Home > Economics - General > Open thread on Iraq

Open thread on Iraq

December 15th, 2011

Everything that can be said about this tragedy has been said, many times over. Nevertheless, it seems appropriate to note the offically announced end of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, and to invite reflections on it.

Posted via email from John’s posterous

Categories: Economics - General Tags:
  1. Freelander
    December 22nd, 2011 at 12:37 | #1

    Glug, Glug. Well Mel. The world must look strange when imbibed through the bottom of a glass.

  2. Fran Barlow
    December 22nd, 2011 at 15:24 | #2

    @Mel

    Mel, you’re on a line somewhere between verballing Dan and conjuring strawmen. I’m not sure why you think this is worth posting or where you’re going with this.

    There were no doubt many predisposing factors in the decision of the US to escalate the conflict with Iraq taken, probably, late in 2002. Personally, I rank the “wag the dog” factor very highly and that it would wedge any enemy of Bush in 2004 made it very attractive. The scope the policy gave to channel state largesse to people who were (or would become) beholden to the Bush Administration made it even more attractive. Oil was relevant in making the war “a security interest of the US”. Doubtless the fact that Murdoch thought it a rollicking good idea at the time on the basis that it would force down oil prices from about $35 to $20 (yes he’s on the record on that score) made the whole wag the dog thing more plausible. The fact that Murdoch was wrong was neither here nor there at the time, though everyone sellingt oil was advantaged, (which is not the same as saying the US, a net oil importer), was. The opportunity to try out a whole bunch of weapons in a live fire exercise would also have appealed to the generals — and let’s face it — what’s the point of having all that weaponry if you can’t use it and aren’t sure how effective it would be if you did?

    The Iraq escalation was also about as close a thing as the US could have to poking Europe and the Russians in the eye and driving a wedge between “Old Europe” and “New Europe”.

    So it was multi-factorial, Mel. The US ended up being weakened by it, as distinct from the Bush Administration which got two terms and was thus a winner, right up until they weren’t, in 2008. Even here though the mess they left in Iraq and Afghanistan seriously harmed the next administration, which has kept the Repugs well in the political game (due in part to the next administration’s predictable political ineptitude and their felt need to appeal to many of the same interests as Bush served) . So from a Repug POV, it’s probably a 5.5/10.

  3. Dan
    December 22nd, 2011 at 15:44 | #3

    You’re trying to have it both ways; claiming that what am I am saying is entirely incorrect, but then saying in the very next sentence that what I am saying is correct, up to a point.

    I reiterate – given that the official line (fictitious WMDs and a strange sudden concern for humanitarian causes) for war was in tatters before the first American soldier set foot in Iraq, what do you think this was all about? I’m genuinely curious. It seems like you’re really serious about keeping the Kool-Aud down long after it’s become tenable to do so.

    I remain disturbed that you’re okay with wars of aggression based on false premises, as long as they’re well-executed (whatever that might mean, given that war is intrinsically a messy business with unpredictable consequences).

  4. Dan
    December 22nd, 2011 at 15:45 | #4

    (NB: above was for Mel.)

  5. gerard
    December 22nd, 2011 at 16:48 | #5

    Five main reasons

    1) Funnel large amounts of money into the arms industry, and provide corporate opportunities through mass privatisation of Iraqi’s largely state-owned economy (one of the first things Bremer did when he took power).

    2) Remove a regime hostile to Israel (obviously a neocon priority)

    3) Find a new permanent location for U.S. bases in the Middle East, since the presence in Saudi Arabia was becoming increasingly untenable

    4) Improve the electoral fortunes of Bush and the Republican Party (wag the dog)

    5) Oil. What type of idiot would watch the world’s largest energy-consuming country invading the country with the world’s largest energy reserves and not put two and two together? (answer: Mel) But admittedly it is a little more complex than that. On the one hand the neocons hoped that the new Iraqi regime might be able to break up OPEC and bring prices down – Iraq was the one country with large enough reserves to do so. On the other hand, the traditional oil industry wanted to keep prices high and OPEC in place. Yes, they would have been happy to cut deals with Saddam, like they ended up doing with Gaddaffi. However that would mean ending the strict sanctions that had been in place since 1991, and allowing Saddam’s regime to earn vast amounts of money, which America did not want to do. It would also mean American firms would be competing for business with firms from other countries – like Russia and France, which had been pushing for an end to the sanctions regime since around 2000.

    So these five reasons put together all lead to a plausible motivation to invade Iraq. However the official reason, WMD, was not plausible. It was obviously bogus from the start (obvious for reasons I explained above). Let’s not mince words: only stupid people could have believed that crock. They were simple lies, anyone with a brain could see that. Mel, lacking a brain, could not.

  6. Mel
    December 22nd, 2011 at 18:17 | #6

    Oh flock off, gerard. If you are going to call someone an idiot don’t then confect some crack cocaine induced conspiracy theory about OPEC and Israel. Ditto for Freelander. I don’t mind discussing these matters with Dan because I know him to be intelligent but the two of you are vastly unintelligent Laurel and Hardy trolls who perfectly mirror the trolls who hang out Catallaxy.

    Now where were we? Oh yes. No Dan, you posited a particularly silly conspiratorial theory to purportedly show how “control” of oil was the proximate cause of the war. It was as silly and ill thought-out as the conspiracy theories about how Mossad/ the necons/ the CIA blew up the twin towers.

    Energy security is an “ultimate cause” in that it explains much of the American focus on the Greater ME region (apart from Israel/Palestine, which is more complicated but not relevant to this discussion). But the “proximate causes” were as outlined by the administration at the time. I’m not alone on the Left in thinking this. Numerous Left-leaning foreign policy analysts do acknowledge that the Neocons genuinely believed that the Iraqis would be uniformly grateful after the collapse of Saddam and that democracy would flourish in Iraq then catch on elsewhere in the ME and that a stable and democratic ME would best serve American energy security.

    As to WMD, it is worth noting that very few people at the time of the invasion thought Saddam had destroyed all his WMDs, or that if he had destroyed them, he wouldn’t reconstitute a WMD program as soon as the heat was off. From a CNN report 9 weeks before the invasion:

    ” The chief U.N. weapons inspector said on Monday that Iraq could not account for stocks of anthrax and a deadly nerve gas that it said it had destroyed.

    Hans Blix made his remarks to the U.N. Security Council, which in November passed a resolution ordering Baghdad to disclose all weapons of mass destruction and related materials.

    Iraq provided access to all sites U.N. weapons inspectors have wanted to visit, but had not reached a “genuine acceptance” of its obligation to disarm, Blix said.

    The progress report, which followed 60 days of weapons inspections, indicated that there were discrepancies between what inspectors found and what Iraq declared in a report to the United Nations.

    For example, Baghdad admitted producing 8,500 liters of anthrax, but said they were destroyed in 1991, Blix said.

    “[Yet] there are strong indications that Iraq produced more anthrax than it declared, and that at least some of this was retained over the declared destruction date. It might still exist,” Blix said.

    Moreover, Iraqi documents indicate that Iraq produced a higher grade of the poison gas VX than previously admitted, which might have been used in weapons production, Blix said.

    In addition, Blix said several thousand chemical rockets like those inspectors discovered earlier this month remain unaccounted for, and about 3,000 pages of documents relating largely to uranium enrichment programs are in the possession of an Iraqi scientist.

    “Any further sign of the concealment of documents would be serious,” he said.

    Blix also said Iraq has not allowed inspectors to question scientists in private, without an Iraqi government official present.” http://articles.cnn.com/2003-01-27/us/sprj.irq.blix.report_1_iraqi-scientist-hans-blix-iraqi-documents?_s=PM:US

    Yet somehow, these genuine uncertainties and concerns have gone down the memory hole.

  7. gerard
    December 22nd, 2011 at 19:54 | #7

    Conspiracy theories? Mel sounds a little like Tony Blair back in 2003:

    Tony Blair, 6 February 2003: “Let me just deal with the oil thing because… the oil conspiracy theory is honestly one of the most absurd when you analyse it. The fact is that, if the oil that Iraq has were our concern, I mean we could probably cut a deal with Saddam tomorrow in relation to the oil. It’s not the oil that is the issue, it is the weapons…”

    Meanwhile, according to secret British memos that were uncovered under Freedom of Information requests in April this year:

    Five months before the March 2003 invasion, Baroness Symons, then the Trade Minister, told BP that the Government believed British energy firms should be given a share of Iraq’s enormous oil and gas reserves as a reward for Tony Blair’s military commitment to US plans for regime change.

    The papers show that Lady Symons agreed to lobby the Bush administration on BP’s behalf because the oil giant feared it was being “locked out” of deals that Washington was quietly striking with US, French and Russian governments and their energy firms.

    Minutes of a meeting with BP, Shell and BG (formerly British Gas) on 31 October 2002 read: “Baroness Symons agreed that it would be difficult to justify British companies losing out in Iraq in that way if the UK had itself been a conspicuous supporter of the US government throughout the crisis.”

    The minister then promised to “report back to the companies before Christmas” on her lobbying efforts.

    The Foreign Office invited BP in on 6 November 2002 to talk about opportunities in Iraq “post regime change”. Its minutes state: “Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP is desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity.”

    After another meeting, this one in October 2002, the Foreign Office’s Middle East director at the time, Edward Chaplin, noted: “Shell and BP could not afford not to have a stake in [Iraq] for the sake of their long-term future… We were determined to get a fair slice of the action for UK companies in a post-Saddam Iraq.”

    Whereas BP was insisting in public that it had “no strategic interest” in Iraq, in private it told the Foreign Office that Iraq was “more important than anything we’ve seen for a long time”.

    BP was concerned that if Washington allowed TotalFinaElf’s existing contact with Saddam Hussein to stand after the invasion it would make the French conglomerate the world’s leading oil company. BP told the Government it was willing to take “big risks” to get a share of the Iraqi reserves, the second largest in the world.

    Over 1,000 documents were obtained under Freedom of Information over five years by the oil campaigner Greg Muttitt. They reveal that at least five meetings were held between civil servants, ministers and BP and Shell in late 2002.

    But no, of course, oil had nothing to do with it, just a silly conspiracy theory.

  8. gerard
    December 22nd, 2011 at 19:58 | #8

    As for Mel’s WMD garbage, well even if Iraq possessed WMD, then invading the country would be the one thing most likely to lead to their use. It amazed me then and amazes me now that some people can’t get their brains around this. But the fact is, there was no evidence at all that Iraq had a functional weapons program, according to Blix himself

    There were about 700 inspections, and in no case did we find weapons of mass destruction,” said Hans Blix, the Swedish diplomat called out of retirement to serve as the United Nations’ chief weapons inspector from 2000 to 2003; from 1981 to 1997 he headed the International Atomic Energy Agency. “We went to sites [in Iraq] given to us by intelligence, and only in three cases did we find something” – a stash of nuclear documents, some Vulcan boosters, and several empty warheads for chemical weapons. More inspections were required to determine whether these findings were the “tip of the iceberg” or simply fragments remaining from that deadly iceberg’s past destruction, Blix said he told the United Nations Security Council. However, his work in Iraq was cut short when the United States and the United Kingdom took disarmament into their own hands in March of last year.
    Blix accused U.S. President George W. Bush and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair of acting not in bad faith, but with a severe lack of “critical thinking.” The United States and Britain failed to examine the sources of their primary intelligence – Iraqi defectors with their own agendas for encouraging regime change – with a skeptical eye, he alleged. In the buildup to the war, Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis were cooperating with U.N. inspections, and in February 2003 had provided Blix’s team with the names of hundreds of scientists to interview, individuals Saddam claimed had been involved in the destruction of banned weapons. Had the inspections been allowed to continue, Blix said, there would likely be a very different situation in Iraq today. As it was, America’s pre-emptive, unilateral actions “have bred more terrorism there and elsewhere.”

    The fact is that Iraq was under the most robust weapons inspection regime in history (North Korea kicked inspectors out in 2002, but nobody cared about that for some reason). When the inspectors ran into problems, they made them public so that they could be rectified. However this process was cut short by Bush and Blair who ordered the inspectors out so that they could start bombing

  9. gerard
    December 22nd, 2011 at 20:04 | #9

    If there were any doubt that the WMD thing was a deliberate lie (and there wasn’t any doubt in the minds of non-stupid people), then they should have been laid to rest by the release of the Downing Street Memos in 2005.

    According to these memos, “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”. It is highly unlikely that neoconservative decision-makers were simply “misled” by “flawed intelligence” with regard to Iraq’s WMD program; since when dissatisfied with the lack of evidence for WMD provided by the intelligence agencies, administration neoconservatives in August 2002 established the “Office of Special Plans” (OSP) designed specifically to provide administration officials with distorted “evidence” of Iraq’s WMD program, bypassing the traditional intelligence channels.

  10. gerard
    December 22nd, 2011 at 20:05 | #10

    3 comments in moderation… what am I doing wrong?

  11. gerard
    December 22nd, 2011 at 20:41 | #11

    Numerous Left-leaning foreign policy analysts do acknowledge that the Neocons genuinely believed that the Iraqis would be uniformly grateful after the collapse of Saddam and that democracy would flourish in Iraq then catch on elsewhere in the ME and that a stable and democratic ME would best serve American energy security.

    Who are these psychic, mind-reading policy analysts? And more to the point, even if they were really naive and ignorant enough to believe this, would that somehow be meant to redeem their catastrophic decisions?

  12. Dan
    December 22nd, 2011 at 20:51 | #12

    Sorry Mel, you’re really clutching.

    As Scott Ritter, who led the inspection team on the ground in Iraq pointed out (and another Republican), having remnants in the order of 5-10% of a WMD program does not constitute a WMD program, let alone an operational weapons capacity.

    Ritter also said that the reason the Iraqis lost patience with the weapons inspection program was because the US were attempting to spy under its auspices.

    Re. the case for war, of course you can’t prove a negative. On the grounds you are proposing as sufficient justification for war, one could argue that any nation has a weapons stockpile that threatens the West and for Heaven’s sake we’d better invade the place quick smart! But frankly, that’s just not good enough, then or now.

  13. Mel
    December 22nd, 2011 at 21:21 | #13

    I’m intrigued, Dan. Did you also oppose the coalition enforced No Fly Zone that stopped Saddam obliterating the Kurds? What about the sanctions?

    Dan #11: “Re. the case for war, of course you can’t prove a negative. On the grounds you are proposing as sufficient justification for war, one could argue that any nation has a weapons stockpile that threatens the West and for Heaven’s sake we’d better invade the place quick smart! But frankly, that’s just not good enough, then or now.”

    Ah yes, the appeasement argument.

    “We should seek by all means in our power to avoid war, by analyzing possible causes, by trying to remove them, by discussion in a spirit of collaboration and good will. I cannot believe that such a program would be rejected by the people of this country, even if it does mean the establishment of personal contact with the dictators.” Neville Chamberlain

    Once again, reality is vastly more complicated than your undergraduate nostrums permit.

    But I think we’ve done this topic to death so I’ll bow out now. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  14. Gerard
    December 22nd, 2011 at 21:47 | #14

    For Mel to trot out “appeasement” talk is beyond ridiculous. What was Hitler doing in Europe but committing military aggression, invading and occupying other countries? What was Bush doing in Iraq? Committing military aggression, invading and occupying a sovereign nation. The very same crime for which the Nazis were trialled at Nuremberg. Worse than appeasement of aggression is complicity in it.

  15. Freelander
    December 22nd, 2011 at 21:48 | #15

    Good points gerard. Now Kool-aid Mel is resorting to the appeasement argument, as if Iraq were a threat to the West in the way that Nazi Germany was. By doing this hasn’t Mel technically fouled himself? Not that he hasn’t fouled himself in other diverse ways beforehand. If the Americans didn’t want Saddam to invade Kuwait, back when Daddy Bush was Pres, their Ambassador to Iraq shouldn’t have given him the green light. Boo Bear Bush wasn’t going after Saddam for any noble reason, but for multiple self-interested reasons including anticipated spoils for his backers. Nice to see that Mel has departed for some R&R in the fact free zone.

  16. Dan
    December 22nd, 2011 at 22:46 | #16

    Mel :
    I’m intrigued, Dan. Did you also oppose the coalition enforced No Fly Zone that stopped Saddam obliterating the Kurds? What about the sanctions?

    Supported the no-fly zone, not the sanctions – unlike Madeleine Albright, I can’t concede that 500,000 children dying as a result was, in her words, ‘worth it’.

    As for the appeasement argument:

    a) I call Godwin :P

    b) that’s not the argument I was making. There wasn’t a remote, unconfirmed, extremely shaky conjecture that Hitler might have invaded Poland; rather, Hitler had invaded Poland.

    b) you’re calling appeasement on the wrong side here, as G and F have correctly stated. I am arguing, and have argued against a war of aggression, you are (or were) arguing in favour of one. If you’re going to be at all intellectually consistent about this, you should have been calling for pan-Arab resistance to the US incursion into Iraq, which I don’t imagine you were.

  17. Fran Barlow
    December 23rd, 2011 at 05:53 | #17

    @Dan

    Tellingly, the “no-fly zone” did not restrict the Turkish Air Force from bombing Kurdish villages inside Iraq, which made “safe haven” a rather Orwellian term.

  18. John Quiggin
    December 23rd, 2011 at 14:45 | #18

    Mel, please cut out the personal abuse.

    Gerard, lengthy cut and paste posts are inappropriate. A link with a brief summary, please.

Comment pages
1 2 3 10303
Comments are closed.