The basis for this article were opening comments given at a panel discussion on the Iraq war on March 21, 2007
With four years gone by since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, I, like many other Americans, have been pondering the motives for the invasion which were given by the George W. Bush administration. As a taxpayer and as a citizen who deplores needless bloodshed and the waste of our national treasure, the 3,200 American and 600,000 Iraqi lives lost and the 600-billion dollars expended do not appear to be good investments. This is especially true when one scrutinizes the presumed grounds for the “preemptive” attack.
Much was made by the government of the need for ending the Saddam Hussein dictatorship because of Iraq’s violation of United Nations resolutions. The United Nations did agree to one resolution, UNSC Resolution Number1441, which demanded that Iraq deactivate all of its supposed weapons of mass destruction. The resolution, however, did not authorize force against Iraq. Eventually, the Security Council refused to approve force, owing to its desire for the international teams of weapons inspectors to finish their tasks. And, subsequently, the American offensive served to alienate almost every member of the international body.
The various news media in late 2002 began to devote a good deal of coverage to a story that had lain dormant for about 14 years – or until such time as its dissemination was appropriate for the web of propaganda being spun by the administration. The story concerned the gassing of the Kurds, and was used to stir up revulsion against Saddam. What was missing in the story was that the gas, which was originally intended to be employed against Iran, was obtained from the United States. And, of course, there was no mention made of the United States government gassing and burning its citizens at Waco in 1993. And, if the US was so concerned about atrocities and human rights violations, why was there not an intervention to prevent the massive carnage of the African genocides of recent memory? In reality, after 4 years of American presence in Iraq, human rights violations are much more frequent than they were under Saddam, and security for most Iraqis is at best a dream.
In Adolph Hitler’s MEIN KAMPF, the Fuhrer clearly stated that the “big lie” was an important element in his political repertoire. If citizens who want to trust their government hear something repeated again and again by that government, they will eventually believe what they hear. For several months leading up to the March 2003 assault on Iraq, the American public heard time and time again how Iraq was a direct threat to the United States. Most Americans, thinking that their government was relating accurate information based on up-to-date intelligence, responded positively to the government’s plan to eliminate the threat. But, after more than a decade of sanctions, Iraq was no longer even a regional power; and any justification of a preemptive attack based on a direct threat to the United States was infantile at best. Iraq was never a threat to American security on the scale of, for example, North Korea.
Many times Americans have heard from their president how it is the responsibility of their country to impart democracy to Iraq, which, according the administration line, is destined to become a bastion of liberty in a region of the world noted for its authoritarian political regimes. Accordingly, in his last inaugural address, George W. Bush stated, “The United States has a mission which has come to it from beyond the stars.” Regardless of whether or not the president has a direct line to the almighty, the United States is certainly not the political, economic and social model for every culture and every political system. And this is certainly true for a country which, for all practical purposes, is beset by a 15th century mindset.
The Rumsfelds, Boltons, Cheyneys, Wolfowitzes and other spokesmen for the administration rekentlessly repeated how important it was for the US to insure that Iraq would not distribute weapons of mass destruction to other countries. Somehow this reasoning falls short when one considers that the US is the largest purveyor of weapons of mass destruction in the world, and that its military budget is larger than the combined military expenditures of all other countries on the face of the earth.
When asked at a press conference in early 2003 if oil was a motivating factor in the planned invasion of Iraq, President Bush answered negatively. However, the first territory seized when American forces went into Iraq was the oil rich southern region around Basra. And, how can we forget that both the president and vice-president have long-standing close ties to the oil industry, as do at least four cabinet members, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In retrospect, it was as if Kellogg, Brown and Root, Halliburton, Exxon and Zapata Oil were making American foreign policy.
With proven reserves of 1.25 billion barrels of oil, Iraq ranks second behind Saudi Arabia with the largest proven oil reserves in the world. And, since less than half the country has been explored for oil, there may be more. To add additional perspective, there are nearly 1,000,000 oil wells in Texas. However, in Iraq, there are only about 3,000.
Finally, it is interesting to note that Bush’s former secretary of the treasury, Paul O’Neil, alleged in his 2004 book recounting his two years in the administration that the invasion of Iraq was an item of discussion in cabinet meetings in early April of 2001, almost six months before 9/11. O’Neil further described Bush in meeting with his cabinet as “a blind man in a room full of deaf people.” Thus, all of the administration’s spin concerning the logic of the Iraq war was at best questionable.
From James K. Polk through William McKinley and on to LBJ and Nixon, American history is replete with the administrations of lying presidents which have involved the nation in dubious foreign adventures. In this regard, a little historical perspective goes a long way in maintaining citizen vigilance and shielding the republic from falsehoods whose potential for damage is far-reaching.
The only interests that stand to profit from the Iraq war are the elite, wealthy oil barons who have financed President Bush’s political career. Striding forth with political and philosophical validation from the neo-con and neo-liberal theorists who early on captured the limited vision of George W. Bush, they have not hesitated to squander American blood and treasure and to place in jeopardy the well-being of future generations. Perhaps it is appropriate to recall the words of the late Senator J. William Fulbright, who stated during the Vietnam War, “The price of empire is America’s soul, and that price is too high.”
Byline: After a career of forty years in higher education, John Barham retired from the University of Missouri last year. He is now a full-time resident of San Miguel de Allende who frequently lectures for the international Elderhostel program.