20 Years After Iraq

No accountability and no lessons learned

It’s tragic and deeply distress­ing that twenty years after the U.S. launched its disas­trous invasion of Iraq that the ig­norance, lies, and cruelty of that war have never been acknowledged.

The neocons in the Bush administration be­lieved that our enemies had attacked on 9/11 be­cause they perceived us as weak. Postulating that a quick and decisive victory would demonstrate US strength and re­solve, the neocons thought the war would ensure US hegemony for decades to come.

I had served on a think-tank sponsored task force with many leading proponents of this world­view and was astounded by their hubris born of ignorance. They did not know, or consider it im­portant to know, Iraq. They were guided by a one-size-fits-all Mani­chean ideology: forces of good and evil in combat across the globe; a clash between them inevitable; and in that confrontation good ul­timately prevailing. Those who is­sued cautions were demeaned as weak and lacking resolve.

These “experts” took to the air­waves preying on a still shell-shocked public that knew even less about Iraq or the broader Middle East. In testimonies be­fore Congress and on television the war’s proponents embel­lished their “good versus evil” portrait and deliberately misin­formed the Congress and public about the impending war.

The “big lie” about Iraq wasn’t about weapons of mass destruc­tion, but rather a preposterous deceit about the war’s costs and terms of engagement. Leading ad­ministration spokespersons testi­fied that: the war would be over in a few weeks; US forces would be greeted as liberators; it would cost no more than $1 or $2 billion; and in the end a new democracy in Iraq would be a “beacon for the new Middle East.”

Journalists and commentators echoed these fact-free claims making it the dominant narrative. Most politicians cowered, and be­cause the overwhelming majority of the public couldn’t find Iraq on a map (according to a survey con­ducted days before the invasion was to begin), they went along.

During the months leading up to the start of the war, my wife and I were in North Carolina where I was teaching at Davidson College. At one point, I flew back to Washington to debate a resolu­tion I had submitted to the Demo­cratic National Committee urging the party to oppose sending our young people into a war without knowing its costs, terms of en­gagement, and consequences, in a country whose history and cul­ture we did not know. The party leaders allowed me to present it but wouldn’t permit a vote.

At the time, I was hosting a weekly live television call-in pro­gram on Abu Dhabi TV and Di­rect TV in the US. ADTV arranged two live satellite shows connect­ing students at Davidson with stu­dents at Baghdad University. It opened my students’ eyes to Iraqi history, culture, and sensitivities. After the program one of the Da­vidson students told me that it was so hard to be speaking with the Iraqis knowing that we were going to bombing them.

Two decades later we’ve largely forgotten the lies, and no one has been held accountable.

President Barack Obama re­leased the Bush era torture mem­os, commissioned to provide a “legal” justification for and define allowable methods that could be used to torture prisoners cap­tured in Afghanistan and Iraq, raising hopes for accountability for war crimes. The memos were horrifyingly graphic in describ­ing permissible torture practic­es. But after releasing the mem­os, Obama announced that “we wouldn’t look backwards.”

And so here we are, two decades after the war with no accountabil­ity for the lies that left thousands of young Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead. The same neocon hawks, still consid­ered “experts,” are now on the air­waves peddling their Manichean nonsense about other conflicts and enemies. And the American pub­lic remains uninformed not only about Iraq, and what we did there, but also about the entire Middle East and its history and culture.

We continue to operate blindly in a world that’s increasingly wary of our role precisely because of the lack of accountability and under­standing of history. The truth is that accountability wouldn’t make us weaker. It would make us smart, stronger, and more respected.

Dr. James J. Zogby
The writer is the President of Arab American Institute

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