Every once in a while, in this extraordinary land of the United States where I am spending a few months teaching at university, developments align that simultaneously reveal the enduring wisdom and the profound idiocy of the citizenry. I experienced such a moment a few days ago when I read two newspaper articles that juxtaposed those two contrasting sides of this complex society. The level-headedness and strength of the United States were reflected in a public opinion poll that mirrored the sentiments of ordinary men and women across the country, while the indigenous chicanery and criminality that sometimes rear their ugly head were evident in the words of a senior official of the George W. Bush administration.
The poll conducted by USA TODAY/Pew Research Center showed that a majority of Americans today feel that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan did not achieve their goals, which is probably an important reason that the public in recent months has been hesitant to use force in Syria and Iran. Old-time Republican war-mongers are slow to retire, it seems, for George W. Bush’s National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley wrote in a Wall Street Journal column on Jan. 31 that Americans should be proud of what they achieved in Iraq, which he sees as a country that can still become an example of a credible democracy in the Arab world.
It seems more logical and truthful to note that the Anglo-American war that Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair unleashed on Iraq was a seminal and enduring cause of many of the security threats and sectarian tensions that plague much of the Middle East region today. The expanding domain of Salafist-takfiri militants and terrorists across Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and other nearby lands received its single biggest boost when the American-led war wiped away the Iraqi regime and its state security structure—brutal as they were—and allowed Qaeda-linked extremists to set up shop in Iraq and spread from there to other countries.
It is estimated today that tens of thousands of trained and experienced Salafist-takfiri fighters operate in the West Asia region, to a large extent because Bush-Blair and foolhardy and often ignorant officials like Hadley, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and others went to war on false premises and turned Iraq into the kind of wasteland where terrorists thrive. These reckless officials lied then about why they attacked Iraq, and they continue to lie today.
A majority of Americans did go along with the war on Iraq in 2003, but that was mainly because of a powerful, visceral need to punish someone—anyone, it turned out—because of the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the United States by Al-Qaeda. Bush and intellectual snake oil salesmen like Hadley exploited that public anger that verged on hysteria to attack Afghanistan and Iraq, including by claiming that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which were never found, probably because they never existed. Over a decade later, having learned the toll of war and the hollowness of the Bush claims and lies, the American people have a much more discerning view of those two costly adventures.
The USA TODAY/Pew Research Center poll published a few days ago showed that a 52%-37% majority of Americans felt the United States had mostly failed to achieve its goals in Iraq, which is a reversal of the 56%-33% majority that had said in November 2011, as the U.S. was leaving that smashed country, that the U.S. had mostly succeeded in Iraq. A nearly identical 52%-37% majority of Americans felt that the U.S. had mostly failed to achieve its goals in Afghanistan, where the Taliban today are resurgent and the Afghan government is rather shaky. The American public in 2003 had thought by a 3-1 ratio that the Afghanistan war was the right decision, but today, by 52%-38%, Americans say it was the wrong decision.
It is frightening that Hadley continues to offer the same old false arguments that Bush used to wage war a decade ago—that war would defeat Al-Qaeda, reduce the threat of terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction, promote democracy, pluralism and economic prosperity, and create lasting American allies. Well, virtually every one of those claims has proven to be false—unfortunately, to be sure, as they are worthy goals. Ordinary Americans are wiser now in rejecting unilateral war as a knee-jerk policy in distant lands where Americans have little knowledge and even less impact beyond the momentary bang of their big guns.
The American people must decide if they will ever hold accountable in a court of law those senior American officials who offered lies, deceit and wasteful war to their traumatized people in 2001-2003. It is good to see that those same American people have matured and come to their senses, while Bush administration officials continue to peddle their junk ideology and emotional wrecks.
Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon. You can follow him @ramikhouri.
Copyright © 2014 Rami G. Khouri—distributed by Agence Global