Twenty years on, that question has become: ‘How does our exasperation with the failure of nation-building end?
Photo: President George W. Bush declares the end of Major combat in Iraq on 01 May 2003. Photo: J Scott Applewhite/AP
Barack Obama in 2013, when he pushed for military action against Syria over alleged chemical attacks. Photograph: Pete Souza/EPA
13 March 2023 | James Porteous | Clipper Media News
‘Tell me, how does this end?’ asked US general David Petraeus during the first push (aka war) to Baghdad in 2003.
Twenty years later, the ‘international’ world is still asking the same question. Or perhaps it would be better to say that we are once again, and once again, and once again asking the same question. And the answer? Who the hell knows? They sure as hell don’t know.
Most people do not ‘learn’ anything about past failures unless they are forced to do so.
In the ‘old’ days, it was, at least marginally, the responsibility of the media to force militaries around the world to answer the question ‘how does this end’ long before the ships and planes started transporting military equipment to whatever far-off-land was to become the new hell hole.
Those days are gone. So we have foolishly accepted as fact that in war, there is no past, no future, no talk about ‘how does this end.’
It is no different today. Ask anyone in the US administration ‘how does Ukraine end’ and they will deliver some simplistic, oven-ready answer about ‘Putin’ and ‘freedom’ and not a single word about the ever-increasing number of past military failures.
And this will not change unless someone makes them change. That truth is highlighted below in a ‘long read’ about the ‘history’ of the US involvement in Iraq. It is an 18-23 minute piece and it mentions Afghanistan exactly once:
‘The unilateral US withdrawal from Afghanistan, instigated by Donald Trump and then pursued by his successor, Joe Biden, was born of an exasperation with the failure of nation-building exemplified by Iraq.’
The failure of nation-building exemplified by Iraq. Think about that for a moment. The failure of nation-building.
If there were a US Dictionary of Diplomacy, the term would surely be listed as the first cousin of ‘regime change.’ Beside a photo of John Bolton. Just for laughs.
So over the course of 20+ years, perhaps a million innocent lives were lost, and perhaps a trillion dollars or more were thrown down the well-hole, and the lesson we are meant to take away is: It was a failure of nation-building.
Of course, the exact same story is playing out on the front pages every day (well, less and less so as time moves on) so we can see that the exasperation with the failure of nation-building exemplified by Iraq and Afghanistan, and Syria, and Yemen will one day add the name of Ukraine.
So we must now ask a variation of the main question: How does our exasperation with the failure of nation-building end?
And 20 years hence -if we, as a planet, are still able to do so – will we dutifully look back and proudly assert that, no, they did not know how it would end, and no, they had no right to once again try let alone fail in the absurd task of nation-building or regime change, but we should take comfort in the fact that, although hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions of innocent people may have died, that we meant well?
Fighting for peace through the act of war. As usual.
The merchants of death are fighting on our behalf to assert their God-given right to arm the world and line the pockets of shareholders.
And they will continue to demand that we take pride in knowing that we helped send the children of said shareholders to college and summer camps in order to continue living the lifestyle to which they are accustomed?
Surely it is time to stand up and ask, once and for all: How much longer will the rest of us, exasperated with the failure of nation-building, allow our sons and daughters to fight and die for Lockheed Martin?
We better hope that day comes soon.
James Porteous | Clipper Media News
The French statesman Georges Clemenceau once said: “War is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory.” In the case of the invasion of Iraq, however, the war that began 20 years ago started in victory and has ended in a series of catastrophes.
The main US military pullout from Iraq was ultimately completed by 2011, finally answering the question posed by Gen David Petraeus during that first push to Baghdad in 2003: “Tell me, how does this end?” Yet the long shadow of the invasion still looms over the international order, staining the reputation of those who instigated it and the political process itself, and dealing a heavy blow to the self-confidence that the west felt in the years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
At this distance, on the eve of the twentieth anniversary on 20 March, it seems to matter less whether the war was launched on a deceit, a distortion, a wilful misapprehension, or a sincere false premise. It was a blunder that looks worse with every passing anniversary and memoir. Barack Obama drew one lesson from the episode: “Don’t do stupid shit.”
The question in the title of Baroness Ashton’s new book on diplomacy, And Then What?, was asked by many in relation to Iraq before the invasion. The risky consequences for Iraq were spelt out in memos and meetings at the time by Iraq experts in Britain such as Rosemary Hollis and Toby Dodge and by innumerable US Middle East specialists, including the current CIA chief, Bill Burns, but those who mattered, including the notably incurious George Bush, chose to ignore the warnings.
Dodge, freshly back from Iraq, was even invited to Downing Street to warn Blair that the invasion would be a disaster. He recalls Blair saying to him at the outset: “I know you think I should not do it, but I have to. I know it’s going to be bad. Tell me how bad it’s going to be”. Dodge explained: “In London and Washington, there was no one who had the first idea about Iraq, but they were planning to occupy it and run the place. It was hubris of the highest order.”
The breathtaking mishandling of the biggest attempt at liberal interventionism since Vietnam is now acknowledged by almost all those involved. As looting swept the capital and the institutions of the dictatorship were dismantled by the new occupiers, the US official designated to oversee the ministry of trade, Robin Raphel, walked the streets of Baghdad with an interpreter, asking: “Do you know anybody who is in the ministry of trade?”
The chaos has spawned a vast literature on post-conflict planning, and multi-volume official inquiries, notably the Chilcot inquiry in the UK and a two-volume report by the US army. “We have all over the past 20 years sifted through and tried to read the runes about what was the big mistake. Some things accelerated the collapse, such as the legacy of sanctions or de-Baathification,” Dodge said. “But the big mistake, the original sin, was to invade a country you know nothing about with a bunch of exiles that had not been there for 20 years. It was destined for failure. Full stop.”