Remembering the War in Iraq

Happy New Year. Remember Iraq? If you are not or were not counted among the “other one percent” of the country that served in the Armed Forces, it is likely forgotten and sent down the memory hole, like the archipelago of off-the-books torture chambers throughout the former Soviet sphere to which suspected terrorists had been abducted from various worldwide locations in the “War On Terror” dragnet, in the name of an atrocity on domestic soil blamed — at least subconsciously — on a paranoid tinpot tyrant and former client named Saddam Hussein.

In a recent issue of Foreign Affairs, the national security analyst Max Boot observes that the Second Gulf War (2003-2011, 2014-?) was an “investment” from which “the returns look meager.” The returns for Iraqis are substantial, but they don’t matter. The war in Iraq, according to the reviewer Michiko Kakutani, had in fact been “a misguided enterprise,” one which involved “cherry-picked intelligence, bungled decision making in Washington and a dysfunctional occupation” — and for the soldiers who fought the campaign, “anger and regret … swirled around it.”

US Marines Fighting Insurgents In Fallujah, 2004 (photo c. Lynsey Addario)

US Marines Fighting Insurgents In Fallujah, 2004 (photo c. Lynsey Addario)

Kakutani quotes Roy Scranton, “an artilleryman in the Army from 2002 to 2006,” as saying Washington “let loose a grisly pandemonium in Iraq, then walked away and tried to wash our hands of the whole affair.” Scranton’s observation seems accurate; few know that better than Iraqis themselves. Iraqi writers, Kakutani continues, such as “Hassan Blasim (‘The Corpse Exhibition’) and Ahmed Saadawi (‘Frankenstein in Baghdad’) … have used Kafka-esque scenarios and magic realism to convey just how surreal and nightmarish day-to-day life for Iraqis has become — [and] are gaining recognition in the West.” Boot, the Jeane Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, added that the “one thing that the U.S. public won’t tolerate is making sacrifices for a losing cause.”

“In Iraq,” Boot concluded, “the United States had all but won by 2011, when U.S. troops had to leave because Obama failed to negotiate a new status-of-forces agreement, in part because he never made it a priority.” Rick Brennan, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and “a Senior Adviser to the U.S. military in Iraq from 2006 to 2011,” observed that President Obama “had declared an end to the war in Iraq, but the Iraqis hadn’t gotten the memo.”

He and “his national security team fail[ed] to reach an agreement with the government of Iraq that would have allowed a residual U.S. force to remain there temporarily, and also fail[ed] to establish a strategy for how to leave Iraq in a manner that would secure the gains made there during those years.” Further on, Brennan records that a “number of commentators have concluded that the Obama administration was negotiating [with Nouri al-Maliki, the former Iraqi prime minister] in bad faith, making an offer that it knew would be politically toxic in Iraq.”

Nevertheless, Washington wanted out. One of the American authors of the Iraq war experience, Phil Klay, mentions “a military chaplain who thinks that even with all he’s witnessed in Iraq, it is somehow ‘holier’ than ‘gluttonous, fat, oversexed, overconsuming, materialist home, where we’re too lazy to see our own faults.’” That is his judgement, of course, but there may be some truth in such a solemn declaration. Then again, like 99 percent of my fellow countrymen, I’ve never been to Iraq.


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