by James A. Russell
As the country makes a half-hearted attempt to sort through the wreckage of its experience in Iraq 10 years later, the country would do well to remind itself of a few central and searing uncomfortable truths.
While it is true that we got led down the path to war by officials who consciously lied about intelligence to justify it, concealed their real motivations and willfully ignored voices that questioned predictions of a quick and easy victory — the undeniable truth is that this country allowed itself to be led like lambs to the slaughter.
And it was a slaughter. The river of human blood — Iraqi and American, to say nothing of lasting injuries on the battlefield that have wrecked lives around the world — flows wide and deep as documented by the Army’s Office of the Surgeon General.
So who is really responsible for the catastrophe and what should we do about it? Thus far, this country has avoided looking too hard into the mirror and instead blames the small caste of ideologically motivated neoconservative advisers clustered in the Pentagon and White House who had their own reasons for wanting to get rid of Saddam Hussein and could have cared less about the potential costs.
There has been no truth commission, no calling to account for these officials, who all returned to their law offices, lobbying jobs, became scions at the Council on Foreign Relations or were rewarded the chance to pollute the minds of students at Harvard and elsewhere.
These advisers took a free pass while our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines picked their way through the wreckage of their comrades’ body parts and dead Iraqis that littered the landscapes of Ramadi, Fallujah, Mosul and a host of other places that most Americans had never heard of.
However, it wasn’t just the Bush administration that took a free pass. An uncomfortable truth is that Americans, like those advisers, have also chosen to avoid taking a long, hard look in the mirror.
As much as this country wants to avoid it, the fact is that the war and the way it was launched says more about this country than those who sold the war with their public relations blitz.
If there is an abiding truth for this country and its citizenry, it’s that this kind of mistake should never happen again. Alas, we were also confronted with this truth after the Vietnam War — some lessons need to be learned over and over.
Looking in the rearview mirror is important because it can prepare us for how to proceed. The main lesson of the Iraq war should compel this country to sit up, pay attention and stop believing that the rest of the world is like a reality TV show or video game. We must exercise our obligations as citizens in the world’s greatest democracy when our politicians tell us it’s time for another war.
If the country were paying attention, it would know that many of the same ideologues that brought on the Iraq war are cheerleading and chanting for another one — this time with Iran.
Like the last time, many of these commentators are – albeit more subtly this time around — trying to sell us another public relations package to justify a war. As was the case with the unstated neoconservative justifications for the Iraq war, a main reason these people want us to attack Iran is to protect Israel.
Luckily for us, this time we have some actual adults in charge at the White House and a president that, whatever his faults, won’t be as easily convinced to start another catastrophe. That wouldn’t have been the case if Mitt Romney had won the election, with the inmates once again in control of the asylum. The politics of this potential new war, however, are complicated and difficult for our president — however reluctant a warrior he may be.
Consider, for example, that some senators want us to outsource the decision to start the war to the trigger-happy Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been restrained so far not by his main benefactor and ally, the United States, but by reasonable and sensible Israelis who are refreshingly unafraid to express their reservations in print and on the airwaves.
The image in the rearview mirror should be telling us to start seeing like those retired Israeli security and intelligence members who have told Bibi to cool it. One glance back should help us understand that instead of letting the neoconservative cheerleaders and members of the Congress who are beholden to the Israel lobby chart a path to another war, we should exercise our obligations as citizens and probe them with questions and protest.
Another go-to-war drama is quietly playing itself out again in this country, whether we notice it or not. Ten years from now, will we once again be averting our gaze from the mirror and blaming the war on a select few while avoiding our own responsibility?
How we choose to understand the images in today’s rearview mirror, and whether we decide on another war tomorrow, will say more about our country than the neoconservatives and hawks with their pompoms and war chants.