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Friday, March 22, 2013

Ten-Year Anniversary of the Iraq War, and an Ignored Caution, Before it Happened...


With all the sabre-rattling in stark contrast to the message of Easter, we received a comment (March 30) from a reader calling himself "Pete for Peace." As he points-out, it's beginning to feel like deju vu all over again. You can read his comment and others, and we encourage you to do that ~ and to add your own ~ at the end. Thanks to Pete, and to all, for your reader comments to this reprinted piece from long ago, which seems eerily relevant once again.


This week marks the tenth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. Ten and half years ago, a full six months before that invasion, Larry Wines wrote a full-page piece that ran in several newspapers, opposing that war. At the time, precious few journalists were expressing caution. Indeed, many seemed happy to get in the Pentagon’s good graces in hopes of being given coveted “embed” positions with deploying troops.

Perhaps you recall Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s cryptic comment about known knowns and unknown knowns and unknowable knowns. It was weird at the time, and his delivery, with self-satisfied smugness, already smacked of the hubris that characterizes any examination of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld policy that led to the US becoming an invading aggressor in the name of finding weapons of mass destruction that were never there.

Larry’s piece, "An Endless Occupation of Iraq?" was published in September 2002, the week of the one-year anniversary of the 9/11 attack, and more than six months before the US invaded Iraq.

Here is the piece, as it ran in September, 2002.
(A “pull quote,” in larger, bold typeface, midway down piece, read, "Rebuilding Iraq will require a lengthy commitment from US taxpayers, without help from anyone else, and plenty of accommodations with people who hate us.")

An Endless Occupation of Iraq?
By Larry Wines

This week's September 11 remembrances have run the gamut: poignant, exploitative, useful, and manipulative. The last should concern us most.

A Bush White House is spending millions preparing for war against Iraq. It looks like the family business. After the 9-11 attacks, Dubya wasted no time assessing public support for completing what his father left unfinished with Saddam Hussein. He inherited a decade of simmering frustration from a conflict left maddeningly unresolved despite overwhelming military domination.

Frustration in Southern California is acute, given the prominence of the military-industrial complex here. The sexiest aerial weapons platforms, the F-117A, B-1 and B-2, are local products. Builders are proud when their creations work.

Meanwhile, the national attention span is short. A year of Dubya's saber rattling, and Iraq hasn't been attacked. Now, polls show collapsing support for another Iraq war. Complex realities may have penetrated popular reckoning.

Senior Pentagon commanders doubt killing Saddam is a good idea. Our traditional allies in NATO will sit this one out. Our erstwhile Arab allies from the last go 'round won't fight alongside us, and some hint at unpleasant surprises if we attack their fellow Muslim nation. Even Russia joined the international chorus, with Moscow seeking to resolve tensions by returning UN weapons inspectors after their eviction four years ago.

But Iraq says that's a "non-starter," and White House spokesman Ari Fleischer agrees, saying, "Iraq changes positions on whether they'll let the inspectors in more often than Saddam Hussein changes bunkers."

It begs questions that aren't being asked. Is there a moral imperative here? Does our security, or the free world's safety from terrorist attacks, rest on Saddam's removal? Or, would going after him trigger more attacks? And if the moral thing to do is kill him, should fear influence us?

Evoking everybody from Teddy Roosevelt to Mahatma Gandhi can prove a moral argument one way or the other. So let's stick with some practical concerns.

History offers contradictory but useful examples. There is the deliberate decision to keep the Emperor of Japan alive during World War II. Bombing the Imperial Palace was prohibited. America's war propaganda made Prime Minister Tojo the symbol of evil, and scant mention was made of Emperor Hirohito. But, Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini had no fall guys, then or now. Neither does Saddam. His adversary, Iran's Ayatollah, got off America's list by dying, so it's unclear whether we're supposed to hate Iran anymore.

Saddam is, without question, a brutal and ruthless dictator. He has murdered his own people, including anyone with leadership ability who might build their own cult of personality. It's a means of control that Niccolò Machiavelli would have admired, and it creates a practical problem for Saddam's removal. Who is left to take over?

World War II offers additional insight. The Allies in conquered Germany employed unreconstructed Nazis, the only ones who understood infrastructure that enabled human settlements to operate.

It's a lesson in practicality versus moral imperative. West Germany combined the American, British and French sectors. Solutions involved all the participants, and accommodations allowed some nasty Nazis to escape justice at Nuremburg, as we later learned.

But the Russians went it alone in East Germany. They invoked the moral imperative, persecuting defeated Nazis, regardless of an individual's role in German society from 1933-1945.

While West Germany's famed industrial capacity was quickly rebuilt, economic prosperity came quickly, fueled by the generosity of America's Marshall Plan. East Germany remained largely in ruins and a drain on its Soviet sponsors until German reunification brought money from the west.

History's lessons? Iraq has a resource, oil, but has never been industrial. Rebuilding Iraq will require a lengthy commitment from US taxpayers, without help from anyone else, and plenty of accommodations with people who hate us. In the end, our own oil companies will exploit us. But that isn't the only point, or the most costly one.

American military forces occupy conquered nations. There are important variables, like how long it lasts, compliance by indigenous peoples, and what threats lurk at the borders. These determine the differences between the US in Japan or Germany or Vietnam.

Postwar duty in Japan was pleasant, with no hostile adversary lurking at a border. Germans accepted occupation without resistance, but pleasantries ended there. A half-century of US military presence and Pentagon war plans centered on expected ground invasion by the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact. America's military was designed and deployed in response to that scenario. Hostile borders determine everything.

In the 1980's, Iraq fought a ten-year war with its hated neighbor, Iran. Saddam received US assistance during that war, as payback to Iran for the humiliating hostage siege. America was Saddam's friend. So were the Afghani Mujaheddin who fought the Soviets and later became the Taliban. So much for moral imperatives.

The legacy of the Iran-Iraq War is the trump card. Decapitating Iraq's leadership invites another Iranian invasion. Iran made dozens of "human wave" border attacks during the war. Armed with pointed sticks ahead of armed troops, Iranians died in mounds of carnage unseen since the Middle Ages. The horror of Cambodia's killing fields is the only modern parallel.

America chose not to stop that killing in Iran or Cambodia. We allowed the carnage in the former Yugoslavia to run its course before a controversial peacekeeping entry. None are proud moments, but none evoke the specter of Vietnam. Our modern "model," the first Iraq war, brought pride in a victory that was only symbolic.

Another Iraq war will bring decades of occupation and harsh, expensive realities. It will reshape national defense priorities for decades. It could define us as the British Empire of the 21st century. Should we use military power to pursue still nebulous moral imperatives and goals we abandoned a decade ago?

- 30 -

Originally filed September 4, 2002.
11:13 PM


Anonymous said...

This deserves to be read widely. I watched the cable special Friday night on the book, Hubris, and the panel discussion. They kept emphasizing how few journalists were expressing any cautions about going to war in Iraq back in 2002 when Larry Wines wrote this. Looking back it is such madness that americans were so duped by the warmongers.

Anonymous said...

Where was this published in September, 2002?

- Larry, the editor said...

Editor's response:
Larry Wines says, "I was first paid for the piece when it ran as a full-page in a very unlikely place, a nationally-distributed aerospace and defense industry weekly called 'Aerotech News & Reviews.' Their publisher let it appear in the print editions, but kept it out of the internet edition. You can find it in that publication's office file of back issues -- called 'the morgue' at every newspaper, interestingly enough -- and it should still be in libraries that microfilmed their newspaper collections."

"2002 was a different time. Many publications posted web content that was different from print editions, which were still where you wanted to be in those days. Some later appended their archives, but many did not. The complete content of the latter can still be found only in print editions."

"As to why the publisher kept the piece off the Aerotech web site in 2002? Another writer told me it was to get a little distance from it, within the Pentagon."

"In addition, the piece was picked-up and ran, in shorter, edited forms, in several local newspapers, including one in England. Alas, I have lost track of those others who also carried it. Thanks for your most appropriate question."

-- Larry Wines

Anonymous said...

So, we know you as this guy who writes about music and tells everybody about all the things we would miss if you didn't write about them. That's a long way from your being a prescient voice in national/global affairs. I am wondering: did writing in opposition to the Iraq War--when there was a headlong rush into that war--did that get you kicked out of the important journalist club?

- Larry, the editor said...

Larry Wines replied:
"It was certainly a factor. I had chosen not to apply to renew my White House-issued press credentials when the Supreme Court made GW Bush president. I had covered lots of beats in just a few years, from science & technology to aerospace to politics to arts and music, even some travel and adventure. I had done a political column. I loved all of it. But I was disenchanted, even alienated, by the neocons and their policies. After 9-11, you had to be nominally pro-Bush to make a living in some of those areas of journalism. I couldn't do that. Increasingly, music was the escape, and folk music was giving voice to protest some of the things I saw as wrong. There were transitions. There was my radio show, 'Tied to the Tracks,' and all those performance-interviews with people who had something to say. There was the end of a flourishing career as a proposal-writing specialist / editor, when the Bushies dud away with competitive bidding so they could award no-bid government contracts, worth billions, to Cheney's companies, KBR Halliburton. Music and the arts were an oasis of sanity. My background in the media enabled me to help artists and promote people in the industry I cared about. Cut to the chase..."

"Do I miss places I have been? Often. Do I wish I had covered the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld White House? Hell, no."

-- Larry Wines

Anonymous said...

You are clearly a person of passion. That's why you belong in the arts.
- SE

Anonymous said...

Without even knowing how Colin Powell lied at the UN and Bush and Cheney and Condoleeza and Rummy lied to everyone everywhere, your historical perspective at the time should have been enough to get somobody to step on the brakes. How tragic that so few were thinking about things beyond that country song, "We're coming to kick your ass." Bill

Anonymous said...

Reading this took me back to those tragic days when I was one of the few who protested against starting that war. Have we learned ANYTHING in these 10 years??? I do remember how almost the entire USA media had only encouragemenr and justification for attacking Iraq, and how they so easily accepted the lie that it would be all good for the Iraqi people. So many people died and I do not believe we have learned at all. I want to say thank you-a very late thank you-for being among the few who tried to do something to stop the last 10 years from being as they were.

Anonymous said...

Blood, burns, lost limbs, carnage, wounds inside that don't show. Military funerals where families could not even take a picture. Fights with the goverment to get benefits that were promised. Nothing kearned in uniform that gets any of us a civilian job. Where's our cheap oil prices? There wasn't one thing worth going into Iraq. Not one. James

Anonymous said...

As I read this I kept thinking deja vu, and betting that's why you dug it out now. Your old history lesson is beginning to look like a scary rerun.

Walter Pincus of the Washington Post wrote in his column this week:

"The dilemma for the United States... is that new Middle East or Central Asian governments, whether they be in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan or post-Assad Syria, do not want large numbers of foreign troops stationed in their countries, even if just for training local security forces. They particularly don’t want U.S. troops."

"Post-Assad Syria would present at least similar if not tougher political, economic and security problems than Iraq. So shouldn’t those issues be discussed along with calls for more U.S. military involvement?"

"Shouldn’t U.S. political leaders have learned that as outsiders, particularly as Americans, they cannot control the direction of other countries’ governments? Look at the problems Obama and Congress are having just trying to reach agreement on how to run our own government."

In the words of Fleetwood Mac, "Been down one time, been down two times, ain't goin' back again."

- Pete for Peace

Anonymous said...

Damn!!! Some smart people read and commented on this smart editorial. Did you get intelligent comments from readers ten years back? Pete is so right that it seems we are headed that way again. Any bets on where first: Iran, North Korea, Syria, or -?