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Intro: "No one may yet be bold enough to call the just-concluded war a win now, but wait a few years for a big book from a conservative publisher calling Iraq a victory - for Bush, of course, not Obama, says Michael Tomasky."

House Speaker John Boehner at the White House, 11/30/10. (photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
House Speaker John Boehner at the White House, 11/30/10. (photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The Republican Whitewash of the Iraq War to Come

By Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast

18 December 11


No one may yet be bold enough to call the just-concluded war a win now, but wait a few years for a big book from a conservative publisher calling Iraq a victory - for Bush, of course, not Obama, says Michael Tomasky.

ecall the moment in Stripes when Bill Murray yells: "But we're American soldiers! We've been kicking ass for 200 years! We're 10 and 1!" We all know what that "1" is - we argue fiercely about who lost Vietnam, but we do at least seem to agree it was a loss. And I'm not so sure we're unblemished beyond that: Korea and 1812 seem like draws to me. So we're more like 8-1-2. Or is that now 8-2-2? We will be fighting about this for decades, and if the Vietnam revisionism is any guide, there will be a concerted effort one day to move Iraq into the win column - and to be certain to assign the win to George W. Bush and not Barack Obama.

I haven't noticed anyone quite audacious enough to be calling the Iraq War a win now, but surely they're out there (hello, commenters!). After all, Saddam is gone; the Iraqi people have a - cough cough - democracy; and we lost only 4,500 soldiers. For all the Sturm und Drang over casualties, that's a pittance, really, in the historical scheme of things. If bloodshed does not return on a mass scale, and if the polity slowly asserts itself, then surely the mission, however eventually, was indeed accomplished.

Maybe so, but there's a lot in that word "eventually" in that sentence, so much it carries not just temporal consequences but moral ones. There are the 32,000 American soldiers who were injured, many quite gravely. The 10,000 or so Iraqi soldiers killed; the 100,000-plus Iraqi civilians killed; the 1.2 million Iraqis displaced; and the 1.6 million who were turned into refugees (all these numbers from this). The price of war, you say, nothing to be done about it. No. Of all the lessons we might carry away from this conflict, let us never forget that this carnage is a direct result of specific decisions and choices made by the Bush administration. Donald Rumsfeld's conviction that the war could be won quickly with 130,000 soldiers and Paul Bremer's decision to proceed with de-Baathification stand out here, less well-remembered examples include the State Department's 17-volume guidebook on what to do after we toppled Saddam that Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, et alia threw in the trash can. Virtually all the human costs, virtually all the little children's lives lost, came from the Bush people's arrogance. Not their miscalculations, as is sometimes said. Their arrogance, in not listening to - and indeed in firing (Eric Shinseki) - experts who tried to tell them otherwise.

There's the loss of international standing, the ways in which the war strengthened Iran in the region, the diversion of resources from Afghanistan and al Qaeda, and on. And then there's the money: more than $800 billion in direct costs that Bush kept off-budget, contributing significantly to our financial nightmares right now. There'll be another half-trillion or so, give or take, in the care of the war's veterans as the years wind on. Also worth noting: we are spending more on reconstruction assistance in Iraq than we did in Germany and Japan combined ($62 billion to $52 billion, in constant dollars).

The final indictment of this war goes back to its beginnings - the way we were so repeatedly and insultingly lied to about its justifications. I remember that for a short time, some other writers lumped me with the liberal hawks because I wrote a few sentences like: If Bush had been straight with us and said that this war was a war of liberation for an oppressed people, I might have gone for it. But all that garbage about WMD and nuclear capabilities were obvious lies. A policy constructed around such dishonesty is corrupt at its very essence, and this war was corrupt from Day 1.

Now, a point against the war's opponents, including my good self. It is quite true that if it had been up to people like us, Saddam would still be in power. I confess that there's nothing much that I can say in defense of that proposition. Only that, weighed against all of the above, it did not seem worth it. As recently as last month, 62 percent of Americans agreed with me.

But now that it's over, we will enter the next phase, when the war will be over how the history books tell the story of Iraq. This will go one of two ways. First, if Iraq stabilizes on its own, we will see some time pass, enough for Americans to forget the things they didn't like, maybe four or five years. And then sure enough we'll get a big book from one of the conservative imprints arguing that the war was an unalloyed victory, and specifically building the case that the victory was Bush's. The unspeakable lies and blunders will be given short shrift; the surge will be the book's focus, with helpfully supplied new documents ensuring that all the talking points are positive ones. The author will appear on Fox 327 times, the echo chamber will repeat, and the defeat will be wiped from the books, not for the purposes of historical accuracy but to salvage Bush's reputation and to help the Republican Party out of whatever pickle it then finds itself in.

The second scenario, should Iraq not stabilize, will be even worse. Then, the unanimous verdict will be that it was indeed a loss, and in that case, the important thing will be the pinning of the blame. Given that right-wing Vietnam revisionism got its start in the early 1980s, we can fully expect, in about seven years or so, an array of books and panels and seminars and maybe even films or television shows (hello, Joel Surnow) that will somehow argue that the liberals lost Iraq. All that carping about withdrawal, you see. The point here will be to make Americans forget the prosecution of the war and instead feed them a diet of allegedly Chamberlainesque quotes from everyone from John Edwards to Markos Moulitsas to a hundred figures in between.

Will it work? Vietnam revisionism has not exactly worked overall, but at crucial moments - i.e., the Swiftboating of John Kerry - it has performed adequately enough to muddy the truth. There is no doubt, though, that the fight is coming. I hope to be around to do my part in it.

Newsweek/Daily Beast special correspondent Michael Tomasky is also editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. your social media marketing partner


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+12 # Scolopendra 2011-12-18 21:26
Win-loss-draw in war should, by Clausewitz, be defined in terms of the political objectives of the combatants.

Vietnam was a straight loss. The North Vietnamese did what they set out to do, we didn't.

1812 was a straight loss. The British did what they set out to do (protect Canada), we didn't.

The Korean War, mind, was a victory. Our objective was to keep South Korea 'democratic;' that was achieved. Pushing the NKs up to the Yalu and forcing the Chinese to push back down to re-establish their border state was the mistake.

Iraq Part Deux... is best described as a draw due to the lack of definitive objectives. Find WMDs, failed. Regime change, successful. Impose democracy... who knows at this point.

So call it 9-1-2 at this point, with a possible downgrade to 8-2-2 or upgrade to 10-1-1 depending on the long term.
+11 # tedrey 2011-12-19 01:42
Just a couple of comments here. One is that Clausewitz has ignored negative results incured in achieving political objectives; e.g., the objective may be achieved at the cost of ten times the anticipated cost in money, prestige, human lives, et al. Is this a victory?
Second, what the "objectives" are is highly questionable in most cases. The actual objective for Iraq II wasn't regime change or finding WMDs, but American expansion of power and control. America lost, period! The objective for WW1 was to end war and make the world safe for democracy. It is to laugh!
+15 # pgobrien 2011-12-18 21:40
To be more accurate, if not for this abomination of a war, Saddam MIGHT still be in power. And then again, maybe not. War opposition like yours might have prolonged his reign, but there's no telling whether someone or something less apocalyptic than Shock and Awe followed by billions of dollars worth of American might and bullets might not have taken the bastard out by now anyway.
+11 # maddave 2011-12-19 01:25
As for our winning in Iraq through revisionist history, our troops have left behind themselves an explosive mix of (uniformly well armed) Kurdish nationalists, restive Turks, bitter Sunnis, Iranian-support ed Shiite's & tens-of-thousan ds of US mercenary troops who are not noted for their fire discipline . . . all in position & with an incentive to fight over possession & control of 200 - 400 billion barrels of oil. (Figure that out @$100/barrel!)

Stabilize? On which planet could our author, Mr. Tomaski, possibly be living? Certainly not one in this solar system. The civil war in Iraq started years ago, and lacking the miraculous - perhaps even "immaculate" - ascendency of a new Saddam Hussein to absolute, totalitarian power, stability in Iraq is decades away, if even then!
+11 # AMLLLLL 2011-12-19 08:41
In addition, no one mentions the utter destruction of the infrastructure in Iraq. Revisit some of Richard Engel's reporting. Even in the most affluent areas, electricity is uneven at best, and has been blamed for fires and appliances exploding. It's no wonder these poor people want us out. If the Iraq war had never been, .....Hussein was already losing his influence, and Bush had to stir up the hornet's nest. On YouTube there is a segment (ca.1994) with Dick Cheney saying that going to war in Iraq would cause chaos and turmoil in the entire region.I can just see him realizing, "Yeah, chaos, turmoil..."
+16 # RMDC 2011-12-19 08:44
You've got it right, maddave. I would only add that since 1991, the US has left about 3 million dead, countless children with birth defects from depleted uranium, 4-5 in exile, a destroyed infrastructure (water, sewer, electricity).

There's only one word for what the US did to Iraq from 1991 to 2011 -- Holocaust. I've read Iraqi commentators who said that the US invasion was worse than Ghengis Khan in the 13th century in its murders and destruction.

The US Iraqi Holocaust is one of the great crimes against humanity of the last century, a period of really huge such crimes. But American planners have learned nothing. They just completed the same in Libya. Soon it will be Syria and then Iran. The ruling elite in the US are genocidal psychopaths and we cannot get rid of them. We thought Obama was a decent human being but he is just as blood-thirsty as Bush/Cheney. The destruction of Libya is purely his crime.
+10 # freeportguy 2011-12-18 23:17
"there will be a concerted effort one day"

"one day"?!? Sorry to say, but that day has already taken place a few weeks ago! Which part of "Obama was handed a winning situation Iraq and messed it all up" didn't you get??

If the conservatives are good at ANYTHING, it's at hammering on a lie until it becomes "reality" in the public's conscience. Simply look up "Reagan, Ronald"...
+11 # grouchy 2011-12-19 00:26
The bushies have been trying to spin their reputations out of this mess since they were tossed out of power. The spinning (ie. lies) are actually just starting as many more books are written by the schemers who are trying everything possible to keep any kind of reputation they have left. It's a long term game for them so expect more chapters to follow. It sure would have been great to have seen some of these jerks spend some years in prison, however. That might have taken some of the wind out of their sails!
+3 # sandyboy 2011-12-19 00:33
I just read on AP ex-army gal Bradsher who works for Obama, after talking about troops who died and those who came back changed terribly, saying that they know it was worth it! And she's one of the vets he chose to advise on how to help troops and his approach to the war, etc. Meet the new boss, same as the old Bush.
+16 # cvm79 2011-12-19 04:58
This war is why I stopped paying much attention to the main stream media and its tabloid journalism. They're as guilty as the Republicans because they bought and sold it. During the run up to the war anyone who questioned or spoke out against it was labled a traitor and a coward. The Media didn't turn against it until they could get higher ratings covering Cindy Sheehan than they could covering the war.
+11 # Ken Hall 2011-12-19 05:58
Saddam was always a thug, even before the CIA helped install him in power. The US supported and assisted his atrocities for many years, for as long, to be precise, as he stayed "our" ruthless dictator. US foreign policy is used primarily to promote hegemony and exploitation, not democracy. The Iraq war was foisted upon the US by our elected oilmen in order to create a business opportunity for US oil companies. At this point it seems to have benefitted China more but, hey, the price of the war in blood and money isn't paid by the 1%, so why should they care? Democracy is not a spectator sport.
+6 # mwd870 2011-12-19 07:27
There was almost unanimous consent in media commentary over the weekend that the Iraq War was a huge waste, based on lies, and ultimately a failure. (No idea how Fox spinned it.) The immediate concern was not to imply the troops had failed. The country owes the returning soldiers all the support we can give for what they've gone through.

John McCain sounds like a grumpy old man stuck in 2003 when he complains about the withdrawal. Will the history of this war be revised in time? Maybe, but there was no justification for turning Iraq into a ten-year war. Our biggest concern should be ending the Afghanistan debacle. It would be well worth more empty Republican spin.
+12 # Ernie in nh 2011-12-19 07:45
Come on, everybody! Iraq was their best war ever! Nearly a trillion of our dollars to Halliburton, Blackwater, et al, and almost 10 years of three-dollar-a- gallon gas. Remmeber what business Cheney and Rice were in. The price of gasbefore the war was $1.25 a gallon, on average.
+11 # fredboy 2011-12-19 08:37
This was the first "war" in a century fueled directly by major media, most directly The New York Times. Reflective of William Randolph Hearst's Spanish American War. Lives lost. Lives ruined. Sell papers. In this instance we also saw the sudden demise and ruination of the media, now operating sans trust and embedded in the political mainstream. Gone are the watchdogs, gone is the truth.
+2 # Gary 2011-12-19 08:58
+4 # humanmancalvin 2011-12-19 10:05
All said may be true here in the old US of A. But if Bush & certain members of his WMD make-believe team ever step foot in some more moral countries: busted. The world has already & correctly laid blame for this illegal disaster right where it belongs. Better keep your vacations limited to this country only war criminal number one.
+4 # Texas Aggie 2011-12-19 12:36
The supposition that if there is a time after another ten or fifteen years when things get sorted out, then the war will have been successful is a very flawed supposition. First is that Arab Spring would just as easily have taken him out, the Iraqis being left to their own devices. And despite the rhetoric, Bush was a firm supporter of demagogues and dictators throughout the world, not a supporter of democracy. Also, by that time something else, Mother Nature, would have taken him out leading to an effort by the Iraqis themselves to correct the situation with only a small fraction of the damage to the country that Bush's war caused.

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