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The Iraq War Was a Crime, Not a ‘Tragedy’

Andrew Bacevich reviews [1] Michael Mazarr’s Leap of Faith, and he rejects the author’s contention that the Iraq war was the product of good intentions gone awry:

To explain all of this in terms of a misplaced messianic impulse — the self-described indispensable nation having a bad run of luck — may play well in Washington, where serious introspection is rarely welcome. Yet, ultimately, such an explanation amounts to little more than a dodge. After all, altruism rarely if ever provides an adequate explanation for the actions of a great power. Exempting the United States from that proposition, as Mazarr does, entails its own spectacular leap of faith.

Bacevich is right that the Iraq war was “more like a crime, compounded by the stupefying incompetence of those who embarked upon a patently illegal preventive war out of a sense of panic induced by the events of 9/11,” and it was a crime committed for the worst reasons rather than the best motives. The goal of the war was to crush an adversary in order to send a message to the rest of the world about American dominance and our government’s willingness to use force to achieve its ends, but a war waged for a “demonstration effect” ended up sending a very different message to the world.

Waging an illegal preventive war cannot be noble and cannot be done with “good intentions.” To embark on an unnecessary war in violation of another state’s sovereignty and international law because you claim to be afraid of what they might do to you at some point in the future is nothing other than aggression covered up by a weak excuse. It is the act of a bully looking to lash out at a convenient target. Calling the Iraq war a “tragedy” implies that the U.S. had a legitimate reason to go to war against Iraq in 2003, but there was no legitimate reason and anyone who thought things through could see that at the time. The war was inherently unjust, as all preventive wars always are, and it makes no difference whether some ideologues claimed to have high-minded reasons for committing a grave injustice against tens of millions of people.

There are a lot of foreign policy professionals in the U.S. that very much want to believe that the U.S. commits crimes like the Iraq war out of the best of intentions. It doesn’t make the war any less destructive, and it doesn’t mean that there are any fewer lives lost in senseless conflict, but it somehow comforts them to think that the U.S. destroys entire countries out of a desire to help rather than harm. What matters most in the end is the effects of our government’s policies, but it is important to understand that no one supports wars of aggression for genuinely good or moral reasons. The moralizing rhetoric is an attempt to dress up an ugly policy as something other than what it is. The Iraq war didn’t simply turn out badly. It was wrong from the outset. Any account of the war that fails to grasp that has missed an essential truth.

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16 Comments To "The Iraq War Was a Crime, Not a ‘Tragedy’"

#1 Comment By SF Bay On April 22, 2019 @ 1:17 am

Daniel, thanks for reminding us again that the leaders of our country committed war crimes. This has been brushed under the rug for far too long.

We committed an act of naked aggression on another sovereign country just because we could. There’s really no other way to look at it. I’m ashamed of our country’s actions and wish those responsible had been held accountable in some fashion.

Further, by not holding anyone accountable, we are allowing our current batch of leaders to turn right around and do it again. Those pushing for war with Iran should be locked up now. Sadly, that’s not going to happen.

#2 Comment By George Hoffman On April 22, 2019 @ 7:40 am

Duh, of course, it was a criminal war. Like Andrew Basevich, I served in Vietnam though I was only a medical corpsman who served “in the rear with the gear” at a base hospital. Yet in the lead-up in 2002 to GWB’s Iraq War Resolution during a “Back to the Future” propaganda campaign, even a former enlisted man like me – hardly the reincarnation of Gen. Karl Von Clausewitz I assure you – could see the striking analogies of GWB’s resolution to LBJ’s Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. But since the end of the Second World War, all our major wars such as in Korea, Vietnam, 1st Gulf War, Iraq, though for the Afghanistan War there was a casus belli, were undeclared wars with a supine Congress deferring to an imperial president kicking the Constitution down the road like that proverbial can. But since we have transitioned from a representative republic to an imperial power starting with Harry Truman, please tell me what is to be done to reclaim our democracy? We are now in an extended Weimar Republic phase with an Americanized Balkanization that remains me of the former Yugoslavia before its demise. I just hope my Social Security and VA disability checks keep coming each month before the deluge. L’etat, C’est non pas moi. D’accord?

#3 Comment By Sid On April 22, 2019 @ 8:33 am

“but it is important to understand that no one supports wars of aggression for genuinely good or moral reasons.”

Sure they do. Most Americans supported the Iraq war to remove Saddam because because they believed the propaganda campaign that sold the war, via the mainstream media, as liberating the country from a “brutal dictator”. That was a “genuinely good and moral” cause. Instead, ignorance of the area, lack of foresight, and our own hubris lead to a bloody quagmire.

Similarly, in the Viet Nam war, our good intentions (of stopping the spread of monolithic communism) were soon overwhelmed by the realities of fighting with the wrong tools, in the wrong place, against the wrong people.

One can argue that others are the actual aggressors and that we were only defending the good cause, as the current administration is doing vis-a-vis Iran; but once again we will find that while the road to hell may be paved with good intentions, it can easily dead-end in a swamp.

#4 Comment By Egypt Steve On April 22, 2019 @ 8:48 am

Beware of frightened and frustrated Republican presidents. This may be the great lesson of the early Twenty-First Century. It will probably be drawn by historians and archaeologists of the distant future, who manage, with forensic techniques yet uninvented, to recover Larison’s blog from some smashed server buried under tons of radioactive rubble.

#5 Comment By JeffK On April 22, 2019 @ 9:06 am

The church bombings on Easter in Sri Lanka were an abomination and a travesty. However, one wonders how much Islamic terrorism exists today because of the hundreds of thousands of Muslims we killed over the last 20 years in the name of….????

How many drone strikes of weddings and civilian collateral damage are we willing to accept before we realize what the hell we are doing?

We need to get out of the middle east. Full stop. ASAP. The radical islamic genie is out of the bottle, and I have no idea how to put it back in. But it makes absolutely no sense to feed it and make it larger. We cannot bomb it into submission.

Imagine if we spent $1 Trillion in the ME making lives better, instead of bombing them back into medieval times, with the exception that they still have the internet and access to car bombs and whatever else they can get their hands on.

#6 Comment By Alan Vanneman On April 22, 2019 @ 9:45 am

Mr. Bacevich’s review is accurate as far as it goes, but it politely avoids the extent to which the second Iraq war was the result of a desire of the Pentagon, the Republican right wing, and AIPAC neo-cons to re-invent the Cold War, whose demise had left them without a reason for being. Many generals and other “experts” were open in their goal of placing large numbers of troops in the Middle East for the next fifty years, as we had in Europe, neglecting the fact that the Europeans wanted us there (to keep the Germans down and the Russians out), while most of the Muslims in the Middle East wanted us out. Bush and his advisors/enablers weren’t simply “unhinged” by 9/11. The right fulminated throughout the Clinton Administration over the “necessity” for taking out Saddam, always upping the ante no matter how “tough” the Clinton Administration waxed, because, of course, what Republicans really wanted to do was to drive the Democrats from power, not Saddam.

#7 Comment By Fazal Majid On April 22, 2019 @ 10:00 am

Worse than a crime, a blunder?

#8 Comment By Oleg Gark On April 22, 2019 @ 10:17 am

WMD was the MacGuffin driving America into the Iraq War. It was a plot device lacking substance. In this case, writers of fiction caused real life fatalities. Who says neocons aren’t creative?

#9 Comment By rayray On April 22, 2019 @ 10:54 am

@Egypt Steve
“Beware of frightened and frustrated Republican presidents.”

This is well said. Remember how GHW Bush’s numbers went up during Gulf War? Remember how GW Bush’s numbers went up (at first) during the Iraq War?

In general, there’s very little reason for a GOP presidency other than the willingness to go to war, and they know it.

Socially, economically, the GOP is decades out of sync and corrupt to the gills.

That said Trump is different than the Bushes. He is simply a vile ignorant fool with a rich daddy who can’t make friends on the playground. And thus becomes a bully. And is thus useful to those who know how to manipulate him. Which is clearly pretty easy.

#10 Comment By Sid Finster On April 22, 2019 @ 11:28 am

Meanwhile, Trump hires the same crew who are taking the same steps to get the war on Iran that they so obviously crave.

#11 Comment By W. Adderholdt On April 22, 2019 @ 2:10 pm

“C’est pire qu’un crime, c’est une faute.”

#12 Comment By Myron Hudson On April 22, 2019 @ 3:09 pm

Contra what Sid says, ‘most’ of us here did not support Gulf War 2. That is an example of the bubble mentality right there. About half of us in this country did not. We knew it was BS. It was plain as day. We were marginalized, shouted down, reviled. “Why do you hate freedom?” This writer is correct. There’s some very heavy memory editing among the perps and their cheerleaders.

#13 Comment By kingdomofgodflag.info On April 22, 2019 @ 5:26 pm

“The war was inherently unjust, as all preventive wars always are, and it makes no difference whether some ideologues claimed to have high-minded reasons for committing a grave injustice against tens of millions of people.”

The Southern Baptist Convention declared the invasion of Iraq a just war in 2003 — but I agree with you, Daniel. These wars need to be *rigorously* assessed by Just War criteria. Christian soldiers need to know when to exercise selective conscientious objection, for it is better to go to prison than to kill without God’s approval. If Just War theory is irrelevant, the default response is Christian Pacifism.

“There are a lot of foreign policy professionals in the U.S. that very much want to believe that the U.S. commits crimes like the Iraq war out of the best of intentions.”

In other words, the end justifies the means. I would suggest that for God, it is the means that justify the end. Any noble goal that cannot be accomplished without disobedience to Christ must be left in God’s hands.

#14 Comment By Pat Bryan On April 22, 2019 @ 9:00 pm

Colin Powell was induced to press the issue of the WMDs before the UN, and to press the Iraqi ambassador to prove their nonexistence.
Any college-educated person has been taught that it is impossible to prove the nonexistence of anything. But the Iraqi ambassador did not pursue that line.

#15 Comment By PAX On April 24, 2019 @ 10:01 am

Re-Open the Nuremberg Trials and have Bush and his team along with all who (neocons) deliberately lied about Iraq hauled into court. Let the sentences mirror those handed out at Nuremberg. We cannot allow this illegal war to be swept under the carpet of history. Too many died, were maimed, displaced, and future generations have trillions to pay back. The clergy should have preached against this war. The Pope did weigh in strongly against it. Not strongly enough. The Nuremberg trials were supposed to be precedent setting to stop such wars of aggression. Who benefited by this war? We know who did not. JFK’s Profiles in Courage remains poorly populated.

#16 Comment By Ian Coleman On August 1, 2019 @ 12:20 am

George Bush and Dick Cheney could never have sold the war without the support of both Houses of Congress and the news media. I would bet plenty that most Congresspersons knew full well that Iraq posed no threat to the United States, understood perfectly well that the real aim was to establish an American hegemony in the Middle East, and were confident that the war would result in a quick victory. So they went along, rather than be seen as detractors of what they expected would be a great American triumph.

I’m drifting away from the central theme of this thread, but the most reasonable motive for the 9/11 attacks was to protest American involvement in Saudi Arabia. It seems to me highly unlikely that the 9/11 killers didn’t leave behind a message making this clear. So I think (and sure, this is a conspiracy theory) that American intelligence leaders suppressed that explanation for the 9/11 atrocity, because they were looking for an excuse to attack Iraq.