The gleaning process of history was never so evident as it was in the events around the fifth anniversary of 9/11. We could see clearly the beginnings of the greatest bait-and-switch fraud in American if not all of human history, George W. Bush’s war on terrorism, and at least the outlines of its terrible consequences.
A Senate Intelligence Committee report revealed that the administration actually knew all along what the rest of the world knew about Iraq and Saddam Hussein — that whatever other evils the dictator harbored the only good thing you could say about him was that he had no brief for terrorists, or any other form of potential opposition. Iraqis never turned up in terrorist attacks around the world.
So much for the theory sold to the American people that the invasion of Iraq was carrying the war on terrorism to the enemy rather than waiting on the enemy to attack us. Forty percent of Americans, according to polls, still believe that Iraq was behind the attacks of 9/11, although Bush himself last month said he knew that the Iraq regime had nothing to do with the attacks. Demolished long ago was Bush’s story that Saddam had a vast storehouse of chemical and biological weapons, the means to deliver them and a rapidly building nuclear program that would endanger the United States.
We are left with the reason that was evident since before Bush took office: His brain trust, Dick Cheney and others from the Project for a New American Century, planned an invasion of Iraq that they expected to steamroll through the oil-producing oligarchies of the Middle East and turn them all into acolytes of the United States.
The Senate Intelligence Committee report sent people chasing back through the accumulated evidence that Bush planned the war in Iraq long before 9/11: soon-to-be national security adviser Condoleeza Rice’s article in Foreign Affairs magazine in January 2000 promoting an attack to remove Saddam Hussein from power; a New York Times article nine days before Bush took office in 2001 about a closed meeting of Bush, Cheney, Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell with military chiefs at the Pentagon where the new team outlined the need for military planning for the removal of Hussein; former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill’s biographical account of the administration’s plans to invade Iraq within weeks of taking office; and counterterrorist chief Richard A. Clarke’s memory of Bush telling him the day after 9/11 to find some links to Iraq.
A war so heedlessly undertaken was bound to turn out badly and the contours of the tragedy were stark last week.
The Pentagon leaked the outlines of a secret report by Col. Pete Devlin, the chief of intelligence for the Marine Corps in Iraq, which said the United States had been defeated, not militarily but politically, in western Iraq, the giant Anbar province, where Americans are now universally despised, civil government is nonexistent and the economy is utterly demolished.
These are the people Bush said he sent soldiers to liberate.
And just what has been the human toll of the conflict since 9/11? Americans have followed the grim statistics on American dead but not the broader numbers.
British and American academicians, using the scrupulously careful Iraqi Body Count, estimate that more than 50,000 Iraqi civilians have died directly in attacks. Counting those who died later from wounds or the increased mortality from lack of health care, the estimate is more than 130,000. The numbers do not include the massive death toll of Iraqi soldiers in the invasion or various insurgent groups. The toll is smaller in Afghanistan, but the number of refugees caused by the expanded war is estimated at 4.5 million. Roughly 40 percent of the Iraqi middle class has left. Eighteen thousand Iraqi physicians have left since 2003, another 250 have been kidnapped and many of them killed. Of 180 clinics the United States hoped to build by the end of 2005 not one has been opened. Unicef reports that a fourth of Iraqi children suffer from malnutrition.
The cost in treasure? Congress has appropriated $437 billion so far for the war on terror, a sum larger than the expenditures on either the Korean or Vietnam wars and a sum that would abolish the debts all of the world’s poorest countries.
A greater calamity perhaps is the loss of American ability to shape the world.
The annual survey by the German Marshall Fund of the United States showed that only 37 percent of Europeans believed that it was good for the United States to exert leadership in the world, a decline by almost half in five years. Those are our allies.
Editorial comment around the world on the 9/11 anniversary reflected the problem. This, for example, from the strongly pro-American Financial Times of London: “The way the Bush administration has trampled on the international rule of law and Geneva Conventions, while abrogating civil liberties and expanding executive power at home, has done huge damage not only to America’s reputation but, more broadly, to the attractive power of Western values.”
From the Middle East, the kindest words could be found in the Daily Star of Lebanon: “Instead of isolating and wiping out Al-Qaeda, Bush has created a long list of new foes in his ever-broadening war on terror.”
Those are the latest words from our friends.