Note: A much-longer footnoted version of this appears here.
Behind the Doctrine of Good Intentions: Why the US Invaded Iraq in 2003
“It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies.” Noam Chomksy, 19691
“The noble lie will inform them that they are better than those they serve and it is, therefore, their responsibility to guard and protect those lesser than themselves.” Plato’s Republic2
The War in Iraq, which has killed more than a million civilians and will cost more than $3 trillion, is a strong example of the great disconnect between actual US foreign policy and the stated goals of US politicians used in selling war to the public.3 While sold as a vital act of benevolence that would secure the US from large-scale terrorism, liberate Iraqis from tyranny, and spark a new liberal democratic world order in the Middle East, the War in Iraq was in fact a war crime that served to expand the United States control of coveted untapped energy resources, open up new areas for investment, provide it leverage over economic rivals such as China, India and Russia and illustrate the brute force of unilateral American power in the post-Cold War/post 9-11 era. While the US in waging this act of unprovoked aggression did not succeed in the stated goals of preventing the spread of terrorism, improving the lives of Iraqis or creating a truly democratic Iraq – and in fact has decimated the country – it has succeeded in creating a US military client state in a region that is considered vital for the future of power politics, taking control of a large portion of the global energy market and in privatizing the Iraqi economy in an effort to continue US-domination of the global economy.
This startling power-grab would not have been possible if not for the near-monolithic tendency of Western media outlets and scholars to ignore the obvious geopolitical and material reasons for the invasion – as well as its illegality – and instead propagate the distortions of the state's carefully orchestrated propaganda campaign.4 As a result, the war becomes noteworthy not only for what it says about US foreign policy, but also about the dissemination of ignorance by America's key providers of information and analysis. In fact, the criminal Iraq War of 2003 was enabled, in no small part, by the moral bankruptcy and shallow analysis of Western intellectuals, who thus own partial responsibility for the shameless slaughter of millions of Iraqis and the destruction of an entire country.
The inherent flaw of mainstream scholarship on the 2003 US invasion of Iraq is that it almost always starts with the assumption that the goals of the war were to “create a new middle east” that would “bring democracy to Iraq,” and take weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of a brutal tyrant and improve US interests in the region. The success of the war, thus, is measured by how successful the US was in creating a new (i.e. democratic) Middle East in its interest, or some other similar construct. But, as this paper aims to show, questions like this are assume the stated goals of the war made by leaders were in fact an honest reflection of the state’s goals. This is an egregious misstep by a scholarly community that has the responsibility to challenge the statements made by policymakers. Virtually every war ever waged has been sold by its leaders as benevolent and aimed at improving the world.5 To accept these claims unquestioningly is highly problematic as it ignores the very nature of power politics and the complex geopolitical motives for war.
Below, I aim to assess the true aims of the US invasion in Iraq, and assess the success and failures of these aims, by deconstructing the myth that the goal of the US invasion was democracy promotion. This can be accomplished by examining evidence in the documentary record of the United States and examining the actions of the US in Iraq, rather than the statements of US leaders. In doing this I will: a) examine the stated goals about the war; b)examine the documentary record, which outlines US interests in the region and geopolitical importance of the area; c) assess the policies implemented by the US in forming the Iraqi democracy, such as military policy, elections, the economy and the Constitution to see if assess if it truly respects the will of the Iraqi people – a basic tenet of a legitimate democracy and d); ponder the future of Iraq and US foreign policy. Throughout all of this, I will visit the contemporary scholarship and punditry on the war, as the role of which these groups played is crucial to understanding the nature of US foreign policy in Iraq. Only in looking past the rhetoric of leaders and by not accepting assumptions that too often form the basis of contemporary scholarship, can we fully assess the best way forward in Iraq.
II: The Democracy Promotion and National Security Lies
“We must remember that in time of war what is said on the enemy’s side of the front is always propaganda, and what is said on our side of the front is truth and righteousness, the cause of humanity and a crusade for peace.” Walter Lippman 6
Before we dissect the aims of the war, it is useful to examine the way contemporary writings on the war adhere to a set of assumptions that serve to narrow debate in a way that enables the state to commit such aggressive acts of state terrorism with as little domestic resistance as possible. There were two major falsehoods used to sell the War in Iraq. The first was that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction that posed a threat to America and needed to be stopped. 7 Various constructs of the argument allege he supported terrorist groups like al Qaeda, another blatant falsehood. 8
As these justifications crumbled, state planners redoubled the emphasis on “democracy promotion.” The goal, in the words of President Bush, was to create a "global democratic revolution,” in the Middle East by bringing democracy and freedom to its people.9 Alarmingly, despite being blessed with the strongest free speech protections in world history, mainstream Western intellectuals often parroted these claims without a second thought. “We all share President Bush's hope that ousting Saddam will transform Iraq into a flourishing democracy and revive the Middle East,” wrote Nicolas Kristof10, a liberal columnists for the New York Times’ editorial page, just one day after the United States started its “Shock and Awe” bombing campaign that, in one day, dropped 300 tomahawk missiles all over the heavily populated Iraqi capital of Baghdad and destroying much of the infrastructure of one world’s great cities.11 This unflinching acceptance of “the Myth of Democracy Promotion” toward Iraq is reflective of the sentiment of nearly the whole of the mainstream intellectual establishment. Rather than question the stated goals of the invasion, Kristof merely accepts “the Doctrine of Good Intentions,”12 which assumes that US wars are waged with selfless and noble goals, primarily aimed at making the world a better place. This acceptance was the rule not the exception. There was simply no questioning that President Bush’s “impassioned desire to transform Iraq into a model democracy,” was indeed a true policy objective of the invasion, as the Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran stated in “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone.” 13
Chandrasekaran’s book is especially telling of the level of indoctrination of Western commentators as he brazenly accepts the democracy promotion justification claim while at the same time acknowledging it was actually a secondary justification for the war. The Bush Administration, as noted above, originally focused on preventing Hussein from using an alleged stockpile of weapons of mass destruction against the US. The President and his team warned of a “smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud,”14 and falsely accused Iraq of seeking uranium in the 2003 State of the Union address – a statement that would later be retracted.15The vast majority of elite media outlets propagated these false claims16,, to the point where The New York Times actually issued an apology for its coverage, conceding it was not sufficiently rigorous in its examinations of evidence and allowed many assertions and flawed arguments to “stand unchallenged.” 171After fruitless searches and intelligence reports dismantled the WMD logic, the Bush Administration called an audible and aggressively shifted the primary goal to “spreading democracy.” Chandrasekaran, totally aware of this shift, did not see it fit to then question the honesty of the “wartime president” from Crawford Texas. He wrote (emphasis in original): “With search teams unable to turn up any weapons of mass destruction, the primary American justification, the viceroy (Paul Bremer) deemed the development of democracy to be no longer just an important goal. It was the goal.”18
The intellectual community could have viewed the WMD debacle as a red flag, leading them to question the word of US policy makers. This red flag could have been magnified when a British intelligence memo, “The Downing Street Memo,” would reveal that “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy,” under the orders of the President.19 But the intellectual establishment did not miss a beat. The US, incapable of deception, depravity or sinister motives, the narrative goes, was bringing peace and freedom to Iraqis. It is crucial to understand the nature in which these false claims were accepted, because it is directly related to the ability of the US to carry out is aggression in Iraq. The US worked incredibly hard to forge a public relations campaign to sell this war. 20 The acceptance of US propaganda by the intellectual community painted a distorted portrayal of the nature of the intervention. Had the media and scholars been more vigorous of examining the true geopolitical aims of the war, the public may have been more equipped to understand the war, which has been extremely costly in both money and blood.
III: The Forgotten Documentary Record and US interests in Iraq
Even without the WMD blunder, the true aims of US foreign policy in the Middle East should not have been hard to decipher. There are many important and declassified government documents that highlight long-standing US ambitions in the region, as well as a long history of US policy in the region.. An examination of the actual record clearly shows that the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with weapons or spreading a legitimate democracy, but was designed to further US interests in several ways: 1) establishing a client state in the middle of a resource-rich region considered vital for power politics; 2) voiding Iraqi oil contracts with economic rivals such as Russia and China and replacing them with contracts to Western companies; 3) advancing US unilateral power in a “New American Century” that would make US hegemony a permanent feature; and 4) transforming and privatizing the Iraqi economy in a manner consistent with the neoliberal US-dominated economic world order.
Before outlining the evidence to support the above, it is important to note that these proposed reasons for the US invasion, despite being backed up by voluminous public documents, were never seriously broached my mainstream scholars or analysts; when they were mentioned it was to dismiss them as the wild ruminations of crazed conspiracy theorists. Chandrasekaran refers in his book to Iraqi’s “conspiratorial, xenophobic fears” that their economy would be taken over by foreigners, writing that he “wondered whether some soldiers didn't half wish that the conspiracy theorists had been right and that their country was at least getting free oil out of the invasion.” 21
Larry Diamond in Foreign Affairs, was similarly dismissive of the idea that Iraq was about oil and US power. The war, he argued, while a “strategic mistake” was not a war of “imperialist aggression,” but waged because the “Bush Administration was convinced that Saddam (Hussein) has weapons of mass destruction” and would soon “threaten the region.” To allege that the US wanted to “control the Middle East” and “dominate the international oil market” are “wild charges.” Those “intellectuals and commentators who dismiss Iraq as a hopeless prospect for democracy,” he maintains, “have failed to consult the Iraq people.” 22
Had Diamond followed his own advice to consult the Iraqis, he may have learned that they had no illusions about US aims in the region. In late 2003, when a Gallup poll of Iraqis asked “Why do you think the US invaded Iraq?” only 5 percent said the primary reason was to help Iraqis. Of those polled, 4 percent said it was to secure weapons while 43 percent said it was to “rob oil.” 23 While western scholars were willing to accept, and even propagate the carefully crafted deceptions used by US state planners, Iraqis had reason to think otherwise. This papers will assess some of the factors that prompted the US to go to war, of which were rarely stated by US leaders or analyzed in public by the intellectual establishment.
IV: Oil, Geopolitics and the Invasion
“The Middle East, with two-thirds of the world’s oil and the lowest costs, is still where the ultimate prize lies.” Dick Cheney, former Vice President and then-CEO of Halliburton, 2000. 24
The diplomatic record of the US shows that it had taken an active and aggressive role in Mid East oil for more than half a century. In 1945, the State Department concluded that Middle East oil reserves were “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in history.”25 The sentiment was shared by executive branch officials who deemed the “Middle East presented an important key to postwar economic problems, and to basic international political arrangements.” This very understanding has been central to US interventions in the region, ranging from its push for control of Iran through a coup in 195326, to its “special relationship” with Saudi Arabia.27 The control of these energy resources gave the United States “veto power” as coined by George Kennan, over economic rivals, and has long been considered vital to maintaining and expanding US dominance.28 The invasion of Iraq in 2003 fits perfectly into this plan. By controlling this vital supply of oil, the US would serve to expand what Zbigniew Brzezinski calls “critical leverage” over other states, while at the same time putting energy profits into the coffers of Western, rather than Eastern, multinationals.29 “When viewed through the lens of history,” wrote Clark University professor Douglas Little, “the war in Iraq actually marked the culmination of more than a half a century of US Foreign Policy in the Middle East.” 30
Vice President Dick Cheney understood the importance of Middle East oil quite well from his days as CEO of Halliburton. Nine months before leaving the private sector to run for Vice President, he issued a report declaring “the Middle East, with two-thirds of the world’s oil … is still where the ultimate prize lies” and said the best way to reduce US vulnerability was to convince eastern oil producers to “open up areas of their energy sectors arguing that the best way to produce to foreign investment.” 31 While the US had long understood this reality, its desire to control Iraqi oil was becoming jeopardized in the late 1990s and early 2000s by, what British historian Charles Tripp called, “Iraq's reemergence as a major oil producer and regional economic power.”32 By the early part of the 21st century, Iraq was producing an estimated 2.8 mill barrels of oil per day and exporting 1.7 barrels per day under, bringing in roughly $12 billion in annual revenues, making it a "hub of regional trade,” and putting Iraq “on the verge of international rehabilitation.” The problem for US policy makers was that rivals like “Russia and China could not resist a piece of the Iraq market”33 and prior to the US invasion, these rivals were increasing their cooperation with Iraq on oil deals, in effect assuming greater control of one some of the most strategically important resources on the planet. With the most powerful military in the world, however, the US was able to change this. When it toppled the Iraqi regime in 2003 oil contracts between Iraq and US economic rivals “were considered null and void.” 34
Unsurprisingly, in a move that went virtually ignored by US scholars and journalists, in 2003 the US issued a memorandum of understanding, which declared that all reconstruction contracts would go to members of the “coalition of the willing” or countries that supported the US invasion.35 Russia, China, Germany and France, accordingly, were blocked out of a massive oil market, which some estimate accounts for 12 percent of the world’s oil. With the US already having tremendous influence over Saudi oil – 25 percent of the world’s reserves – a client state in Iraq beholden to the US for support, gives the US significant control over 37 percent of the world’s oil36, helping the US to obtain much-desired “critical leverage” over its rivals.37Further revealing, was that in 2008, President Bush issued signing statements which declare the right of US state and corporate power to secure “United States control of the oil resources of Iraq,” as well as protecting efforts to “provide for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq.”38
V: Democracy Suppression and Industrial Theft in Post-Invasion Iraq
While there is no doubt energy resources served as a major reason for the invasion, this does not necessarily refute the idea that the US wanted a truly democratic Iraq; US policy in the country, however, does. Far from setting the stage for a truly democratic Iraq, the US undermined the will of the Iraqi people throughout the ongoing occupation, which itself was opposed by more than 80 percent of the population.39 The US thwarted democracy in the region in numerous ways, including: maintaining the US presence; opposing, then delaying and than overseeing elections; intervening in the drafting of the Constitution and imposing unwanted “shock therapy” economic reforms that crippled the domestic economy. All of this done without any appreciable concern for the “will of the Iraqi people,” who were so unified in their opposition to the US occupation that 51 percent of Iraqi’s said they supported violence against US troops.40
The very idea that a democratic Iraq would truly benefit US interests is indeed laughable. The US government is distrusted greatly by the Iraqi population, and while the majority Shia political factions were no fans of Saddam Hussein and his Bathist regime, the sentiment among Iraqis was not to fill that vacuum with a pro-US government. In fact, much of population wanted to instill a nationalist Islamic government that would nationalize the oil and protected it from foreign investment, have friendly relations with its neighbor Iran, and pushed out US troops rapidly. “[W]ithin weeks of the fall of Saddam’s regime there were demands for an Islamic government. Sometimes the word democracy was used positively, but the larger message was not about tolerance and liberalism,” wrote journalist Nir Rosen.41. The public in a democratic Iraq, Rosen notes, was far more likely to support the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who ““argued for the supremacy of Islamic law” and “imposed new restrictions on woman.” 42 Of course Iraqi leaders were never truly optimistic that the US would tolerate a truly democratic Iraq – sure to advance policies in the interests of themselves and not the US. “The whole world stood against America and the US ignored it,” al-Sadr said. “Likewise, the US will ignore the opinion of the Iraqi people and it will compose the government according to its own desires.”43
Predictably, Iraqi leaders grew frustrated by the US, refusing to meet with them as they formed an interim government. The US occupiers gave legitimization to these complaints when they delayed elections as long as possible, until the Iraqi people forced their hand due to massive nationalist sentiments. 44But even these elections, organized by the US and Iraqi “collaborators,” were viewed with great skepticism by the Iraqis, many of whom boycotted the process. Iraqis called the US-led elections “fake”45 and the elections commissions “in disarray.”46 The whole operation was “corrupt” and “a trick to let (the US) stay here and use our oil and natural resources.”47
“Nothing really changed for the Iraqi's," Rosen said. “Bush tried to sell the elections as an example of US liberation of the nation, but by then the entire American project had long since lost its credibility."48
Of course, prior to the elections US credibility was already on thin ice. The creation of the Constitutional Provisional Authority (CPA), tasked with drafting the Iraqi constitution was hardly a reputable democratic exercise. In fact, it essentially was a document embedding US interests into Iraqi law. According to leaked US documents, the CPA, led by the US chosen de-facto leader of Iraq, Paul Bremer, almost immediately awarded important reconstruction contracts to Western multinationals.49 Of the $1.5 billion in private contracts awarded by the CPA, 74 percent went to US firms and only 2 percent to Iraqi contractors, with “little competitive bidding.”50 Soon thereafter, it worked on its main task, crafting a new Iraqi Constitution. The document was drafted in 2003-04 by Iraqis with US oversight and mostly served to reflect Western interests. According to the Iraqi newspaper, Al Mada, for example, early drafts of the document included language that would have nationalized Iraq's oil wealth, and used it to used to provide education, healthcare housing and other services to every Iraqi. The state, under these drafts, would have guaranteed employment to every Iraqi. 51
The United States, however, known domestically for its lack of government-run social services, such as healthcare, quickly worked to eliminate these very un-American policies into the Iraqi Constitution and the final draft actually incorporated a provision that made the state “guarantee the reform of the Iraqi economy in accordance with modern economic principles to insure the full investment of its resources, diversification of its sources and the encouragement and development of the private sector.”52 The US ideological adherence to the market took precedence over the desire of Iraqis, who relied heavily on state-owned businesses for employment. The Constitution writing process, according to Iraqis involved in the process, were “cooked up in an American kitchen, not an Iraqi one” 53and Iraqis “haven't played much of a role in drafting the constitution.”54
True to its undemocratic infatuation with the “free market,” the US went on to implement an aggressive “shock therapy” to the Iraqi economy. While 67 percent of Iraqi’s suffered unemployment, the US worked to “develop the private sector, starting with the elimination of subsidies”55 and remake the Iraqi economy in the mold of the Chicago School of Economics, which advocated for the privatization of virtually everything. “Getting inefficient state enterprises into private hands,” said Bremer “is essential for Iraq’s economic recovery.”56 Within months of the invasion the US opened Iraq up to unlimited exports, implemented a flat tax, and dropped the corporate tax rate from 45 percent to 15 percent (with no requirement to reinvest in the Iraqi economy). Iraqis, notes Naomi Klein, viewed this privatization as “yet another U.S. act of war,”57 especially since the US “so consistently excluded Iraqi contractors in favor of American ones.”58 American leaders, according to Tripp, felt "reconstruction of Iraq could best, and most profitably, be handled by massive American private enterprises with which senior members of the US administration had been linked” which “seemed to be opening up Iraq to a "free for all of economic opportunity, in which Iraqis themselves could play only a minor role." 59
While the US ridded Iraq of most of its state-owned businesses they did keep one relic of the Hussein era intact. The US "kept on the books legislation that restricted the powers of trade unions" this "irritated nationalist sensibilities even among those who welcomed the initial US intervention,” and confirmed "their worst suspicions about what the United States was really after in Iraq."60 Those suspicions, of course, were that the US invaded Iraq to serve its own interests and not to “liberate” the people. Had US scholars bothered, as Diamond suggested, “to consult the Iraqi people,” perhaps they may, too, have seen what was so obvious to the victims of US imperialism in the region.
The US also worked to hard to squash Iraqi nationalism, choosing to divide Iraqis into sects – Sunni and Shia. While Iraq has long been home to a variety of religious and cultural philosophies, it was not until the US arrived that its nationalistic ways were divided, artificially by US planners. Notes Rosen:
This obsession with sects informed the U.S. approach to Iraq from day one of the occupation, but it was not how Iraqis saw themselves -- at least, not until very recently. Iraqis were not primarily Sunnis or Shiites; they were Iraqis first, and their sectarian identities did not become politicized until the Americans occupied their country, treating Sunnis as the bad guys and Shiites as the good guys.
There were no blocs of ‘Sunni Iraqis’ or ‘Shiite Iraqis’ before the war, just like there was no ‘Sunni Triangle’ or ‘Shiite South’ until the Americans imposed ethnic and sectarian identities onto Iraq's regions.61
In sum, the notion that US was hoping to spread a truly viable democracy for the benefit of Iraqis conflicts dramatically with the actual evidence. Diamond and other scholars may be wise to consult US documents that outline its foreign policy. These documents illustrate clearly the goals of the US military, and the concept of promoting democracy is never broached. For example, a document called Joint Vision 2020, which was prepared by the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the start of the Bush presidency, states that the US military policy must aim to achieve “full spectrum dominance” meaning the US must have “access to and freedom to operate in all domains – space, sea, land, air, and information” so they can “maintain the ability to rapidly project power worldwide in order to achieve full spectrum dominance.” The 40-page document does not contain the word democracy. 1 In 2006, the Department of Defense released the Quadrennial Defense Review Report, which supports the idea that US foreign policy is based on becoming an unrivaled, permanent superpower.1 Despite being available for free online, these documents are virtually ignored by the media and by scholars, in its coverage of US wars.
VI: The ‘New American Century’ and the end of International Law
In addition to the tangible benefits of securing energy resources and opening up the Iraqi economy for investment, the war also served as the attempted coming out party of a new era of American foreign policy. Since the early 1990s, a group of neoconservatives had been crafting an idealistic – at the time, many thought fantastical – plan for a “New American Century.”64 Originally outlined in a memo written by Paul Wolfowitz (who would serve as deputy secretary of defense under George W Bush) the “primary objective of U.S. post-Cold War political and military strategy should be preventing the emergence of a rival superpower” and creating a “world order is ultimately backed by the U.S.”65 This could be accomplished by ramping up military spending aggressively, disengaging from international institutions and using unilateral action. Originally these plans, scoffed at by realists, were envisioned as decades or more away, barring what “the Wolfowitz Doctrine,” called, “a new Pearl Harbor,” or a catastrophe that could dramatically change the scope of US foreign policy overnight.66The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against New York City and Washington D.C. proved to fill this role. Using a Global War on Terror as the justification, Bush outlined his so-called “freedom agenda” at West point in 2002 and essentially turned the Wolfowitz Doctrine into official US foreign policy.67
The War in Iraq was seen as the first major test of the freedom agenda. Among the basic tenets of neoconservatism was the general lack of respect for international law and institutions. In this way the War in Iraq serves as a valuable test case for this. True to form, when the United Nations rejected the US appeal to use force in Iraq, the US invaded the country anyway, in an unambiguous violation of international law. The very act of hubris helped to transform US foreign policy in the direction neoconservatives advocates had wanted all along. This decision to ignore international law was instrumental for America’s “Grand Imperial Strategy” which called or “unilateral and preemptive, even preventive, use of force … ultimately unconstrained by the rules and norms of the international community.” 68
The illegality of the invasion is another aspect of the war in Iraq that, according to international law expert Phillipe Sands, “became almost a non-issue in establishment political debate."69 When rarely discussed, international law was mostly deemed irrelevant. Anne-Marie Slaughter, writing in the Times, ceded the war against the law but called it "illegal but legitimate.”70An editorial in the Sunday Telegraph further slammed home this point: "The 'legality' or otherwise of the war is a non subject …The invasion may or may not be illegal. The point, however, is that the whole issue of 'international legality' is a gigantic irrelevance." 71 The Telegraph’s views were echoed by the deputy foreign editor of the New York Times, who told an Arabic newspaper that, “we stay away from assertions of legality on most international issues, because law is less clear about international affairs than about national affairs.”72
Despite these ruminations, the laws do seem to be quite clear. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called the war “illegal”– a rare step for a UN leader – admitting that it was in clear violation of various laws against the use of force, including charters 2, 4 and 51 of the United Nations.73 At the Nuremberg trials, it was ruled that preventive war – of which no rational person could deny the Iraq war qualifies – is the “supreme international crime” a nation can commit.74 The US also renounced war as an instrument of foreign policy when it signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, which “solemnly declare[d] in the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it.”75 When the war is criticized in the media or scholarship, however, these laws are rarely mentioned, and the emphasis is on “tactical” errors, such as troop levels or the decision to dismantle Hussein’s army.76
VII: the Way forward for Iraq and US Foreign Policy
Since the real reasons for the War in Iraq contrast mightily with conventional wisdom, it is unsurprising the assessment of its success or failure does so as well. Generally, the war is viewed as a “strategic” mistake. The security situation has hampered the legitimacy of the client government, and greatly hampered the ability of the nation to be opened up for reconstruction and investment. The war has also empowered neighboring Iran, a scenario not welcomed in Washington. Further, the neoconservative fantasies of a “New America Century” have not panned out. Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 in part, as a rejection of these unilateral policies of the Bush Administration. But the major prize of the war is the control of Iraqi oil, and if the US can resist nationalist Iraqi sentiment at wrestling control of the resources from occupiers, the war is indeed a “success” in many ways. The US did, in fact, prevent economic rivals from controlling Iraqi oil and showed the international community it was willing to use its considerable force without international approval. While the US did not create a “new” Middle East in the way scholars often portray it – a Middle East with blossoming democratic values –it did create a “new” Middle East in that it has increased its access to energy and implanted a new strategic ally in a region that will help shape power politics for the foreseeable future.77
But no matter what the war meant for the “national interest,” the war remains a terrible tragedy. The horror of the massive slaughter of the Iraqi people is self-evident as is the destruction of Iraqi libraries and museums, which has ruined the history of one of the great civilizations of the world. “There is only ignominy left for Americans and slaughter for the Iraqis. Iraq has been killed, never to rise again,” Rosen writes. 78
Apologists for US war crimes and so-called realist scholars may argue that the death of a country and more than a million of its people was worth it to expand American hegemony and to secure control of the oil. They are, at least, more honest than the journalists and scholars who advance the fictitious narrative that the US cares about the Iraqi people. But in either case it is a tragedy. One view justifies unthinkable human suffering in the name of pure power politics; the other enables these crimes by keeping the nation’s citizens collective head in the sand.
The best way forward is two-fold. One, the United States must, in line with the will of both the Iraqi people, and the American people, promptly withdraw all forces from the United States, and cease operations of military bases.79 As a matter of duty, the United States should then pay reparations for is role in destroying the nation. Such policies would save the US massive amounts of money and hopefully lessen violence in Iraq, given that US intelligence estimates say the presence of US troops fuels violence.80 Further, the United States needs to reconsider the nature of US militarism and ponder the needless suffering we inflict on innocent human beings when we wage aggressive wars. For this to be possible the US intellectual community must stop serving as enablers of US imperialism and simply tell the truth about reasons for America’s state of near perpetual warfare. Such a scenario requires nothing more than a sea change in the United States political and educational system, the prospects for which seem dim. But if the academic community does not work toward this end, it will continue to own a piece of the horrific violence and death it enables with its complicity. In this way, the War in Iraq is not merely a crime made by state planners – but a collective crime of which we are all an accomplice.