By Stanley Kutler
“It is time to turn the page,” President Barack Obama said as he announced the “end” of combat operations in Iraq. Meanwhile, those who brought us that unnecessary war remain committed to such policies and, if returned to power, are likely to carry them out. Sadly, the president neither confronted nor repudiated his critics. They are shameless and unrepentant for designing the Iraq War, and they now call for a resumption of the policies that have resulted in a series of long, bloody and eventually unwinnable wars. It was not just the time to mark the departure of American troops; it was also the president’s moment to forcefully challenge and repudiate the policies that led us into what he once called “dumb wars.” He took a pass.
The day of the president’s speech, Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton anticipated and criticized Obama and reiterated why we went to war. Wolfowitz had the prime space of the New York Times Op-Ed page, while Bolton appeared in the Daily Beast, with his usual meat ax, in a piece entitled “Obama’s Lose-Lose Policy.”
Wolfowitz, it should be remembered, promised that American soldiers would be welcomed as liberators, that Iraqi oil would pay the costs of the war, that occupation would be as easy as that of post-1945 Germany and Japan, and that Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki (who would be dismissed) was “wildly off the mark” when he estimated that an occupation would require several hundred thousand troops. Wolfowitz simply failed to anticipate the Iraqis’ now seven-year-long “insurgency.”
Wolfowitz was nothing if not disingenuous in his Op-Ed piece. He did not repeat his May 3, 2003, assertion that in going to war “we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on[,] which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason [for going to war]”; that was a bald-faced lie. Instead, in the grand tradition of our “Defense Intellectuals” and servants of power, he projected the six decades of American military presence in South Korea as a model for ensuring the safety and stability of Iraq. It is six months and counting since Iraq held elections, and still it has no new legally constituted government; of course, we know that even “advanced societies” can have protracted election outcomes. Meanwhile, 50,000 American remain. Some stability.
Wolfowitz views our continued presence in South Korea as a buffer against the North, and he similarly envisions a continued presence in Iraq as a means of reining in Iran.
Bolton nimbly avoided any look backward to say what he said so vocally in 2002-03, namely that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Instead, he now justifies the war because Iraq “was moving rapidly to break loose from United Nations sanctions [and just how would Saddam do that?] and to rid itself of U.N. weapons inspectors.”
But U.N. inspectors who returned to Iraq had found no WMDs. No problem: Deny and shelve that report. Bolton is indefatigable: When Saddam was free of sanctions (he was not) and inspectors (who were recalled to escape our WMDs), he wrote, it would be “only a matter of time before Iraq would again produce weapons of mass destruction. …” How neat. Saddam had no WMDs, but he might have them in the future, so we saddled up, and the war came—a thoroughly justified one, according to Bolton.
If removing Saddam Hussein was the reason for war, then we succeeded. George W. Bush could have partied promptly. While Wolfowitz talked of an occupation ostensibly to “establish democracy,” more truthfully he favored a greater military presence on the sea of oil that is the Persian Gulf region. The chicanery of Bush and his minions knew no bounds.
Wolfowitz now believes the U.S. should remain in Iraq because of its vital strategic value in the Persian Gulf, “a position that is all the more important because of the dangerous ambitions of Iran’s rulers.” So, we stay in Iraq, he says, to provide security, stability and material support. “Nation-building,” he cavalierly states, would cost $53 billion—a substantial sum in itself, but only part of the $3 trillion war costs that economist Joseph Stiglitz and budget expert Linda Bilmes have estimated. Just as we ignored Vietnamese casualties, North and South, in backward looks at another endless war, Wolfowitz ignores the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis. Saddam Hussein was a piker compared with what we inflicted on the Iraqi people with our sanctions and military force.
Bolton berates the “simplistic” war critics who now oppose “U.S. or Israeli” military action against Iran’s nuclear capability. Iran is a “threat,” and “always there, and metastasizing, no matter what the United States did about Saddam,” he insists. So, if and when Bolton returns to power, his target is clear—and presto! the rest of us can prepare for another Forever War.
On a Kennedyesque note, Obama said we remained willing “to bear the burden of promoting liberty and human dignity overseas, understanding its link to our liberty and security.” He correctly drew the link to our prosperity and strength at home. Fine, but he never acknowledged the four or five lengthy, fruitless and costly (in terms of U.S. lives and money) wars that the nation has endured for nearly 60 years, while at home it now groans under the yoke of sustaining and feeding our empire.
Bolton and Wolfowitz are discredited rejects from the past—or are they? The novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, living nearly a century ago, was wrong when he wrote that “there are no second acts in American lives.” In a more innocent time, he never knew the power of well-oiled connections, coupled with the force of modern media chatter, to make for self-rehab.
The presidential “bully pulpit” today competes with a relentless, bold and tremendously large chorus of naysayers. Any talk proclaiming an “end” to our combat operations in Iraq fades quickly into collective memory, while the loud voices of opposition are emboldened. Messrs. Bolton and Wolfowitz are back, ready and eager to resume power.
Stanley Kutler is the author of “The Wars of Watergate” and other writings.
Flickr / U.S. Army
A U.S. Army soldier patrols with Afghan soldiers in the village of Yawez in Wardak province, Afghanistan, in February.