Saying “I told you so” — particularly in reference to the rightwing social engineers who have done their best to rejigger American society since the Reagan “Revolution” — usually gives me some pleasure. But not on the eighth anniversary of "Mission Accomplished." This time, the “I told you so” is a product of nausea and fury. Because George W. Bush and so many of the other men and women who fabricated the threat they used to drive us into war are roaming free, stuffing their bank accounts with the take from their lying memoirs.
Frothing at the mouth is not my usual style. But with hundreds of thousands dead, and the neo-conservative terrorists who took us into Iraq still getting gigs on the Sunday talk shows and other media perches, a gob or two of spittle cannot be avoided. Naive me, I had once hoped that, with the end of the Cold War, the imperialists would be confined to obscure think tanks and archives rather than getting their hands on the media joystick of U.S. hegemony. Alas.
Obviously, I can claim no singular prescience. In the earliest days of this site alone, Markos, and guest bloggers Billmon, Steve Soto and, most of all, the late Steve Gilliard — plus dozens of visitors — cogently warned about the dangers, the stupidity, the irrelevance, recklessness and the outright criminality of the Iraq attack long before the battlefield heroism of Jessica Lynch was transformed into a short-lived fable that she herself overturned. And, of course, there was the opposition of most of the world’s people, most of the world’s governments and not a few insiders, including many at the Pentagon, the Naval War College and elsewhere.
Advice ignored. Evidence concocted. Propaganda and psy-ops deployed against the American and British peoples. The dream of the Project for a New American Century — their dream, our nightmare — aided and abetted by an oligarchy-friendly media and journalists too cowardly to remember that their true role is not boot-licking. To top it off, a patented rightwing smear campaign assigning a lack of patriotism, unAmericanism and treason to the dissidents who dared challenge the neocon recipe for a hundred years of global dominion.
Since then, we've seen conventional historians and others assess the Iraq attack in the same way that so many assessed the Vietnam War — as a "mistake" rather than a venal, self-interested act of international aggression and seditious assault on the Constitution. A mistake it was not. Though poorly executed, to be sure, it was a deliberate violation of international law, bearded by vacuous legal memos, and undertaken by men and women with an imperial agenda predating the ostensible self-defense justification presented to the American people and the world.
Though faded in the minds of many Americans, Abu Ghraib is an ominous name elsewhere. Its root refers to the lord of the sunset. But the word as we have it today means lord of the little sunset, conjuring all the fearsome darkness which that implies. Even Saddam’s minions weren’t foolish enough to photograph what they did there.
The folks at Human Rights Watch can rightly say “We told you so” about Abu Ghraib and other shadowy prisons the United States ran extra-legally — from Gitmo to Morocco, from Thailand to Afghanistan. One commenter seven years ago gave this archipelago its proper medieval reference: a string of oubliettes. Abu Ghraib should have brought to their senses those Americans who before then were blindly focused on revenge for 9-11. This prison and its cousins were merely the tip of the archipelago, as we were soon to find out thanks to a few whistle-blowers and a few journalists, like Dana Priest, who remembered that they were journalists. But the majority were not brought to their senses. The war went on. The extraordinary rendition went on. The torture went on.
And those who brought it all about went on.
George W. Bush won reelection. Donald Rumsfeld held onto his post until his smirky press conferences and utter denial grew irksome even at the White House. The outgoing viceroy of Iraq, Paul Bremmer, and outgoing head of the CIA, George Tenet, got Presidential Freedom Medals. Rumsfeld himself would probably have done so too had he not already gotten one in 1977 the first time he was Secretary of Defense. But then that medal had been terminally debased in 1993, when Strom Thurmond received his.
The slaughter went on. Millions of Iraqis whose names we will never know were tortured, maimed, exiled, killed. Thousands of Americans were killed or brought home with permanent brain trauma, physical or psychological. All because of lies.
Nobody important was prosecuted. And there is zero chance they ever will be, at home or abroad. Nobody was punished except those who were tortured or died as a consequence of what these unindicted criminals perpetrated. As noted, they roam free, writing their books, collecting their speech fees, acting as experts at Foxaganda, CNN, endowed professorships and from the Op-Ed pages of the nation's leading print media.
The 18 living Democratic Senators of the 21 who voted against the Iraq War Resolution on October 11, 2002, ought to be feted as heroes, ought to be getting those book advances, ought to be interviewed every time another American soldier is killed in Iraq, as two more were last week.
But no. We are treated instead to the neocon twaddle of Steven Hadley, Elliot Abrams, John Bolton, Max Boot, Robert Kagan and others. Those who claimed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and promoted forged documents to prove it continue to be paid to give advice about America's next international move. Younger men and women just beginning their foreign policy careers, men and women who will one day be Cabinet secretaries or CIA deputy chiefs see this and ponder how they might behave.
"Stop with the hindsight," I've been told on more than one occasion. Move on. Bush is out of office and Rumsfeld can't gain as much traction as Lady Gaga with his book tour, and even Darth Cheney seems to have faded away. In eight months, the troops will all be home from Iraq, it is presumed, even if 16,000 staffers will remain indefinitely at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. So, I am told, give it rest.
Stopping with the hindsight sounds like a good idea. It does, after all, make me incandescent with rage. It sticks in my throat like vomit. It pains me. But it refuses to go away. Because the people who did what they did and said what they said, who ignored or belittled counsel to the contrary, didn’t just screw themselves. They screwed me and my family and my people and my nation and the world. They pissed away assets and destroyed tools of diplomacy. They tortured, maimed and murdered. And they paid no penalty.
The people who backed the war in Iraq, and more generally the "war on terror" — especially the people who backed it uncritically, unskeptically, ideologically — are bad enough. But worse are those who today, who, even if they opposed the war and renounced the torture, continue to refuse to exact a political or legal price for it, refuse to learn the lessons it has taught, refuse to accept that hindsight matters.
To have the rule of law, you can’t keep prisoners forever or hand them over to military intelligence for reasons of expediency. The law must bind the king as well as the commoner or it is worth nothing, teaches no lessons about how a liberal society works. Yes, the enemies of liberty will use that freedom against you. That’s where the real costs of it come in. That’s where you have to sacrifice lives and burn dollars and be vulnerable to attack. That’s where you take your risks. To be risk-averse about liberty is to lose. You can achieve liberalism only with liberalism.
That is why it is essential to prosecute those who choose otherwise, who attack liberty while claiming to defend it, whoever they are, however high they stand. If they are not held accountable, they or their successors will repeat the same behavior, will lie and slaughter again.
Today, eight years after “Mission Accomplished,” many of us can say “I told you so.” But, with the criminals who brought us the war still at large, still applauded, still living their lucrative lives, there is no relish in those words. Only ashes.
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