The Iraq War 20 Years On: End of the US’s Post-9/11 Neoconservative Dream

Yves here. With the 20 year anniversary of sorts of the US invasion of Iraq, many analysts are focusing on why we launched the attack and what did it accomplish. If you were following the conflict closely at the time, it was noteworthy how many times the official justification for why we went in changed.

One part of the discussion that is often missed is that the US had long been gunning for this war. Scott Ritter recounts that as UN weapons inspector, he was sent in, IIRC in 1998, to deliver the demand that the Iraqis submit to an inspection of their Defense Ministry. No sovereign nation would normally submit to that.

But Ritter, who if not liked was nevertheless trusted by the Iraqis, persuaded them that the demand was a trap, that if Iraq refused, the US would depict that as proof they were up to no good and would invade. The Iraqis agreed to let Ritter and his team in. Ritter reports he conducted a bona fide inspection and found nothing. The higher ups were furious. Ritter resigned. Even though at the time Ritter maintained he quit because he and his team did not have the ability to monitor Iraq’s weapons programs, and he stated then that Iraq had or could get WMD, by 1999, he had considerably stepped down his claims about what Iraq had and could do. I have not come across any explanation by Ritter of his alarmism right after his resignation versus his reversal shortly thereafter. If readers know of any, please provide links in comments.

This incident later led to a shameful exchange with Joe Biden, then ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. If nothing else, it clearly demonstrates that commitment to regime change in Iraq was a two-party affair.

First a summary from The Intercept:

In 1998, U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter resigned in protest and accused the international community of not giving him and his colleagues the support they needed to carry out their job in Iraq, which had agreed in 1991 to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile. He was called to testify before the Senate in September 1998, where Biden, who was then the highest-ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations committee, grilled him. In the course of the questions, Biden made revealing remarks about where he stood on regime change in Iraq.

Biden thanked Ritter for forcing senators to “come to our milk,” by which he meant forcing them to make a decision on what to do about Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his alleged weapons of mass destruction program.

Biden told Ritter that no matter how thorough the inspections, the only way to eliminate the threat was to remove Saddam Hussein. “The primary policy is to keep sanctions in place to deny Saddam the billions of dollars that would allow him to really crank up his program, which neither you nor I believe he’s ever going to abandon as long as he’s in place,” Biden said, characterizing former President Bill Clinton’s administration’s policy. “You and I believe, and many of us believe here, as long as Saddam is at the helm, there is no reasonable prospect you or any other inspector is ever going to be able to guarantee that we have rooted out, root and branch, the entirety of Saddam’s program relative to weapons of mass destruction. You and I both know, and all of us here really know, and it’s a thing we have to face, that the only way, the only way we’re going to get rid of Saddam Hussein is we’re going to end up having to start it alone — start it alone — and it’s going to require guys like you in uniform to be back on foot in the desert taking this son of a — taking Saddam down,” Biden said. “You know it and I know it.”…

Biden’s grilling of Ritter is important because it gives context to claims Biden later made: First, that when he voted in favor of the invasion of Iraq as a senator, he did not mean to vote for war, but hoped the resolution would empower inspectors to get back into Iraq and monitor the program. And second, that he never believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction…

In fact, as Biden had said in 1998, he believed not only that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, but no amount of inspections or diplomacy could guarantee their removal. That, he told Ritter, could only be done by “guys like you in uniform to be back on foot in the desert taking this son of a — taking Saddam down.”

Astonishingly, or perhaps predictably, Wikipedia covers for Biden, depicting Ritter as the hawk.

Here are key snippets from Biden’s remarks:

Now to the main event.

By Paul Rogers, Emeritus Professor of Peace Studies in the Department of Peace Studies and International Relations at Bradford University, and an Honorary Fellow at the Joint Service Command and Staff College. He is openDemocracy’s international security correspondent. He is on Twitter at: @ProfPRogers. Originally published at openDemocracy

Twenty years after the start of the Iraq War, one question remains difficult to answer convincingly. Just why did the United States, under President George W Bush, invade and occupy Iraq? Answers from academics and think tanks range from the need to safeguard oil supplies held by a rogue state that had taken over Kuwait and now controlled a fifth of the world’s oil reserves, through to Iraq supporting terrorism and developing weapons of mass destruction.

Such answers may be plausible enough and include a degree of truth, but we still have to ask: why go to war then? It was barely a year since the US and a few partners had terminated the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The US had defeated and dispersed the al-Qaeda movement behind the 9/11 attacks, so if the so-called ‘war on terror’ was over, why take on Iraq?

The US domestic political context is important here. Democrat president Bill Clinton had served two terms from 1993 to 2001, and over that time a hard-right vision had emerged within the Republican Party.

Those within this prominent faction – known as neoconservatives – were utterly convinced that Clinton had been a disaster. As they saw it, the collapse of the Soviet Union at the start of the 1990s had given the US a God-given opportunity to play a unique and timely leadership role in the development of a global system rooted in neoliberalism, supported by US military power.

The highly influential foreign policy lobby group Project for a New American Century was founded in 1997 from a conviction that the United States should play a near-messianic role, in marked contrast to the weak self-serving Clinton administration. And months after George W Bush’s inauguration and shortly before 9/11, leading neoconservative writer Charles Krauthammer claimed the US had the right to pursue unilateral policies in the wider global interest:<

Multipolarity, yes, when there is no alternative. But not when there is. Not when we have the unique imbalance of power that we enjoy today – and that has given the international system a stability and essential tranquillity it had not known for at least a century.

The international environment is far more likely to enjoy peace under a single hegemon. Moreover, we are not just any hegemon. We run a uniquely benign imperium.

With neoconservative thinking dominating US foreign and security policy eight months into the Bush administration, 9/11 came as an appalling shock – and a threat to the very idea of the ‘New American Century’ just as it was getting under way. The Afghanistan war followed within weeks. It appeared initially to be a great success from the US perspective, with the Taliban quickly toppled from power, and was followed by Bush’s January 2002 State of the Union Address.

This made clear that rescuing the new century went far beyond al-Qaeda and the Taliban to take on Bush’s “axis of evil” – his term for states believed to be supporting terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction. As he put it to Congress, referring to North Korea, Iran and Iraq:

States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.

Pursuit of such states would be intensive. He told graduating students at West Point military academy: “…the war on terror will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge. In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act.”

The pursuit, he added, would be uncompromising: “All nations that decide for aggression and terror will pay a price. We will not leave the safety of America and the peace of the planet at the mercy of a few mad terrorists and tyrants. We will lift this dark threat from our country and from the world.”

By March 2002 it was clear that Iraq would be the first target. Many countries were becoming concerned about the US taking on this military role, including France and Germany, but some leaders gave their full support, notably prime minister Tony Blair in the UK. In Washington, the question of ‘Why Iraq?’ was being answered by those involved in planning the war.

At a conference I attended in Washington just after Bush’s address to Congress, a member of the Bush transition team explained patiently to European academics what lay ahead. The coming war wasn’t really about Iraq, they said, it was about Iran, which had been seen as the main enemy in the region ever since the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

The thinking was that Iran, with a much larger population than Iraq and an entrenched anti-American religious leadership, would be much more difficult and costly to defeat. If Iraq was occupied, though, Iran would end up with a pro-US Iraq and allied Arab Gulf states to the west, a pro-Western post-Taliban Afghanistan to the east and the US Navy dominating the Arabian Sea and the Gulf. Iran would have to behave itself.

There was a saying in security circles in Washington that ‘the road to Tehran runs through Baghdad’. Get Iraq right and the Iran ‘problem’ would be sorted, many believed, with US influence across the Middle East and West Asia assured and the New American Century back on track, to the benefit of the world.

The war itself started 20 years ago this week and seemed to go Washington’s way. Troops moved rapidly from Kuwait up the Tigris and Euphrates valleys and arrived in Baghdad in less than a month. The regime collapsed and a US-led and Pentagon-managed Coalition Provisional Authority was installed to run the country along neoliberal free-market lines.

It didn’t work out that way. Saddam Hussein’s feared special forces seemed to have disappeared in defeat, but they had actually gone to ground with weapons intact and quickly helped to drive a bitter urban insurgency which, along with multi-confessional conflict across much of Iraq, drove continuing fighting. This hugely bloody and costly war lasted the rest of Bush’s presidency. It was only when Barack Obama came to power in 2008 that the White House could start to talk of Iraq being a ‘bad’ war. Even so, it lasted until 2011, by which time Obama had withdrawn most US troops.

But that was far from the real end of the war. Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) had survived and by 2012 was regrouping and taking control of territory across northern Iraq and north-west into Syria. By 2014 it was seen as a threat to US and other Western interests and Obama ordered the US into a war fought almost entirely from the air with drones, missiles and strike aircraft. Over 100,000 smart bombs and missiles were used between 2014 and 2018, killing at least 60,000 people, including thousands of civilians, and eventually forcing AQI, now known as ISIS, to give up most of its territory.

The war has been immensely costly, especially for Iraqi civilians, with at least 186,000 killed directly and several times that number seriously injured, many of them maimed for life. Even now, much of Iraq remains violent, with many hundreds of civilians killed each year. ISIS remains active in both Iraq and Syria, but even more significantly, violent paramilitary Islamist groups are active in at least a dozen countries – not just in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

Across the Sahel region of Sub-Saharan Africa, from Mauretania through Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, northern Nigeria and Chad, Islamist paramilitaries are active, as they are in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mozambique. Violence regularly spills over into Kenya and Uganda and there is no end in sight.

Twenty years ago, and three weeks into the Iraq War, it all seemed to be going well for the US and its coalition partners. But I wrote an openDemocracy column taking a much more negative view and predicting a long war. Titled ‘A thirty-year war’, the article seemed a bit over the top at the time, but we are now two-thirds of the way to that 30 years and there is no end in sight.

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  1. Candide

    Another military man who is not a pacifist but objects strongly to the prowar righteousness of the Ukraine narrative is Richard Black. He buys into the “Chinese and other terrorists are coming in through our southern border” fantasy, but the accuracy and urgency of his criticism of US imperialism is based on his experience on the battlefield and at the Pentagon. Scott Ritter may have sought, as the attack on Iraq was gearing up, to find some middle ground on the truth… but his warning to the Iraqis and the clarity which further experience has brought… now lead to utterly clear analysis of today’s tragic realities.

  2. digi_owl

    There is this weird mental doldrums starting around Bush’s second term and lasting through Obama’s two terms. Wonder if this is what they talk about as lost decades.

  3. DJG, Reality Czar

    Thanks for this post, which is a horror story.

    And then there’s this idea, which is one more U.S. proxy war: “The thinking was that Iran, with a much larger population than Iraq and an entrenched anti-American religious leadership, would be much more difficult and costly to defeat.”

    In short: Iran, with its much more difficult geography, with an almost impassible mountain range along its western border, is too much for a U.S. invasion, too complicated geographically to bomb “well.’ So let’s have the pre-pre-Ukraine.

    The part that hits me square in the eye, though, is that snippet from an interview of Scott Ritter by Katie Halper and Aaron Maté. The first thing to notice is that the younger Biden has no stutter. The stutter story is to give us Disabled Joe Biden, man of ADA and of a protected class. What you see on the video is about two minutes of someone who thinks he is clever but is yammering away, spouting pure evil. I hesitate to invoke Hitler, but the crazy-ass word salad is positively Hitlerian. Even Mussolini was more coherent.

    So twenty years later, Iraq still suffers, and the United States has Biden settled on the country as president. And I have no regrets about going to the demonstrations before the war, even if we were studiously ignored by our betters.

    And noting: This sort of lecturing of the citizens, this sort of taking advantage of disparities in power relations (“mansplaining” for the politically correct), these spew-a-thons of lies remind me of what we just saw from the McCarthyites Plaskett, Garcia, and Wasserman-Schultz.

    What a political class. No wonder the Global South won’t take sides in the current Crusade. It would be fatal to do so.

    1. Karl

      This sort of lecturing of the citizens

      That clip is one of many showing what an ass Biden was and is. He couldn’t process information that contradicted his priors, so he fell back on “you are below your pay grade, sonny.” Dunning-Kruger bias on vivid display.

      Recently, Sy Hersh wrote an essay asking “Who is Biden’s George Ball”, i.e. devil’s advocate (a role Ball played with Lyndon Johnson during Vietnam, cautioning him against sending in the troops). Can you imagine someone challenging that dimwit Biden against a course of action Biden had already decided to follow? That’s why he’s only got “yes men” and “yes women” around him. Only one person is at Biden’s pay grade now. Unfortunately, his confidence is way above his competence, and the same goes for the foreign policy clowns around him.

  4. Rip Van Winkle

    There are war memorials to the local dead just outside of Hebron, Indiana for Korea and Vietnam, the kind with individual names on them, mostly 20 year olds.

    A lot of catching up to do for past 30+ years, especially being in the first innings of the next one.

    Congress last declared war on December 8, 1941. The operating manual of the country, the Constitution, has been toilet paper for some time.

    Recommend adding a live stock ticker to cheer-up everyone!

    1. hk

      The legal hypocrisy about “wars” is not unique to US, though.

      The effect of World Wars and the moralism that culminated in Nuremberg was that “wars” are “criminal” in a lawyerly way. This, I think, turned the logic on its head. Previously, the prevailing notion about wars was something that Sherman or Lee would have argued: war is hell, but trying to make wars more “comfortable” was even worse, because first, people would be less afraid of wars and the incentive to stop wars would be lessened. So there would be more and longer wars. Sherman would have suggested that there should be as few “wars” as possible, but the ones that take place should be as hellish as possible. But the lesson that the leaders took from the World Wars, it seems, is not that wars are inherently horrible, but that they are too “uncomfortable.”. So, as Sherman would have predicted, there have been more and longer wars, spreading ever more misery, but too “comfortable” to force their termination.

      1. digi_owl

        Long or short, what matters is that with generations one forget the horrors of war.

        Korea and Vietnam was close enough to WW2 that many still knew it directly. Now we are 2+ generations removed from that.

        1. JBird4049

          Even in Vietnam, there were Americans from elite families that fought in it. Not that many compared to all the previous major wars, but still some. Today, we have almost nobody from Professional Managerial Class and forget the wealthy who have fought in the wars of the past thirty years. Just who is not disposable for our betters aside from themselves of course? What are they willing to sacrifice for?

  5. Stephen

    This is a very interesting piece. So the Iraq War was (at least in part) a kind of reverse Domino Theory. If the Soviets could play dominoes then it seems that the US thought it could too. Given that the Domino Theory is being invoked again with respect to both China and Russia then the failure of the Iraq War to take down Iran ought to be yet another data point to invalidate such thinking.

    On a similar note, various British politicians are lauding the ICC arrest warrant for President Putin but they do not look in the mirror.

    One of them is our Minister for “Justice” (an increasingly ambiguous concept in the home of common law) Dominic Raab. He called it a “historic moment”. He happens too to be my local MP so he or his office have to respond to emails from constituents. So I have sent him a quick note reminding him that the Iraq War was a war crime too, that he is clearly a hypocrite and that obviously I want him to lose his job after the next election. Which is quite possible in Esher and Walton.

    The problem, of course, is that Labour are just as bellicose on Ukraine as the Tories. Just like the US we now have a Uni Party too.

    1. Rolf

      Given that the Domino Theory is being invoked again with respect to both China and Russia then the failure of the Iraq War to take down Iran ought to be yet another data point to invalidate such thinking.

      This point underscores, together with RK’s comment below and others above, the extent to which neoconservative self-anointed “elites” — and Biden is indeed one — will not, indeed can not, ever learn from their criminal mistakes. So infatuated with themselves and their power, they fail at any kind of deep thinking or reflection. They’re just too clever for that.

      How did Biden ever develop a reputation for foreign policy “expertise”? Calling for Putin’s removal (oopsie), peddling Cold War 2.0, planning for Hot War III? That’s expertise?

    2. Lysias

      Trump has been calling more and more clearly for ending the Ukraine war.

      If he’s indicted next week, that will make it very hard to deny him the Republican nomination.

      So I’m not sure if your saying that the US is governed by a Uniparty is still appropriate.

  6. The Rev Kev

    This war was always going to happen and no matter what those inspectors did, they were always going to be ignored. That was why they were pulled out of Iraq early. Taking the 20,000 foot view, it was always about extending American hegemony into the 21st century and the way to do that was to have a stranglehold of oil in the Middle East. After the first Gulf War the US was firmly embedded in Kuwait. And when Iraq was invaded and occupied, then preparations would begin to take on the major prize – Iran. There was a saying among neocons at the time that said ‘Everyone wants to go to Baghdad; real men want to go to Tehran.’ After Iran was occupied, then that would be it. The US military presence in the region would keep Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States in line so that Washington would have their heavy hand on the supply of oil from this region. You want oil, you ask the US first about getting oil from the Middle east – and then you pay in US dollars. Well it didn’t work out that way and credit here may be given to the Iraqi resistance. Maybe too they got distracted by the Afghanistan occupation as that was such a lucrative money-washing machine. And by the time the US got themselves clear of Iraq and Afghanistan, not one but two peer competitors had arisen – Russia and China. The dream of a 21st century American hegemony died in the Sandboxes because the neocons refused to look at the big picture. And now the same is happening because of the Neocon obsession with the Ukraine.

    1. digi_owl

      There is also a personal/emotional investment angle.

      Bush the younger seemed very keen on Iraq, perhaps because he wanted to one up his dad. After all, Bush the elder supposedly held back from fully invading Iraq on the request of the Saudis.

      And Biden may be personally invested in Ukraine, related to whatever Hunter was there for besides partying it up. Biden may have run for president specifically to see the Ukraine thing through rather than risk another bungle like Hillary.

      1. Brunches with Cats

        > Biden may be personally invested in Ukraine…

        That Biden is “personally invested” in Ukraine is beyond any reasonable doubt. Why else would he have flown to Kiev just four days before Trump’s inauguration? With a side trip to Cyprus no less, preferred banking spot for Ukrainian oligarchs, reportedly including principals of the energy firm that hired Hunter Biden.

        As for Hillary, she didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell in 2020, IMO. But a lot of people besides Biden had — and still have — a personal stake in Ukraine, particularly in keeping it as corrupt profitable as possible. Whether and how much they had to do with getting Biden elected is anyone’s guess.

      2. Brunches with Cats

        Also remember, we’re mere months away from the market in Ukraine’s super-fertile farm land opening to foreigners, as well as to Ukrainian agribusinesses. In fact, I just read this morning that USAID has a “public-private partnership” with Ukraine’s largest agribusiness, owned by an oligarch with ties to the crème de la corrupt.

        Listening to Mercouris daily while working on projects, I’ve started wondering whether the looming market date and jockeying for position among the various buyers (including, apparently, big Chinese companies) might not explain at least some of the craziness in Kyiv and Washington. Also read accusations that Russia has “stolen” thousands of hectares in the areas it controls, so those plots are scratched from the Ukrainian land registry, however temporarily.

        Which reminds me — I vaguely recall that martial law declared by Z includes rules to the effect that landowners who leave the country due to the war have to go through a lengthy bureaucratic process to get ownership restored upon their return — if they return at all. If they don’t, the land is up for grabs, as I understand it (emphasis on caveat).

  7. Alice X

    Breaking News:

    ICC issues arrest warrants for George W. Bush and others, film at 11…

    Oh well, just dreaming.

    1. hk

      Didn’t Judah Benjamin issue an arrest warrant for Abe Lincoln? (/S)

      (Well, probably not true–people probably more sense back then than now?)

      1. Alice X

        Of course status quObama was the one who should have brought the hammer down; but looking forward, one couldn’t afford to set such a precedent.

        And an interesting if somewhat perverse fellow that Judah Benjamin.

  8. OwlishSprite

    I have understood that the U.S. installed Saddam Hussein, and expected certain things of him. In October 2000, Saddam Hussein moved to switch Iraq’s oil trade from the dollar, which he termed the currency of the “enemy state,” to the euro, and that’s when he had to go. It’s so long ago I no longer have the sources that this was the main motive.

    1. digi_owl

      There was a quip that USA knew Iraq had chemical weapons, as they had the receipts from when they sold the components to to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war.

      1. The Rev Kev

        Not actually a quip but was the real deal. The people that were responsible for getting chemical and biological weapons were located just outside of Washington DC so any investigators only had to take a short car drive to that place to get a copy of those records.

    2. Rip Van Winkle

      The U.S. previously installed The Shah Of Iran. Not mentioned in any high school U.S. History textbooks. Not mentioned on the 444 days of Ted Kopple’s Nightline show ~ 44 years ago, either.

      1. OwlishSprite

        It was probably Pepe Escobar, or Democracy Now, where I saw that little tidbit about Saddam’s fatal revolt against his masters. Yes, that’s just not gonna be in texbooks, either. If they even use books in school any more. Yeesh, I’m glad I never had kids. I’d be apologizing non-stop.

      2. digi_owl

        At UK’s request, as Mossadegh was planning to nationalize the BP oilfields. And UK didn’t have the capacity to deal with it themselves after WW2.

        So much of the mess in the middle east comes down to UK and France looting the place between the world wars. This up to and including fueling the religious fervor still plaguing the region to this day.

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      No, that’s bogus. As you can see from the Biden lecturing of Ritter in 1998, the US wanted to get rid of him then (and before) but hadn’t come up with a pretext they could sell to the international community.

  9. pjay

    Rogers’ basic description of events was not too bad up to a point. He did identify the neocons’ role and emphasized that WMD was just a sham excuse. But his account of this disaster was mainly an “incompetence” and “blowback” type argument. Then it got worse when he says this:

    “…This hugely bloody and costly war lasted the rest of Bush’s presidency. It was only when Barack Obama came to power in 2008 that the White House could start to talk of Iraq being a ‘bad’ war. Even so, it lasted until 2011, by which time Obama had withdrawn most US troops.”

    “But that was far from the real end of the war. Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) had survived and by 2012 was regrouping and taking control of territory across northern Iraq and north-west into Syria. By 2014 it was seen as a threat to US and other Western interests and Obama ordered the US into a war fought almost entirely from the air with drones, missiles and strike aircraft. Over 100,000 smart bombs and missiles were used between 2014 and 2018, killing at least 60,000 people, including thousands of civilians, and eventually forcing AQI, now known as ISIS, to give up most of its territory.”

    What’s wrong with this picture?

    Anyone who leaves out the central role of the US and its allies in the creation, funding, maintenance, and cynical use of AQI and ISIS to sow chaos and destabilization in both Iraq and Syria – during the *Obama* administration – which cynically served as justification for our return and permanent presence in Iraq, and as a tool for the destruction of Syria – is not interested in the full story. This is not a secret; it is well documented. Hell, I remember articles in the *mainstream* press quoting members of the US military training the Iraqi army who were complaining about the CIA training the jihadists their guys were fighting!

    Here are the opening sentences of the authors’ bio:

    “Paul Rogers is Emeritus Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University and an Honorary Fellow of the Joint Service Command and Staff College (JSCSC). He has lectured regularly at senior UK defence colleges for almost forty years and has been an External Examiner for the MA programmes at the Royal College of Defence Studies and JSCSC. Paul lectures on changing drivers of international conflict with particular interests in the Middle East and paramilitary violence…”

    I am not saying the author is not sincere. But I will say that for someone in this position, the full story is likely to be beyond their cognitive blinders.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      The last sentence of your comment offers an especially nice turn of phrase. I plan to steal the construct “cognitive blinders” for future uses.

    2. scott s.

      The lesson Obama took was to avoid large-scale conventional “boots-on-the-ground” war and instead weaponize social media in a way that would allow the US to “lead from behind”. It seemed to work in Egypt so it was ramped up and applied elsewhere. But the limitations seem to have displayed in Syria. Meanwhile thanks to the Patriot Act, the weaponized social media could be turned inward as a domestic tool.

  10. Lex

    The dark seed of today from which the long term consequences are become bitter fruits. I think it’s helpful to consider that the invasion was far from the smashing success it is generally portrayed as, and not just the medium term chaos and insurgency but the initial offensive. The admin openly takes about Baghdad in 3 weeks, greeted as liberators, etc.

    At the time there were postings to the internet from “Russian intelligence” called the “Iraq War files”. The actual source has always been shadowy and they disappeared for a long time but resurfaced in 2022 on an Australian blog (I saved a PDF this time.) Much of the information fits tightly with publicly available information from then and released since then. It depicts an absolute shit show. The British couldn’t capture Basra on time. There were massive supply and maintenance issues. Nothing worked right in the sand. Franks almost got fired and the press was pulled from embeds and stuck in hotels so it didn’t report on reality. The Kurds were less reliable than expected in the north. Nobody bothered to plan for feeding the civilian population in “liberated” areas (and a UN oil for food ship was pirated to solve the problem). In the end things were moving far too slow for the public schedule and a decision was made for a race to Baghdad so that there would be a media victory. Doing so left much of the Iraqi military in the field rather than soundly defeated. They were the foundation of the insurgency.

    Maybe more interesting in the documents is the discussion about how the US fights. Conclusions were drawn about US reliance on air power, how it was used and what Russia should do to counter it. One facet that makes me think the files are real and we’re connected to Russian intelligence is that the conclusions have been implemented in Russia’s primary investment in air defenses and missile forces. Obviously not a difficult conclusion to draw but in historical context the files seem fairly important.

    *note that at the time the line between private and state intelligence in Russia was real fuzzy. I can’t/won’t say they’re “real” but there are discussions about Russian diplomatic mission events that would be hard to know without insider sources.

    1. hk

      What is fascinating is to compare this picture with what was expected of Russians last Spring.

      US expected Russia to have problems administering the populations in liberated areas. It turns out that was the one thing they definitely didn’t have problems with.

      US expected a swift assault on Kiev similar to the race for Baghdad so that Russians could “save face,” which, US expected to be necessary because Russians were moving far slower than what US would have done.

      It’s funny that these were two important reasons that planted the seeds for US’s problems in Iraq and it stands to reason that (even if Russians were starting from blank slate, which is almost certainly not true) they would have learned from studying US experience.

      1. Lex

        Yes, it’s clear that US planners assumed that Russia would do everything the way the US did it and would suffer the same consequences. In spring 22 people like Clinton were even openly talking about giving Russia their Afghanistan. Aside from that being hilarious because Carter gave them their Vietnam in Afghanistan, the better comparison was Iraq. It even shows in the very first round of weapons which didn’t include things like armor and air defense but lots of excellent insurgency tools.

        Whether by design or dumb luck, Russia managed to avoid that scenario. The insurgency idea wasn’t great anyhow given that a major issue in US counter insurgency experience is the language/culture barrier that obviously would not be a significant factor in Ukraine.

      2. digi_owl

        Because unlike Iraq, the people in Donbass see themselves as at least partially Russian.

        And Russia kinda went after Kiev during the early days. This perhaps to spook Zelensky to the bargaining table, while also tying up forces that would otherwise have been sent to Donbass early on. But any chance of an early bargain vanished with the intervention of Boris Johnson.

      3. scott s.

        I think the US expected to Russia to execute its long-standing operational doctrine of “deep battle” and when that didn’t happen concluded it was a failure.

    2. paddy

      neocon field marshals see every adversary a pushover like 1940 france and the populations equally as docile…..

      only usa is able to leave hostile in their rear bc air power …..not

      what they ignore in ukraine is an older and as common mistake.

    3. digi_owl

      Russia has been big on AA since the days of USSR. After all the cold war was in part a duel between US spy planes and soviet SAMs.

      1. Lex

        Agreed. They also were very early adopters of rocket artillery. In the files there’s a fairly substantive discussion of organizing those assets relative to how they were organized at the time and similar issues.

    1. Lex

      Thanks for the link. This piece combined with the Iraq war files gives a much more complete picture of the initial invasion. It’s also worth noting that the US invasion of Afghanistan was also primarily a bribery op combined with paying militias.

  11. Louis Fyne

    Biden thanked Ritter for forcing senators to “come to our milk,” by which he meant forcing them to make a decision on what to do..?

    If this a Delaware/PA phrase? I have never heard anything like this by a country mile!

    strikes my ear as a bizarre turn of phrase. just saying.

    (and google-fu is turning up nothing on the etymology beyond Biden).

    1. OwlishSprite

      It brings up a mental image in my mind, which I don’t want to describe. Kind of a variation of “who’s your Daddy?”

    2. Tara

      My Irish husband uses this expression.Bring him to his milk I think he picked it up from his father. I take it to be a rather forceful way to get people to do what is good for them- or what the forcer thinks is good for them to be doing.

  12. AG

    – no Scott Ritter info from my side –

    but, back then in Germany among most sane people (when sanity still prevailed), the source today known as CURVEBALL was immediately debunked when it became public that there were some claims re: bio weapons.

    The moment you would hear the story about trucks with mobile labs, it was clear to anyone that this was bullshit invention. What made it ever so incredible was to follow the path of this nonsense via Pentagon, WH, into UN from Germany. Whereas every citizen who cared to know could know the truth.

    here is Bob Drogin´s Interview with Democracy Now 2008. Drogin published his bestseller “Curveball” 2007.

    Even before Drogin published however British screenwriter Steve Knight had already finished a spec script called “Curveball” April 2007 which can be found online today. Back then confidential.

    In it Knight describes the US perspective. Which contained the story of how Scooter Libby would utilize all his clout to force Pentagon analysts to fabricate the Iraq lie.

    However up to this day Hollywood has unfortunately realized no movie about Curveball even though some were in preparation.

    Also interesting is the attitude of the German government sponsored conservative transatlanticist SWP think tank “Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik” – “German Institute for International and Security Affairs” – they were warmongering as always, even though, it is likely (I can only assume though) on the inside they knew of the considerbale doubts surrounding Curveball from the outset.

    p.s. Curveball is the US chosen covername for Rafid Ahmed Alwan a 1999 immigrant to Germany who made up the story about mobile biolabs in order to receive immigration papers. He would eventually end up as an intel asset of the German BND and get his papers.

    p.p.s here The Village Voice April 2005

    p.p.p.s. the only fictional adaptation of Curveball that was realized that I know of is the German produced fiction called “Curveball” from 2021. Check it out. Its a combination of drama and satire. The material could have made for a better movie but not bad. (one reason I had hoped for a Hollywood take on this.)

      1. AG

        even though I have my issues with Le Carré, this one belonged to the better half certainly.
        But with A Most Wanted Man of course the individual is NOT the culprit.

        I believe Le Carré then had written it as an answer to the Anti-Arab hysteria in the wake of 9/11.

        One reason the story was located in Hamburg. Since the hijackers had originated from Hamburg.

        As for the Arab-speaking Germans /German-speaking Arabs (?) – they were closely watched after 9/11.
        Students had major problems.

        It´s sort of forgotten now. But the racism was palpable everywhere. (The surveillance stepped up back then has stayed.)

        Which is the reason why German “Curveball” was also intended as comedy. Because the poor guy, Curveball, is the bad guy aka the fraud.

        What indeed both films do, they picture the handlers as the real victims. And they are the major protagonists.

  13. orlbucfan

    Well, the latest nonsense on news infotainment/hysteria mongering here is Putin kidnapped Uk kids so now he’s a war criminal. Really? Since when has that become a crime in war?? Spare me.

  14. Susan the other

    Timely information. After the recent CNN blackmail threat about the Oklahoma City bombing of the Federal Building – a veritable bunker built to withstand a direct hit – which seemed directed at wayward and wavering Cold War warriors in the Democratic Party… I dug up my copy of “The Oklahoma City Bombing and the Politics of Terror”. A very informative book by David Hoffman and OK Rep Charles Key. Required reading if you want to decode the interregnum between Bush 1 and Bush 2. Actually Clinton was far from a peacenik. His administration was dedicated to stage setting – the age of terrorism and the great-western-war- against-it bullshit. I actually remember a clip on TV of Clinton consulting with Germany about the control of domestic terrorist “neo-nazis”. Pure theater. I believe it was all part of our panic about – OMG – what will we do to be the benign hegemon if we run out of oil – that screws up everything … so we better make damn sure we have plenty of oil, etc. There can be no magnanimous neoliberal foreign policy/blackmail/bribery without oil. Gulp. Let’s all get real. So the Caspian was the goal imo. (And I think it still is and Ukraine is part of it.) And George 2 was a shoe in, even if it took a corrupt Supreme Court, in 2000. Etc. I also think this neocon thinking has run its course and things will change because nobody is that suicidal these days. Hopefully, a truce.

  15. tiebie66

    “Twenty years after the start of the Iraq War, one question remains difficult to answer convincingly. Just why did the United States, under President George W Bush, invade and occupy Iraq? Answers from academics and think tanks range from the need to safeguard oil supplies held by a rogue state that had taken over Kuwait and now controlled a fifth of the world’s oil reserves, through to Iraq supporting terrorism and developing weapons of mass destruction.”

    I must be the only one that thinks Saddam Hussein’s support for Palestinian suicide bombers was the reason for invading Iraq. The oil vs. weapons of mass destruction controversy was simply meant to divert attention from that interpretation.
    03/04/2002 … Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has raised the amount offered to relatives of suicide bombers from $10,000 per family to $25,000, .
    “By March 2002 it was clear that Iraq would be the first target. …”

  16. Brunches with Cats

    Re: Ritter’s “360” *

    Below are a couple of links, including excerpts from Ritter’s 2002 book with William Rivers Pitt, “The War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You To Know,” and notes on a documentary he directed in 2001. This may be the closest we get to an answer, as while various theories have floated around about why Ritter changed his tune, Ritter himself has said on the record that he doesn’t see any contradiction, as the truth wasn’t black and white.

    Gist of links: Ritter says he caught the Iraqis lying about possessing WMD and that he either verified their claims of having destroyed them, or that he oversaw destruction of remaining stockpiles. Moreover, since they’d lied, they couldn’t be trusted not to restart the program. BUT, he said it would take them years to do so and that any attempts would be easily detectible. Meanwhile, what little they might have been able to hide from inspectors had a 5-year shelf life. So the U.S. in theory could claim that Saddam had WMD, Ritter says, but by the time 43 invaded Iraq, they were no longer a threat to anyone.

    ‘Even if Iraq managed to hide these weapons, what they are now hiding is harmless goo’

    Fighting Words

    * “If he doesn’t change by 360 degrees, no.” ~ German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, responding to a question at the Munich Security Conference in February 2023 about the chances for Ukraine being safe as long as Putin still controlled Russia.

  17. ChrisPacific

    It actually wasn’t that difficult to see at the time. We had known for some time that the US wanted to go back into Iraq. It was pretty clear not long after 9/11 that it was going to be used as an excuse. Biden may sound deranged in that quote, but all he is doing is articulating the position of the vast majority of government at the time. It was obvious from the US response to the setbacks (lack of UN approval, Iraq readmitting inspectors) that no off-ramps were going to be considered or allowed. We know what the neocons were up to because they never stopped going on TV and the radio and telling us, and everybody knew Bush was listening to them.

    So the answer to why Iraq, why then? is: Because Bush and the neocons wanted to, and because they (correctly) assessed that 9/11 could be leveraged into enough public support to do it. The surprising things to me were how bipartisan the support was, the degree to which the population swallowed the propaganda, and (of course) the WMD justification turning out to be a lie. I doubt any of these would surprise me today, though.

    Bush used to talk a lot about Japan after World War 2. I think he had a vision that you could just go in and conquer a nation and then (by some magic that he’d clearly not thought very deeply about) convert them into a strong, long term ally. I don’t know whether the neocons thought that too or whether they simply encouraged this as a convenient belief on this part.

    1. hk

      There had always been a strong faction in Japan, literally since the opening of the country (or even centuries before that), that believed that the future of Japan lay with controlling Asian continent–for which a conflict with China and (by 20th century, Russia also) was inevitable. Japan’s entry into World War 2, in a way, came as an afterthought to that belief–Japan struck south because it needed resources to fight China (and Russia, in 1939, smashed Japanese forces in an undeclared border war seemed too strong.). One might say that World War 2 didn’t change Japan much–their leaders still wanted to take on China and Russia, now with American help, not that US occupation changed their mindset.

      Side note: there are some interesting notes about the 1939 border war (Manchurian -Mongolian border) between Japan and Russia. It is famous in the West mostly because the Russian commander was the future Marshal Zhukov, but the thing that I find fascinating is the tremendous disparity in material and logistics. Russians had huge advantage in tanks and artillery, and gradually, in airpower, and very well supplied with fuel and ammunition despite the nearest railhead being 1000 km away. Japanese, despite being only a few hundred km away from railhead, could only maintain tanks and heavy artillery a fraction that of the Russians. For several months, the confluct appeared to have stalemated, with skilled and determined Japanese infantry holding back Russian armor and artillery, despite poor leadership, but, when Russian decided to go for the win, the practically the entire Japanese force was surrounded and smashed. But the lesson that Japanese leadership learned was that they should go to war with their “other enemy,” despite the clear display that they were completely outclassed in war production and organizational capacity. Substitute Ukraine (or, even the US, given the aftermath) for Japan, and we have a disturbing rhyme for today.

  18. Glen

    American foreign policy before Iraq was not good, but after Iraq it became just so unhinged and detached from what would benefit America, and Americans. It is now the neo-whatever show 24/7. The people that have pushed these insane FPs are never held to account for their disastrous actions.

    In that aspect, they are identical to the American oligarchs who have wrecked our economy, crushed our industrial base, wrecked our education system, and destroyed the middle class. They are too powerful to fail, no matter how stupid, how blatantly corrupt, or just repeatably, massively WRONG.

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