It is a war that began with a lie, cost many human lives, plunged a region into chaos and damaged America’s global reputation. Five years after the start of the Iraq war, many Americans are trying to forget about it. But one person still thinks it is a strategic victory.
Once a week, Lawrence Wilkerson sits in the basement room of a small building on the George Washington University campus. There, the former US Army colonel teaches a class in politics to a group of students. His syllabus has practical relevance and his lectures, he knows, are somewhat sobering. For Lawrence Wilkerson worked for four years as Chief of Staff for US Secretary of State Colin Powell. He experienced first hand how the Bush administration planned the Iraq war.
Stations Of The War
Lawrence Wilkerson also had the thankless task of putting together that disastrous speech Colin Powell had to give before the United Nations on February 5th, 2003. The speech would later go down in history as a lie. Just a few months later it was discovered that every fact provided by CIA intelligence sources concerning Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction was wrong, as were his alleged ties to al-Qaeda terrorists.
America Believed In Powell
The supposedly certain proofs were based, at best, on presumptions. “We were not only misled by our intelligence services, but by the administration as well,” Wilkerson says today. “But for Bush and Cheney, the speech served their purpose: the American people believed the lies, not because of their content but because they were presented by Colin Powell. America’s most respected soldier, a man the whole country trusted.”
After that speech, the road to war was wide open. A war long since decided upon by George Bush. Still today, Colonel Wilkerson becomes enraged when he thinks of how he was manipulated and used.
Many Americans Feel Betrayed
Like Colonel Wilkerson, many Americans today feel betrayed and cheated by their president. And most Americans would like to put him and his war behind them provided they can avoid feeling as though they have suffered a humiliating defeat. Opinion polls show that the majority of Americans believe the war was a mistake and that it has severely damaged America’s world image. At the same time, 43 percent of those questioned believe that there are finally some signs of military success because the news reports from Baghdad are less grim. The demands for an immediate troop withdrawal have therefore become less strident. According to a Pew Institute poll, 47 percent of those questioned favor leaving American troops in Iraq until such time as the situation has relatively stabilized.
So the fifth anniversary of the invasion this Washington spring is greeted remarkably quietly. Mass protests at the capitol? A peace movement? Not in the cards. A few war protestors gather, among them the “Grandmther’s Peace Brigade” grandmothers who knit for peace. Others want to picket the Treasury Department to protest those profiting from the war. Besides that, there’s a symbolic torture demonstration planned in front of the White House. Anyway.
The Pentagon Instead Of The Oval Office
And the Commander in Chief? The man who wanted this war to carry the torch of freedom into the world and who wanted to be memorialized in history books with “Mission Accomplished”? He just put a reminder about that on his calendar: a speech about the war on terror that most observers already know by heart. He’ll tell us his troop surge has “Opened the door to strategic victory in the war on terror.” Just few days ago he again stubbornly repeated in a speech what he’s been saying for years: “The decision to topple Saddam Hussein was the right one early in my administration, and it remains the right decision today. And it will remain the right decision forever.”
As a backdrop “location” for this message he didn’t choose the Oval Office or one of the White House rooms so tastefully redecorated by his wife, Laura, from which he usually likes to address the nation. He prefers to go to the Pentagon, to the Defense Department, the five-sided drab fortress across the Potomac. He sends his VP to visit the chaotic places. Richard Cheney, feared by many as the warmongering decision-maker, enthusiastically reports from Baghdad that there’s been a meaningful turnabout in the national security situation. The “surge,” the plus up of troops by 30,000 soldiers, is working. For the Washington Post, that merited a spot on page ten.
“I’d Rather Lose An Election Than a War.”
John McCain was also on tour. The former prisoner of war and current Republican candidate for president just ended his “fact-finding mission” in Iraq. He reports successes, too. And he desperately needs them if he wants to be president. Ultimately, McCain has supported the war from the very beginning, and his promise goes, “I’d rather lose an election than lose a war.” But this slogan comes across better to his supporters than his crude ideas for rescuing the economy.
The first symptoms of Iraq war-weariness, on the other hand, appeared among the Democratic candidates for the White House. Barack Obama, currently the Democrat’s best hope, had to repudiate the provocative views of his pastor in the customary historic framework of a national race problem and other than that repeated that he wanted to get the majority of troops out of Iraq within sixteen months of his inauguration. Mind you, the majority of troops, not all of them. And Senator Hillary Clinton used the opportunity to hammer the point home to her supporters that she was prepared to take over as Commander in Chief immediately. She would begin troop reductions within 60 days of taking office – a process slated to last until the year 2013. “I’m ready on day one,” she said probably a dozen times yesterday alone. But has she really forgotten for the sake of the primaries that she voted in favor of the war five years ago?
Iraq Seems Very Distant These Days
At present, however, people have other worries than a war so far away. The unending real estate crisis. The sinking dollar. The dramatic developments on Wall Street. Fear of recession. Constantly rising oil prices. Gasoline already costs four dollars a gallon, a level never before seen. George W. Bush tried last week to assure people that the situation was “under control,” and that the rest of the world was really only casting jealous glances at America’s successful economic example. That prompted one enraged New York Times columnist to write “. . . in times of crisis you would like to at least believe your leader has the capacity to pretend he’s in control.”
Iraq seems far away these days. The security situation has improved in past months and fewer Americans are being killed. But no one knows how long that will last. The country still stands at the brink of civil war, no meaningful legislation has been passed by the Iraqi Parliament, the support of the Sunnis had to be bought by the US Army for millions of dollars. Two thousand attacks take place each month, at least 180,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed, 2.1 million have fled to other countries and at least as many to other areas of Iraq. Add to that around 4000 dead American soldiers and tens of thousands of seriously wounded. And the financial cost of the war has risen to a shocking 3 trillion dollars up until now. This war is far from being over.
“Hubris,” “Fiasco,” “State of Denial”
Meanwhile experts dissect the last few unknown details. They’ve written many thick volumes, outstanding studies that bear titles like “Hubris” or “Fiasco” or “State of Denial.” They show how blindly and arrogantly, how dishonestly the US leaders entered this war. They show how frantically determined they were to make Iraq and its dictator Saddam Hussein examples of a new American foreign policy and how they stubbornly ignored and played down the possible dangers involved. But these days they’re mentioning a certain Paul Bremer III once again. The United States’ former governor in Baghdad made two disastrous decisions in 2003, first to forbid Saddam’s Ba’ath Party and second to dissolve the Iraqi army with the stroke of a pen. Ten thousand soldiers were discharged overnight and they went underground. It was one of the most important and fateful decisions ever made concerning the war, but nobody will admit to making it. Up to now, no one knows whose directions Bremer was following. President Bush, in any case, was clearly informed of the decree in a meeting on the 22nd of May 2003. When surprised Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice asked about it, she was assured that the decision had already been made. She capitulated. And now Paul Bremer supposedly can’t remember who made this fatal suggestion. He was subordinate to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, he says. And Rumsfeld? The man who wanted to withdraw American forces from Iraq in four months? He’ll receive more honor awards in these coming weeks.
The Decision Was Correct, The Execution Was Wrong
The former cast of characters is using this break in the action to lay the basis for a conservative counterattack. That’s what neo-conservative mastermind Richard Perle wrote: “The decision to go to war was correct. However, we then should have handed the country back over to the Iraqis. Instead we stumbled into an occupation.” His friend, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith, even wrote an entire book entitled “War and Decision” which was presented to a hand-selected conservative audience a few weeks ago. Also his thesis: the decision was correct, the execution wrong. The fault lies with others. Never mind that he was also responsible for post-war planning. Another attendee in the front row nodded complacently: Paul Wolfowitz, also an advocate for war within the Pentagon, a Deputy Secretary of Defense later to be rewarded by Bush with directorship of the World Bank. He, too, gladly accepted the accolades while biting his fingernails. Paul Wolfowitz refused to answer any questions.
This war is far from over, even further from over for President Bush. Soon a liberal citizen’s organization intends to send a bus named “Bush’s Legacy” through the United States. It’s purpose is to inform the public about the bitter truths of the Bush administration. The bus will display a fallen soldier’s combat boots. The bus is supposed to travel through the country for months.
Hopefully, gasoline won’t get much more expensive during that time.
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