By Ernest Corea – Washington, D.C.
Anniversaries are usually treated as occasions for celebration. They are given special names as in “golden” for a fiftieth anniversary and “tin” for a tenth. Goodwill is in the air, food and drinks are brought out, and “don’t worry, be happy” is the overarching theme for all concerned. Not so in contemporary Iraq, where the tenth anniversary of the US invasion of that country fell on March 19, 2013. The event was not commemorated with joyous activity. Instead, murder and mayhem prevailed.
International news agencies reported that Baghdad was wracked by death and destruction on the tenth anniversary of the invasion. Over 50 people were reported dead in a wave of bombings that ripped through the capital and its environs.
Sporadic sectarian violence has continued throughout the post-Saddam period. So has corruption, as near-anarchy continues to dominate post-invasion Iraq. The Washington Post comments that “haunted by the ghosts of its brutal past, Iraq is teetering between progress and chaos, a country threatened by local and regional conflicts that could drag it back into the sustained bloodshed its citizens know so well.”
“Mission Accomplished,” President Bush?
Outcome of “Rash War”
In Iraq as elsewhere, recollections during the tenth anniversary of an invasion that was said to be characterized by “shock and awe” evoked sorrow over deaths and suffering, anger at the launching of a war on false grounds, and baffled introspection over how the US as a whole – the people, politicians, and the press – were bamboozled into supporting a “dumb war” and a “rash war” as then State Senator Barack Obama called it.
Looking back at the US invasion and its aftermath, perhaps the most cogent encapsulation has come from Hans Blix, the distinguished Swedish diplomat who was formerly his country’s foreign minister and who headed the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). In an Iraq retrospective published by CNN to mark the 10th anniversary of a deadly misadventure, Blix wrote:
“– The war aimed to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, but there weren’t any.
— The war aimed to eliminate al Qaeda in Iraq, but the terrorist group didn’t exist in the country until after the invasion.
— The war aimed to make Iraq a model democracy based on law, but it replaced tyranny with anarchy and led America to practices that violated the laws of war.
— The war aimed to transform Iraq to a friendly base for U.S. troops capable to act, if needed, against Iran — but instead it gave Iran a new ally in Baghdad.”
Blix’s pithy summation provides a salutary warning to all those whose reaction to a conflict taking place beyond America’s shores is a yearning for direct intervention.
WMD Were Non-existent
Many influential supporters of the US invasion of Iraq remain hawkish, nevertheless. They have not shifted from their original positions and some of them are so committed to their own misadventure that they claim they would “do it all over again” if an opportunity arose.
Moreover, some remain faithful to the dubious proposition that the invasion was justified because at the time it was launched, intelligence agencies all over the world were convinced that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Some national intelligence agencies did, indeed, make this assumption from the safety of distance. UNMOVIC, which had deployed inspectors on the ground in Iraq, was not convinced.
As Blix told the UN Security Council and through it the world on Feb. 14, 2003, well ahead of the invasion:
“How much, if any, is left of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and related proscribed items and programs? So far, UNMOVIC has not found any such weapons, only a small number of empty chemical munitions, which should have been declared and destroyed.”
That was not just a “gut feeling,” or idle speculation. It was an assessment based on actual facts.
Evidence of Absence
Knowing that the Bush Administration was inexorably moving towards war although the justification it claimed did not exist, Blix, as well as others associated with UNMOVIC, sought to avert a disaster. They attempted to persuade Western leaders, among others, that potentially cataclysmic decisions were being approached on the basis of flawed assumptions.
Blix records, for instance, that “during a telephone chat with Tony Blair on February 20, I told the British prime minister that it would be paradoxical and absurd if a quarter of a million troops were to invade Iraq and find very little in the way of weapons. He (i.e. Blair) responded by telling me intelligence was clear that Saddam had reconstituted his weapons of mass destruction program.” (Readers will recall that Blair was as gung ho as President George W. Bush about the invasion.)
Blix shared his misgivings with others in high positions who might have been able to halt or slow down the drift towards war. He writes: “…suspicions are one thing and reality is quite another. U.N. inspectors were asked to search for, report and destroy real weapons.
“As we found no weapons and no evidence supporting the suspicions, we reported this. But U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissed our reports with one of his wittier retorts: ‘The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.’” Verbal dexterity is a helpful trait in a politician but does not supplant the need for realism in the decision-making process. Policy decisions on war and peace require more than comedic talent.
In yet another intervention, Blix writes, “on February 11 — less than five weeks before the invasion — I told U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice I wasn’t terribly impressed by the intelligence we had received from the U.S., and that there had been no weapons of mass destruction at any of the sites we had been recommended (to inspect) by American forces. Her response was that it was Iraq, and not the intelligence, that was on trial.” Oh, wow.
Fake Premise, Real Problems
A war launched on a cooked-up premise is likely, at best, to have mixed results. On the plus side, Iraq has the benefit of Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical – in some situations, brutal – regime having ended. Few but his closest associates mourned his eviction from power. The end of his regime has not, however, been an unmixed blessing for the people of Iraq.
Over 130,000 Iraqis died as a result of the invasion and its consequences. Families were disrupted as they are in any war, and the hope of a “new tomorrow” remains distant for the nation. Stable, democratic governance is yet to be achieved. Corruption has been woven into the fabric of life.
On the US side, over 4,000 deaths have been reported, with so many more injured. Military personnel have lost their limbs and, thereby, their capacity for employment. They, and many others, have become victims of emotional trauma.
A report on the Costs of War compiled by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University calculates that US war expenditures at over $2 trillion – yes, with a “t.” This upsurge of unfunded expenditure aggravated the recession from which the US has not fully recovered.
The world’s policymakers would be well advised to think deeply on the effects of the Bush Administration’s intervention in Iraq as they consider their responses to other regional and global problems that cry out for resolution.
– Ernest Corea has served as Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and the USA. He was Chairman of the Commonwealth Select Committee on the media and development, Editor of the Ceylon ‘Daily News’ and the Ceylon ‘Observer’, and was for a time Features Editor and Foreign Affairs columnist of the Singapore ‘Straits Times’. He is Global Editor of and Editorial Adviser to IDN-InDepthNews. (This article was provided by IDN-InDepthNews on March 21, 2013. Visit: indepthnews.info)