The chaos in Iraq is another chance for neoconservatives to push for Western intervention — a course that will again make us less safe from terrorism.
“To the American people, I know you’re war-weary, I know you’re tired of dealing with the Mid-East. But the people that are moving into Iraq and holding ground in Syria have as part of their agenda not only to drive us out of the Mid-East, but to hit our homeland.”
Republican Senator Lindsey O. Graham was thus the first neocon to be fully reanimated by the looming partition of Iraq. Graham, who until recently has had to make do with trying to connect Benghazi and the Ukraine, will be just the first of the hawks being vomited forth from their graves to demand intervention. John McCain might have been beaten to the punch, but he was a close second, with the novel twist of using events in Iraq to demand a delay in the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The government of Iraq — the sort of description that seems to merit several sets of air quotes — is a paralysed United States client controlled by Nouri al-Maliki, whose human rights abuses run to rape, torture and execution (“let freedom reign”) and whose army appears to have maintained the Saddam-era tendency to flee at the first taste of opposition. Unless it is able to reassert control against ISIS and, for that matter, the Kurds (traditionally framed as much-betrayed honorary Westerners who have a special claim to our support, who have taken advantage of the chaos to seize the long-coveted Kirkut), a shambling army of zombie neocons will be on the march. They’ll look decidedly the worse for wear a decade on but they’ll insist, as per Graham, that you can fight them in Iraq or fight them in the streets of the your own town, but you have to fight them one way or another, so which would you prefer?
“The Iraq War thus was a multitrillion-dollar exercise in making Western citizens materially less safe from terrorism …”
Let’s do a quick recap of where that logic has left us.
The United States is estimated to have spent $1.7 trillion on the Iraq War so far, with much more to come via healthcare and veterans’ costs — the real corporate winners from the war aren’t so much defence companies or even services companies, but US healthcare companies. The final total may be around $4 trillion, decades hence. The cost to the United Kingdom of its participation was US$14 billion in 2010; the cost to Australian taxpayers of our role had, by 2011, reached $2.4 billion. The war led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis — estimates vary between 100,000 and 600,000. So many Iraqis died during the allied occupation and ensuing civil war that according to the World Bank, life expectancy fell by two years between 2002 and 2007 and had still not recovered to pre-war levels in 2010. Nearly 4500 US troops died, along with 179 UK servicemen and women, with many thousands more injured and crippled.
As we all know, the justification for the war, Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, didn’t exist. But the broader strategic goal of making the West safer from terrorism was never achieved. In fact, quite the opposite: while the Blair and Howard governments rejected any link between Iraq and the increasing risk of terrorism, in 2006, a US intelligence report concluded that “the Iraq War has made the overall terrorism problem worse”. That conclusion was echoed by a UK government report that year into the 2005 London bombings and confirmed by the head of British intelligence service MI5 in 2010 in evidence to the Chilcott Inquiry. The then-head of the Australian Federal Police, Mick Keelty, also reached that conclusion in 2004.
The Iraq War thus was a multitrillion-dollar exercise in making Western citizens materially less safe from terrorism, at least in the view of the intelligence agencies paid to make such assessments, but then again they said Saddam had WMDs.
Australia’s contribution to a renewed effort in Iraq, as the comparative costs above illustrate, would be trivial — something US President Barack Obama noted in 2007 when he replied to John Howard’s lunatic remark that terrorists would be hoping for an Obama victory. “[W]e have close to 140,000 troops in Iraq, and my understanding is Mr Howard has deployed 1400, so if he is … to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest that he calls up another 20,000 Australians and sends them to Iraq.”
Neocons insist — as McCain and other GOP figures like John Boehner already have — that the apparent collapse of Iraq is the fault of Obama and their opponents; it was the West’s failure to stay the course in Iraq, to treat it as a Cold War-style generational struggle. It’s not neoconservatism that failed, they insist, but our failure to be neoconservative enough. In fact, it is another example of the self-perpetuating nature of the War on Terror, which endlessly replicates the very conditions that produce radicalisation, thereby ensuring the war, with its associated government expenditure and restrictions on liberties, need never end.
Another Western intervention in Iraq, like the previous one, will again make Western citizens less safe. Our intelligence agencies might take a break from mass surveillance — which didn’t prevent the West from being surprised at the fall of Mosul — to pass that advice on to their political masters.