Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Iraq in the Fog of Invasion and Occupation

The Untold Story of How a Band of True Believers Seized the Executive Branch, Started the Iraq War, and Still Imperils America's Future

I buy few books these days. (You know what they are: floppy rectangular things that fold out when you put them in your lap?) Budget is one reason; shelf space in my beach cottage another; time spent on the Internet, still another. Because of the last, I probably finish 10% of the books I currently buy.

When I shop in the field of political non-fiction, I have one criterion: how much can the writer promise to tell me that I already don’t know? I don’t look on the flyleaf for the answer.

Once I’m in a bookstore, browsing through a book, where do I look? In the index, I scan it to determine if it’s topically and hierarchically detailed. Next I look for annotated foot notes or end notes. Once I find both elements, it’s a deal-maker and I make the purchase. The only problem is confronted at home: which tome I have to throw out to make space?

Craig Unger’s new book, The Fall of the House of Bush, is my most recent prized acquisition. From the standpoint of data to be mined, this monograph on Busheney’s Iraq experiment is a must-have resource. Absolutely documented with original sources, it is richly endowed with colorful anecdotes, lengthy foot notes, end notes, and a detailed index. Armed with Unger you can unearth long buried bodies. I found a note about a devious ex-graduate school classmate of mine: he turned even out worse than I expected. One small problem is that some notes are a digit or two out of sequence, and a typo here and there renders an incorrect date: all of which could be cleaned up by paying a striking writer half a day to straighten out. But all in all, these few downside quibbles of mine cannot tarnish Unger’s excellent scholarly effort.

On the plus side, I have found many references which will help me fill out my menu of Kool-Aid and Coffee flavors.

Unger especially shines in his description of the early Neocons’ 30-year war against the national security apparatus. He describes Richard Pipes’ Team-B's undermining of the Kissingerian establishment's consensus on the Soviet Union: this group of bureaucratic worms was driven by an apoplectic animosity toward the Soviet Union. For them, the worst (possible) case scenario was reality. At one point they argued that the Soviets had non-acoustic submarine systems and were already deploying them. When challenged that there was no factual basis for this assertion, the Neocon response was that this proved just how secretive and devious the Soviets were. Their combative, full-spectrum court-press to obtain control over American foreign and defense policy was epitomized by a Churchillian quotation framed on the wall above Richard Perle’s desk:
Never give in,
Never give in
Never, never, never, never
In nothing great or small,
Large or petty –
Never give in
Unger is also at his best chronicling the selling of Bush’s unprecedented preventive war against Iraq. In all likelihood much of his scholarship may have been surpassed by the database recently presented by the CPI, at least in terms of Cheney’s warmongers on the public payroll. But Unger is peerless in relating the parts played by would-be journalists, pundits and ideologues led by William Kristol and such. I’ll mine these at a later time.

In his concluding pages, Unger delivers his judgment on the Bush legacy:

Yet through it all, Bush remained unfazed - besieged, but somehow utterly certain, unquestioning, and oddly at ease with himself, even when confronted with overwhelming evidence that he had created the greatest foreign policy disaster in American history. Ultimately, he had a fatalistic approach to his legacy.
Look, everybody is trying to write a history of this administration even before it's over. I'm reading about George Washington still. My attitude is that if they are still analyzing number one, forty-three ought not to worry about it and just do what he thinks is right.
. . . .when it came to the most crucial policies of his administration, choices that cost thousands of lives . . . Bush seemed curiously confused and disengaged . . . .

Even if Bush preferred to think that judgment of his administration would be rendered only many years in the future, with more than fourteen months left in his last term, his legacy was largely sealed . . . . Bush had indeed destroyed his father's legacy. The family's political future appeared to be dead as well . . . Jeb Bush . . . explained it simply . . . Yo no tengo futuro."

. . . . . historians had already amassed enough information with which to assess the damages wrought by the Bush administration. Driven by delusional idealism and religious zeal, Bush, after all, had already made one catastrophic blunder, the true historical dimensions of which have yet to emerge. To fully appreciate its consequences, one cannot overlook the fact that the Iraq War took place in the twilight of the hydrocarbon era, during China's extraordinary ascendancy. Far from safeguarding America as promised, the Iraq war had jeopardized the country's security and with it, potentially, America's access to the Middle East oil so crucial to fueling the most powerful economic engine in history.

Who knows how much stronger America's geostrategic position might be if the Bush Administration had not squandered the incalculable goodwill the United States had after 9/11? Who knows how much better off America might be, if instead of wasting its time and money on Iraq, it had invested those same resources in education or the health care system that was in crisis, or in developing alternative energy resources and a strategy to free the country from its dependence on Middle East oil? Such losses are truly impossible to calculate.
The morning after his final State of the Union address it's fair to judge his tenure by his stewardship. By any standard, the Bush administration has weakened the nation.

Leaving aside the domestic state of the Union:
  • Bush inherited a military that had all active-duty Army divisions rated at the highest readiness levels and that was capable of fighting a two-front war. He will leave us with a military facing the worst readiness crisis in a generation, sprawled across two endless fronts of ineffectual and endless occupations and war, hemorrhaging $2 billions a week, two continents away.
  • Bush inherited a nation that was respected on the international stage; he will leave behind one reviled by many around the world. In 2001 our USA had an approval rating of 58% (Pew poll of 10 nations). In 2008 it's 39%.
  • Bush's cabal of un-indicted war criminals are still at large in our political system and will remain so long after this presidency.
The past eight years cannot be annulled. The 21st century cannot be re-started. In the near-term, the best we can hope for is to avoid another Republican presidency. If we can manage that, then the best years for America may be those yet to come. Nevertheless, as Unger argues, the toxic residue bequeathed by Busheney still leaves our future in peril.