Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The End of the Combat Mission and a Failed Experiment

Last night, the President, as he campaigned to do, declared an end to the combat mission in Iraq. I heard it reported on several news outlets that the reason for the invasion had been "to find weapons of mass destruction which were never discovered."

This is at best sloppy, at worst deceptive on the part of the news organizations. The weapons of mass destruction line was never a serious one among those who started this war and was adopted strictly because of its rhetorical power -- it polled best and was unassailable by critics. Insiders in the Bush administration admitted that this was not their true rationale and while it may be true that it was swallowed by those on Capital Hill who voted to fund the operation and in the media who pushed it on the public, nuclear, chemical, and biological weapon stocks were not the reason we went in.

Immediately after 9/11, Iraq was put on the table despite the fact that the nation and its brutal autocratic government had nothing to do with the attack. There was a longing from day one of the Bush administration to invade Iraq and they needed and excuse and cover that would manufacture consent. But why Iraq? Why couldn't they be satisfied with invading Afghanistan where there was a real link to the attacks? Or why not focus on Saudi Arabia where many of the hijackers and Osama bin Laden came from? There's plenty of oil there, why not them?

The fact is that the plans for Iraq had been in the works among heavyweight conservatives for a long time. Going back to the 90's, they gathered under the auspices of a think tank called the Project for the New American Century and formulated a plan. This plan was equal parts ideology, crony corporate capitalism, and scam.

The neo-conservatives who formulated this view differed from the conservative realists who sought a moderated peace and the old-line conservatives who had an isolationist, fortress America bent.

The basis for their view was an intellectualized version of "we're #1!" From conservative political philosopher Francis Fukuyama, neo-conservatism is based on a sort of neo-neo-Hegelianism. In Fukuyama's essay "The End of History?", he argues that liberal democracy is the ultimate form of government. All humans intrinsically will to be free. If you remove the impediments to that freedom, liberal democracy will spontaneously generate. As it spreads across the globe, it will lead to less and less conflict creating greater stability.

The neo-cons saw the newly sprouted liberal democracies as necessarily coupled with corporate capitalism. If you took down a repressive government, then a liberal democracy and open market would replace it. That country would have a multitude of needs which could be immediately filled by American-based corporations who would be able to rush into the void creating a higher standard of living in the invaded country, new profits in a new expanded market for the corporation, and a country that would then become economically dependent upon, politically grateful to, and therefore in every way a committed ally for the U.S.

Iraq was an easy target. It was living under sanctions that crippled its economy and military. No fly zones in the north and south left the government only in control of a third of its area. It was politically unstable inside that middle third. From the first Gulf War, there was already a negative feeling towards it on the part of the American public. In addition, it had the natural resources to generate the wealth that would fuel the whole project. It wasn't an accident that the original name for the invasion was Operation Iraqi Liberation. It was the perfect laboratory for the neo-conservative experiment.

Soon after Saddam Husein's government fell, a couple of enterprising Iraqis tried to start a cell phone company. You could think that the neo-conservatives who pay homage to the free market and the power of capitalism at every turn would laud such vision, such resourcefulness. But no. they were immediately shut down. these entrepreneurs were stepping on toes because in the run -up to the invasion, Bechtel, a major contributor to the G.O.P. was promised monopolistic control of the cell phone market. It was to be controlled by conservative and corporate interests.

And these insiders had their own insider ready to take over as their buddy at the top. Ahmed Chalabi was a frequent guest at the Heritage Foundation and other conservative think tanks. He was the head of the Iraqi National congress, a group opposed to the regime and friendly with U.S. interests. When the invasion started, the Bush administration made sure to parachute Chalabi himself and several compatriots into the country with weapons to make it look like he was a returning hero who could then be installed as the new President with nationalistic credentials. But the Iraqis didn't fall for it and he was not embraced by the people at all. The neo-cons, on the other hand, did fall for it as Chalabi ended up being an Iranian agent. The neo-cons were trying to give control of one of their designated "Axis of Evil" countries over to another member of that club. Geo-political Candid Camera at its best.

And so the whole experiment failed, crashed and burned. But any politician who pointed out the obvious was branded as unpatriotic. As it became undeniable, the move was to argue that it wasn't the invasion that was wrong, but that the occupation was poorly executed. Of course, this line undermines the entire reason for going. The liberal democracy and new market for American corporations were supposed to be unavoidable. they were supposed to just spring up, coming up from the ground like Jed Clampett's bubbling crude. But it didn't. The experiment was a complete and total failure.

But the most disappointing failure is that exactly what failed is not being pointed out. And for that reason, the legitimate fear is that we may be destined to repeat it.