Lamar W. Hankins : What Have We Learned From the Iraq War?

President Obama shown speaking to troops at Fort Bragg, N.C. Photo by Gerry Broome / AP.

Lessons we should have learned from the Iraq War

After all the phony reasons for war in Iraq were found wanting, Bush and his neoconservative advisers resorted to saying that the venture was a humanitarian mission to free the Iraqis.

By Lamar W. Hankins | The Rag Blog | December 28, 2011

By one measure — the announcement by President Obama that the War in Iraq is over — that war has finally come to an end. But it remains to be seen how long that country will be destabilized, dysfunctional, and at war with itself, after the phony, deceptive, and precipitous actions the George W. Bush administration took nearly nine years ago when it introduced “shock and awe” as a simple war, a virtual cakewalk for the mighty U.S.

In light of what we know now (and should have known then), it is difficult to see that war as the “success” President Obama called it.

At least 2 million Iraqis have been displaced within their own country, and another 3 million elsewhere — a total of 20% of the country. Some reputable demographers have estimated that over a million Iraqi civilians were killed during the war, along with over 4,400 U.S. servicemen and women.

Inexplicably, the U.S. will maintain an embassy in Iraq, the largest in the world, with 15,000 people in it; pay nearly 10,000 mercenaries to continue operating in Iraq; and maintain an unknown number of drones, which will fly out of Iraq to wherever they are deemed useful to U.S. control in the region.

And we have not yet fully accounted for the atrocities our military committed, nor have those Americans responsible for authorizing torture been brought to justice.

The lead-up to the war (which I opposed vigorously beginning in the late summer of 2002, as Bush and his neoconservative cronies started their fear-based propaganda offensive to soften up the American public) followed a familiar plan to sell the war. It was a plan explained in an interview over 60 years ago by Hermann Goering, Hitler’s understudy:

Why of course the people don’t want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don’t want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood.

But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

If anything, Goering overestimated the difficulty of convincing the American people to go to war. On March 24, 2003, the entire San Marcos City Council, under the leadership of then Mayor Robert Habingreither, and including our now newly-minted Congressional candidate Susan Narvaiz, Bill Taylor, Jacob Montoya, Ed Mihalkanin, Paul Mayhew, and Martha Castex Tatum, adopted a resolution that was intended to show that war is patriotic.

So strong was the war-induced patriotism that only a few people opposed the resolution and the war. But not one of these pro-war people or any other San Marcos supporter of the War in Iraq has issued a public apology for their muddleheaded mistake in supporting this war, about which they had no doubts. Apparently none have crossed their minds since.

By way of disclosure, I had a personal reason, as well as political and humane reasons, for opposing the war. My son-in-law, who was then in Special Forces, was sent into Iraq with the first wave of U.S. fighters. To see his life risked for the phony, illegal, and unconstitutional excuses of the Bush administration was almost more than I could bear.

One of the problems with having a volunteer military is that many people see those servicemen and women as disposable, to be used for whatever purpose the President has in mind. After all, they volunteered for military service. Such a view is, of course, callous and indifferent to human life, and stands in stark contrast to the view of Karen U. Kwiatkowski, a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, who said, “If you join the military now, you are not defending the United States of America, you are helping certain policy-makers fulfill an imperialist agenda.”

To read a confirmation of this view by a U.S. Marine who fought in the second siege of Fallujah, go here.

Historian Andrew Bacevich provided recently a slightly different view: “…a Churchillian verdict on the war might read thusly: Seldom in the course of human history have so many sacrificed so dearly to achieve so little.”

The people of the United States have become, in large part, adherents of both imperialism and a view of exceptionalism which holds that the U.S. has the right to tell the world what to do in the name of furthering democracy and American interests. What this view actually furthers is economic dominance through military might.

Many in the U.S. give lip service to supporting the troops, but this sentiment is largely a cover to allow people to feel good about using our servicemen and women as pawns in a giant reality-based, death-inducing chess game. Few of these war supporters have been as passionate about fully funding veterans health care (including mental health care) and rehabilitation as they have been about sending our service members to war.

In a recent statement, the Iraq Veterans Against the War wrote,

Our fight in Iraq has cost the nation nearly 4,500 American lives and left about 32,000 physically wounded plus tens of thousands more suffering from psychological trauma. Every 36 hours, an American soldier commits suicide, and a staggering 18 veterans take their own lives every day. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers are attempting to transition into civilian life during one of the worst economies in our nation’s history… The challenges facing our veterans and service members are just beginning…

Military Families Speak Out, of which I am a member, recently wrote, “Over $800 billion was wasted on this war that never should have started while our legislators squabble over budget cuts to the Veterans Administration, Social Security, education, and other necessary social services.”

While a majority of the American public may have come to realize the futility, if not the madness, of the War in Iraq, along with its unspeakable violence, there is no evidence that most of our citizens have understood that we are just a few weeks or months away from another manipulation by our “leaders” to involve us in another war (in Iran), while we still have not extricated ourselves from Afghanistan, a war that is over 10 years old.

There is no evidence that we now understand — better than we did nine years ago — that our elected officials, both in Washington and at City Hall, do not possess any special wisdom, in spite of their intelligence, that should guide us in such endeavors.

After all the phony reasons for war in Iraq were found wanting, Bush and his neoconservative advisers and supporters resorted to saying that the venture was a humanitarian mission to free the Iraqis.

It is now obvious instead that it became a humanitarian nightmare, mainly because in the throes of American arrogance, our “leaders” never understood much about the culture of Iraq, the schism between the two main Islamic groups, the geopolitical relations between the Sunnis and the Saudis and between the Shiites and the Iranians, the desires of the Kurds for autonomy, the nationalism felt by most Iraqis, the hatred engendered toward the years of sanctions and killings in the north and south no-fly zones, and the complete folly of occupation of others by a foreign and hostile army.

From his perspective as an Army career officer and historian focused on international relations, Andrew Bacevich has concluded about the War in Iraq,

The disastrous legacy of the Iraq War extends beyond treasure squandered and lives lost or shattered. Central to that legacy has been Washington’s decisive and seemingly irrevocable abandonment of any semblance of self-restraint regarding the use of violence as an instrument of statecraft.

With all remaining prudential, normative, and constitutional barriers to the use of force having now been set aside, war has become a normal condition, something that the great majority of Americans accept without complaint. War is US.

It is time for the American people to find and follow our own moral compasses and say that we will never again be led down the path of grotesque violence that creates its own kind of terror for both those we kill and those we pay to do the killing.

But I fear that most Americans will not find their moral compasses. It is too convenient to ignore morality and legality when what we want most is to win and show the world who is boss.

[Lamar W. Hankins, a former San Marcos, Texas, city attorney, is also a columnist for the San Marcos Mercury. This article © Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins. Read more articles by Lamar W. Hankins on The Rag Blog.]

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1 Response to Lamar W. Hankins : What Have We Learned From the Iraq War?

  1. T.G. Fisher says:

    What have we learned from the Iraq war? The same thing we learned from the Korean war, the Vietnam war, our experiences in Somalia and Afghanistan. NOTHING. ABSOLUTELY nothing.

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