Maybe the Washington Post has discovered that Firedoglake is on its case about the “5 myths” feature, after four articles (the most recent here) have pointed out that the series itself has a mythic quality.
I say that because today’s entry, “Five myths about Iraq,” shows a marked development in the conception. The straw men that no one believes any more, if anyone ever did, are gone, as are the subtle distortions of what people actually believe that are easier to shoot down and the true statements that are only made to look false by shoddy reasoning. Instead, we get five statements this time that are actually believed by significant numbers of people, and that for the most part are actually false. There are still elephants in the room, which I’ll get to, but for the moment I’ll give DC’s paper of record its due.
And in honor of the occasion the paper has brought in a heavy hitter to write the article: Rajiv Chandrasekaran, who was actually on the ground in the theater of operations and who has written an award-winning book about it. That is to say, his resume is star-studded all the way back to editor of the school paper at Stanford. (He is also now a big shot at WaPo itself, senior correspondent and associate editor, if anyone cares about that aspect.)
In his introduction Chandrasekaran explains that, no, the myths of which we speak are not about possession of WMD or Mission Accomplished within weeks of the invasion, but a set of beliefs of our own time, the 2010s, that need discussion. Here they are:
1. The troop surge succeeded.
That is, the 20,000 or so extra troops that were sent to Iraq in 2007 succeeded. The issue is certainly topical since in January Sen. McCain, who does think the surge succeeded, attacked then-nominee for Defense Secretary Hagel over it, wondering if the latter had rethought his opposition to the surge at the time. Of course whether or not it succeeded depends on your view of its purpose. According to Chandrasekaran this was twofold: “tamp down the bloody sectarian civil war and forge a political compromise among the three principal groups in Iraqi society,” and that characterization pretty much agrees with the Wikipedia article on the subject. In those terms our author asserts that the tamping down was only successful because of the confluence of other factors, such as the decision by key Sunni leaders to oppose al-Qaeda, whereas the attempt to forge a compromise simply failed.
From what I know that all sounds right, notwithstanding McCain’s view.
2. Iraq today is relatively peaceful.
I suspect Americans think this because the MSM are not reporting the violence that does occur. (Iraq is not sexy any more when the drones are in play elsewhere.) But our author gives a total of 30 deaths from various sectarian attacks over a three day period ending last Monday. Enough said.
3. Iraq is a democracy.
In practice, Nouri al-Maliki is in the process of consolidating his dictatorship, as Chandrasekaran details.
4. Iraq is in Iran’s pocket.
As our author details, Iran has a lot of influence, but by no means controls Maliki.
5. The Americans have all left.
Here the answer is that there are 220 military personnel serving as liaison to the Iraqi army, “legions of private security contractors,” and an unknown number of CIA operatives, which will increase as a result of the civil war in neighboring Syria.
What is left out of Chandrasekaran’s account here is the reason there are not more troops after the expiration of the status of forces agreement at the end of 2011: Maliki would not agree to now-President Obama’s demand to give them immunity from the Iraqi justice system. That is to say, we did not simply get out of there in the goodness of our hearts. That can serve as an introduction to two elephants in the room.
It is disingenuous to speak as if the myths used to justify the original invasion of Iraq are no longer of importance in reflecting on the event on its 10th anniversary. The fact is that the US government (with the UK’s) at best cherry-picked intelligence estimates about WMD in Iraq, and relied upon a popular sense that any anti-US Arab country shared responsibility for 9/11, to justify implementing a previously developed key policy objective: removing Saddam Hussein from power (as formulated by the Project for the New American Century, some of whose key members were also key members of the Bush II administration).
In short, the war was an unmitigated disaster from start to finish, and today’s article only touches on the latter aspect. But of course the reason WaPo does not want to talk about this is that, while it was not as Gung Ho at the beginning as was, say, CBS News (or NYT with the infamous Judith Miller), neither was its coverage good journalism, as a former “ombudsman” points out. All of which means that the paper has learned no real lessons from the affair.
It is easy enough for WaPo to debunk the war in the limited fashion involved today, because it was Bush’s war. Obama is a different story. He came in swinging in 2009, to announce that the real action was in Afghanistan, although the original reason for going there had long since vanished with the dispersal of al-Qaeda all over MENA, and is now having trouble getting out so that he can apply all of our country’s energy to chasing it with drones in that larger area, and thereby getting even more of the world to hate us.
But the paper cannot effectively deal with this, first, because it is predisposed to Obama (hence myth #5′s downplaying of why there are not more troops still in Iraq), and second and more importantly, because it has not really learned anything from the disaster of which it speaks.
Photo by Michael Gross, in the public domain