What Lessons Have Americans Learned From Iraq?

Anniversaries provide milestones for retrospection, but also opportunities for recriminations and denial. So it has been with the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. An angry anti-war left has been using the anniversary to give another stomping to the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld triumvirate and the Neocons for their mendacity and deception in selling what turned out to be a disaster.

I would point out that unlike our war veterans and families of dead soldiers who continue to suffer from Operation Iraqi Freedom, the main warmongers responsible for the invasion are living in luxury, unscathed and unremorseful. They are rich, comfortable, and even respected in some quarters. The point is, they got away with it, and enriched the corporations politically connected to Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld.

That was the ulterior motive in Iraq: profit.

Here, we might also mention the Iraqi people. Remember them? The invasion killed more than 100,000 Iraqis, wounded and exiled tens of thousands more, smashed their infrastructure, and left them with a society still awash with violence, teetering on civil war. Does this tweak your conscience? I didn’t think so. Still utterly unable to see it from the Iraqi point of view? I thought so.

Beyond this ugly legacy, let’s linger over the vital lessons of the war: Have we learned anything from it? Could it happen again? Why were we so gullible in accepting such a fraud? How could we throw away a trillion dollars on such an absurd, expensive, and bloody fiasco?

Take heed: the foundations upon which the Iraq war was built are still intact. The defense budget is even bigger than it was when we launched the war. As the Afghan war – another bloody fiasco -winds down, elements in our government are eagerly casting about for a new enemy, a new country to bomb, if not outright invade.

They’ve been beating the drums for such an attack on Iran, whose Shiite regional influence was bolstered by our displacement of the Sunni counterbalance, namely Saddam Hussein. They told us what a wicked dictator Saddam was, but they didn’t tell us how his regional power checked Shiite Iran. Now the Iraqi government is snuggling up to Iran, a comment on the supposed brilliant strategic gamesmanship of the Neocons.

What makes Americans such suckers for war fever? It goes way back in our heritage, a deep abiding fear of attack, especially from people with dark skins who we fear will slit our throats in the night. It goes back to Indian Wars with the Native Americans who occasionally attacked us as we stole their land. In the antebellum South, it was Nat Turner, John Brown, and the abiding fear of slave revolts. In the 20th century, it was the Huns and Japs, and then the Commies who were coming. The enemy changes, but Americans must always have one. Why?

Look what sucks up a huge part of the federal budget. The Pentagon. How could they justify those budgets without an enemy at the gates? Who is the enemy? During the Cold War, it was the Soviet Union. At least then, it made some sense. They had a formidable war machine, and they had nukes. Ultimately, they had the ability to incinerate us (and still do).

But who is the enemy now? Al- Qaida. Now I don’t want to sound naive in saying that they do not wish us harm, because they do, but let’s put things in perspective. Al- Qaida has no country, no real army, no navy, no air force, no nukes. They’re a rag-tag, street-gang bunch of terrorists, few in number, whose leadership has been gutted. Why are we spending a trillion dollars (at least) per year in fear of these pathetic fanatics?

We have a lot more to fear from Americans with guns than terrorists with guns. Really. Just compare how many Americans other Americans have killed with how many Americans Al-Qaida has killed since 9/11. We have met the enemy, and they are – us.

As far as I can see, the only imminent threat is North Korea, and we have the ability, in place and ready, to turn them into a parking lot either with conventional weapons or nukes. Their leadership is scary, but they probably have an instinct for self-preservation that will prevent them from attacking us. If not, if they are suicidal enough to attack, no bunker will be deep enough to save them.

Beware: the hawks are lusting for another big, expensive invasion. It’s good for business. They want to “intervene” in Syria or Mali. Please. How come every time a fight breaks out around the globe people think we should come to the rescue, as Mr. Johnny On the Spot Policeman of the World?

Why don’t we behave more like Switzerland? When they hear about chaos in Syria, they don’t get bent out of shape and send Swiss troops in to settle it. No, they sip their hot chocolate, make great watches, go skiing, and spend their money on improving the lives of their own citizens. Maybe Americans should try this approach.

I don’t even want to use that tired phrase, Military-Industrial-Complex, but it’s here and it’s bigger than anything Eisenhower could have imagined when he said it back in 1961. It is so knit into our economy that, like the creature that attaches itself to the crewman’s face in the movie “Alien,” we don’t dare kill it. That’s the essence of the problem: We have a permanent war economy that depends on permanent war.

The Iraq War confirmed one thing: The power elites, the warmongers, and the defense establishment can take us to war if they want to. All they have to do is exaggerate a boogeyman and scare the hell out of us. They brilliantly used the shock of 9/11, combined with the fantasy weapons of mass destruction to take us to war. They knew exactly what they were doing.

The power elites know the wars are fought by soldiers drawn from the lower economic classes, whom they view as expendable. While the grunts in the field bleed and die, the elites wallow in luxury in their vast estates and never get a scratch. The rich folks bleat about class warfare and class envy, but they hold all the cards. Nowhere is this more evident than in wartime.

So, 10 years down the road from the Iraq catastrophe, we can pat ourselves on the back and say we know better, that we won’t be fooled again, that we won’t be suckered into another war. But we will. Just wait and see.

Rogerson, of Wheeling, is a professor of English at West Virginia Northern Community College.