This got virtually no attention, but there was a report the other day that confirmed a number that's bandied about for a few years, that the U.S, invasion of Iraq and all the fighting that followed claimed the lives of almost 500,000 citizens there. Some of them were were military combatants, jihadis, whatever, -- but thousands of them were civilians, innocent women and children whose lives were cut short after America's decision to unleash "shock and awe" in the Persian Gulf. And let us never forget that more than 4,000 American troops died there as well.
It's been a few years since the last U.S. combat forces came home, and so I would guess one reason the story didn't get a lot of hype was that people are eager to move on. Understandable. But even as we sailed back the 10th anniversary mark back in March, there's one basic question about the Iraq War our leaders have never chosen to answer.
But don't worry, it turns out there was a perfectly good reason.
We invaded Iraq....to, ahem, kick ass. This according to a new book by a stellar journalist, Peter Baker of The New York Times:
A senior official from former President George W. Bush's administration is quoted in “Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House” saying American troops went into Iraq because the U.S. was looking for a fight.
"The only reason we went into Iraq, I tell people now, is we were looking for somebody’s ass to kick. Afghanistan was too easy," the anonymous official said, according to Politico.
That would be almost comical, except for a) the thing about the 500,000 dead people and b) in the "grand" swoop of American foreign policy since World War II, this kind of baloney has happened again and again, causing the deaths of thousands, perhaps millions.
Indeed, it could be argued the vast majority of U.S. combat deaths over the last half century have come from the need of policy makers to "project power" in the world, rather than from concrete strategic objectives. The most tragic example -- and the one that killed the most people on both sides -- was Vietnam. After LBJ's dubious motives for sending 500,000 troops to Southeast Asia, Richard Nixon sabotaged peace talks and in 1969 told the American people -- in a quote that did George Orwell proud - that ending the war immediately "would not bring peace; it would bring more war." That's beyond, dubious; in fact more than a third of the Americans who died in Vietnam -- about 22,000 -- and untold Vietnamese were killed during the four years that Nixon prolonged the war.
When Saigon collapsed anyway in 1975, Nixon's successor Gerald Ford ordered a military operation less than two weeks later to show American strength and resolve when a container ship called the Mayaguez was captured by Cambodia's Khmer Rouge; the operation went forward even after the crew had been released -- and 18 more Americans died. In 1983 when 241 U.S. troops were killed in a terrorist car bombing of their barracks in Beirut, the Reagan administration projected American resolve by launching a military operation against the unrelated tiny Caribbean island of Grenada less than 48 hours later -- which "freed" U.S. medical students who were not in any danger while resulting in 19 American deaths, mostly from accidents and friendly fire.
After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, few disputed there was a need to respond, by eliminating the safe haven for al-Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan. But when that seemed too easy -- when not enough ass was kicked, it seems -- we turned to Iraq, muttering something about "weapons of mass destruction" that weren't even there.
Killing mass numbers of people, just to prove that you can, is morally unconscionable. But does it even work?. After nearly seven decades of post World War II butt-kickery, U.S. respect and support -- and arguably power and influence -- are at or near record lows. The nations that are on the rise are the ones that have invested less in producing weapons of mass butt-kickery and more in "soft" things like education and bridges that don't collapse.
That is the reality-based world that our president and our generals have failed to see -- the one that was staring them in the face when they thought they were kicking butt.