By Irfan Husain
George W. Bush. Tony Blair. Dick Cheney. Paul Wolfowitz. Donald Rumsfeld. Karl Rove. Richard Perle. Irving Kristol. Richard Pipes. Colin Powell. Condoleezza Rice. Ahmed Chalabi. Kanan Makiya.
Where are these architects of the Iraq war today, over ten years after the invasion was launched? Most of them are in either comfortable retirement, or in well-paid jobs with right-wing think-tanks, or the academia. Some have written best-selling memoirs. Chalabi is a major Iraqi power-broker, having made millions by cashing in on his contacts in Baghdad. Almost all of them are frequent guests on Fox TV chat shows. And certainly, not a single one has been indicted or jailed for launching a war based on lies. Despite the death of over 4,000 Americans and at least 100,000 Iraqis, nobody has been called to account.
Wars leave a legacy that goes beyond casualty figures. In Iraq, the impact of the invasion has been deadly, with daily explosions adding to the misery of a deeply divided nation. Although this vicious underground war no longer gets the international media coverage it did after the US pullout, it continues to exact a terrible toll.
The fault lines in Iraq are manifold: old sectarian tensions between Shias and Sunnis; ethnic strife between Kurds and Arabs; regional and economic strains between the oil-rich Kurdish north and resource-poor centre; and above all, the historical reality in which three provinces (Mosul, Baghdad and Basra) of the old Ottoman Empire were merged into the modern state of Iraq by a victorious Britain after the Ottomans were defeated in World War I.
In his definitive recent book A Line in the Sand on the re-drawing of frontiers following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, James Barr writes:
“When, however, Feisal was declared king [of Iraq] at an early morning ceremony in the centre of Baghdad eight days later, there could be no doubt that it was the British, not the Iraqis, who were the king-makers.”
Before the first Gulf war in 1990, Iraq was among the most socially advanced countries in the Middle East. It had a first-class health system, and its schools and universities were considered among the best in the region. This was reflected in the health and social indicators. After the war, a decade of crippling sanctions brought this welfare system to its knees. Hospitals ran out of medicines and hundreds of thousands of children died because they couldn’t get treatment for entirely curable diseases.
The physical infrastructure was devastated as well, first by the bombardment during both conflicts, and then by the sanctions. Powerhouses are still struggling to cope, and millions of Iraqis suffer through hours of blackouts. So while Saddam Hussein might have been toppled and executed, few Iraqis have cause to celebrate his departure apart from those, like Ahmed Chalabi, who have profited by the US-led invasion.
The problems Iraq is struggling to overcome a decade after the US-led invasion have been widely documented. But what has not been as closely examined is the impact the war has had on its perpetrators. While the direct cost to the US thus far is estimated to be $3 trillion, a further recurring cost of several billions per year lies ahead on account of disability payments to wounded veterans. When the US went to war a decade ago, Americans were told that the cost would not exceed $100 billion, and most of this would be recovered from Iraq’s oil industry. Dream on, Cheney…
How much this huge drain on the US economy has contributed to its ongoing decline is a matter of some debate among economists. But the role of the war in causing the enormous debt mountain facing the US treasury is hard to ignore. And this deficit has forced the government into cutting the budget at a time when the economy is crying out for a large cash injection. So at least part of the unemployment haunting the US can be traced to the expenditure incurred in Iraq over the last decade.
A non-quantifiable element is the lack of accountability at the highest level of government: countries are taken to war on the flimsiest of pretexts; tens of thousands are killed; countries are destroyed; and yet nobody is held to account. People like Tony Blair and Dick Cheney write memoirs justifying their actions, and yet nobody is in the dock for lying to the public and shattering untold numbers of lives. Speaking at the House of Commons on March 18, two days before the firestorm broke over Iraq, Tony Blair said:
“We are now asked to seriously accept that in the last few years — contrary to all intelligence — Saddam Hussein decided unilaterally to destroy those weapons [of mass destruction]. I say that such a claim is palpably absurd.”
And yet, despite later evidence that Saddam Hussein had indeed destroyed the weapons, Blair continued to repeat his excuse for going to war in his autobiography A Journey. As an interesting aside, when this book was first distributed, copies would be removed from the biography section by Blair-haters and moved to the crime shelves.
In July 2002, Ron Suskind of the New York Times wrote a column based on a conversation with an unnamed senior US official. He quoted the person — widely believed to be Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s influential deputy chief of staff — as saying:
“That’s not the way the world works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you are studying that reality, we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”