instance were clearly on message as far as Saddam and WMDs were concerned. An article by M. O’Kane and L. Baldelli, ‘Another day in Babylon’, The Guardian 7 March 1998 is typical of the breed. On the other hand others were off message. See for instance I. Black, ‘Former UN official decries sanctions on Iraq’, The Guardian, 27 January 1999. Dennis Halliday, the official referred to, became in time a serious irritant to US and British governments.
The SAS were tasked with training “sabotage units” in Iraq! Meanwhile, the US and UK governments were encouraging local insurgents. Use of different expressions to describe ‘our’ activists and ‘their’ activists became standard practice that continues to the present. (M. Colvin, ‘America funds Iraqi guerrillas’, Sunday Times 24 January 1999.)
Operation Desert Fox in 1998, involving four days of intensive bombing of Iraq, was interesting because it coincided with Congress’s debate of the impeachment of president Clinton. There were strong suspicions that the attacks on Iraq were intended to deflect attention from Clinton’s personal problems. On that occasion The Sunday Times of 20 December 1998 published a five-page focus special. The supplement was revealing in another way: it showed how much belief there was at that time in what governments and the military were telling the media. An impressive aerial picture of the attacks showed bombs falling on “hiding place for banned weapons”, “site containing nuclear and chemical facilities”, and “site of pilotless ‘drones’ capable of carrying anthrax”. The attacks, however, also hit a shelter (Al Amariah) killing many civilians but the paper reported “missile may have been knocked off target by anti-aircraft fire”. (‘War and impeachment’, Sunday Times 20 December 1998)
The Independent on Sunday on 20 December 1998 covered the same topic under the banner ‘Bill wages war abroad’ linking that event to Clinton’s impeachment proceedings. However, on the same page an equally interesting angle was considered: Tony Blair’s unstinting support of US action. This caused widespread criticism in Britain (and Europe) at that time and in the same way to that emerging after the 2003 war. It seems Blair’s unconditional support was not limited only to the Bush family. (R. Sylvester, ‘Is the Prime Minister a partner or a poodle?’, Independent on Sunday, 20 December 1998.)
Elsewhere in the same paper, Robert Fisk wrote ‘Why Desert Fox ‘degrades’ us all’: “The operation to take out Iraq ‘weapons of mass destruction’ has also twisted truth, judgment- and even language.” In that context the paper had much to say about “the blustering Mr. Butler” (the Australian Richard Butler, for a while a much criticized UN’s chief weapons inspector in Iraq). (P. Pringle, ‘A deadly cloud of paranoia across the US’, Independent on Sunday 20 December 1998.)
Butler’s blatant statements including one while on a visit to the States in which he said Iraq had biological weaponry capable of “blowing away Tel Aviv” were causing much concern. Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General at the time wanted to replace him but was persuaded otherwise by Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State. Butler was clearly useful and on-message. (J. Swain, ‘Annan guns for UN’s top arms hunter’, Sunday Times 1 March 1998)
The US and Britain “called off their allied bombing campaign less than five hours after Clinton was impeached.” Evidently Iraq and its people were little more than trivial pawns in US domestic political machinations. (M. Campbell and J. Swain, ‘The unmasking of a president’, Sunday Times, 20 December 1998.)
SECTION 4: Desperate ways to justify an unjustifiable war
Combined onslaught of UN sanctions and frequent US raids continued paving the way for the main event. The 2003 invasion of Iraq, it is now known, was a crushing disaster for Iraq and its people. In 2016, the collapsing country is the venue for warring factions; extremist groups of various affiliations funded and armed from official and unofficial sources, intrigue by neighbouring states, rampant corruption, and mindless interference by foreign powers.
It is illuminating at this point to include remarks made by Obama at an antiwar rally in Chicago in 2002 when he was a Senator. He said, “I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein,” he said. “He is a brutal man. A ruthless man … But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States or to his neighbors…I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.” The rest is history. (The Obama Doctrine, The Atlantic April 2016 Issue/
In Britain, Chilcot is heading an inquiry about the war and has been agonising with his committee for years on causes and effects of that costly invasion. Answers to most questions are already available, however. Basically, the public; almost in all four corners of the world, were strongly against the war. In short, there was a wide gulf between vested interests that were pressing for the war and public opinion. On the 15 and 16 February 2003 millions of people demonstrated against the war, not just in London and New York but even isolated scientists in the McMurdo station in Antarctica! (O. Laughland and B Mackie, ‘Did you protest against the Iraq invasion?’ The Guardian, 15 February 2013)
Popular protests were impressive, but they were also distinctive by the presence of younger people, including students from prestigious Eton College! (P. Barkham, ‘Iraq war 10 years on: mass protest that defined a generation’, The Guardian, 15 February 2013)
The Independent on 9 March 2003, days before the invasion of Iraq, made a telling statement that reflected general opinion in Britain. Under the title ‘Not in our name, Mr. Blair’ the paper told Britain’s prime minster: “You do not have the evidence. You do not have UN approval. You do not have your country’s support. You do not have your party’s support. You do not have the legal right. You do not have the moral right. You must not drag Britain into Bush’s unjust and unnecessary war.”
In the same issue Robert Fisk asked: “For centuries, we’ve been ‘liberating’ the Middle East. Why do we never learn?” On the other hand Andrew Buncombe wrote, ‘Black mischief? The casus belli that dare not speak its name.’ He was referring to oil of course. http://www.globalresearch.ca/who-refuses-to-publish-report-on-cancers-and-birth-defects-in-iraq-caused-by-depleted-uranium-ammunition/5349556
Fisk’s historic perspective was given an added dimension by an interesting article written by Toby Dodge to provide further evidence on what Britain did in Iraq in the 20th century and what the USA did later in the same century and into the 21st century. He identified three phases to such activities that were repeated over and over again. First, there would be a quick war. A quagmire involving more and more military effort over a longer period would follow this. Then a hesitant and disorganised disengagement would occur often only when there is a new government within the invading country. It seems senior decision-makers in powerful countries hardly ever read history books but that assumes they are really in charge or are concerned with outcomes. (T. Dodge, ‘Failing in Baghdad — The British Did It First’ Washington Post 25 February 2007)
One article perhaps summarises the situation on the lead up to the 2003 war best. It was titled ‘Memo to Scott McClellan: Here’s what happened’. (http://washingtonbureau.typepad.com/nationalsecurity/2008/05/what-happened.html) It traced the dissenting voices and official reports that questioned, and in many cases contradicted assertions made by those in power in Washington and London. Yet again, it is not quite clear what Chilcot has been researching for so many years!
It is fair to say that public confusion about the intentions behind the 2003 war remain to this day. Reasons for that war are still being hotly disputed. One thing is certain, however, the explanations given in public by politicians in the US and Britain are now considered unconvincing to say the least. Certain commentators have advanced the opinion that the main aim of the war was to create chaos throughout MENA, in part to help Israel.
(S. Richman, ‘Is Instability the Goal of U.S. Mideast Policy?’, http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/10/22/is-instability-the-goal-of-u-s-mideast-policy/ )
Another intention for the chaos was a US policy for MENA that emerged in 2005/ 2006 when Condoleezza Rice, US Secretary of State at the time, described an approach based on “creative chaos” to forge a “new Middle East”. It was not clear what that meant in practice but so far the project has been a total disaster not only for Iraqis but also for people in Paris, Brussels and other locations in Europe who thought they were immune from the consequences. (T. Karon, ‘Condi in Diplomatic Disneyworld, http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1219325,00.html)
Ideas along the above lines might credit those in power in the US at the time with too much vision. Evidence suggests the opposite: there were it seems a number of people and groups pushing and pulling this way and that without a discernible central unified theme. However, it is obvious good intentions were not focused on Iraqi or Middle Eastern interests. On the other hand, there were specific groups; such as oil and armaments, who were fully in favour of war regardless of the resulting tragedies.
Questions were being asked with increasing urgency, especially from 2006 onwards when the chaos in Iraq became all too obvious, about the real reasons behind Wolfowitz’ enthusiasm for a war on Iraq. Oddly, after the 9/11 attacks he was the first to propose a war on Iraq although that country had nothing to do with that atrocity. He refused to discuss the subject while he was at the World Bank but that did not change after he had to leave the Bank under a cloud. (S. Efron, ‘Wolfowitz owes us an explanation’, Los Angeles Times 4 December 2006)
An online 2006 survey undertaken by two professors from University of Michigan and University of Oregon reported an intriguing aspect relating to research on the subject. The report stated, “…many scholars and policy experts …were not anxious to publicly fully share the theories they truly believed [for intentions of the war] for both reasons of a lack of certain evidence and fear of being branded a “conspiracy theorist … for fear of being labeled anti-Semitic, or for other reasons. Many colleagues have expressed sincere concerns about professional and other risks associated with speaking candidly about why the U.S. really invaded Iraq.” The report concluded, “The majority of experts surveyed did not believe WMDs were a central driving force, did not believe that Iraq itself was the focus of the war, and saw little connection between the war and the events of 9/11 or the war on terrorism.” Although firm conclusions were not possible it was thought personalities, oil, the neoconservatives, and Israel might have had some influence on the decision to invade. (J. K. Cramer and A. T. Thrall, ‘Why Did the United States Invade Iraq? A Survey of International Relations and Foreign Policy Scholars’ http://samples.sainsburysebooks.co.uk/9781136641510_sample_536217.pdf )
The oil angle was underlined by a number of commentators and now seems almost certain to have been one factor behind the decision to invade Iraq. “In February of 2001, just weeks after Bush was sworn in, the same energy executives that had been lobbying for Saddam’s ouster gathered at the White House to participate in Dick Cheney’s now infamous Energy Task Force.” There were also reports that in 2002 Wolfowitz proposed the US should seize Iraq’s southern oil fields. (J. Holland, ‘Bush’s Petro-Cartel Almost Has Iraq’s Oil’ 15 October 2006. http://www.alternet.org/story/43045/bush’s_petro-cartel_almost_has_iraq’s_oil )
Over the years oil continued to be mentioned as an incentive for the war on Iraq and it is now difficult to dismiss that angle. (D. Fortson, A. Murray-Watson and T. Webb, ‘Future of Iraq: The spoils of war’, Independent 07 January 2007) (S. Foley, ‘Shock and oil: Iraq’s billions & the White House connection’ Independent 14 January 2007) (A. Kramer, ‘Deals With Iraq Are Set to Bring Oil Giants Back’, New York Times 19 June 2008) (P. Cockburn, ‘Oil giants return to Iraq’, Independent 20 June 2008)
Preparing the American and British public for war on Iraq was a prolonged and elaborate project. Newsweek in the 23 September 2002 issue published a lengthy article that seemed to promote the case for war. The article left no doubt the aim was regime change at any cost despite doubts about what and who comes next. The article was titled ‘How Saddam Happened: America helped make a monster.’ Inadvertently, the article also demonstrated the ongoing process to exhaust Iraq, and if possible the Islamic republic in Iran. As with some other media statements at the time and since, Iraq was described, wrongly, as a nation “concocted by British imperialists in the 1920s out of three distinct and rival factions…” That remains the preferred US view to this day and it is mirrored by similar views about Syria and Libya.
The project to prepare the ground for war was exceptional and in time compromised the good name of a number of public figures. Colin Powell, US Secretary of State at the time, is a case in point. He addressed the UN Security Council on 5 February 2003 to generate support for war on Iraq. His speech, in retrospect, was rather short on evidence but rich on assertions. One such statement claimed that Iraqi scientists were forced to sign an undertaking; on pain of death, not to reveal their secrets to the IAEA inspection team. One Iraqi scientist, living in Canada, asserted that the document instructed, again on pain of death, all Iraqi scientists to reveal everything to the inspectors. Over the years respected commentators argued some of Powell’s claims were false.
Moreover, on 11 February 2003 Colin Powell said at a congressional hearing that the administration has in its possession an audio message from Osama Bin Laden that betrays the links between Bin Laden and Saddam. Later when Arabic speakers at the BBC and other institutions listened to the message it showed the exact opposite. Bin Laden expressed his dislike of Saddam in no uncertain terms. (http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0302/S00082.htm )
Observers now accept that the 2003 war (Operation Iraqi Freedom!) was a hugely costly and unjustified mistake that hurt Iraqis, people in MENA, and those in the USA and Europe. (A. Taylor, ‘Bernie Sanders said Iraq was ‘the worst foreign policy blunder’ in U.S. history. Really?’ Washington Post 14 October 2015)
The wish to prove that Iraq had WMDs was obvious while the bombs were still falling on Iraq. In a desperate bid to find some, the US and Britain set up their own inspection teams rather than rely on UN inspectors. As one academic put it at the time “ you are more likely to find what you want if you do it yourself.” Still, none were found. Hans Blix, UN chief weapons inspector, commented that the war was planned “well in advance” including “fabricating” evidence against Iraq. (N. Watt, O. Bowcott, and R. Norton-Taylor, ‘Weapons teams scour Iraq’, Guardian 12 April 2003)
In the same paper there was a report about government irritation with the BBC over “chaos reports’ in Iraq. The paper reported, “Mosul descends into chaos as even the museum is looted of treasures”. There were complaints that US forces were not policing the city, as is the duty of an invading force. And yet again in the same issue of the Guardian there were harrowing photographs of Iraqi children affected by the war. (S. Goldenberg, ‘The hell that once was a hospital’ Guardian 12 April 2003)
It is hoped Chilcot, the Chairman of an inquiry set up in Britain into the war that has been considering the subject for over six years, will have read the same documents presented here and a few more before he concludes his report. Members of the inquiry team might find an article in the Independent helpful. “The lying game” published on 1 June 2004, presented an A to Z of the Iraq war focusing on misrepresentation, manipulation, and mistakes. Under P the paper wrote, “The Pentagon hawks, Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz and senior advisor Richard Pearle took their country to war on a false prospectus.”
A dossier produced by the British government to justify its participation in the war on Iraq in 2003 became in time infamous. The point it underlined related to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and Iraq’s supposed ability to launch an attack within 45 minutes. Claims about WMDs were finally shown to be baseless when David Kay (head of the Iraq Survey Group) told a senate committee in January 2004, “We were almost all wrong…we have not discovered any evidence of stockpiles.” That was not much help to people who were criticized and lost their jobs for claiming governments exaggerated claims about WMD to justify the war. When the BBC made such claims (and after the mysterious suicide of Dr. Kelly; a government scientist) an inquiry was launched that reported claims against the government were unfounded!
The Independent newspaper on 29 January 2004 (the day after the above report was published) devoted most of its front page to one word: “Whitewash?” The Independent of that day also presented a useful (and most revealing) description of what went on in the 730 days from Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ speech to the inquiry report. The article described the convoluted path that various drafts of the dossier went through before it became acceptable to Blair. The BBC was harmed by the confrontation with the government and might have become a more hesitant voice of truth and objectivity in relation to government major policies.
The 45 minute hoax was not the only baseless claim made in the UK government dossier. It was asserted that Iraq had sent an envoy (Wissam al-Zahawie; a long serving Iraqi diplomat) to Niger to buy materials for WMDs. Forged documents were produced and used on many occasions as justification for the war. The US administration finally accepted the whole story was a concoction but the British government persisted in its assertion that the Niger story was genuine. (R. Whitaker, ‘The diplomat, the forgery, and the suspect case for war’, Independent on Sunday, 10 August 2003)
Prior to that, The Independent on Sunday on 13 July 2003 discussed the same doubts and put forward ’42 reasons why we should be told the truth about Iraq’. The 42 referred to British servicemen killed up to that date. Their families, and those of others killed later, are still waiting for the truth!
Concerns about whether Iraq had WMDs and nuclear capabilities were effectively put to rest before the war started but then these concerns had little or nothing to do with the decision to invade Iraq as mentioned earlier. “On March 7, 2003, two weeks before the United States attacked Iraq, the U.N.’s chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, told the U.N. Security Council that Saddam Hussein’s cooperation with the inspections protocol had improved to the point where it was “active or even proactive,” and that the inspectors would be able to certify that Iraq was free of prohibited weapons within a few months’ time. That same day, IAEA head Mohammed El-Baradei reported that there was no evidence of a current nuclear program in Iraq…” (J. Holland, ‘Bush’s Petro-Cartel Almost Has Iraq’s Oil’ 15 October 2006. http://www.alternet.org/story/43045/bush’s_petro-cartel_almost_has_iraq’s_oil )
Possibly the most deceitful, and transparent, assertion by the Bush administration concerned several trailers found in Iraq that were described as mobile laboratories for chemical or biological weapons. Many in the media readily accepted the story without question. Teams of experts were dispatched to examine the trailers. They concluded almost immediately that they could not have had anything to do with WMD. Their initial report said so and their final report confirmed that conclusion but senior administration officials persisted in peddling the story. (J. Warrick, ‘Lacking Biolabs, Trailers Carried Case for War’ Washington Post 12 April 2006)
SECTION 5: 2003 war, planning, consequences, recriminations
There were some who foresaw the pitfalls of war and the harsh and lengthy consequences that would flow from such action. A speech delivered by Dominique de Villepin, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the UN Security Council on 14 February 2003 painted an accurate picture of the situation at that point. Inspections were delivering results, he said, and war was not only unnecessary but presented clear risks not just to Iraq but elsewhere in MENA, Europe and the USA. Events proved he was right but France was subjected to harsh economic and other punishments by the US because of its lack of support for the war. (https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/French_address_on_Iraq_at_the_UN_Security_Council )
Experience of ordinary Iraqis (many might have been delighted to be rid of Saddam) with American soldiers was the turning point. They discovered the soldiers were not liberators but heavy-handed occupiers. Their attitude to local people was one of total contempt. This was a different situation from that seen when US forces entered France and other parts of Europe after the Second World War. It became clear in 2003 that preparation for the war in which soldiers are given talks about the people they will meet was based on a contemptuous impression of Iraqis, Muslims, and Arabs in general. This possibly reflected the prejudices of senior staff who most probably have never met an Arab or Iraqi before. Their views might well have been based on Hollywood films! The experience of Dr. Fadhil who worked for a British TV station and newspapers when arrested overnight was typical of what others were experiencing. (A. Fadhil, ‘The night the Americans came’ Guardian 11 January 2006)
Full-scale invasion was of course only a matter of time. Desert Storm (1991), Desert Fox (1998), Enduring Freedom (2001) and sporadic bombing episodes, and the long running UN sanctions were simply preparations for the coup de grâce; the final blow. Constant bombing raids (such as one on 16 February 2001, shortly after George W Bush became president which continued the previous Clinton era policy) made future intentions all too obvious. UN Sanctions had reduced ordinary Iraqis to a pitiful state. A newspaper reported that a doctor who previously earned about $1000 a month was earning $3 and had a second job as a cleaner in a hotel. (K. Sengupta, ‘City of martyrs win the propaganda war’, Independent on Sunday, 18 February 2001)
In the same issue the Independent on Sunday described Labour MPs as “enraged’ because of Blair’s support for the bombing. As mentioned before, the Bush Blair partnership clearly went further back than 2003.
Over the years the enthusiasm for war mounted and acquired new justifications but there was only a hazy view about what comes after. (N. Lemann, ‘After Iraq’, The New Yorker, 17 February 2003) Lemann attempted to gain a view from senior people in the US administration of what they expected to happen after the war when Saddam is removed from power. Seen in hindsight their comments seem almost laughable. However, he mentioned “one version of a remade Middle East” along lines set in a document produced in the USA in 1996 to advice Netanyahu; the newly elected prime minster of Israel. The document was called ‘A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm’. The advisory committee that helped to draft the document was chaired by Richard Perle and included Douglas Feith as a member. Both were strong advocates of the war on Iraq and exercised major influence on US policy in the Middle East.
The ‘Clean Break’ document advocated a reduced role for the peace process and an altered Israeli policy founded on ‘balance of power’. Looking at a devastated MENA in 2016, it has to be said that the aspirations of the document (and supposedly at least one aim for the war) have been amply realised. There is at present no peace process, the Palestinian cause is on the backburner and several of the states in MENA that might have supported the Palestinian cause have all but disappeared.
Serious preparations for the 2003 war on Iraq began as early as 2001, immediately after 9/11. Wolfowitz and Cheney were adamant that an invasion was necessary although there was no evidence that Iraq was involved in the terrorist attack in New York. “The CIA devised a plan [late 2001], codenamed Anabasis, to use Iraqi exile fighters to seize an air base and declare a revolt against Saddam Hussein in the hope that his response would create a pretext for war.” The CIA also sent assassins into Iraq for the same purpose. (J. Berger, ‘Book says CIA tried to provoke Saddam to war’, Guardian 7 September 2006) The book referred to was Hubris (2007) by M. Isikoff and D. Corn.
There was another more positive picture of what went on before the 2003 war and US intentions for the period after the war. This only became clear when the National Security Archive posted (on 1 September 2006) State Department documents from 2002 tracing the inception of the ‘Future of Iraq Project’. George Washington University published an informative document on the topic and appended an unclassified Future of Iraq report dated 12 May 2003. The release of the documents demonstrated the battle for supremacy between the US State Department and the Department of Defense that the latter won comprehensively.
The Future of Iraq Project brought together some 200 Iraqi specialists who covered almost all aspects of public policy and administration after the planned war. Two items in particular are worth underlining. The participants argued convincingly against ruthless culling of those who belonged to Saddam’s B’ath Party and against wholesale disbanding of the army. The Coalition Provisional Authority set up by the US government to administer Iraq at the end of the 2003 war ignored both conclusions. Its first and second Orders related to de-Ba’athification and dissolution of the Iraqi army respectively. Both proved disastrous to the situation in Iraq but it is obvious now that certain decision-makers in Washington had a different agenda from that of the State Department.
Two significant aspects were highlighted in a TV programme about the ‘rise and fall of Blair’ just before his departure as Prime Minster. Firstly, Blair it was reported was most “exercised” about lack of postwar planning by the US authorities. This was particularly the case when he was informed that the task was given to the Pentagon. Secondly, Blair was so worried about this lack of planning that he sent one of his assistants (Sir David Manning) to Washington in March 2002 (one full year before the war!) to highlight his concerns. (N. Watt, ‘Blair knew US had no post-war plan for Iraq’, The Observer 17 June 2007)
Geoff Hoon, British Defence Secretary, cited a catalogue of errors over postwar planning, and an inability to influence key figures in the US administration. In that context he singled out Dick Cheney as a person who the UK contingent had difficulty to deal with. He also suggested that when Powell was sidelined another communication problem was created. In essence, Hoon implied that the US administration was the cause of most of the problems encountered after the war. (P. Wintour, ‘Hoon admits fatal errors in planning for postwar Iraq’, Guardian 2 May 2007.
Blair and some of his ministers were not alone in their concerns about Iraq after the war. The US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released in May 2007 reports produced by US intelligence agencies well before the 2003 war that warned of chaos, increased terrorist activity, mounting Iranian influence in the region, and emergence of Islamic extremism. That did not deflect the Bush administration from launching the war. Evidently the reports were not believed or Bush and his supporters did not care what happened after the war. Rebuilding Iraq might not have been high on their agenda, if it were on the agenda at all. Various books blaming incompetence and stupidity might have misunderstood the intentions behind the war. (W. Pincus and K. De Young, ‘Analysts’ Warnings of Iraq Chaos Detailed Senate Panel Releases Assessments From 2003’ Washington Post 26 May 2007. See also of the same date J. Gerstenzang, ‘Bush was warned twice of Iraq challenges’, Los Angeles Times)
Those who expressed concerns about lack of planning for, and it could be said lack of interest in, what happened to Iraq after the war, were justified in their fears. This naturally led to comments by some observers that the intention was to destroy Iraq and create chaos throughout MENA. This is a critical point. Many commentators, especially in MENA, find it difficult in the face of overwhelming evidence to reach any other conclusion. What influence this has had on the emergence of extremist organisations in MENA can only be imagined. It clearly helped recruitment of fighters.
A comprehensive report (with useful links to other reports) was published by MIT ten years after the war. It covered deaths and population displacement but added other dimensions such as the number of widows in Iraq. Flood of refugees to Europe and the US was both obvious and predictable. (Looking Back on Ten Years of War, Trauma, Death & Displacement, http://web.mit.edu/humancostiraq/ )
Three years after the war even those from the right of the US political system that previously supported Bush decided the game had gone long enough and there was no mileage in maintaining their previous stance. Nowadays of course almost everyone is against the 2003 war. That is the way politics unfolds in democracies and the process did not take long to gather speed but that is no help to shattered communities! (W. Buckley Jnr, ‘NeoCon allies desert Bush over Iraq’ Independent 09 March 2006)
The most intense debate that occurred immediately after the war, and then went on to the present, concerned the number of people killed by the war. It is fair to say the debate is not settled yet mainly because one side wants to exaggerate the deaths and the other wants to minimise them for obvious reasons. Of course the argument is fictitious to a large degree because the death and destruction that was triggered by the war has gone on for many years and the figures are disastrously large whoever is counting. More to the point, the deaths and social and economic destruction caused by the UN imposed sanctions were just as punishing as the 2003 war if not more so. (A. Cockburn, ‘How the New England Journal of Medicine Undercounted Iraqi Civilian Deaths, 12 January 2008. http://www.counterpunch.org/2008/01/12/how-the-new-england-journal-of-medicine-undercounted-iraqi-civilian-deaths/ )
One thing is beyond dispute: the loss caused by the 2003 invasion was considerable. (P. Beaumont, ‘Iraq conflict has cost 1.2 million lives, claims civilian survey’ Observer 16 September 2007)
Scale of failure caused by the 2003 war and the mismanagement and corruption that followed that event became all too obvious almost immediately after the war. Basically, the occupying forces ignored the duty imposed on them by international law to maintain law and order at least. The fact that they disbanded the Iraqi army and other such ‘entities’ made that task even more urgent. Several years later the disaster was all too clear. Kissinger in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on 19 November 2006 said victory in Iraq has become impossible. By that time the topic was an open secret!
(R. Brooks, ‘Iraq is broke beyond repair’ Los Angeles Times 24 November 2006)
The only question that remains unanswered is whether that was the intention from the start. Emerging evidence is moving inexorably in that direction. The Observer produced a special issue that described Iraq five years after the war. Basically, conditions had deteriorated badly. On the other hand, contributors to the supplement could not have imagined that conditions could possibly become even worse in later years. In short, Iraq’s destruction is ongoing and matched only by similar devastation in Syria and Libya. (‘The Iraq war Five Years On’, Observer16 March 2008. http://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2008/mar/16/fiveyearson)
Ironically, it was reported that after the invasion U.S. officials ”found the country’s infrastructure in worse shape than they expected, hit hard by the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91 and a decade of economic sanctions.” This applied in particular to the oil and electricity sectors but also embraced health and education. Despite billions of US and Iraqi dollars spent on these sectors the situation remains dire with obvious effects on national life. (D. Hedgpath, ‘Iraq Far From U.S. Goals for Energy $50 Billion Needed To Meet Demand’, Washington Post 2 September 2007.)
There was much bewilderment in November 2015 after deaths in Paris at the hands of terrorists about why some young Muslims take part in such violent behaviour. If people asking these questions had read about conditions in Iraq over the years that followed the 2003 war (and Syria and Libya in later years) they would not have been so surprised. Young people throughout MENA have been surrounded by unspeakable violence; first by foreign occupying forces and then by home grown fighting groups with a variety of intentions and grievances; real and imagined. News reports highlighted the phenomenon for many years but without impact on politicians and ordinary people in MENA and abroad. (M. Howard, ‘Children of war: the generation traumatised by violence in Iraq’, Guardian 6 February 2007)
The situation was in urgent need of calm and restraint. In 2007 the opposite was happening. “The war in Iraq is intensifying. More American combat troops are arriving. They are in more battles with insurgents…We shouldn’t be surprised – this is what George Bush and his war planners intended.” (E. Harriman, ‘US troops will stay in Iraq, and the war will get worse’, Guardian 1 February 2007)
Having lit the fuse, “The chief architects of the policy – Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Donald Rumsfeld – have left the administration.” Their task has been fulfilled. The debate in Britain as in the US in 2007 was all about ‘us’. Iraqis (and later the Syrians, Libyans, etc.) hardly featured in agonizing over the war and its aftermath. (D. Dejevsky, ‘Where is our national soul-searching over Iraq?’ Independent 31 January 2007)
What about the legality of the 2003 war? This was a topic that featured much in political and media debates. In Britain the Attorney General was the person charged with advising Blair and his cabinet on the legality of the war they planned to enter in partnership with Bush and his US team. This might well be a topic that would be considered by the long-running Chilcot inquiry (scheduled to report in Summer 2016). However, doubts resurfaced in 2015 when The Mail Online revealed in a lengthy report on 6 November 2015 that, “…ministers were told to destroy key evidence on eve of conflict which showed Iraq War was ILLEGAL.” The report also mentioned that the Attorney General had informed Blair as early as July 2002 that the war could not be justified on regime change basis! The Attorney General was eventually silenced, the report stated. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3298498/Burn-destroy-Pressure-builds-Blair-Chilcot-report-s-revealed-ministers-told-destroy-key-evidence-eve-conflict-showed-Iraq-War-ILLEGAL.html
The WMD angle and dissembling by the UK government hit the news in 2006 when evidence presented to the Butler Inquiry (which reported in 2004, see later) by Carne Ross; who was Britain’s main negotiator at the UN, was finally made public. In his testimony he made it clear that “…Blair must have known Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction.” (C. Brown and A. McSmith, ‘Diplomat’s suppressed document lays bare the lies behind Iraq war’ Independent 15 December 2006)
In the USA, doubt about the WMD justification was effectively over less than a year after the 2003 war. It became obvious that the Bush administration, similar to the government in Britain, had been overeager to push that threat in every way possible. The intelligence community was cajoled to come up with the ‘right’ assessment. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace commissioned a committee of experts to report on the subject. They published a report in January 2004 that was most uncomplimentary to all those concerned with the assessments that led to the war. (J. Borger, ‘Carnegie group say Bush made wrong claims on WMD’, Guardian 8 January 2004)
The Carnegie report said, “… Iraq was not an imminent threat, that UN inspections were working far better than realized, that our intelligence process failed, that officials misrepresented the threat, and, importantly, that war was not the best—or only—option.” (http://carnegieendowment.org/2004/01/08/press-release-carnegie-report-clarifies-iraq-wmd-story )
The blame game was in full swing in the years after the war. A report dated 30 April 2007 from Stuart Bowen, Inspector General for Iraq reconstruction blamed Iraqis for lack of progress. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,,329797864-103550,00.html )
A few days later, however, a White House committee was investigating Bowen! (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/02/AR2007050202714_pf.html)
Interestingly, or perhaps inevitably, the main actors behind most of the disastrous decisions and (assuming they were miscalculations and not intentional acts of destruction) soon came out to disclaim responsibility (L. Paul Bremmer iii, ‘How I Didn’t Dismantle Iraq’s Army’, New York Times, 6 September 2007). General Mike Jackson, head of the British Army during the invasion of Iraq, also criticised US actions in post invasion Iraq and singled out the disbanding of the army as a particularly rash action. (C. Coughlin and N. Tweedie, ‘Gen Sir Mike Jackson attacks US over Iraq’, Telegraph 01 September 2007. See also http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6973618.stm )
Falling out between the main actors reached a high note when George J. Tenet, previous head of the CIA attacked Dick Cheney and other members of the Bush administration in a lengthy book. (S. Shane and M. Mazzetti, ‘Ex-C.I.A. Chief, in Book, Assails Cheney on Iraq’ New York Times 26 May 2007)
The most surprising ‘convert’ was Lt. Gen. Sanchez, who was in charge during the prisoner abuse scandal in Abu Ghraib. (D. S. Cloud, ‘Former Top General in Iraq Faults Bush Administration, New York Times 12 October 2007) He felt the US should have had a stabilisation plan to follow the war. It is possible he forgot or did not know the US State Department had just such a detailed plan that was ignored by the Defense Department and Bush’ administration!
A report ‘Mapping the Global Future’ that was released on 13 January 2005 by the US National Intelligence Council (CIA think tank) concluded Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for terrorists. Bush had told the American public that the 2003 war was part of the effort to combat terrorism although the CIA had advised that Saddam had little or no link with terrorist groups. The report avoided effects of US policies on global trends but the contents of the report leave little doubt on that score. (D. Priest, ‘Iraq New Terror Breeding Ground’, Washington Post 14 January 2005)
Due to concerns about claims made by US and British governments regarding Iraq’s alleged WMD, a committee was set up in February 2004 to report on the intelligence that was available and the use made of that intelligence to justify the 2003 war. The committee (The Butler Review) reported in July 2004. Members of the committee were selected by Blair and included two MPs who supported the war and also Chilcot who was asked later in 2009 to report on the Iraq war! The Liberal Democrats refused to take part in that review as the terms of reference excluded scrutiny of politicians. Ultimately, the Review blamed no one. http://news.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/14_07_04_butler.pdf
The US government also set up a commission on Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. Similar to the terms of reference for the Butler Review that US commission was also not allowed to investigate the way politicians used the intelligence. However, it concluded “the Intelligence Community was dead wrong in almost all of its pre-war judgments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. This was a major intelligence failure.” (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/GPO-WMD/pdf/GPO-WMD.pdf)
What about the costs of the 2003 war? The New York Review of Books published a feature “The Economic Consequences of War’ on 5 December 2002. It was a brave attempt at prediction and the estimates produced did not exceed $100 billion. In the event the cost of the Iraq war to the US amounted to several trillions. (Stiglitz and Bilmes, ‘The Three Trillion Dollar War’, 2008)
Others reported a different, but no less impressive cost for the war. The point stressed by these commentators concerned the lack of justification for the war and the high social and economic cost that Iraqis (and Americans and Europeans) had to endure over many years. Iraqis’ misery continues in 2016. (S. Jenkins, ‘A trillion-dollar catastrophe. Yes, Iraq was a headline war’ Guardian 31 August 2010)
Confusion, and disinformation, at the time before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq became endemic. There were suggestions that part of the intention behind the occupation was to ensure control by US and British companies of Iraq’s oil (see earlier reference to this topic). There were strong official denials of this ‘conspiracy theory’. In the event, and years later, documents emerged that proved the ‘conspiracy’ was not so fanciful. (P. Bignell, ‘Secret memos expose link between oil firms and invasion of Iraq’, Independent 19 April 2011. See also R. Adams ‘Invasion of Iraq was driven by oil. Says Greenspan’, Guardian 17 September 2007) The feature that stands out in all this deception is the fact that many of the personalities concerned are still on the public stage to this day. Curiously, these particular memos it is understood were not given to Chilcot as part of his Iraq inquiry!
Of course the significance of the Chilcot inquiry should be kept within sensible limits. It would seem that people in public office forget quite a lot. (R. Brooks, ‘Insurgents — they buy American: The administration’s latest memory lapse is remembering where our enemies in Iraq got their weapons’ Los Angeles Times, 16 February 2007)
Moreover, the Chilcot inquiry is many years behind events. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisor to President Carter delivered his judgment back in 2007. He wrote, “The war in Iraq is a historic strategic and moral calamity undertaken under false assumptions. It is undermining America’s global legitimacy. Its collateral civilian casualties, as well as some abuses, are tarnishing America’s moral credentials. Driven by Manichean impulses and imperial hubris, it is intensifying regional instability.” Enough said! (Z. Brzezinski, ‘A road map out of Iraq’, Los Angeles Times 11 February 2007)
The US Senate went a step further than Bush when it approved, on 26 September 2007, a proposal to divide Iraq into three parts. The vote was 75 for and 23 against. It is not known whether anyone at that time was aware of the curious nature of the debate by the Senate of one country deciding to dismember another country some 6000 miles away!
The war was known to be unjustified and based on false claims very early in the day. In fact the heated debate before the war was illuminating (see earlier references). As problems mounted, however, the demands to put an end to the whole fiasco became more strident. (An editorial in the New York Times of 8 July 2007 titled ‘The Road Home’ summed up the situation and the options well.)
Articles on displaced people within Iraq and those leaving the country altogether coupled with abuses and assassinations of doctors, university professors and senior civil servants were difficult to ignore. They revealed a country out of control by both its government and by the occupying forces that initiated the process. (N. Parker, ‘Christians forced out of Baghdad district’, Los Angeles Times 27 June 2007) When an independent and highly respected think-tank such as the International Crisis Group joined in the criticism the debate became a one-way street. (I. Parker, ‘Think tank berates Iraq policy and warns of country’s collapse’, Guardian 25 June 2007)
Bleak reports were coming thick and fast. (R. Wright, ‘Iraq, ‘Sinking Fast,’ Is Ranked No. 2 on List of Unstable States’, Washington Post 19 June 2007) Basically, all shades of political opinion were united that the war was a mistake and that it produced nothing but catastrophic harm to one and all apart from the lobbies that were behind the project (see next section). The reputational harm to the USA did not escape the attention of commentators from all shades of opinion.
Reference to reputational harm is significant but might be misleading. The hatred now shown to the USA by Arabs and Muslims and the subsequent appearance of extremist groups that perform dreadful acts of cruelty are part of that feature. The so-called ‘solatia’ payments (made for injured feelings rather than compensation for loss) paid for innocent Iraqi civilians killed by US forces were particularly offensive. (‘The Measure of a Life, in Dollars and Cents’, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/17/AR2007061700970_pf.html)
Nothing did more damage to the reputation of the USA than the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. The abuse and torture were extreme but made worse by photographs taken by those who were carrying out the atrocities. The affair was bad enough but when army major general A M Taguba, who was given responsibility to investigate the matter produced an accurate and candid report, and was forced to retire early that the scandal moved from bad to worse. The bahaviour of Rumsfeld and senior military people was simply astonishing but it demonstrated an attitude that outsiders would not have considered possible in a supposedly enlightened country such as the USA. (S. Hersh, ‘The General’s Report’, New Yorker 17 June 2007, http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/06/25/070625fa_fact_hersh?printable=true )
SECTION 6: Business interests as top beneficiaries from the war
So what was the Iraq war all about? To a great extent the war reflected the odd form of democracy existing in the USA, which is based strongly on powers wielded by a handful of powerful lobby groups. Clearly oil and Israeli interests featured in the decision to invade Iraq as was discussed earlier.
Although regime change has been often mentioned by many observers, Saddam was possibly not a main consideration: the US and Britain were quite happy to deal with him for decades. He was close to the US administration from the start. In everything that happened to Iraq (up to the March 2003 war) including years of punishing sanctions Saddam and his close group were not harmed. In 1983 Secretary of State George Shultz- former president of Bechtel- sent Rumsfeld several times to meet Saddam to promote joint ventures. On the other hand Saddam was a most unattractive tyrant and his removal would have run well in public relations terms.
It might sound mundane but the war was probably mainly about business: immediate profits accruing to weapons manufacturers and oil companies and then later for decades to come for companies offering a variety of services to repair the damage done over the previous decades.
Dan Baum, (‘Nation Builders for Hire’, New York Times, 22 June 2003) dealt openly with the firms that benefitted handsomely from the war and its aftermath. Kellogg Brown & Root, subsidiary of oil-services giant Halliburton featured large in the article. Vice President Dick Cheney was a former chairman of Halliburton. The New York Times highlighted this link between business and politics. Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger “sits on the board of Philips Petroleum alongside a former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, David Boren…Among vice presidents of Booz Allen Hamilton…is the former Director of Central Intelligence James Woosley. Of the 30 members of the Defense Policy Board…at least nine are directors or officers of companies that won $76 billion in defense contracts in 2001 and 2002…” The article went on, “It’s a relatively small club that has both guided US military, energy and Middle Eastern policies over the past three decades and then run the corporations that benefit from these policies.”
Some profits were earned honestly. However, it seems there was also fraud on a grand scale. A BBC Panorama programme, using US and British sources, reported in 2008 that billions of dollars were “lost, stolen, or just not accounted for.” Henry Waxman, who chaired the House committee on oversight and government reform, said:
“It may well turn out to be the largest war profiteering in history.” An embargo was applied in the US on discussion of this subject. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/middle_east/7444083.stm )
The US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) reported in 2009 that the fraud amounted to at least $50 billion. Senior US officers were under investigation at the time but the subject soon drifted away in line with other investigations. (P. Cockburn, ‘A ‘fraud’ bigger than Madoff: Senior US soldiers investigated over missing Iraq reconstruction billions’, Independent 16 February 2009)
Concerns about waste of money intended for reconstruction of Iraq prompted the setting up of a Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its report, dated August 2011, estimated the losses “amounted to at least $31 billion, and possibly as much as $60 billion, during the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.” (http://cybercemetery.unt.edu/archive/cwc/20110929213820/http://www.wartimecontracting.gov/docs/CWC_FinalReport-lowres.pdf )
Did the cost fall on Iraq only? Far from it: American taxpayers were made to pay heavily for the Iraq war that was in essence a bonanza for certain well-connected US firms and individuals. It seems the deception was exercised against one and all irrespective of nationality. Admittedly, Iraqis carried the heaviest burden but Americans were not far behind. (B. Herbert, ‘Now and Forever’. New York Times 4 December 2007) As Bob Herbert put it, “Seriously. How long do we want this madness to last?” Well, the madness continued. (S. Goldenberg, ‘Bush commits troops to Iraq for the long term’, Guardian 27 November 2007) There were other calls to end the ‘madness’ but they went unheard. (W. T. Wheeler, ‘The war is already lost’, Los Angeles Times 14 October 2007) Possibly, he and other commentators did not understand the purpose of the war.
Reference is made here to a series of articles published on an Arabic website that focused on US losses in military equipment as well as deaths and injuries to military personnel. Although this report has been restricted almost exclusively to Western sources it was felt this might be a useful exception as the article gave references to US government reports which readers might find helpful. The losses identified are high but looked at from the viewpoint of businesses they could be seen as opportunities! (http://islammemo.cc/Tkarer/Tkareer/2010/12/05/112615.html )
There were those in Iraq who were also benefitting from the ‘madness’. (H. A. Waxman, ‘Is Maliki’s corruption worth American lives? The Iraqi prime minster is presiding over a government that is stealing us blind.’ Los Angeles Times 5 November 2007) It is perhaps appropriate to include here an Arabic source (Alakhbar of 16 October 2015 that included a new listing of ‘old’ news of corruption by certain ‘Iraqi leaders’ who were brought into Iraq on the back of the 2003 war. (http://www.al-akhbar.com/node/243934 )
In short there were winners on both sides and many millions of losers on both sides. Looked at in that light it seems the Iraq war was in some ways a process of moving money from the many to the few. It is difficult to explain the ‘madness’ any other way.
SECTION 7: Not by bombs alone
In the 1990s Iraq was under attack from two formidable sources; one a bombing war and the other the punishing sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council. The bombing war intensified in December 1998 during the ‘Monica’ affair when it is suspected President Clinton sought to deflect public attention away from his personal problems. The bombing deployed cluster bombs that were “de facto landmines” that went on killing long afterwards. “The sanctions weapon is a sort of economic nerve gas, killing by stealth.” On the ninth anniversary of the sanctions …Unicef reported that infant mortality in Iraq had more than doubled…similar rise in mortality among the elderly.” (S. Jenkins, ‘Britain’s secret wars’, Times, 25 August 1999)
Sanctions were a punishment that hurt the Iraqi population without affecting Saddam and his close associates. The vicious nature of the US sanctions has to be fully understood: almost everything was covered by the sanctions including essential medicines and books. Although the sanctions were thought to have caused the dead of half a million children Madeleine Albright, US Ambassador at the UN said on 12 May 1996 “the price was worth it.” (F. Arbuthnot, ‘Dedicated to Madeleine Albright, on Behalf of the Children of Iraq, whose Lives were a “Price Worth It.’ http://www.globalresearch.ca/dedicated-to-madeleine-albright-on-behalf-of-the-children-of-iraq-whose-lives-were-a-price-worth-it/24729 )
In time the sanctions became morally unacceptable. First Dennis Halliday, the UN humanitarian coordinator, resigned in protest against the sanction in 1998. Then his successor, Hans von Sponeck resigned for the same reason in February 2000. Then Jutta Burghardt, head of the UN food programme in Iraq, resigned a day after Sponeck. A French government spokesperson said Sponeck’s “evaluation of the humanitarian situation in Iraq corresponds to reality.” (E. MacAskill, ‘Second official quits UN Iraq team’, Guardian 16 February 2000)
Those wishing to read more about the impact of sanctions will find extensive information (including UN reports) in: ‘The Impact of sanctions on Iraq: the children are dying’, International Action Center, New York. Published 1998, ISBN 0-9656916-3-2. And in:
‘Challenge to Genocide, International Action Center, New York. Published 1998, ISBN 0-9656916-4-0.
A few, and it might be said very few, considered the UN sanction a success. It was claimed that they were the reason why Saddam dispensed with WMD! (G. A. Lopez and D. Cortright,’Containing Iraq: Sanctions Worked’, Foreign Affairs, July /August 2004. http://danieldrezner.com/research/Cortrightlopez.htm )
The most authoritative statement on the effects of the UN sanctions on the health of Iraqi citizens appeared in an editorial in the respected health journal The Lancet of 2 December 1995. In a letter to the editor in the same issue it was said that 567,000 children had died as a result.
The sanctions continued to cause concern in later years but the UN, presumably under pressure from US, did not change its stance. In fact they were only rescinded after the 2003 war. (J. Carlin, ‘Sanctions are true weapons of mass destruction- better to be bombed’, Independent on Sunday, 22 February 1998)
Sanctions were devastating in their effects on the health of Iraqis. However, there were other, more sinister, ways that the health of Iraqis was compromised for generations to come. Iraq was an opportune theatre for testing new weapons and this included depleted uranium shells. Their use affected in addition US veterans of the Gulf war. (J. Carr-Brown, ‘One man’s Gulf war threaten to go nuclear’, Sunday Times 10 September 2000)
The combination of continuing bombing raids, injury to civilians (referred to by US and Britain authorities as “collateral damage”), and inability of hospitals to respond because they have been degraded by sanctions was highlighted by John Pilger in the New Statesman in early January 1999. He returned to the subject on 22 January 1999 when he called killing civilians as “a crime, which has achieved nothing”. Actually it achieved something when viewed in the long running process of degrading Iraq and its society. It also generated resentment that in time produced ISIL, ISIS, and the Islamic State.
As mentioned above, Iraq’s problems with UN sanctions were compounded by a new health threat that emerged over time in the form of artillery using depleted uranium. This left its mark especially in the southern districts of Iraq were the Iraqi army withdrawing from Kuwait was attacked in a ‘turkey shoot’ at the end of the Gulf war. Cases of cancer have increased noticeably, especially child leukaemia. (J. Swain, ‘Allied shells linked to Iraqi child cancers’, The Sunday Times, 8 March 1998)
Those wishing to read more about depleted uranium will find details in: ‘Metal od dishonor’, Depleted Uranium Education Project, International Action Center, New York, Published 1997, ISBN 0-9656916-0-8.
There was much concern over the years that the World Health Organisation (WHO) failed to report openly on this source of contamination. (D. Halliday, ‘WHO Refuses to Publish Report on Cancers and Birth Defects in Iraq Caused by Depleted Uranium Ammunition’, Global Research, 13 September 2013)
SECTION 8: Destruction aimed at the fabric of a state and a nation
There was unnecessary destruction associated with the 2003 invasion of Iraq that was difficult to understand. The general view locally attributed this to a wish to destroy Iraq as a functioning country and as a nation. This viewpoint was created by the form of harm caused; willfully or otherwise. Iraq’s cultural heritage and its human resources seemed to attract more harm than could be put down to “stuff happen” (Rumsfeld’s flippant explanation).
There was much publicity devoted to the wish of invaders to reconstruct Iraq using both Iraqi and US funds. Iraq’s financial funds held abroad were frozen during the UN sanctions. Immediately after the 2003 war effort was made to return the money to Iraq to help in the reconstruction effort. In part the operation was a fiasco. In another part it was a golden opportunity for corruption on a grand scale. Money was being moved in cash by the ton with little or no accountability. The activity in time became a scandal. This relaxed attitude to scarce resources added to suspicions that reconstruction was not being pursued seriously. (C. Macrae and A. Fadil, ‘Iraq was awash in cash. We played football with bricks of $100 bills’ Guardian 20 March 2006)
As mentioned above destruction was not limited to physical infrastructure. Iraqi antiquities were part of Rumsfeld’s dismissive “stuff”. Museums and archeological sites were systematically blundered and even the name Iraq, some writers said, was declared meaningless. A simple Internet search, or even reading Ibn Battuta’s travels in Asia and Africa from 1325 to 1354 would have informed these writers that the country of Iraq did not simply appear in 1922.
However, after the 2003 war a new menace appeared: an attack on Iraq’s human resources. This came on top of the harm done by the previous long-running UN sanctions. Professionals, especially doctors and academics, were targeted relentlessly. The aim it seems was to convince them to leave Iraq or be killed if they were to choose to stay. A conference was held at Ghent University in Belgium on 9-12 March 2011 to discuss this topic. A report on its proceedings was published in both Arabic and English. ‘Beyond Educide’, Academic Press, 2012, ISBN 978 90 382 1886 1. Further information on this and other related topics can be obtained from The Brussels Tribunal (http://www.brussellstribunal.org )
As mentioned earlier, Iraq had an enviable educational reputation at all levels of learning. During the period of UN sanctions and as a result of sporadic bombing by the US and Britain the education system gradually fell apart. Once the 2003 war began the system took a further turn for the worse. Education and poverty are close companions. The UN Human Rights report for the first quarter of 2007 found “ that 54 percent of Iraqis were living on less than $1 a day.” Intentionally or otherwise, education in Iraq was a principal casualty of war. UNESCO published a report on 10 February 2010 titled ‘Education Under Attack 2010- Iraq’. The report made dismal reading; from drastic decrease in teachers to demolished schools and colleges. (D. Adriaensens, ‘Dismantling the Iraqi state’, 5 November 2010. http://truth-out.org/archive/component/k2/item/92695:beyond-the-wikileaks-files-dismantling-the-iraqi-state )
Onslaught on Iraq’s middle class, professionals, and intellectuals was a major source of hate directed at the invading forces and the government they installed. Rightly or wrongly it confirmed the belief that successive wars and sanctions were meant to destroy Iraq and had little to do with Saddam and other justifications. (A. Zavis, ‘A searing assault on Iraq’s intellectuals’ Los Angeles Times 25 March 2007. http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-middle25mar25,0,7151808.story?coll=la-home-world ) (T. Williams and R. Mohammed, ‘Iraqi Campus Is Under Gang’s Sway’ New York Times 19 October 2010)
The activity seems to have started almost immediately after the conclusion of the war. In the early years, however, it seemed to be a simple process of extortion but later it assumed a more focused slant directed at Iraq’s human capital. The Iraqi minister of education stated that in 2005 alone 296 academics were killed and 133 injured. (H. Zangana ‘Death of a professor’ Guardian 28 February 2006)
Iraqi’s life of misery never stopped from 2003 through 2007 to the present. Alexander Cockburn gave a good picture of what life had sunk to in 2007. The picture he painted does not seem very different from 2015. (A. Cockburn, ‘Where are the laptop bombardiers now?’ Counterpunch 24 March 2007.
http://www.counterpunch.org/2007/03/24/where-are-the-laptop-bombardiers-now/ ) His brother Patrick penned a similarly depressing piece at the same time from the north of Iraq. (P. Cockburn, ‘And they call it peace: Inside Iraq, four years on’, Independent 18 March 2007)
In the middle of tragedy there are actions that can only be described as being almost funny. Certainly a report from the Pentagon in late 2006 could be classed as such. It described a chaotic situation ignoring the fact that under international law invading powers are responsible for maintaining peace and order in the occupied territories. It came to the astonishingly obvious conclusion that coalition forces could not hand over control to Iraqi authorities’ because of the absence of military and police forces (which were disbanded by the US authorities immediately after the war!). (A. Scott Tyson, ‘Pentagon Issues Dire Look At End of ’06 in Iraq’, Washington Post 15 March 2007)
Minorities, including the Christian community, suffered badly after the war. Bush and Blair were supposed to be avowed Christians but they were too wrapped up in their affairs to care what happened to these and other minorities. On the other hand, angry local groups also targeted Christians because they were associated with the invading powers. By 2015 few of the minorities were left, some having been targeted next by the so-called Islamic State. The exodus had another side effect: minorities formed also an important element of the professional and cultural life of Iraq. With their departure Iraq sunk further into ignominy. (P. Cockburn, ‘’Exodus’ of Iraq’s ancient minorities’ Independent 26 February 2007)
SECTION 9: Misdeeds remain essentially unchallenged
Those who were in power in the US and in Britain before, during and after the 2003 invasion and the lengthy period of softening up of Iraq have not been seriously challenged so far. There have been some calls for them to be tried in courts of law but that has not happened and it is unlikely to happen. The record of failure did not simply cover a few months but went on for years after the war. There was jubilation, for instance, when Britain withdrew its troops from Basra at the end of 2007. It transpired that they left a city in chaos. As the British Foreign Secretary commented at the time the British forces were not handing over a “land of milk and honey.” (P. Cockburn, ‘Britain bows out of a five-year war it could never have won’, Independent 17 December 2007) (M. Mahmoud, M. O’Kane and I. Black, ‘UK has left behind murder and chaos, says Basra police chief ‘, Guardian 17 December 2007)
Essentially, ‘democratic’ countries have systems that have been developed over years to protect political leaders from serious challenge in relation to foreign policies and actions. Inquiries have been held, mostly with terms of reference that specifically exclude examination of actions of those at the top. There is a long tradition in Britain in particular that public inquiries are designed to ‘clear the air’ and ‘draw a line’ under inconvenient events rather than hold those in authority to account.
Nonetheless, demands for Bush and Blair to be prosecuted continue to crop up from time to time and they are not likely to disappear altogether. (T. Helm, ‘Tony Blair should face trial over Iraq war’, Observer, 2 September 2012) There have been calls also in German and Spanish courts for some form of legal investigation or trial. There were similar expressions of disapproval in Britain. (R. Norton-Taylor, ‘Top judge: US and UK acted as ‘vigilantes’ in Iraq invasion
Former senior law lord condemns ‘serious violation of international law’, Guardian 18 November 2008)
The usual response to these demands is for those in power to claim “lessons have been learnt” and “such mistakes could not happen in future”. History suggests both assurances are meaningless. For instance, in theory the US learnt something from the 2003 Iraq war. A new Army Field Manual (FM 3-0) was published in February 2008. It added a new core mission of ‘stability operations’ to the traditional missions of offense and defense. In due course, the same mistakes were repeated in Syria and Libya (not to mention continuing actions in Iraq). (R. Brooks, ‘War and peace, the Army way’, Los Angeles Times 28 February 2008)
It must be underlined that misconduct was not limited to the questionable way the war was justified and the mismanagement and atrocious behavior that characterised military actions during and after the war. As mentioned earlier, serious mismanagement (and outright corruption) was evident in the way the so-called ‘reconstruction’ phase was handled and financed. For instance, the US made efforts to reequip a new army (having disbanded the previous Iraqi Army) but the project and funds allocated for the purpose were bungled to a degree that is difficult to comprehend. (Report of Inspector General, United States Department of Defense, Report D-2008-026, 30 November 2007. As CBS News reported, $1 billion in military equipment destined for Iraq went missing!
One of the most serious consequences of the 2003 war that is seen today concerns the proliferation of Islamic fundamentalism in Iraq and elsewhere in MENA. It might be though that that consequence could not have been predicted. However, and as mentioned in an earlier section, Obama predicted that outcome back in 2002!
Moreover, Robert Fisk described three years after the conclusion of the war not just the chaos that permeated Iraq at that time (and still continues many years later) and the dubious grounds on which Bush and Blair justified the invasion, but also accurately predicted the violent ‘Islamic’ reaction that would emerge in time. That reaction of course hit East and West in the form of ISIL, ISIS, and the Islamic State that was making news in 2015 and 2016. That possibly is the most long-lasting legacy of the harm unleashed by US and British leaders at the time of the 2003 war. (R. Fisk, ‘The Iraq War: Three Years On – The march of folly, that has led to a bloodbath’ Independent 20 March 2006)
An equally serious consequence relates to the flood of refugees that are now struggling to move into Europe and other locations. These people did not seek to move to another country out of choice. They were, and are, forced to move due to conditions that have been created over several decades by leaders in the West who were focused on other priorities that certainly did not relate to people in MENA and possibly people in the USA and Britain.
It must be underlined here that what is said above does not absolve local leaders of blame. However, even in this case these leaders were brought in and installed in power on the back of the invasions that took place. Immediate actions taken by the Coalition Provisional Authority when it was set up to govern Iraq after the 2003 war created ideal conditions for chaos, instability, and lack of governance. As mentioned early in this report its first and second Orders related to de-Ba’athification and dissolution of the Iraqi army respectively. Within days the CAP made certain competent managers were excluded and forces of law and order were eliminated. Intentional or otherwise the moves were disastrous.
What was the effect on the two countries that were the leading powers behind actions in Iraq (and later in other locations in MENA)? Events that culminated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq had a hugely negative impact on the image of both the USA and Britain. This is a by-product that will affect the vital interests of both countries in ways that are difficult to predict in detail at present. What happened to Bush and Blair? The first retired to his ranch while the second built up a new career based on lecture tours and consultancy commissions. Neither person is considered now a valued national leader but that is no consolation to many who lost their life and livelihood as a result of these two individuals’ actions. The slide into disfavour was rapid. By 2007 both leaders were essentially finished as public figures. (R. Cornwell, ‘Bush finds no way out of Iraq as approval ratings plunge’, Independent 11 July 2007)
Later, by 2015, the release of emails by Hilary Clinton under court order demolished what remaining credibility Blair had. (N. Gutteridge, ‘Blair has ‘blood on his hands’ over thousands of Christians killed by ISIS since Iraq War’, Express 21 October 2015) (A. MacKinley, ‘Tony Blair duped me over Iraq and I feel ashamed, former Labour MP who voted for war says’, Independent 19 October 2015)
Suspected deception by Blair seemed to be the last straw for many commentators. (S. Tisdall, ‘There is no doubt about it: Tony Blair was on the warpath from early 2002’, Guardian 18 October 2015) There were questions about the accuracy of Blair’s testimony to the Chilcot inquiry. Fundamentally, the release of the above emails in October 2015 dealt the final blow to Blair’s reputation. The 2003 Iraq war harmed almost everyone apart from those who amassed fortunes out of the conflict and its poisonous aftermath. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3277402/Smoking-gun-emails-reveal-Blair-s-deal-blood-George-Bush-Iraq-war-forged-YEAR-invasion-started.html )
It was hoped for a while that the Iraq war has reduced the inclination of countries such as the USA and Britain to intervene in the affairs of other nations. One week before he left office Blair was told by leading members of all three main parties in the UK that his adventure in Iraq in partnership with Bush has ended that form of foreign policy. (A. Grice, ‘Iraq ‘has ruined case for liberal interventionism’, Independent 19 June 2007)
That hope was sadly short lived. It would seem the vested interests and powerful lobbies that profit from wars could not be deflected from their set paths. It was hoped that was the case but new adventures in Libya and Syria seem to suggest the lesson has not been learnt. In fact the lobbies do not perceive there are any lessons to be learnt!
The consequences were just as bad as those inflicted on Iraq. The International Organisation for Migration announced in December 2015 that more than one million refugees, mainly running away from civil war in Syria, arrived in Europe during 2015. The numbers of refugees in the Middle East is much higher and they experience less welcoming conditions than that seen in Europe. There were 2.2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, 1.1 million in the Lebanon and 6333,000 in Jordan. (P. Kingsley, ‘Over a million migrants and refugees have reached Europe this year, says IOM’ Guardian 22 December 2015) (https://www.iom.int/news/irregular-migrant-refugee-arrivals-europe-top-one-million-2015-iom )
Oddly, while Sweden and Germany (and others) were seeking to help refugees from the beginning, the leading powers behind the invasion of Iraq in 2003 felt the refugees should stay in the Middle East. As mentioned above many refugees have remained in the Middle East but the US and Britain in 2016 continue to be harsh in the number of refugees they allow in. (R. Cohen, ‘Refugees? What Refugees?’ New York Times 27 September 2007)
SECTION 10: Near unanimity at last: Iraq war was a disaster
The leading actors might not have had to face court action but hardly any serious commentator now view the invasion of Iraq in 2003 as anything but a complete disaster to all concerned on both sides of the fence. That conclusion had been reached in MENA very shortly after 2003. However, unanimity developed in the West over time. By 2006/2007 there was widespread realisation that the 2003 war was a disaster to Iraq and to the USA and Britain but some continued to hope for the best.
James A. Baker and Lee H. Hamilton co-chaired a group in the US that produced The Iraq Study Group Report. Written from a strictly US perspective but nonetheless the report recommended reconciliation on a regional scale including Iran, Syria, Israel and others. Apart from admitting the war was a disaster the report did not have a measureable impact. http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/WSJ-iraq_study_group.pdf
The Crisis Group Organisation published its own commentary on the Study Group report that sought, constructively, to take the matter further. Again it is fair to say this was written from a US perspective of how to extricate the US from Iraq.
The Brookings Institution had its own view on the flow of events in Iraq and predicted negative developments that mostly came about. The forecasts they made suggest that conditions now seen in Iraq in 2016 were confidently expected back in 2007. Basically, there was no shortage of foresight but yet again the accent was on rescuing the US from the debacle it created. (R. Cornwell, ‘US must abandon Iraqi cities or face nightmare scenario, say experts’ Independent 30 January 2007)
The intriguing questions about the war and its aftermath interested many academics. Some went to the heart of the matter. Ismael Hossein-Zadeh asked why the US is not leaving Iraq and came back with a possible answer: follow the money. His paper started with two quotes that are worth repeating here:
“The military-industrial-complex [would] cause military spending to be driven not by national security needs but by a network of weapons makers, lobbyists and elected officials.” Dwight D Eisenhower
“There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.” General Smedley D Butler
There was no shortage of reports on Iraq produced by various agencies of the US administration. Looked at in retrospect they give every impression of having been written by new graduates and/or officials who do not have an even rudimentary knowledge of Iraq, its history, and the impact of wars on its people and institutions. One such study was published by the National Security Council in January 2007 and titled The Iraq Strategic Review. http://2001-2009.state.gov/p/nea/rls/78589.htm
There were also reports and ideas produced by Iraqis as was the case with Ali Allawi former defence minister. (A. Allawi, ‘For the first time, a real blueprint for peace in Iraq’ Independent 05 January 2007)
It is perhaps fitting to end this report with an amusing but realistic quotation:
“Sometimes I imagine the last 14 years of American war policy in the Greater Middle East as a set of dismal Mad Libs. An example might be: The United States has spent [your choice of multiple billions of dollars] building up [fill in name of Greater Middle Eastern country]’s army and equipping it with [range of weaponry of your choosing]. That army was recently routed by the [rebel or terrorist group of your choice] and fled, abandoning [list U.S. weaponry and equipment]. Washington has just sent in more [choose from: trainers/weaponry/equipment/all of the above] and [continue the sentence ad infinitum]. Or here’s another: After [number, and make it large] years and a [choose one or more: war, air war, drone assassination campaign, intervention, counterinsurgency program, counterterror effort, occupation] in [Greater Middle Eastern country of your choice] that seems to be [choose from: failing, unraveling, going nowhere, achieving nothing], the [fill in office of top U.S. official of your choice] has just stated that a U.S. withdrawal would be [choose from: counterproductive, self-defeating, inconceivable, politically unpalatable, dangerous to the homeland, mad] because [leave this blank, since no one knows].
As far as the US is concerned its interest in the Greater Middle East is well and truly over. The Obama Doctrine, mentioned earlier in the report, made that perfectly clear. Just in case there is any doubt left, Michael Hayden, former CIA and National Security Agency Director General tried to remove that possibility in an interview with CNN on 26 February 2016: “Iraq no longer exists. Syria no longer exists. They aren’t coming back. Lebanon is teetering and Libya is long gone.”
Message to all people in MENA: you are on your own which is as it should be. Like most other people on earth you are mainly responsible for conditions in your countries.