Have We Learned Anything from the Iraq War?
Seventeen years ago, the U.S. and some of its allies launched an illegal invasion for the express purpose of overthrowing the Iraqi government using the bogus justification of eliminating “weapons of mass destruction” that did not exist. This magazine was founded in 2002 in large part to oppose that war and the destructive, hubristic foreign policy ideas that fueled it. Seventeen years later, the U.S. is still fighting in Iraq. Now our troops are fighting against the jihadists who flourished in Iraq because of the invasion, and they are facing new threats to their safety because of the current administration’s reckless policy of pursuing regime change in Iran. Americans and Iraqis are still dying as a result of that criminal decision to invade, and the obsession with regime change has found a new target. As I said the other day, the U.S. lost the war, and there was nothing that the U.S. could have “won” when the war was completely unnecessary and unjust.
By all rights, the destructive, hubristic ideas that led to that war ought to have been thoroughly discredited by this failure, but they are still with us even now. We have seen how little accountability there is in foreign policy debates for those that advocate for disastrous, costly interventions. The architects of the war have faced no real penalties for the crime they committed, and the war’s most vocal supporters remain ensconced in their high-profile sinecures. The next general election will offer us a choice between two candidates who supported the war when it began and then pretended otherwise later on. Politicians and policymakers are still drawn to regime change and military intervention as “solutions” to international problems far too often. Our foreign policy debates have changed somewhat since 2003, and there is much more support for foreign policy restraint now, but overall Americans have still learned remarkably little from this debacle.
If there was one lesson to learn from the invasion of Iraq, it is that preventive war is both wrong and unwise. “Preventive” wars are not necessary and cannot be just, because the threat that they are supposed to “prevent” does not yet exist and may never exist. Preventive wars are nothing more than criminal aggression, but in the years since the invasion of Iraq preventive war has been normalized into just one more “option” to be considered. We see this in the repeated advocacy for attacking Iran, and we have seen it even in the more extreme case of advocating for attacks on North Korea. Those attacks have not yet happened, but there is an alarming amount of support for such wantonly illegal actions. The most important lesson that we need to learn from Iraq is that the U.S. has no right to decide who governs other countries, and we definitely have no right to force a change in a foreign government. The belief that the U.S. is entitled to act like the judge and executioner of other governments is dangerous and corrupting, and it has already had terrible consequences for tens of millions of ordinary people.
I opposed the war from the start, but considering how preposterous the case for war was I can’t take much credit for that. One of the first things I wrote against the war that was published was a letter to the editor of The Economist that appeared in July 2003. I have occasionally cited it before, but I will quote the full letter again:
Your continued defence of the war is grounded on the assertion that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was “dangerous” (“The case for war—revisited”, July 19th). Dangerous to whom? In light of the conviction of several former weapons inspectors that Iraq was substantially disarmed after 1998, the burden of proof has always been on those advocating intervention.
Yet The Economist has always given the pro-war arguments every benefit of the doubt and hawkish assumptions far more credibility than the evidence warrants, and in so doing has lent support to governments that have probably swindled the public and started an unnecessary war. Lacking in every hawkish argument has been the common-sense understanding that the chance of massive and overwhelming retaliation would deter any third-rate state from an attack.
You say that if George Bush and Tony Blair lied “it would be a huge scandal and would destroy their governments’ credibility for future interventions overseas.” What is Vice-President Dick Cheney’s claim that Iraq had “reconstituted nuclear weapons” if not an outright lie? What of Mr Bush’s claim that there was “no doubt” of the existence of the weapons that now cannot be found? Finally, considering the American public’s confusion over the real relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda, what else other than lies can you call Mr Bush’s repeated claims about Iraq’s “harbouring” members of al-Qaeda?
Maybe western intelligence agencies are so amazingly incompetent that they cannot provide correct information properly to inform a policy of pre-emption, in which case such wars are even more dangerous and wrong. Or perhaps the governments of Britain and the United States made a host of false statements without any suitable explanation for these errors, in which case a responsible democratic society must assume that the governments have lied and in so doing have abused their powers.
The letter holds up pretty well, but I did make the mistake of talking about the war in terms of pre-emption. That is exactly what the war wasn’t and never could have been. The idea that a weak, impoverished dictatorship on the other side of the world threatened us to such an extent that we “had to” invade was always barking lunacy. We need to remember just how crazy that idea was the next time that a president insists that “we must act” by attacking some weak state on the far side of the world.
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The Inhumane and Monstrous Economic War on Iran
The Trump administration isn’t lifting sanctions on Iran in the middle of the pandemic. Instead, they have opted to intensify the economic war to inflict even more suffering on the Iranian people. Pompeo released this statement today:
Our sanctions will deprive the regime of critical income from its petrochemical industry and further Iran’s economic and diplomatic isolation. The United States will continue to fully enforce our sanctions.
Depriving Iran’s government of “critical income” will inevitably harm the population. Reducing Iran’s revenues means that there will be fewer resources available for the kinds of emergency spending measures that governments everywhere are using to stave off the worst economic effects of the pandemic. Continuing to enforce the existing sanctions prevents Iranians from obtaining essential food and medicines. Sanctions have always been an attack on the Iranian people, and continuing that attack at a time like this is inhumane and monstrous.
To have sanctions on a country dealing w a pandemic & public health crisis of this magnitude is cruel & criminal. I know cruelty is the point of much of the Trump administration, but we have to be willing to draw some lines as people re what we’re willing to accept in our name. https://t.co/G9YqdgAp9R
— Narges Bajoghli (@nargesbajoghli) March 17, 2020
Starving Iran of revenues and strangling their economy sabotage efforts to bring the outbreak under control:
Tehran mayor @pirouzhanachi: "In a normal situation and a good economy, we could have imposed a lockdown. But what comes next, like providing necessary goods or compensating for losses across Iran, is not possible, so a complete lockdown cannot be done."https://t.co/bcjYevPAUG
— Esfandyar Batmanghelidj (@yarbatman) March 18, 2020
A worst-case scenario analysis estimated that more than three million Iranians might die from the outbreak. There is no question that the Iranian government’s incompetence and mismanagement have greatly exacerbated the problem, but the sanctions have severely compromised Iran’s ability to cope with the pandemic and they continue to do so every day that they are in effect. Keeping sanctions in place under the circumstances means deliberately contributing to the preventable deaths of many thousands of innocent people. If things get truly out of control, the death toll could be staggering.
Mehdi Hasan comments on the economic war that the U.S. has been waging on the Iranian people:
The unilateral reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran in 2018 was a clear violation of international law, according to the International Court of Justice. It was not mandated by the U.N. Security Council, and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the effect of sanctions on human rights has since slammed the Trump administration’s “illegal and immoral forms of coercion,” calling it an “economic attack” on the Iranian people.
Of course, an attack on the Islamic Republic is what the hawks in Washington have always craved. On Sunday, Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton was once again agitating for a new war with Iran. Meanwhile, Bolton’s former colleagues over at the neoconservative pressure group United Against Nuclear Iran, as Eli Clifton revealed, have been “urging major pharmaceutical companies to ‘end their Iran business,’ focusing on companies with special licenses — most often under a broadly defined ‘humanitarian exemption’ — to conduct trade with Iran.”
There is only one word to describe such behavior: sociopathic.
Everyone that follows this issue understands that this makes a mockery of the administration’s professed support for the people:
The admin has said that US sanctions aren’t designed to hurt average Iranians, just the regime.
The coronavirus is the test. If the admin doesn’t adjust its policy to cater to the global fight against a pandemic, it’s either saying it either doesn’t care or wants to hurt them.
— Ariane Tabatabai (@ArianeTabatabai) March 18, 2020
It always rang hollow when the Trump administration said they supported the Iranian people while economically strangling them.
The fact that they persist in this policy while Iran is facing a public health catastrophe really drives the point home though. https://t.co/S8Cxi0lF4A
— Nicholas Miller (@Nick_L_Miller) March 18, 2020
Our government is committing an outrageous injustice against tens of millions of innocent people, and the economic war will be responsible for killing many thousands and possibly more than that. Basic decency and humanity demand that the U.S. grant the Iranian people relief from the cruel collective punishment that our government has subjected them to for the last two years. The Iranian people will remember how we chose to treat them at this moment. When they were gasping for breath and in grave need of assistance, the U.S. instead kept trying to choke the life out of them.
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We Have Lost in Iraq, and We Should Leave
Dan Caldwell, an Iraq war veteran and a senior adviser for Concerned Veterans of America, has written an important article calling for full U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in recognition of the fact that keeping American troops there serves no real purpose except to make them targets:
Today, American troops remain in Iraq with no clear purpose. ISIS’ territorial caliphate is destroyed, and the remaining ISIS fighters pose a greater threat to Iranian interests than American ones. The Iraqi parliament recently called for our withdrawal. Our continued support of Iraqi security forces could lead to Iranian-aligned groups receiving American arms and equipment, including ones likely responsible for recent attacks against Americans.
Leaving our troops in Iraq only makes them easy targets for Sunni jihadis or Iranian proxies seeking to harm American forces. President Donald Trump should withdraw all our forces from the country, a move supported by nearly 70 percent of Americans.
I am proud of my service in Iraq, and regardless of the necessity of the war, we should honor the sacrifice of those who served admirably under difficult circumstances. But like most veterans of the conflict, I believe the Iraq War was a mistake with catastrophic implications for the country we swore to defend. Now, 17 years after the war began, it’s time to finally correct this mistake and bring our troops home.
The U.S. could withdraw from Iraq tomorrow and U.S. vital interests would not suffer in the least. Americans are still fighting and dying in Iraq for the sake of a muddled policy whose supporters can’t decide if the main adversary is ISIS or Iran. Most Iraqis don’t want our forces there any longer, and most Americans don’t want them to stay, either. Americans shouldn’t be risking their lives for the anti-Iranian ideological fantasies of hard-liners in Washington. There is no excuse for keeping them in harm’s way when no American security interests are being served.
There is great resistance in Washington to ending any of our foreign wars because bringing them to an unsatisfactory conclusion means admitting that we lost. Well, we lost, and we lost a long time ago. Delaying the inevitable withdrawal doesn’t prevent that defeat, but it does doom some soldiers and Marines to being injured or killed in a failed war. The beginning of wisdom comes from understanding that there was nothing in these wars for the U.S. to win. As Caldwell says, the “Iraq War was lost when the Marines pulled down Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad in April 2003.” The war’s “success” was the root of its own costly failure because a war for regime change in Iraq was never in the American interest.
The U.S. has spent the better part of two decades trying to pretend that there was something to salvage from the debacle, but it is time for that to end. The U.S. has no vital interests at stake in Iraq today just as it had none in 2003. We have lost in Iraq, and we should leave.
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Public Opinion and the Pandemic
A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist survey of American public opinion on the coronavirus included some remarkable results. For instance, the poll found that fewer Republicans see the virus as a threat than they did a month ago:
Trump initially underplayed the threat of the novel coronavirus, and that appears to have affected how seriously some Americans, particularly Republicans, are taking the threat of the highly contagious virus.
Just 40% of Republicans now say it is a real threat, down from 72% in February. A majority of Republicans (54%) said they think it has been blown out of proportion, more than double what it was in February (23%).
There has also been a concerted effort across a lot of conservative media to minimize the danger from the outbreak. Along with the president’s misinformation, it seems that this deluge of propaganda has had a significant effect in making their audience oblivious to the reality of what has been happening. It is startling that there are any Americans who take the threat from the outbreak less seriously now than they did a few weeks ago, but there are evidently a lot of them. In February, 66% of all respondents said that the virus was a real threat, and now just 56% say the same. Some Americans are becoming more complacent as the danger is increasing. The partisan gap on these questions ought to be vanishing as reality sinks in, but instead it is increasing. Independents are now also more likely to say that the threat is overstated:
But it’s not just Republicans. Half of independents see it as a real threat, down from two-thirds in February [bold mine-DL]. Democrats, on the other hand, have gone the opposite direction — 70% in February said it was a real threat, and now it’s 76%.
Last month, it might have still been understandable to make the mistake of underestimating the severity of the situation. Because the government was flying blind, the public was also very much in the dark about the extent of the outbreak, so it would have been easier to dismiss the problem. Over the last several weeks, the virus has spread all over the country, and as we all know many state and local governments and private institutions have been taking ever more drastic measures in response. It would require deliberately ignoring these developments or accepting a completely false narrative about them to conclude that the threat has been overblown at this point. It doesn’t bode well for long-term public cooperation with the extensive restrictions we will have to live with when almost two in five Americans still don’t think the threat is all that serious.
Overall, the poll finds that there is less confidence in the federal government’s response than there was in February, and a majority of Americans has little or no trust in what the president says about the outbreak:
Just 46% of Americans now say the federal government is doing enough to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, down from 61% in February.
Just 37% of Americans now say they had a good amount or a great deal of trust in what they’re hearing from the president, while 60% say they had not very much or no trust at all in what he’s saying.
The president may be starting to take the outbreak more seriously, but the damage to public confidence and trust has already been done. We have to hope that the entire public begins taking the threat very seriously, because without that the loss of life will be even greater.
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End the Economic Wars to Save Lives
Barbara Slavin comments on the dire situation in Iran that has been made worse by U.S. economic warfare:
Iranian animosity toward the U.S. is understandable, given the Trump administration’s decision to quit the 2015 Iran nuclear deal despite Tehran being in compliance with it and to impose crushing sanctions. But Iran, which is also seeking emergency relief from the International Monetary Fund, also needs the U.S. to not block a requested $5 billion dollar loan.
Now would be a great time for some COVID-19 related diplomacy.
The U.S. has been inflicting cruel collective punishment on the Iranian people for years, and if ever there were a time to stop that punishment and provide humanitarian relief it would be now. Neither Iran nor the U.S. can afford further escalation. Continuing to wage an economic war on a country while it is in the throes of the same global pandemic that threatens us is vicious.
Tyler Cullis calls for a halt to the economic war so that Iran at least has a fighting chance to combat the outbreak. He explains why the continued economic war is so devastating:
But even if Iran’s government wanted to make the right choices in the days ahead, it is unable to do so, as U.S. sanctions prevent Iran from providing the kind of economic and social safety nets that will become a routinized action for governments around the world. Even if it were a bastion of beneficence, Iran’s government would still remain barred from ensuring the average Iranian — who will face enormous deprivation as the country shutters what remains of its economy — has the economic and social support necessary to sustain day-to-day life.
Most critics of U.S. sanctions miss this fundamental point: U.S. sanctions are doing much more than preventing Iran from importing the medicine and medical goods that it may need to tackle the virus. U.S. sanctions are proving a prohibitive bar to Iran providing the basic goods and services necessary for their people to survive this catastrophic epidemic.
The economic effects of the outbreak are going to be severe everywhere, but the countries that will be hardest hit are the ones that have had their economies ruined by sanctions and blockades before now. Sanctions were already killing innocent Iranians before the outbreak, and now they are guaranteed to add to the death toll. As we face the prospect of a major economic contraction and the hardship that will come along with it, it should make us appreciate how monstrous it is to inflict the same suffering on people in other countries for policy decisions that are beyond their control. There is nothing quite like a global disaster to put in perspective how absurd and irrational our government’s obsession with Iran really is.
It should go without saying that sanctions on Venezuela and North Korea should also be suspended. We don’t need how much of an outbreak North Korea has, but we know that sanctions were already interfering with the provision of humanitarian aid. Sanctions on Venezuela have likewise prevented some people from getting the medicine they need. The U.S. should be renouncing economic warfare in any case, but under the circumstances there is no justification for continuing to strangle whole nations as they struggle with the effects of this pandemic. We need to recognize that the U.S. bears responsibility for undermining Iran’s ability to cope with their outbreak, and the least that we can do is to allow them to resume normal trade so that they can obtain the medicine and equipment they need.
Many things are going to change because of this pandemic, and some of them will be for the worse. Ending the economic wars that our government wages on tens of millions of innocent people would be a good change to make now while it can still help save lives.
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Biden Misrepresented Sanders’ Foreign Policy Record
There was very little of value on foreign policy in last night’s Democratic debate. That was unfortunate because Biden has many vulnerabilities on foreign policy that voters ought to know about, and it was also a waste of an opportunity to find out more about what both candidates propose to do in the future. What little time there was devoted to discussing foreign policy was squandered with Biden’s misrepresentations of Sanders’ record. The former vice president incredibly tried to make himself into a paragon of opposition to authoritarianism, and in the process he misrepresented a vote that Sanders cast against a 2017 sanctions bill that applied to both Russia and Iran. As Sanders said at the time, he did not object to the Russia sanctions, but saw a push for more Iran sanctions as a threat to the JCPOA. This was before the Trump administration had reneged on the deal. Zaid Jilani and Ryan Grim reported on the story then:
“On a day when Iran has been attacked by ISIS, by terrorism, now is not the time to go forward with legislation calling for sanctions against Iran,” Vermont’s Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders said on the floor before the Senate did just that. “Let us be aware and cognizant that earlier today the people of Iran suffered a horrific terror attack in their capital, Tehran.”
Sanders was not alone in his opposition to the sanctions. When the sanctions bill was coming up for a vote, John Kerry warned that new Iran sanctions were a bad idea:
Former Secretary of State John Kerry says it would be dangerous to impose new sanctions on Iran so soon after the negotiation of an international nuclear deal.
Speaking at a San Francisco fundraiser, Kerry argued that new sanctions could be seen as a provocation by Iran.
“If we become super provocative in ways that show the Iranian people there has been no advantage to this, that there is no gain, and our bellicosity is pushing them into a corner, that’s dangerous and that could bring a very different result,” said Kerry, who led U.S. negotiations on the deal under former President Obama.
Sanders cited Kerry’s remarks in his speech on the Senate floor. Sanders’ opposition to the Iran sanctions portion of the bill was well understood and reported on at the time. Just as he said last night, Kerry agreed with and took the same position that he did on Iran sanctions. Biden could not be unaware of this when Kerry is one of his own top surrogates. When he launched the attack on Sanders last night he must have known he was deliberately misrepresenting Sanders’ position:
Joe Biden: Why did you vote not to sanction the Russians?
Bernie Sanders: You know why? Because I had every … you keep talking about Iran that was tied to Iran. Russia was in Iran. I think John Kerry indicated his support for what I did. That was undermining the Iranian agreement. That’s why.
Joe Biden: That’s not true.
Biden is the one not telling the truth here. Using this sanctions vote as a bludgeon against Sanders is an exceptionally cynical move even for someone like Biden. Sanders was one of only two senators to stand up against sanctions that potentially threatened the nuclear deal that Biden tries to take credit for now. As Aida Chavez explained in an article from earlier this year, Biden was conspicuously absent from the opposition to these sanctions in 2017:
Jeffrey Prescott, a former deputy national security adviser to Biden, co-authored an op-ed as the 2017 sanctions gained momentum saying that they gave “Iran an excuse to undermine the deal.” And another Obama administration veteran, former Secretary of State John Kerry, who negotiated the nuclear deal, came out publicly calling the new sanctions “dangerous.” Yet Biden himself was nowhere to be found.
Sanders took the correct, unpopular position as he has done many other times, and nearly three years later Biden is trying to use the vote to paint Sanders as “weak” on authoritarianism when it actually proves that he was the strongest supporter of the Obama administration’s signature foreign policy achievement.
Sen. Sanders did take an opportunity to call attention to an important part of his own record that deserves wider acknowledgment:
I have led the effort against all forms of authoritarianism, including America’s so-called allies in the UAE and in Saudi Arabia. And in fact, as you may know, worked with conservative Republicans to utilize for the very first time the War Powers Act to get the United States out of the horrific war in Yemen led by Saudi Arabia. That’s what I did. So my view is that in a world moving toward authoritarianism, the United States has got to be the leader where people all over the world look to us for guidance.
Once again, the contrast with Biden was implicit, but the message was unmistakable: while Sanders led to bring U.S. involvement in the war on Yemen to an end, Biden was part of the administration that initiated that indefensible policy. The former vice president wraps himself in the mantle of anti-authoritarianism today, but at many points in his long political career he has been only too happy to make excuses for authoritarian U.S. clients.
The exchange between Biden and Sanders over the sanctions vote was revealing and not at all flattering for Biden. It showed that Biden was willing to twist and misrepresent the record to paint a false picture of Sanders, and he was willing to attack Sanders for taking a position endorsed by former Obama administration officials. Then when he heard Sanders’ explanation for the vote, he dishonestly dismissed the senator’s legitimate reason for voting the way he did. That was hardly the only time that Biden made false claims during the debate. Most of the lies he told were about his own record, but in this case he was distorting Sanders to score cheap points. Sanders refrained from directly calling out Biden on his many lies and distortions. Whatever his reasons for doing that, it allowed Biden to get away with making a lot of false and outrageous statements.
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The President’s Shameful Saudi First Foreign Policy
Jackson Diehl comments on how Trump has been played by the Saudis for a fool:
Since making Riyadh the site of his first foreign trip as president, Trump has stubbornly defended the Saudi ruler through multiple misadventures, from the disastrous war in Yemen and failed boycott of neighboring Qatar to the murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The big Saudi purchases of U.S. weapons that MBS promised Trump have not materialized. Instead, the president’s reward is to be stiffed by his supposed ally at his moment of greatest need, with U.S. markets whipsawing and U.S. soldiers dying.
The president’s Saudi First foreign policy has been one of the defining aspects of his time in office. It is also one of his most spectacular failures. All American presidents have catered to Saudi Arabia to one degree or another, but Trump has distinguished himself as the most subservient and indulgent of them all. He has given the Saudi government and the crown prince all the support and diplomatic cover that they could ask for, and in exchange he has received absolutely nothing. Trump has enabled the war criminals in Riyadh for the last three years, and he doesn’t have anything to show for it except for lasting ignominy. The Saudi coalition massacred innocent Yemenis for years with U.S.-made weapons, and Trump resisted Congress’ efforts to shut down U.S. support for the war. He went out of his way to go around Congress to continue selling Saudi Arabia and the UAE weapons over Congressional objections. Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s murder, and Trump and Pompeo ran interference for him once the murder came to light. The inept and useless Saudi government couldn’t even defend its own territory, so Trump put U.S. troops in harm’s way to shield them from further attacks. There are few countries that have taken greater advantage of the U.S. than Saudi Arabia, and Trump has been eagerly doing their bidding for years. The same man who whines endlessly about other countries that rip off America has presided over one of the most shameful rip-offs of all.
Like any overindulged client, the Saudi government has concluded that it can do whatever it wants without having to fear repercussions from the Trump administration. Mohammed bin Salman has concluded that as long as Trump is president he can get away with any number of murders and atrocities. In the crown prince’s latest gamble, he has attacked the U.S. oil industry by driving oil prices down, and so far Trump has said and done nothing about it. The Saudi government’s oil price war is doing far more damage to U.S. interests than anything Iran has done for a very long time, but the president refuses to cut off U.S. support to a state that has never been our ally and certainly doesn’t act like one.
It would be one thing if Trump were betting on a ruler who actually had some clue what he was doing, but Mohammed bin Salman is heedless and incompetent. His decision to launch an oil price war that his government cannot possibly afford is more evidence of this. The Wall Street Journalreports on the story behind the Saudi move:
Again, the Russians didn’t budge. “I have no idea how did the Saudis think that this kind of pressure would have worked on Putin,” says an OPEC delegate familiar with the matter. “This was utterly suicidal and we all knew the outcome would be disastrous.”
On Saturday, Saudi officials said instead of cutting production, they would boost it, driving down the price of oil. “It was the Saudi declaration of war against Putin,” says a senior Saudi official.
Mohammed bin Salman has made a habit of supporting “utterly suicidal” and “disastrous” policies. As I mentioned in my review of MBS, he is remarkably clueless about the rest of the world, and it shows in everything he does. It makes sense that the president would be drawn to another leader who doesn’t know what he’s doing. Unfortunately, that means that he has consistently put Saudi interests ahead of U.S. interests. The U.S. will need to downgrade the relationship with the Saudis for as long as Mohammed bin Salman is in a position of authority.
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Trump’s Coronavirus ‘Control’ Failure
The president continues to mislead the public about the government’s response to coronavirus:
Trump in January (first US case): "We have it totally under control. It's one person coming in from China."
Trump in February (36 confirmed cases): "We have it very much under control in this country."
Trump today (3,000+ cases): "It's something we have tremendous control of."
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) March 15, 2020
The president has repeatedly paired false promises of “control” with inadequate or wrongheaded measures that have contributed to the worsening of the situation. Last week’s announcement of a 30-day ban on travel from some parts of Europe not only caused a panic among Americans because the president failed to describe the policy correctly, but it also set up a dangerous situation where returning Americans would face a huge bottleneck at major airports where customs officials were completely unprepared for the influx of travelers. The lack of resources and manpower combined with the lack of safety preparations meant that thousands upon thousands of people, some of them infected with the virus, were crushed together for many hours. If the goal had been to enable the spread of the virus to as many people as possible, one could hardly have designed it better.
Cheryl Benard recounts her experience at Dulles International Airport as she returned from Europe:
I had thought I was lucky to get one of the last seats home. And I was confident, because Dulles had been identified by the administration as one of the handful of U.S. airports equipped to test arriving passengers and admit or quarantine them accordingly, that I would find a rigorous protocol in place upon arrival. Obviously, the administration would not take such a momentous step without solid preparation.
I could not have been more wrong. Upon landing, I spent three hours in a jammed immigration hall trying to decide which analogy fit better: the ignorant Middle Ages during the plague years or the most chaotic airport in the least developed country [bold mine-DL].
The pictures you may have seen only begin to capture the chaos. There was no attempt to enable social distancing; we were packed closely together. Two giant queues of people — one for U.S. citizens and green-card holders and one for foreign nationals — wound their way through the cavernous hall. I counted and came up with approximately 450 people in each section, for a total of just under a thousand. Many were coughing, sneezing and looking unwell.
When I inched closer to the front, I could see that a scant six immigration desks were in service. Two additional desks to the left had less traffic. These are ordinarily for people in wheelchairs; now, the wheelchairs were mixed in with the rest. When I asked a security guard about the other lines, he told me they were for people with a confirmed corona diagnosis. There was no separation for this group — no plastic sheets, not even a bit of distance. When your line snaked to the left, you were inches away from the infected [bold mine-DL].
The mess at Dulles was replicated at O’Hare, DFW, JFK, and elsewhere. There were no preparations made because this administration never prepares for anything and doesn’t think more than one move ahead. Jeremy Konyndyk was understandably appalled by the latest in a series of debacles:
This is disastrous. Sign of hastily made, poorly planned, terribly executed policy. https://t.co/IoQ0auLrms
— Jeremy FLATTEN THE CURVE Konyndyk (@JeremyKonyndyk) March 15, 2020
Other airports too. Good God. You could hardly invent a better scenario for superspreading events.
Any cases of COVID in these crowds will have a far higher chance of spreading to others in these lines than if they were just allowed in unchecked. https://t.co/VONae40vHU
— Jeremy FLATTEN THE CURVE Konyndyk (@JeremyKonyndyk) March 15, 2020
Meanwhile, one of the things that the government might be doing to get the situation more under control is one of the things that they keep failing to do:
The US population is estimated at 333 million.
As of Friday afternoon, the @TheAtlantic could verify only 16,471 people have been tested.
— David Beard (@dabeard) March 15, 2020
When asked about the testing failure last week, the president infamously said, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” When pressed on the 2018 decision to eliminate the global health security team from the National Security Council that Trump approved on Bolton’s recommendation, the president professed ignorance about it and said that “someone else” had done it. As always, Trump’s own actions are someone else’s fault, and he accepts no responsibility for anything while seeking to take all the credit for other people’s work. The president will keep lying to the public that everything is under control while doing as little as possible to bring the outbreak under control.
In the midst of this ongoing failure, the Surgeon General berated the media for covering the administration’s major failures:
The surgeon general just said from WH briefing podium, "no more finger-pointing or criticism" and called for "less stories looking at what happened in the past.
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) March 14, 2020
Criticism and calling attention to mistakes made by the government are the things that are supposed to make our political system better able to adapt and learn from failure. Understanding how and why government officials made critical errors is essential to limiting the damage from those errors and, if possible, rectifying them. Telling journalists that they should write fewer stories about how things got to this point is to tell them that they should give up any pretense of being reporters and just resign themselves to stenography. If not for the finger-pointing and criticism directed against the administration’s slow and inadequate response, it is likely that things would already be even worse than they are. Were it not for the very public embarrassment that extensive media overage of the government’s mistakes has caused the president and his allies, the administration would have felt no pressure to change. As it is, the administration is still not moving quickly enough, but if they weren’t being pushed by intense public scrutiny they would be even more behind than they are.
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Withdraw from Iraq Now
U.S. forces in Iraq continues to come under fire with another rocket attack Saturday that targeted the same base that was hit earlier in the week. Iraqi officials are insisting that our troops withdraw from the country:
The U.S. retaliation prompted protest from the Iraqi government, which called it a “violation of national sovereignty.” Iraqi officials said the attack killed five members of local security forces.
The government on Saturday repeated its appeal against unilateral U.S. military action targeting actors in Iraq.
“We also refuse that the American forces or others take any action without the approval of the Iraqi government and the commander in chief of the armed forces, as they did on the morning of 3/13/2020,” it said. “In doing so, it does not limit these actions, but rather nurtures them, weakens the Iraqi state’s ability to provide its own security, and expects more losses for Iraqis. This necessitates the speedy implementation of the parliament’s decision on the issue of the coalition’s withdrawal.”
When our military commits acts of war against Iraqis inside Iraq over the objections of their government, they have no legal basis for their attacks. U.S. forces operate in Iraq because their government agreed to cooperate with ours. We have worn out our welcome with our repeated illegal attacks, and keeping troops in the country against their wishes is tempting fate. As long as U.S. forces remain in Iraq, Iraqi militias will launch attacks and the U.S. will respond with more strikes. “Deterrence” isn’t going to be “restored” when the Iraqis launching these attacks won’t be dissuaded from launching more attacks. The Wall Street Journalquotes one Iraqi lawmaker making this point:
“Today’s attack may send a message that attacks against U.S. forces will continue until they leave Iraq, and the U.S. can’t stop them,“ said Ali al-Ghanemi, a lawmaker in parliament’s security and defense committee.
American and allied soldiers are being put in harm’s way for no good reason. What purpose is served by keeping them there except to put them at risk of injury and death? Our continued military presence is contributing to Iraq’s instability, and it is no wonder that the Iraqi government wants us out:
An Iraqi official said “the only solution for the U.S. is to implement the parliament decision and leave” because militias were likely to attack again, triggering additional American responses.
“If the U.S. leaves, then Iraq will be able to deal with these groups, but with this situation, it’s chaos and undermines the state,” the official said.
American officials claim to respect Iraq’s sovereignty. In practice, our government blatantly violates it all the time. It is time that we respect the wishes of the Iraqi government and leave the security of their country to them. U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is the only option that makes any sense at this point.