118 thoughts on “Open thread on Iraq

  1. @Dan
    Crean tried to take the nuanced approach of supporting the troops but not the war. This was not really sustainable once the war started, it’s easy enough to attack nuance in dumbed down debate anyway. So the ‘broadly supportive’ is not so much in this case – I think in this case Labor did what it could. No doubt it helped that the population were overwhelmingly against the war.

  2. Interesting that this topic starts on the stroke of the death of Christopher Hitchens — surely a member in good standing of the political maverick community, who scandalised pretty much everyone on the left by proclaiming his support for GWB on the basis of this single issue.

    The irony in this is that this policy, more than any single other IMO, diminished the US domestically and internationally during the first decade of the 21st century. An enemy of the US could not have hoped realistically for a more disastrous decision that that taken in late 2002 to escalate hostilities against Iraq.

    The Iranians surely would have been tickled pink as the fall of the Ba’athist regime meant that the US had taken out enemies on two frontiers. It also meant that the Shia community, already beholden to Iran after the 1991 debacle, were a vehicle for Iranian influence in Iraqi politics. That Iraq was politically a basketcase made this influence even more salient.

    At its height, the US alone was spending about $10USbn per month in the occupation (as opposed to about $1bn per annum between 1991-2003 in the no-fly zone period). It’s interesting to imagine how much sub-prime real property the US could have acquired for sums like that and then rented to people on low incomes at peppercorn rents and still been ahead on the deal. Would there have even been a “sub-prime” crisis in such circumstances? Probably not. $US600bn is a pretty similar sum to the money they paid out under TARP. On the downside, a lot of poor people would have had rooves over their heads and that would have upset the right, who like their poor to be suffering for their failure to be rich and their failure to embrace the American dream. There’d have been fewer dead heroes to beat their breasts over and Abu Ghraib may never have happened. Sad, obviously. Equally, there might have been between 600,000 and 1 million fewer dead Iraqis but again, even some rightwingers might have lived with this.

    I think Stiglitz figured that this war would eventually cost the US about $US3 trillion. I don’t know if this will prove so, but if it is, it has certainly been a monument to the reckless and misanthropic stupidity implicit in systems based on the protection at all costs of the privileges of the capitalist class. Between this and the GFC, we have a comprehensive picture of what happens when politics on a world scale amounts to nothing more than horsetrading between people with more dollars than sense, leave aside interest in human wellbeing.

  3. What is sad is that there are probably people who would like to have a career in the defence forces if they were only used for defending Australia. They are denied the opportunity because they know that instead of being used for their purported purpose, defence forces are used for every politician’s whim and photo opportunity. What a tragic waste of life simply to pander to politicians’ egos. Gallipoli was nothing but an exercise in carnage to pander to Churchill’s fantasy that he had the same sort of military vision possessed by his famous ancestor. Instead he simply displayed the sort of military prowess those born to rule have usually displayed.

  4. Freelander @46:

    “What GW achieved was to scare the North Koreans enough so they quickly put it back together again and exploded a bomb, simply so they could feel safe. ”

    Absurd and completely wrong.

    The North Koreans suddenly found themselves playing a much stronger hand because America was caught up in two very costly and not very successful wars. Bush II had no appetite for getting into another military conflict, he consequently shifted tactics and the North Koreans have taken advantage, even bombing a South Korean ship, port etc as well as proceeding with its nuclear program.

  5. The ‘arab spring’ might have liberated Iraq without outside intervention. Like Cairo it could have all happened in some downtown Baghdad square, hopefully with minimal loss of (Iraqi) life and possibly as a consequence of events over it’s border with Syria. Instead Iraqi’s are left with the ‘green zone’ or whatever the locals now call this remnant of US ‘shock and awe’.

  6. @Mel

    Yes. That is one opinion. And you know all this how? Ouija board? But what explains that GW first and Obama second didn’t shut up and stop sabre rattling about Iran but did largely shut up about North Korea. Maybe the wise move in reassembling the reactor making some more plutonium and exploding a bomb? Nuclear deterrent; works like a charm. Nuclear bombs. Don’t leave home without one. Its the little things in life that are priceless.

  7. the special position of the information industry glares out from this situation.

    incomplete information and ruinous will-to-power tactics resulted in all out misinformation.

    the information industry has a lot to answer for ,claiming above-the-fray status and abusing that status.

    what is happening now in the “Middle East can be seen on line.
    in the national and state news? what news? (oh a little bit here and a little bit there)

    the current insane loathing(i’d like to put it in a milder form but can’t)the information industry has for the federal government, and as an unelected political pressure group pretending to reason and balance,pushing the idea the government is incompetent .
    as well as wishing,hoping and visualising a destabilised government and leaning on anything that gets in the way of increasing it’s own power and profits.

    and for crying out loud,an entertainer has dire health problems and it’s front page?
    trained health personnel staffing ratios under threat in Victoria? oh that’s just wildcat union thugs.

    mad dog management?nevvah.

    an inquiry into the role played by the information industry as a lead up to the horrifying fiasco visited apon the Iraqi people?

    i won’t hold my breath.

    but
    the claim of holier-than-thou gatekeepers of the write of free speech was shown in all its grime when bolt shot his bolt though.

    oh well.

  8. While at the level of abstract principle I would gladly sign onto an anti-dictatorship agenda consequences to matter especially when egregious, and here the ongoing Egyptian parliamentary elections give me pause. The Salafists are a nasty lot, and the Muslim Brotherhood seems pretty objectionable as well. So, if the US just stood by and let the Shia overthrow the Bahrain monarchy, what would the likely consequences be (and how pro-democratic is it, really, to allow one sectarian group to prevail over another just because they have more people—that’s a pretty thin and unappealing conception of democracy unless coupled with liberal values that don’t appear to be in place, especially given the Shia ties to Iran)? Wouldn’t this freak out the Saudis, who are already upset about the US not intervening to support Mubarak? Mightn’t they then ally with, say, China? How exactly would that make the world a better place? So—I would want to hear more about likely consequences before I join up with the anti-dictatorship brigade. . . .Just as I think pretty much all of us here agree that the invasion of Iraq caused a lot of harms and didn’t accomplish much I don’t understand (though I’m open to argument) why a Shia coup in Bahrain would be a good thing.
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  9. @Freelander

    “Yes. That is one opinion. And you know all this how? Ouija board?”

    I didn’t need an Ouija board. It was widely reported by foreign policy analysts at the time that the Bush Presidency contained two distinct schools of thought in relation to how to deal with perceived rogue regimes. Put simply, the Rumsfeld, Cheney, Perle group favoured unilateral action and force whilst the Powell-Rice group favoured diplomacy and multilateral action. The former group got their way on Iraq but the latter group gained the ascendency after the Iraq war went pear-shaped. People movements with the Bush Presidency reflected the shift in power (eg the Rumsfeld resignation).

    The centrist Brookings Insitution contemporaneously summed up the situation here.

  10. I must admit Hitchens made me reconsider the case for war. I didn’t change my mind, but I did decide against certain antiwar arguments. In particular, I no longer respect the kind of Leftist isolationism typified by Gore Vidal. I think he added something to the debate.

  11. The whole weapons of mass destruction claim, while at least technically possible, was a limp reason to go fight in Iraq when the original post-9/11 objective was to smoke out and git the murdering bastards who made 9/11 a reality. Somehow, the act of questioning just why a desire to find the perpetrators of 9/11, who were hardly unknown to the USA (the TV-watching world, in fact), could morph into a fight in Iraq, was either seriously attacked as un-patriotic to ask, or simply ignored by the large media players. I never got that.

    Saddam Hussein was a murderous thug, of that there is little question. A torturing murderous thug. Al Qaeda was the organisation directly responsible for 9/11; their boss Obama bin Laden was living in Afghanistan and/or Pakistan, for much of the previous decade—ie, his home address was known not to be Iraq; it was never Iraq during that period. A small force was deployed to Afghanistan, presumably on the off-chance that it would be enough to ensnare him. Meanwhile, a mighty force was being readied for Iraq, one that dwarfed the Afghanistan deployment. In fact, it probably cannibalised the Afghanistan deployment. I’ve wondered a few times about how it might have gone differently, if the US had rapidly positioned a much bigger force concentrated on finding bin Laden. They had the numbers nearby, but for some reaon Iraq seemed more interesting as a target.

    Iraq was not involved in the 9/11 attacks on the USA, and yet it got the lion’s share of military deployment, not to mention that it also had the sheet bombed out of it’s infrastructure, and who knows how many hundred thousand killed Iraqis. What devastation.

    With respect to Christopher Hitchens, I perfectly understand his feelings concerning the enormity of the tragedy and what it meant in terms of defining a new dimension of enemy. I even understand the great desire to see the perpetrators held to account as an enemy military force, something which would very likely see them dead on the battlefield, rather than arrested and processed by trial. I could even bring myself to support a sudden and major deployment to Afghanistan’s mountain regions, if the mission was restricted to finding and killing/capturing bin Laden and his cronies. Where Hitchens and I part company, however, is with the mounting of a major military campaign in Iraq, under the guise of it being part of the war on terror. To me, that just seemed capricious, mealy-mouthed BS for convincing the masses to go to war in the wrong damned country! Didn’t understand it then, don’t understand it now.

    It took a decade to finally get bin Laden—in Pakistan!. Meanwhile, that force deployed to Afghanistan suffered a variety of mission creep, and never did find bin Laden.

  12. @Rachel Shapiro

    Yes. Democracy, far too good for them. Give them half a chance and they’ll vote for something we don’t want them to have, or make alliances and choices we don’t want them to make. Maybe they’ll be ready for democracy in a couple more centuries…

  13. Saddam Hussein was a murderous thug, but he was the American’s murderous thug, just like Noriega was their murderous thug. The American’s will really have to do something about their murderous thug retirement benefits or it will start to impact on murderous thug recruitment.

    “I suppose installing a ‘democracy’ is an option, but look at that guy we chose for Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. He could take orders back when he was working directly for the CIA in the ’80s and ’90s, but since we installed him he really thinks he is in charge! Oh well. Can’t win ’em all. Or very many at all. We’ll leave the allies to sort it out.”

  14. The Iraq war represented the triumph of unreason over reason.

    Here is the supposedly great and most certainly late Hitchens on the war “Wolfowitz has the rats on the run and this will all be over soon.” (Slate)

  15. Freelander: “Yes. That is one opinion. And you know all this how? Ouija board?”

    I didn’t need an Ouija board. It was widely reported by foreign policy analysts at the time that the Bush Presidency contained two distinct schools of thought in relation to how to deal with perceived rogue regimes. Put simply, the Rumsfeld, Cheney, Perle group favoured unilateral action and force whilst the Powell-Rice group favoured diplomacy and multilateral action. The former group got their way on Iraq but the latter group gained the ascendency after the Iraq war went pear-shaped. People movements with the Bush Presidency reflected the shift in power (eg the Rumsfeld resignation).

  16. All the comments here seem to have something to offer, Fran’s, #2, stands out again, for a relevant summary.
    Floating about the wires is speculation on another asylum boat down, a couple of hundred more people may be delayed victims of the hysterical zeitgeist the masses were infected with by the outrageous and intemperate neo con delusionists and opportunist sociopaths.

  17. @Mel

    Oh. So it was chatter amongst the very clever people who dreamed up the idea of invading Iraq (Operation Freedom). Wouldn’t a Ouija board be better? Would you expect them to give the reason that I did? No. Never. Instead they would have some self serving twaddle.

  18. @paul walter Yes. Good comment by Fran. Re: another lost asylum boat and a couple of hundred lives, no one blames those who insist on making sure that only disposal boats are used for transport. The asylum seekers have the right to claim asylum on reaching Australia’s boarders. The government chooses to criminalise those who provide them transport and to confiscate their boats. Obviously, in those circumstances, the boats and people used to do the transporting are disposable and the loss of life inevitable. Who really ought to be blamed? The ‘people smugglers’ and their ‘business model’ or those who ensure that that model is used. Give that there is no attempt at smuggling, the purpose is to provide transport to seek to claim asylum, why call them people smugglers. I suppose it is to suggest that they are doing something wrong. As some asylum seekers come in by plane, how about confiscating a few 747s?

  19. @Fran Barlow Try $US4/6 trillion

    Altogether, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could cost the U.S. between $4 trillion and $6 trillion, more than half of which would be due to the fighting in Iraq, said Neta Crawford, a political science professor at Brown University.

    Her numbers, which are backed by similar studies at Columbia and Harvard universities, estimate the U.S. has already spent $2 trillion on the wars after including debt interest and the higher cost of veterans’ disabilities.

    The problem with quoting Hitchens is that for a large part of his career he was three sheets to the wind.

  20. “I think Stiglitz figured that this war would eventually cost the US about $US3 trillion.”

    What is the value of the oil in the oilfields now controlled by European and American companies?

  21. It looked obvious to me that in suddenly becoming a RWDB, Hitchens was simply making a savvy career move. If he had stayed an anti-imperialist then far fewer people would have ever heard of him. He would have been offered far fewer column inches, far smaller speaking fees and book advances, and received far fewer invites to Washington cocktail-parties.

    His arguments were far too ludicrous to be sincere, especially when contrasted with his ardent opposition to the first Gulf War. As Tariq Ali says, Hitchens actually died in 2001, one of the victims of 9/11, replaced by a vile imposter.

  22. Did that mob at Catallaxy support the war? I never see a word about it on their blog.

    Yet they seem to have become the go to blog by the Right wing media for comments on fixing the current economic woes which resulted primarily from the economic policies of their side of politics!

  23. @Alan

    It’s a really good question and I too would love to learn the answer, but I have a strong suspicion that even on those psychopathically realpolitik criteria for US/British mission objectives the invasion was a failure.

  24. @Alan

    So I did a bit of back of the envelope:

    Iraq’s proven resources are estimated at 110bn barrels (although there are estimates of unproven reserves that far exceed this).

    Multiply this by, say, $100 per barrel. (Pick a different figure if you like.)

    Assuming you use my numbers, the total value is $11 trillion.

    I have no idea what the cost of producing a barrel is, but I understand Iraqi oil reserves are particularly inexpensive to exploit.

    I also have no idea what proportion of the reserves are now controlled by the West that weren’t before.

    My guesstimate is that the war’s profitability is a near thing on the hard numbers, but given the risks and costs associated with leaving Western energy reserves less certain, and the possibility of vast untapped resources in Iraq, the war probably made – and makes – good business sense.

    I have made huge assumptions here, feel free to critique, or better yet, correct them.

  25. @Dan

    Wow, Dan, I’ve respected all your comments to date but that last one is just Crude Marxism. America certainly hasn’t profited from the war in Iraq. It would have served the interests of American capital far better to simply toady up to Saddam’s regime just like it does with Saudi Arabia and to reap the gains through trade.

    Let me give you a brief history lesson. After WWII the European colonial powers departed their former colonies and entered into trade relations. It became apparent very quickly that relinquishing control and entering into trade with the former colonies was far more profitable than trying to run an empire. The neocons in the Bush administration, however much we may not like them, clearly and repeatedly outlined the ideological underpinnings of the war and this didn’t include giving a few American companies the chance to make big bucks at the expense of the rest of the economy. There is no convincing argument for such a silly conspiracy theory.

    I consider myself left of centre but I feel like running a mile to the right when I here this type of bollocks.

  26. Anyone who supported the Iraq War is already miles to the right of sanity anyway.

    Actually, outsourcing and privatization of military operations was central to neoconservative ideology from the beginning of the Bush administration. The Iraq War has been a bottomless pit of Corporate Welfare, monopoly cost-plus contracts to politically-connected contractors, with rampant waste and fraud everywhere you look.

    But of course you would only believe that this was intentional if the neocons had came out and “clearly and repeatedly outlined” that they planned to “give a few American companies the chance to make big bucks at the expense of the rest of the economy”.

    On the other hand, they “clearly and repeatedly outlined” that America was threatened by Iraqi WMD. Apparently some people were naive enough to believe that.

    Who needs a silly Conspiracy Theory when you have an even sillier Coincidence Theory.

  27. @Mel

    America hasn’t profited, but certain Americans have done extraordinarily well, thank you very much. Cheney, for one, made a fortune out of the invasion of Iraq.

  28. The US also thought it would get a lot more out of the Iraq adventure than they did. For example, they thought they would have eternal bases in Iraq and would be able to be first in line for very favourable oil contracts. Not everything worked out as planned. But as far as giving companies like Haliburton a chance to further rape the American taxpayer that part of the plan worked like a charm. Their man in Afghanistan isn’t working out to be their man either, in fact, since the installed him he has now become somewhat surly. The wars haven’t worked out well. Never mind. The American taxpayer will pay for them even if those who planned to benefit didn’t get everything they planned it won’t cost them a bean.

  29. @Mel

    Mel – you’re taking a swipe at #30?

    Surely controlling a resource is almost always more profitable than negotiating access to one. The notion that the US had little or no interest in controlling Iraq’s oil utterly defies logic, common sense, or (again) realpolitik. No conspiracy needed: the US leadership would have been literally crazy (not just crazy-evil) for this not to enter the equation.

    I think the pattern is, as usual, privatised gains, socialised losses (with the American taxpayer and the Iraqi people footing the bill in dollars and blood respectively).

    NB: the bit of the history lesson that you missed was that Iraq was a bunch of lines arbitrarily drawn around a bunch of people who hated each other. The country was always going to descend into chaos or by forcibly rallied around a despot. Now it’s done both.

  30. I’ll quickly add: I don’t think the US thought things would be anywhere near this difficult; it certainly wasn’t the Bush administration’s intent to expend anywhere near the resources that they have.

  31. Mel :
    @Dan
    The neocons in the Bush administration, however much we may not like them, clearly and repeatedly outlined the ideological underpinnings of the war

    If you believe that wars like Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam have ideological underpinnings, no wonder you got taken in like a dupe. Ideology in this context is just PR. Three things matter in resource conflicts: national interests, national interests, and national interests.

  32. @Dan

    Yes, Dan. Toppling a regime and installing a US friendly democratic dictator had never been so difficult. Amusingly, I don’t remember Mubarak being decried as a dictator or Egypt being criticized as a dictatorship by the Americans when he was doing their bidding and did not look close to being toppled. The US only joined the bandwagon on Egypt very late in the piece.

  33. I have a comment in moderation, the thrust of which is: Mel, forget the ideology bs, because it’s lies. Instead, work out who the intended beneficiaries are. This will give you a much stronger underpinning for your analysis. It’s not conspiracy theory; it’s following the money, and it almost always comes up with the right result. This is why I called Iraq correctly to begin with.

  34. Couldn’t understand how anything you said, Dan, had anything to do with ‘marxism’, crude or otherwise.

  35. @Freelander

    You’re right. The US is perfectly willing to support and defend human rights abusers and despots of all stripes, when doing so accords with US interests.

    Let me be clear here – as historical hegemons go, the US is probably not a particularly egregious example. But: they are a hegemon, and in the geopolitical game they are looking out for Number One. Vietnam was about spheres of influence, Afghanistan and Iraq are about energy security. A little bit of clear-eyed analysis and these are not surprises.

  36. Yes. I agree. The Soviets were not our friends; neither were the Chinese when they were communist, and I doubt they are our friends now. But the country that is the greatest threat to us, and which is not our friend, or even the friend of its own average citizen is the US of A. Not because they are necessarily fired by a worse motivation than others, but simply because they are the hegemon power that by far has the greatest power and influence over us in the West. Too many of our politicians are simply sellouts to the US, betraying our interests in favour of US interests to attempt to advance their careers.

  37. Umm, that’s really dumb stuff, Dan. Reality is vastly more complicated than your silly conspiracy theories would suggest. While a few American companies might make a quid out of the Iraq fiasco, America generally and American capital in particular have suffered enormously. You might also like to explain how it is that American companies now “control” Iraqi oil given that the Iraqi Government may kick them out at any moment- and will quite possibly do so not long after the CoW departs Iraq.

    (As an aside, the keyboard warriors on the Right also like to “follow the money” (oil company funding for anti-AGW campaigns is less than 5% of government, university and NGO funding for AGW research and activism according to the figures I’ve seen) and “forget the ideology”, and this is how they have arrived at the conclusion that AGW is a hoax).

    Anyway, Dan, you may right and as such I strongly advise you to keep an eye out for black helicopters. I mean, “money power” will never allow a genius and genuine people’s poet such as yourself to keep tellin’ it like it is 😉

  38. Mel: I’ve been clear that Iraq represents a strategic failure on its own terms (though I did try to do some sums around the edges that do convey a more nuanced story, and I think I’ve been open about the bits I’m not sure about). Some questions for you:

    1. Why do you think the US got involved in Iraq? Bear in mind that the regime change thing is obviously bunk (remember how the US had his back in the 80s, and think about all the other awful regimes they’ve installed or propped up), and the WMD thing was obviously a lie from day dot to anyone who gave the evidence even a cursory examination.

    2. Given that you now think you were wrong to support the invasion, what changed?

    3. Will you support the next US (mis)adventure?

    4. What do you think broadly motivates US (or any country’s) foreign policy?

    As for conspiracy – I haven’t suggested anything conspiratorial whatsoever. I have proposed that countries attempt to act in their own interest, regardless of what sort of half-baked sanctimoniousness might come from their mouthpieces.

  39. Mel :
    Reality is vastly more complicated than your silly conspiracy theories would suggest.

    First: strange to be getting lectured on how reality is constituted from someone who swallowed the official line in 2003. Why do you think you have a better grasp on things now than you did then?

    Second: I really don’t think I’ve come across anyone else – let alone someone who describes themselves as opposing the invasion (just in the nick of time, eh?) who takes serious issue with the idea that energy security was a major factor. Heck, I’ve discussed the matter with a staff sergeant serving in Iraq until just recently (ain’t the internet wonderful), a Republican, who had no serious quibbles with what I was saying, and described the official line for the war as (I quote) ‘pretty thin’.

  40. fyi I don’t think I’m in any danger of being shut up by the authorities (who, after all, we elect) – what I am saying is probably a fairly standard view in my office (which runs the gamut politically), in my family (ditto), and among my friends (largely Greens voters and pretty much arch-rationalistic in orientation). And I also note Noam is still out there setting the record straight, not in the brig at Quantico.

  41. Given the increasingly enlightened comments, I’ve worked out who this “Mel” is.

    Last name Gibson – aka Terror of the Highway Patrol – one time movie star, director, producer.

  42. Dan, you put forward a particular theory at #30 that purports to explain the “real motive” for the war in Iraq. You said that the ideological justifications given for the wear and written about in neocon literature were “bs” as the real motive was “control” of oil. I very correctly pointed out to you that your theory is bunk. I never said that oil is not a factor in play- obviously it is, but “control of oil”- your theory- is not the proximate cause of the war. Such a claim is very crude schoolboy theorising.

    Dan #45 ” As for conspiracy – I haven’t suggested anything conspiratorial whatsoever.”

    I’m sorry but the obvious implication of your claim that the Bush Administration’s publicly announced justifications for the war were a screen to hide the real motivation (in your words “lies”), that being the opportunity for a select few American companies to “control” and make a profit from Iraqi oil, is that a conspiracy took place.

    Black helicopters, Dan. Beware.

    Dan #45

    “Given that you now think you were wrong to support the invasion, what changed?”

    The invasion made sense in principle but it was poorly executed with too many casualities. It is that simple.

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