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Pierce writes: "The problem arose when the architects of the American fiasco were allowed to escape any real accounting for what they'd done in Iraq and to the United States."

President Obama defended the Iraq war in Brussels. (photo: Didier Lebrun/PhotoNews/Getty Images)
President Obama defended the Iraq war in Brussels. (photo: Didier Lebrun/PhotoNews/Getty Images)

Obama's Preposterous Defense of the Iraq War

By Charles Pierce, Esquire

27 March 14


wo weeks ago, while discussing the president's position on the fight between the Senate and the CIA, I said that I thought we had clearly defined the limits of the president's philosophy of looking forward and not back, and of his role as national healer, and of the general theme of absolution that had charged his entire political career with a kind of redemptive energy. I was wrong. Yesterday, speaking in Brussels, the president soared past those limits and he and the fundamental justification of his presidency sailed into the surreal, perhaps never to return.

In merciful brief, the president attempted to explain to the world why the self-destructive and mendacious decision of the United States to engage in aggressive war in Iraq in contravention of god alone knows how many provisions of international law was manifestly different -- politically, legally, and morally -- from Vladimir Putin's land grabbing in and around Ukraine. Before anyone gave him a chance to be president, and throughout his unlikely rise to the White House, the president famously called the war in Iraq "the wrong war in the wrong place." It was the first stark difference between the president and Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary campaign and the clearest difference between the president and Senator John McCain in that year's general election. It represented the cleanest break available to the country from the bloody stupdity of the previous administration. It was the seedbed for all the hope and all the change. The problem arose when the architects of the American fiasco were allowed to escape any real accounting for what they'd done in Iraq and to the United States. There was no public punishment, no public shaming, no indication from the new administration that it was ready to demand penance from the old. And yesterday, the president illustrated quite clearly the size of the corner in which his basic philosophy had painted him.

The case he made was preposterous.

"Even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system," said the commander-in-chief in a major foreign policy speech at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. "We did not claim or annex Iraq's territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain."

He knows so much better than that. The case we made before the U.N. was a insult to the world, built on stovepiped intelligence, wishful thinking, and outright bullshit, and delivered by Colin Powell because, as Dick Cheney put it so eloquently, Powell could lose a couple of points off his poll numbers. He knows that the Bush people were going into Iraq even without the U.N. -- which, of course, it eventually did. (Digby handled this with her usual aplomb.) He knows we made Iraq take its oil industry private, and he knows why. He knows who the profiteers are, and he knows into whose pockets the oil revenues descended. They are the people he inexcusably let off the hook by looking forward and not back, and by offering them and the country absolution without first demanding penance. (For all her other faults, Holy Mother Church at least gets the order right.) All of these things make up what he once called "the wrong war."

"We ended our war and left Iraq to its people and a fully sovereign Iraqi state that can make decisions about its own future," he said.

Holy Jesus H. Christ in a Humvee, he knows better than this, too. As Ryan Grim points out, we did not exactly leave Iraq as the kind of Babylonian Rhode Island we said we were trying to make of the place.

The president's paean to Iraqi democracy comes one day after the entire board of the country's electoral commission resigned en masse, protesting political interference and, according to Reuters, "casting doubt on a nationwide vote scheduled for next month." Critics have accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of a systematic effort to remove opponents from the ballot. Across Iraq, 68 people were killed the same day the commissioners stepped down.

He also knows very well why the riposte about America in Iraq to any attack on Russia in the Crimea has such a sting. It has a sting because it is almost entirely accurate. The destruction of American credibility in the areas of foreign affairs and international law that was wrought by our criminal occupation of Iraq will cost us decades to repair. The rest of the world, most of which declined to participate in our excellent adventure, doesn't have to listen to our preaching on those subjects without snickering. The president yesterday sought to rouse the outrage of the world against Russia through what were essentially debating points. If he had demonstrated, early and loudly, that he was going hold the perpetrators accountable for the crimes they committed in the previous administration, that he was going to call them to account for their lies, their greed, and their basic disregard for democratic norms and for the standing of the United States in the world, if he had demanded penance before absolution, then, maybe, he could have given yesterday's speech and not looked and sounded so damned bizarre. As it was, it was less a speech than it was an elegy, a sad eulogy for missed chances and lost, golden promises. your social media marketing partner
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