WORTH REMEMBERING

Usually on Memorial Day I go through the list of people serving in the military who died in the previous year in Iraq or Afghanistan, choose someone at random, talk a little about who they were and what happened to them. Generally I think this holiday is misguided, though, in that it focuses on the sacrifices made to the exclusion of why they were made. As important as it is to recognize that the ordinary men and women of the military do what they are ordered to do regardless of whether they want to or think it's a great idea, recent history teaches us that we and the political process in which we participate have an obligation to think a little harder about when we require them to make that sacrifice. Because if you'll recall we didn't think too hard about it the last time it came up, and here we are, 13 years later still fighting wars that were pitched as brief excursions.

This is more important than ever now not because the events are so recent but because as we stand here today they are distant enough in the past to be forgotten. Worse, they are distant enough in the past to be remembered not entirely accurately, with the intervening decade slowly eroding away the details. We remember, but we remember selectively and heavily influenced by 13 years of re-imaginings and re-tellings that cast the events as we want them to be rather than as they were. The narrative of the well-intentioned political and media class acting in good faith – a phrase that has become the modern Nuremburg Defense, "just following orders" – leading us astray because of intelligence that unfortunately and unexpectedly turned out to be false has taken root with a large segment of the population. It is worrying to think of young people who don't recall the events from personal experience being exposed to such an appealing but wholly fictional version of events.

With Jeb Bush apparently being considered seriously for the presidency by some portion or the electorate, Iraq is likely to come up periodically in this election. And the early indications are that we are in for some brazen revisionist history. The "faulty intelligence" trope simply isn't true even if our recollection of the run-up to the wars is distorted as badly as the intelligence in question. Even giving it the benefit of doubt, the faults were a direct result of the ideological and political commitment to generating a specific narrative. To say "Knowing what we know now, I would not have done it" is the most intellectually dishonest of cop-outs, since the passage of time has only confirmed and added more detail to what was already known at the time. Facts will always remain unknown to people who steadfastly refuse to acknowledge them.

And people died because of it. Remember that part of the story today as well.

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53 Responses to “WORTH REMEMBERING”

  1. J. Dryden Says:

    The problem with holding people like Cheney and Rumsfeld responsible for their crimes–and by crimes, I mean "betraying the armed forces and the people of the United States by willful deception against their best interests, leading to mass deaths of the former and mass impoverishment of the latter"–is that the individuals to whom it falls to hold them accountable–and by accountable, I mean "imprisoned for the remainder of their lives"–are themselves terrified that they, too, when their time comes, also be pillaried for their own acts.

    Every politician lies. Out of convenience, mostly–and self-preservation, often enough. Some lies–like those of Cheney, and Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz, and Rice, and Powell (get the fuck outta here with your Speer-like remorse)–lead to the deaths of thousands and cost of trillions, with the attendant harrowing effect on those who depended on that money to sustain the social safety net (or even, just, fuck it, pay for their Veterans' Benefits.) Some lies are worse than others.

    But they all lie. And all lies make the liar culpable. So there's this hideous cowardice that comes when the villains are exposed–the awareness on the part of the should-be prosecutors that they, too, are guilty–and should they set a precedent of punishment, then, they, too, will suffer for their own crimes.

    Journalists lied (fuck you, Judith Miller, I hope nothing good ever happens to you for the rest of your life), so of course journalists will say nothing in reporting those betrayals.

    The White House and the Pentagon lied, and nobody wants to set themselves up to be the next in line for the scaffold.

    And the judiciary, dominated by right-wing appointees, doesn't think anybody really did anything wrong.

    So, who pays? Oh, right–visit Arlington.

    And while you're there, remember: The VA is still underfunded, mismanaged, and utterly lacking in the ability to do right by those who were promised–PROMISED–that it would. So, just so you know, we're not just letting the rapist go free. We're also telling the victim that no, she cannot get a change of clothes or medical treatment or someplace to stay. "Fuck you," we add–though it sounds, when we say it, remarkably like "Thank you for your service."

  2. Both Sides Do It Says:

    Excellent post.

    Only thing to add:

    Warprayer.org

  3. geoff Says:

    The whole "it was faulty intelligence", and not "we set up our own rogue 'intelligence' operation to tell us what we wanted to hear" (which was obvious enough at the time) meme needs to be staked in the heart, but I fear it has already won. (Also, well done @J. Dryden.)

  4. Anubis Bard Says:

    Sadly, the question is, "knowing what we know now – namely that it will help your career to cheerlead this fiasco, and destroy your career to criticize it – would you still support the decision to go in?" It's as though we took that moment in time to purify our political class down to a nasty combination of hawkish fools and feckless careerists. What's Phil Donahue up to these days?

  5. Emerson Dameron Says:

    @Dryden:

    See: Clinton, Hillary R. Thank god she's unelectable. Wonder who we'll get instead?

  6. doug Says:

    AB, I will give Trump credit for saying what he did. Along the lines of '2 trillion spent and thousands dead and more wounded. and someone is saying it was not a disaster?'

    BSDI : thanks for the link. totally enjoyed. and sent to others.

  7. Tim H. Says:

    I'm not so sure that Hillary is unelectable, the GOP far right should ensure an even more unelectable nominee, ms Clinton won't mind if half of her votes were votes against her opponent rather than for her. Also, may I suggest an art subject? The architects of the invasion of Iraq, in stocks. It'd make a fine sculpture, but might be better on posters and tees.

  8. Xynzee Says:

    That's why we need the rest of the world to grow a spine and issue an Interpol warrant for Cheny and Rumsfeld and co. As soon as they step outside the borders of the country they get arrested and straight to The Hague. I believe Milosevic' cell is available. It'd be hard to travel on a US passport for a while with all the sabre rattling.

    Unfortunately, there's a large number soldiers I find it hard to shed a tear for. They were among the True Believers who voted and signed up for this shit. The drug the rest of us into this mess, and still continue to do so. Just because joining the military was one's only career option does not mean one has to elect war criminals. Think people!

    I think about the families that have been and are still being ripped apart because of the elected war criminals' lies and actions. Isis wouldn't be if we hadn't lifted the cap off of the radiator.

  9. Paul Says:

    You make a good point, Ed, but the point I wish someone would make would go something like this: If we had invaded Iraq in an intelligent way—listened to our generals, planned for a long occupation, appointed competent people to positions of authority, etc—in short, if we'd done it "right," would it somehow have been OK?

    I feel the attack on Baghdad in 2003 was a crime against humanity and would remain so no matter what the eventual outcome. What seems to be forgotten is that mainstream liberal criticism of "Bush's war" was always criticism of his methods, never of his aims. This became apparent as the war effort began to falter, but it was always the case; it was the case even before the war.

    Read any Al Gore speech from the months leading up to the invasion, and you'll find him criticizing Bush's strategems…while, in the same breath, shamelessly fearmongering about Saddam's WMDs and his will & ability to use them on U.S. soil, and the urgent need to meet this threat. This is chronically misremembered by mainstream liberals. I mean, this is what makes me wonder. The criticism of Bush's METHODS was an implicit endorsement of his AIMS.

    The congressional Democrats, as cheerleaders for the Bush plan, were of course even worse. Virtually nobody in authority was saying that aggression itself was wrong, or that the WMDs were bullshit.

    People—intelligent, decent, well meaning liberal people—still routinely blame the war on Ralph Nader, which blows my mind. How could the Democratic Party have embodied his criticisms more perfectly than they did in 2002-2003? How can anyone doubt that career hawks like Gore & Lieberman would have been just as eager to invade as Bush & Cheney? I admit they'd have done a better job of it.

    They'd have done it cleaner and smarter. Would you be OK with that?

  10. c u n d gulag Says:

    I intended to write a long comment.
    But, let me summarize this BS:
    -Lies were told.
    -Those lies were propaganda.
    – Our cowardly, complicit, and compliant MSM went along!

    And now, we're all fucked – with trillion of dollars owed over the next 50-100 years!

  11. Well mostly Says:

    Fine post Ed.
    Great comments too.
    Bad "intelligence" doesn't absolve horrible critical thinking. And convictions block critical thinking in the best of conditions. Add in challenging times and we fall prey to really messy notions. That's what I'm remembering today. How easy it is to mess up. How hard it is to break out, see clearly and do something useful. That's impossible for the tormented freak-jobs like Cheney, etc. They are not even trying.

  12. Tim H. Says:

    BTW, if memory serves, Jerry Pournelle was against invading Iraq, made him unpopular with the neocons…

  13. Skepticalist Says:

    Good stuff here and thanks for The War Prayer link.

    When I was a tyke, which was a helluva long time ago, Memorial Day was a little different. It was a remembrance of our soldiers caught up in the horror of war but just as important, the parade was watched by people who said "never again" or something as eloquent.

    I don't hear much of the latter today. "Do you support the troops?" and SUVs displaying our peculiar flag fetish just isn't the same.

    I hung the one my father had out on the garage though.

  14. Skepticalist Says:

    Shame on us for letting Dubya get away with calling himself a war president.

    Xynzee is right. Bush and Cheney are war criminals. Neither of them know what war is.

    What might have happened if we at least minded our own business with regard to Saddam?

  15. Deggjr Says:

    The text of the Iraq War Resolution and chronology clearly identify responsibility for the war.

    " … (a) AUTHORIZATION.—The President is authorized to use the
    Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary
    and appropriate in order to— …"

    The resolution passed on October 16, 2002. Baghdad was first bombed on March 21, 2003.

  16. Paul Says:

    "The resolution passed on October 16, 2002" with Democratic support, including a majority of Senate Democrats. Absent that support it wouldn't have passed.

    As Jacob Bacharach said: "American liberalism is Jon Stewart blaming Judith Miller for Iraq while Hillary Clinton and Henry Kissinger have a tickle fight."

  17. Rich Says:

    Hey, Paul, I realize that you are entitled to your opinion. But shut the fuck up.

  18. Deggjr Says:

    The 2008 Republican Convention was staged to hide those responsible for the Iraq war. President Bush did not attend. He did give a message via a remote broadcast.

    Cheney's name wasn't mentioned during the four day convention (corrections welcome).

    The historical revisions started early.

  19. Xynzee Says:

    @Paul: try reading that a bit closer. Ed DID make reference to those who were complicit to this on both sides. That's why there's so much reticence to haul Cheney et al. before a criminal court on the matter. They know that in the process it will come out that they weren't somewhere else, but in the room participating in the circle jerk.

    It's part of the reason many of us despise Clinton.
    They were equally involved in participating in this crime, but they were foot soldiers by comparison to Cheney and co.

  20. Paul Says:

    "Ed DID make reference to those who were complicit to this on both sides."

    I know—what I'd like to see addressed is this question: Would a competent, "well-executed" invasion of Iraq somehow not have been a crime?

  21. Paul Says:

    "but they were foot soldiers by comparison to Cheney and co."

    Maybe. But if they were foot soldiers, what was Judith Miller (who people never tire of saying mean things about)? Second assistant telegraph operator? I mean come on. We say we have a problem with these senators who enabled the war, but while we're dragging "the press" over the coals, they're awarded cabinet positions & presidential nominations and we just keep on talking about Judy Miller.

  22. Xynzee Says:

    Paul:
    If you break into someone's home to steal a painting and shoot to kill the owner.
    Instead you kill five people (including the owner), and accidentally set fire to the painting.

    Would a crime have been committed if you'd executed to original plan better?

    There's your answer.

  23. HoosierPoli Says:

    The historical revision began while it was still unfolding. Remember all the DFHs who screamed that the case for war was obviously fake, and W's crew held all those press conferences swearing up and down that this was the best intelligence of the greatest intelligence apparatus God had ever seen? When the DFHs turned out to be right, the slimebags never even had to change their tune. They had a little egg on their faces, but hey, everybody makes mistakes, and they had the BEST of intentions…

    At least I don't pay US taxes anymore.

  24. Major Kong Says:

    I'm sure I sound like I'm giving Clinton (and the Democrats) a pass, but we know who was driving the bus and who was just along for the ride.

    I think it would have been political suicide to vote against the war at that time.

    Does anyone seriously think that we would have invaded Iraq in 2003 under a Gore administration?

  25. Tim H. Says:

    I wonder if 9-11 would've happened under a Gore administration. Al Gore lacked the Saudi ties of the Bush family.

  26. Thom B Says:

    The only part of the population that wants to see another member of the Bush Crime Family™ as POTUS is someone with enough wealth to burn. The rest of us would rather pass on John Ellis at this time, thank you very much.

  27. democommie Says:

    "and we just keep on talking about Judy Miller."

    Because she's a vile p.o.s. who WANTED to tell lies to get more by-lines. Fuck her.

    "I wonder if 9-11 would've happened under a Gore administration. Al Gore lacked the Saudi ties of the Bush family."

    His dad didn't get finessed by one-a-them swarthofacists, neither, also, too.

    The Bush families cozying up to horrible dictators (yes, the Saudis, Kuwaitis, and other oilgarchies) didn't begin in the 1970's.

  28. Alan C Says:

    It's also been forgotten that there were people back then who knew, or at least strongly suspected, what we know now. Maybe next time they'll be listened to. I'm not counting on it, though.

    And if GW Bush wasn't unelectable, Hillary certainly isn't.

  29. Robert Says:

    One thing I will not forget is that some people were saying "this is a bad idea, hold on," and the other people who denounced the first group with every scurrilous epithet in the box. They didn't even wait for the invasion to recycle the Backstabbing Legend.

    Working at the VA hospital during the decade from '03 to '13 was heartbreaking. Young men and women were coming back with injuries that would certainly have killed them in any previous era – and in some cases, it was hard not to think that death would have been more merciful. My grandfather was in the Spanish American War, a granduncle was in WWI, my father and uncle in WWII, and a brother was career Air Force. My family has done enough – my sons are never going in, if I can help it.

  30. Paul Says:

    Xynzee: That's a good answer.

  31. Paul Says:

    Another question: would "Saddam has WMDs!" have happened even if 9/11 hadn't? I say yes.

  32. Chris Says:

    Not many ways I could envision voting for a Republican, but if Jeb had come out and said something like: "I love my brother, but he was just wrong. Regardless of what we know now, or what we knew then, we shouldn't invade a country simply because they have powerful weapons. We should only attack those who are ACTIVELY planning on hurting us, and that was not Saddam in 2003 by any intelligence report, now or then." I would have to seriously consider it. But if Jeb said that, he probably wouldn't be a republican anymore.

  33. Paul Says:

    Chris: Maybe he wouldn't be a republican anymore; I don't know. But I must have I missed it when Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid et al said "Regardless of _what we knew then_, we shouldn't invade a country simply because they have powerful weapons; and we had every reason even 13 years ago to know Iraq didn't."

  34. Xynzee Says:

    @Alan C: there's a guy named Andrew Wilkie who was an intelligence analyst for the ADF. He got himself absolutely hammered by the Howard government for coming out and telling us what we already know. It's ALL LIES AND BULLSHIT!

    Unfortunately, the average Australian cannot think past their next beer, and couldn't be asked.

    It also doesn't help that the bulk of the media is owned by Rupe, so there was no real agitation by people to not go to war.

  35. weakonomics Says:

    I am curious to know how some of you would vote if 2016 came down to Hillary and Paul.

    Hillary hasn't had to answer very extensively for her vote for and complicity in the Iraq War, but Paul has given his –

    "Regardless of what we know now, or what we knew then, we shouldn't invade a country simply because they have powerful weapons. We should only attack those who are ACTIVELY planning on hurting us, and that was not Saddam in 2003 by any intelligence report, now or then."

    – speech on numerous occasions. He is a pretty well documented isolationist, regardless of his attempts to walk that back to appeal to Republican primary voters as of late. I am somewhat inclined to think that the only thing keeping his appeal low to many is the "R" in front of his name. Albeit, I dont know a ton about his record on social issues.

  36. Emerson Dameron Says:

    @weakonomics:

    Rand Paul is an amateurish theocrat who flip-flops constantly and doesn't seem to understand his own positions that well. HRC is a paranoid hack and a war criminal. I don't think I could vote for either.

  37. Chris Says:

    Shorter Paul: Look over here!

  38. Edward Says:

    The best antidote to the "faulty intelligence" trope is probably the congressional speeches against the war. The foreign press was also debunking the WMD lies, not that the U.S. press would observe this.

  39. Paul Says:

    I wouldn't vote for Rand Paul for anything, not in a million years. But his comments on this 1 issue are right on.

  40. democommie Says:

    "Shorter Paul: Look over here!"

    Which one, the candidate in the quadrennial kabuki drama or the one who's been commenting here?

    "I wouldn't vote for Rand Paul for anything, not in a million years. But his comments on this 1 issue are right on."

    Do you have any idea what sort of foreign policy the U.S. would embark on if that fuckbag ever got into the WH?

  41. Skepticalist Says:

    Every Republican administration's first job is to find a way to scare the electorate enough to let them get away with breaking the law. After 9-11 and all its effects, I have to wonder what kind of horror Republicans would have us put up with in order to hold the line against sanity.

    ISIS? It's beginning to look more stupid than scary. Iran is a tough call because they have the rest of the world and Bibi to deal with which is never fun. After ten years of hysteria, them A-Rabs are spending too much time slaughtering their own people to upset Rand Paul or a lot us.

  42. Barry Says:

    Paul Says:

    ""The resolution passed on October 16, 2002" with Democratic support, including a majority of Senate Democrats. Absent that support it wouldn't have passed."

    After (a) a Pearl Harbor level attack on the USA and (b) the President and his cabal using their control over intelligence 'output' to make everybody believe that it was Saddam's fault.

    Any part of that you don't understand?

  43. democommie Says:

    "Any part of that you don't understand?

    The same parts that his granddad didn't understand about how FDR didn't PAY the Japanese Imperial Navy to attack Pearl.

  44. Paul Says:

    "Any part of that you don't understand?"

    Sorry but that's crap. The intelligence was bogus and (here's the crucial point) the closer you were to power the more obviously bogus it was. Read, for instance, James Fallows' account of being a DC reporter in the 1.5 years leading up to the invasion. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/05/the-right-and-wrong-questions-about-the-iraq-war/393497/

    Fallows wasn't an insider; he just knew some insiders. There's no way _U.S. senators_ didn't know the score. There's just no way.

  45. democommie Says:

    Geez, Paul:

    Thanks.

    If I had just come right out and said that you were a fucking conspiracy theorist, I couldn't have hoped for a better response.

    Shouldn't you be down in the desert protecting us from the Chicomislamist hordes set to invade from Mexico?

  46. Paul Says:

    What "conspiracy theory" are you accusing me of believing? That joint Congress, including a majority of Senate Dems, voted to authorize Bush's war powers? That the intelligence was bad, it was clearly bad at the time, and anyone who looked at it knew it was bad? That the movement to invade Iraq was hatched well before the excuse of WMDs was even cooked up?

    Or was it something else? I'm all ears, democommie. Cause the thing is, everything above is a matter of well-established mainstream record.

  47. democommie Says:

    Gosh, silly me. I owe Paul an apology.

    I was conflating his indignorance about the 2003 Invasion of Iraq with the 1941 indignorance regarding the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor.

    You're wrong about the Iraq situation, Paul. You THINK that you know what the dems had access to. You don't KNOW anything about it, nor does anyone else who wasn't privy to the information.

    And I'm still bettin' your grand-daddy, self-centered prick that he had to be, was a conservative who hated FDR for being alive.

  48. Paul Says:

    >You THINK that you know what the dems had access to. You don't KNOW anything about it, nor does anyone else who wasn't privy to the information.

    democommie: Sadly, you're wrong. And as is often the case with ignorant people, you've got it wrong in direct proportion to your confidence; i.e., you're laughably, moronically, soft-serve-monkeyshit-for-brains howlingly wrong here. If I may quote Jonah Blank, journalist & former senior staffer for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

    "There are logs for every piece of relevant intelligence, registering exactly who has read them, and on what date and time. Some Senators or Congressmen were briefed by staff who had read the intel, and again the logs would reveal this. Why is this relevant for the 2016 candidates, few of whom were in Congress at the time? Because every present and past Senator or Representative (that is, more than half a dozen of the current crop of likely candidates) has had access to such intelligence — if he or she has chosen to read it. Every candidate who has ever held such office, and has advocated sending US troops to Iraq, Iran or Syria, should be asked the following question: 'Have you personally read the intelligence reports — and can we check the logs to verify?'"

    One of my grandfathers was an aeronautical engineer who made it from Brooklyn to Cal Tech and never in his life dreamed of voting for a Republican. The other was a trucker and union leader. You have some shit to eat, moron; go get a spoon.

  49. democommie Says:

    "There are logs for every piece of relevant intelligence, registering exactly who has read them, and on what date and time. Some Senators or Congressmen were briefed by staff who had read the intel, and again the logs would reveal this. Why is this relevant for the 2016 candidates, few of whom were in Congress at the time? Because every present and past Senator or Representative (that is, more than half a dozen of the current crop of likely candidates) has had access to such intelligence — "

    Let's have their names, then. Or is that information not available?

    "One of my grandfathers was an aeronautical engineer who made it from Brooklyn to Cal Tech and never in his life dreamed of voting for a Republican. The other was a trucker and union leader. You have some shit to eat, moron; go get a spoon."

    I have your word on that? Thanks for nothing.

    Your asshole grandfather (I don't know if it was the union guy or the aeronautical engineer) seemed to like jerking his daughter's chain–are you sure he wasn't jerking yours, too?

    I knew a number of democrats back in the 50's (including my dad and my mom's dad) who HATED blacks, poor people and protestants. Conservative–not on paper, but they both hated FDR.

    I won't be eating any shit on your behalf, asshole.

  50. Paul Says:

    One more thing: If you're going for Gawker "short-on-substance-but-long-on-snark"–type commenting, you have to at least be funny. That's the law.

  51. democommie Says:

    Paul:

    Howzabout if I'm just like, "Fuck off, troll." Does that work for you?

    If not, fuck off troll.

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