Part II: The War to Make All Wars

Iraq weapons cache

Peter Van Buren

Peter is a 24 year veteran as a State Department diplomat and ended his service as leading an FOB ( forward operating base) during the Iraq war. The base was used to establish an American presence to spend millions on Iraqi community support. – Ed.

Going forward, Trump is unlikely to pull many troops out of Iraq, having seen the political price Obama paid for doing so in 2011. The troops will stay to block the worst of any really ugly Shia reprisals against the Sunnis, and to referee among the many disparate groups (Peshmerga, Yazidi, Turkmen, the Orwellian-named/Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces, along with animated militias and factions of all flavors) who the U.S. armed willy-nilly to defeat ISIS.

The U.S. put a lot of weapons on to the battlefield and a reckoning is feared. The armed groups mostly set aside differences dating from Biblical times to fight ISIS, but with that behind them, about all they still have in common is mutual distrust. There is zero chance of any national cohesion, and zero chance of any meaningful power-sharing by Baghdad. U.S. goals include keeping a lid on things so no one back home starts looking for someone to blame in the next election cycle, wondering what went wrong, “Who lost Iraq?” and asking what we should be doing about it. How well the U.S. will do at keeping things in line, and the long term effects of so many disparate, heavily-armed groups rocketing around greater Mesopotamia, will need to be seen.

U.S. troops perma-stationed in Iraq will also be a handy bulwark against whatever happens next in Syria. In addition, Israel is likely to near-demand the United States garrison parts of western Iraq as a buffer against expanding Iranian power, and to keep Jordan from overreacting to the increased Iranian influence.

Iran has already passively agreed to most of this. It has little to gain from a fight over some desert real estate that it would probably lose to the Americans anyway, when their prize is the rest of Iraq. And if any of this does presage some future U.S. conflict with an Iran that has gotten “too powerful,” then we shall have witnessed a true ironic tragedy and a historic waste of American blood and resources.

This post originally appeared as part of a longer piece on Peter’s We Mean Well blog.

7 thoughts on “Part II: The War to Make All Wars

  1. At the risk of gaining the reputation of Chief Nitpicker here at TCP, I am compelled to point out that the Shia-Sunni rift in Islam certainly does not date back to “Biblical times,” since Islam was not founded until the Seventh Century of the Common Era (formerly called “AD”)! That is sloppy scholarship at work, or at the least writing with insufficient self-reflection. As to the conclusion of this piece, many of us are convinced that the US’s hubristic imperial efforts in Iraq to date certainly qualify as a colossal waste of blood (mostly of Iraqis) and resources, no major conflict with Iran required. (And the Trump administration certainly appears to be hankering for the latter.) What a tangled mess the “Western” powers, with Britain in the lead, did weave when they drew the arbitrary national borderlines in this region! I believe the Kurds surely deserve an independent sovereign nation, but the entities known as Turkey, Iraq and Iran won’t budge on that issue. Nothing, absolutely nothing, appears promising for the future of the region commonly called the Middle East. No wonder the “Rapture is coming!” crowd is so HOPEFUL that The Apocalypse will be unleashed there!

  2. Greg. As “nit picker ombudsman’ I must admonish you for “over zealous nit picking”. I few hundred years one way or another has little to do with the thrust of this article and therefore represents distinctly “over zealous nit picking” not “sloppy scholarship” on the authors part. Personally I look at anything that went on in the Western World” as Christianity fought for preeminence prior to the 12th century when the Kazars converted to Judaism, rather than to Christianity or Moslem-ism, pretty “biblical”.
    The one correction I would make is to the implication that Obama “pulled the troops” out of Iraq. Obama paid the price for this but Bush signed the “Status of forces” agreement with the puppet Iraqi that set the date of withdrawal. ( well into his successors term of office)

    • traven–Two clarifications: 1.) after posting my previous comment, I regretted the suggestion of “sloppy scholarship.” I’m sure Mr. van Buren is aware of when Islam appeared in the world. So it’s a matter of hasty writing on his part, I’d say; 2.) I consider myself a stickler for detail/accuracy, in historical matters and elsewhere. I didn’t actually label myself a “nitpicker.” To being the stickler I plead guilty and have no regrets on that.

  3. With all due respect to Peter Van Buren, with whom I often agree, this particular part of a longer article by him leaves me unimpressed for several reasons. Take his opening sentence, for example:

    “Going forward, Trump is unlikely to pull many troops out of Iraq, having seen the political price Obama paid for doing so in 2011.”

    What “political price” can Mr Van Buren possibly have in mind? If by political price, he means “losing an election,” I fail to see where this fate ever befell Barack Obama for withdrawing U.S. military forces from Iraq. As a matter of fact, Barack Obama won the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2008 — and the U.S. Presidency — by claiming that he had opposed Deputy Dubya’s debacle in Iraq whereas his erstwhile opponents, first You-Know-Her and then John McCain, had stupidly endorsed the disaster. President Obama easily won re-election in 2012 — scoring over 50% of the vote for the second time — in large part by claiming that he had withdrawn all U.S. forces from Iraq in precise accordance with the Withdrawal Agreement signed by his predecessor. Some “price.” If anything, those presidential candidates who stupidly championed Dubya’s George-Armstrong-Custer charge down into the Valley of the Tigris and Euphrates paid the political price for that.

    Then, too, we have last year’s presidential election victory by the rookie real-estate con man and cable-tv game-show host, Donald Trump, who won the Republican Party primary by trashing Deputy Dubya’s criminal invasion and occupation of Iraq along with anyone who went along with one of the greatest foreign policy blunders — if not crimes — in U.S. history. Like President Obama before him, Donald Trump then followed up his party’s nomination by winning the general election of 2016 against a vastly unpopular and unrepentant Wall Street war agitator, You-Know-Her, largely on the basis of his campaign promise to get the U.S. out of these desert debacles once and for all and return the United States to looking after its own business. Once again, if getting elected President of the United States constitutes “paying a price” then I have no doubt that President Donald Trump will want to pay even more of it in 2020, just as President Obama did in 2012.

    More disturbing to me, Mr Van Buren seems to simply assume that U.S. President Donald Trump — or more likely, “his” generals — will decide matters for Iraq, irrespective of what the people of Iraq and their government want, when President Trump really ought to recall how a previous Iraqi government refused to sign a Status of Forces agreement with President George Bush that would have permitted U.S. military forces to remain in the country. No present or future Iraqi government will do any differently, and so the U.S. military, after it has destroyed a few more Sunni cities in order to save them — like Fallujah, Ramadi, and (recently) Mosul — will find itself invited once again to leave Iraq or else find its marooned and surrounded troops unceremoniously booted out if they refuse to respect Iraqi sovereignty. The Iraqi government will then invite the Russians and the Chinese in to help straighten out the unspeakable disaster that the U.S. military has inflicted upon that formerly functional country. As Noam Chomsky wrote in his book, Failed States:

    The scale of the catastrophe in Iraq is so extreme that it can hardly be reported.”

    The U.S. military has failed at everything it has tried in Iraq and so it escapes me where Mr Van Buren gets his confidence — expressed in his second sentence — that these malignant morons of ours could possibly “block the worst of any really ugly Shia reprisals against the Sunnis, and to referee among the many disparate groups.” When has the U.S. military done anything but aid and abet every form of ugliness they could stumble across with their collective heads shoved far up their own asses? Having written extensively about his own personal experiences with the U.S. government screwing pooches and fucking up soup sandwiches in Iraq (not to mention Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Libya, etc.), I fail to discern Mr Van Buren’s reasons for attributing the slightest knowledge and competence to our vaunted Visigoths, their attendant dogs-of-war mercenaries, and war-profiteering corporate camp followers. Way past time for them all to pack up and leave the Iraqi people to their own devices. If President Donald Trump doesn’t understand any of this and stupidly allows “his generals” to continue illegally occupying Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan, etc., in violation of all international law, then he — or, more likely, some unlucky enlisted men — will pay a price for not sticking to America’s business first.

    Unfortunately for the taxpaying citizens of the United States, even if President Trump does pay a price by losing some votes in 2020 for not getting out of the miserable messes our military has made everywhere they meddle, the Republican junior varsity: namely, that other right-wing party, the Democrats, will probably pay an ever bigger price by not offering a single reason why anyone should vote for them and their “me, too” militarism. As President Harry S. Truman once explained: ‘If you give the American people a choice between a real Republican and someone who only looks and acts like a Republican, they’ll pick the real Republican every time.” This happened in 2016 and could very well happen again in 2020. Just because one candidate pays a price for not doing what the American people want — when he could pay no price at all by just doing what the American voters elected him to do — doesn’t mean that his tag-team partner, a so-called “opposition” Democrats, won’t pay an even bigger one for promising to do the same stupid stuff even more stupidly.

    Finally, I see former President Barack Obama out and about collecting $400,000 paychecks for speeches to banks along with a $60-million-dollar book advance for his and his wife’s ghost-written “memoirs.” If that sort of thing constitutes “paying a price” — this time economic — then who would not gladly pay it? Certainly not Donald Trump.

    I could go on and on with my critique of Mr Van Buren’s article, but just covering the first two sentences has exhausted my available time for today.

  4. Mike.. I agree with your thesis but the “price” Obama paid for the troop withdrawal was the “historical;” price that the Republicans were allowed to rewrite history and bell him with that cat so that even this article referred to Obama,s “responsibility” for the withdrawal .
    I have lived through many presidencys in my 93 years and Obama was the worst of them all. He served in a time of a great need to give the American people “Hope and Change” and he gave them neither resulting in what we have today. Under his presidency he allowed the Republican Party to morph into a racist, fascist organization that has suppressed the votes of any opposition and thus secured a coup in our erstwhile democracy.The DOJ, under Obama, did virtually nothing to stop the Republicans as state by state they disenfranchised eligible voters who were likely opposition to their rule. A very American coup!

    • traven–I, too, was greatly disappointed by Obama–who is now idolized for NOT being Donald J. Trump…but, hell, I meet that criterion too; where’s my adoring public?–but surely you can’t seriously declare him worse than Dubya or, ahem, the CURRENT occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. (when he condescends to actually be there!). Obama’s offense was to FAIL to deliver on his promise; Dubya’s was to go pound a treadmill in the White House Gym while Cheney did his damage, abroad and here at home. Traven, you’ve been fond of quoting some ancient Greek philosopher (sorry, his name escapes me) to the effect that “No man does evil intentionally.” Trump trashes that notion every day. I have despised many a POTUS, but I have never previously seen one this determined to do further damage to the environment, foment racial tensions and hatred, etc. Absolutely intentionally. It is his self-assigned mission, apparently. With only one year in office under his belt (come Saturday), Trump surely has already seized the crown as worst POTUS of all time.

  5. Moving along through Peter Van Buren’s essay, I had to laugh at the following:

    “U.S. goals include keeping a lid on things so no one back home starts looking for someone to blame in the next election cycle, wondering what went wrong, “Who lost Iraq?” and asking what we should be doing about it.”

    And here I thought that I had already covered this entire subject in verse twelve years — or three presidential election cycles ago — with not one candidate for the job of Commander-in-Brief getting blamed for “losing” a nation and people that the United States never owned to begin with. Anyway, once again, with feeling:

    “Who killed Davey Moore?
    Why? And what’s the reason for?” — Bob Dylan

    Who Lost Iraq?”
    (after the Bob Dylan song, “Who killed Davey Moore?”)

    Who Lost Iraq?
    Where did it go, and how to get it back?

    “It wasn’t me,” said the President,
    With his hard head stuck in its hard cement.
    “I just start fires in the minds of men;
    Pour gas on the flames every now and then.
    I accomplished my mission when I robbed the store,
    Then to cover up the crime I went and started a war.
    In a few more years someone else will want the fun;
    I’ll give the mess to them; then I’ll say that I won!
    They’ll lose Iraq
    Who couldn’t see me handing them the sack.”

    Who lost Iraq?
    Where did it go and how to get it back?

    “It wasn’t us,” cried the military brass.
    “We just saluted Rumsfeld and kissed his senile ass.
    We long ago swore not to think too hard or much;
    Just do as we’re told and to use that as a crutch;
    So when the hopes go wrong and the shit hits the fan,
    We can always just say: ‘We took our orders from the man.’
    With our medals and our pensions and our private jumbo jets
    ’It’s the only war we’ve got’ and that’s as good as it gets.
    They lost Iraq:
    The suits who tied our hands behind our back.”

    Who lost Iraq?
    Where did it go and how to get it back?

    “It wasn’t me,” said the rapping Secretary
    Talking too dense and sounding real scary.
    “We know we don’t know what we don’t know we know
    But we do know how to stage a little dog-and-pony show.
    The Senators and Congressmen whose districts get the pork
    Think the meat’s well done, so they stick in a fork.
    The army’s not the one we want, but let me tell you what:
    We have to go to war with it or see our funding cut.
    They lost Iraq
    Who wouldn’t cut me some semantic slack.”

    Who lost Iraq?
    Where did it go and how to get it back?

    “Who the hell cares,” shrugs the televangelist
    Preaching at his pulpit and pounding with his fist
    “I tell folks: ‘vote Republican if you don’t want to die’
    (Watching cable television; lapping up the lie).
    I feed the rubes on fantasies of Armageddon Day,
    When Jesus in his spaceship comes to take them all away.
    I scare ‘em and they love it and they come back for more
    To vote for someone else’s kid to fight in their war.
    They lost Iraq
    Who wouldn’t stop me selling Crusade crack.”

    Who lost Iraq?
    Where did it go and how to get it back?

    “We had to hit someone,” said the jaded journalist
    Thumbing through his Rolodex and making up a list
    Of contacts in the government who leak the names of spies
    Whose husbands tell the truth sometimes, instead of packaged lies.
    “My name is Tom Friedman and ‘the world is flat;’
    That shit about a globe you heard just isn’t where it’s at.
    I cheered for Dubya’s war just like the chicken hawk I am
    And then when things went south I blamed a Lebanese imam.
    They lost Iraq:
    Who wouldn’t buy my books from off the rack.”

    Who lost Iraq?
    Where did it go and how to get it back?

    “I’ve explained it all,” said the White House mouthpiece man
    Mumbling in mantras with shameless élan.
    “Our zigzag course takes us straight through the plots
    If you just fit the curve to the scatter of dots.
    In the sovereign state of the occupied town
    We could “stand ’em all up” if they’d quit falling down.
    But no matter what the carnage or the number who grieve
    Just remember “Stay the Course” means we’ll never leave.”
    They lost Iraq
    Who hired as spokesman some tired FOX NEWS flack.

    Who Lost Iraq?
    Where did it go, and how to get it back?

    “It wasn’t us,” cried the frightened Democrats,
    As much an opposition as a dozen gnats.
    “We voted for King George’s war and never blushed.
    With just a hint of nastiness, he left us hushed.
    We bought into the syndrome of the sycophant
    Who’d gladly ditch the donkey for the elephant.
    But now that all our compromise has come to nought,
    We’re too ashamed to do the things we truly ought.
    We love Iraq
    And only wished to help Chalabi’s claque.”

    Who Lost Iraq?
    Where did it go, and how to get it back?

    “Don’t look at us,” moaned the undecided block.
    Reliable consumers of a total crock.
    We love it when the government makes up those lies
    And sells them to us like McDonald’s greasy fries.
    Just show us a commercial made by Thomas Hobbes
    About our nasty, brutish lives with few good jobs.
    Then scare us half to death with tales of married queers.
    We’ll swallow anything just like our lousy beers.
    What is Iraq?
    Is it a toothpaste that gets rid of plaque?”

    Who Lost Iraq?
    Where did it go, and how to get it back?

    “It wasn’t me,” said Saddam Hussein,
    Sitting in his court cage, shouting his refrain:
    “I ran things better and we had a state;
    Now we only have Maliki, an invertebrate
    Who does the step-and-fetch-it as his daily toil
    For Dubya and his crony friends who steal our oil.
    But Mad Dog and his Englishman have come undone,
    Parading ’round in circles in the noonday sun.
    Bush lost Iraq
    When he and Blair launched their unwise attack.”

    Who Lost Iraq?
    Where did it go, and how to get it back?

    “Who the hell do you think?” said Ehud Olmert.
    “You mean you didn’t know Israelis just don’t care?
    A busted, broken Arab land fits in quite nice
    With Zionist delusions of a Paradise
    Where Arab refugees profess to love the Jews
    And swear to every statement made by Karen Hughes.
    The goyim in America will foot the bill
    Providing all the weaponry we need to kill.
    Forget Iraq;
    And take your marching orders from AIPAC.”

    Who Lost Iraq?
    Where did it go, and how to get it back?

    “Who talks of loss at all?” ask the Mullahs in Iran.
    As far as we’re concerned George Bush is just The Man.
    He stumbles and he bumbles then he gives away
    For nothing everything for which we’d gladly pay.
    Dick Cheney writes the crap for him to catapult
    Who never met a thought that he could not insult
    The Shiites in Iraq will get our help, indeed,
    To end the occupation that they do not need.
    We won Iraq
    Who let Bush do the work while we sat back.”

    Who lost Iraq?
    Where did it go and how to get it back?

    “Who said you ever owned us?” cried the people of Iraq.
    “Who asked you for your bloody war and unprovoked attack?
    You seemed to think that killing us and wrecking all we had
    Could win elections for George Bush and make him look less bad.
    Our oil we’ll sell to whom we please. Why don’t you find your own?
    And get yourselves a president at least a little grown.
    In case you haven’t noticed, he’s the one that you should fear
    Whose words smell like the noisome gas escaping from his rear.
    Please leave Iraq
    Then see if you can win your own souls back.”

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2006

    There you go, Peter. I think that about covered things then, and still does now. You’ll pardon me if I don’t hold my breath waiting for the next election cycle. They all look pretty much the same to me.

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