Last week was the five year anniversary of President
Bush landing on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, striding along
the flight deck in flight suit and stating triumphantly that "major
combat operations in Iraq have ended" while standing under a banner
proclaiming "Mission Accomplished." For the neocons and chickenhawks,
it was a giddy moment. Victory was at hand. But like almost everything else
about the administration's Iraq policy, it was ultimately nothing more than
hubris. Five years later, White House press secretary Dana Perino offered up
explanation: "President Bush is well aware that the banner should
have been much more specific and said mission accomplished for these sailors
who are on this ship on their mission." (To be fair, the president did
not actually say "mission accomplished" in his speech.) But feeble
explanations aside, what has been accomplished?
Saddam Hussein – demonized as a threat to world peace by President Bush –
has been deposed. So there is one less brutal dictator in the world. But Saddam
was never a threat. He did not have the dreaded WMDs alleged by the administration.
And even if did, that would not have made him a threat since (a) he had no
means to deliver such weapons (the best the administration could come up with
was claiming that Iraq possessed unmanned aerial drones that could deliver
chemical or biological weapons, but these drones didn't even pose a threat
to Israel let alone the United States) and (b) Saddam would have had to been
suicidal to use such weapons knowing that the United States could retaliate
with the full spectrum of military force, including the U.S. nuclear arsenal
capable of utterly destroying Iraq. And more importantly, Saddam did not have
a hand in 9/11 or any ties to al-Qaeda – which has belatedly acknowledged
by the Pentagon, long after Donald Rumsfeld's departure. Hussein's terrorist
connections that were hyped at every opportunity by the administration and
its cheerleaders were to anti-Israeli terrorists who posed no threat to America.
Moreover, the U.S. invasion to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein and his nonexistent
WMDs has led to perhaps the greatest irony of all. Under the Hussein regime,
there was no al-Qaeda presence in Iraq. In fact, bin Laden viewed Hussein as
an apostate Muslim ruler and referred to Saddam's Ba'ath Party as "infidels"
in a February
2003 videotape. But the ongoing U.S. military occupation of Iraq has become
a cause célèbre for jihadists (much like the Soviet invasion
and occupation of Afghanistan was for the mujahedeen) and resulted in the formation
of Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn, more commonly referred to as
al-Qaeda of Mesopotamia or al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Instead of a dictatorship, the Iraqi people are now blessed with a democracy.
In January 2005, the Iraqi people voted for an assembly to draft a constitution
for a new sovereign government. And in December 2005, Iraqis elected the members
of the first national assembly under the constitution. But instead of democracy
bringing peace and prosperity as promised by the architects of the Iraq War,
there has been nothing but discord in Iraq. In fact, for all the trappings
of democracy, Iraq remains a deeply divided country teetering on the verge
of civil war.
And Iraq's fledgling democratic government seems only able to stand on its
own two feet because of the continued U.S. military occupation (currently nearly
160,000 troops and likely to remain at that level for the foreseeable future),
which gives the appearance of an installed puppet government rather than an
independent, sovereign one. The fact that Iraqi security forces are less than
capable is lost on no one – as demonstrated by the ill-fated
March operation against the Mahdi Army in Basra. Moreover, U.S. military
forces in Iraq are sowing the seeds of the discord that plagues the country.
In addition to being a calling card for jihadists to flock to Iraq, the U.S.
military presence also fans the flames of anti-American sentiment among Iraqis.
Indeed, U.S. military occupation has been the long-standing grievance of Shi'ite
cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who last week urged his followers not to fight Iraqi
security forces and for Iraqi security forces "to
be close to their people and far from the occupier, because we will not be
blessed with peace as long as they occupy our land."
Although progress has certainly been made, Iraq is far from being a reconstructed
country. Because of soaring oil prices (oil was about $30 per barrel when the
U.S. decided to invade Iraq in March 2003 and is currently trading at over
$110 per barrel as this is written), Iraq is projected to realize $70
billion in oil revenue this year, according to a U.S. government report.
But at the same time the Iraqi Oil Ministry is reporting that 65 percent of
the oil pipeline network is idle due to sabotage and lack of repairs, and Iraq
to attract much needed foreign investment due to ongoing violence. According
to the special inspector for Iraq reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, the more than
$20 billion spent on reconstruction (Congress has appropriated $46 billion
for reconstruction projects in Iraq) "has produced mixed results."
The largest reconstruction project – the Nassriya Water Treatment Plant – is
Finally, there are these "accomplishments" to consider:
If it wasn't apparent then, it should be clear by now that the mission in
Iraq is far from accomplished. In fact, the end doesn't appear to be anywhere
in sight. So looking back at President Bush's May 2003 victory speech (he may
not have claimed "mission accomplished" aboard the USS Abraham
Lincoln, but he did say, "The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war
on terror that began on September the 11th, 2002") brings to mind a favorite
British phrase: Well played, sir!