Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Jonathan Alter: Warmongering Douchebag

I've stated before on this blog that I was opposed to the Iraq War from the very beginning. As such, I remember having passionate arguments with some of my conservatives friends and colleagues in early 2003 during the run-up to the invasion. The war didn't turn out exactly as I and others who were opposed to it predicted, but here were a few things I was certain of even back then:

1). That there was no connection between Saddam and Al-Qaeda.

2). That Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction (and that even if they did, they wouldn't be so foolish as to actually use them).

3). That the war would be a humanitarian disaster that was going to get many innocent people killed.

4). That it was all going to cost a shit-pot load of money.

Right there were four great reasons not to attack Iraq that anyone whose brain hadn't been short-circuited by an overdose of testosterone should have realized before the first shots were even fired. It was bad enough that the conservative/Republican drumbeat for war was deafening. But the really sick part was that so many Democrats/liberals--like Tom Friedman, Richard Cohen and Hillary Clinton--were right there with them. And now, as the American military ingloriously heads for the exits having failed to plant the seed of democracy in the middle of the Arab world, there hasn't been so much as an apology from any of these assholes for the utterly senseless death and destruction they themselves advocated.

All of which brings me to a recent article by Jonathan Alter of Newsweek in which he calls out the Republican presidential candidates for exhibiting collective amnesia on Iraq. Alter starts out with a reasonable assessment of the war's disastrous cost:
All U.S. ground troops will be out of Iraq by Dec. 31, and soon this sorry conflict will fade quietly into the past, the second-dumbest war in American history. Yet the Iraq War has been missing in action during the Republican presidential campaign.

Like “body counts,” “Khe Sanh” and “My Lai” from Vietnam, “IEDs,” “Fallujah” and “Abu Ghraib” are already meaningless to many younger Americans. Today’s young voters were preteens when the war began in 2003.

The forgetting will be faster than with Vietnam because Iraq never penetrated our consciousness in the same way — unless you were among the 30,000 who came back physically wounded or the more than 100,000 with psychological problems. If you add these 130,000 to the 4,500 dead and include the toll on their families, more than half a million Americans were directly affected by this war.

Our soldiers served with great courage, and they deserve respect (and jobs) when they return. But only now are we learning some of the chilling consequences of what took place. The New York Times revealed this week an internal report that details massacres of civilians in Haditha by U.S. forces. One U.S. officer, Major General Steve Johnson, described the killings as “a cost of doing business.”

Speaking of cost, the full price of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is at least $1 trillion, which President George W. Bush and the Republican Congress put on the credit card.
He goes on to chide the candidates for pretending like the war never happened:
One might imagine that having been colossally wrong about Iraq, the Republican front-runners would want to hire advisers who got it right. Nope. Gingrich says that John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, would be his secretary of state. In 1998, Bolton, who makes Donald Rumsfeld look like Michael Moore, was among the 18 signers of a Project for the New American Century letter that kicked off the movement for regime change in Iraq. Romney’s top foreign-policy adviser on the Middle East is Walid Phares, a stridently anti-Islamic lobbyist for Israel who pushed hard for the Iraq War by lumping in Saddam Hussein with Osama bin Laden and Yasser Arafat. Both foreign- policy “experts” are now leading the charge to invade Iran.
Sounds reasonable, right? Oh it's very reasonable, until you consider this passage:
Is Iraq better off? Yes, we removed Saddam Hussein, but the Arab Spring might have done that by now without us. The Iraqis viewed us as occupiers not liberators, and recently refused even a residual force of 10,000 U.S. troops to help protect them. The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, heads the most pro- Iranian government in the Arab world, other than Syria. For all of the diplomatic niceties when he visited with President Barack Obama this week, Maliki has trampled on the rule of law and assumed quasi-dictatorial powers. Iraq is a democracy in name only.

If we knew in 2003 what we know now — about the absence of weapons of mass destruction, the cost in blood and treasure, the length of hostilities, the blow to American prestige — would we do it all again? Of course not. Even those like me who supported the war at the outset must admit the whole thing was a fiasco.
First of all, let me address the question as to whether Iraq is better off by saying, are you fucking kidding me? I've got over one hundred thousand dead civilians (no one really seems to know for sure exactly how many), an utterly devastated formerly modern infrastructure and a security situation so bad that Baghdad was recently rated the worst city in the world in which to live that says Alter is full of shit. Saddam was a bad guy, and jailed, tortured and murdered many of his own citizens, but what he wrought upon the country was nothing compared to what has happened since the invasion.

Juan Cole has a few more details:
Population of Iraq: 30 million.

Number of Iraqis killed in attacks in November 2011: 187

Percentage of Iraqis who lived in slum conditions in 2000: 17

Percentage of Iraqis who live in slum conditions in 2011: 50

Number of the 30 million Iraqis living below the poverty line: 7 million.

Number of Iraqis who died of violence 2003-2011: 150,000 to 400,000.

Orphans in Iraq: 4.5 million.

Orphans living in the streets: 600,000.

Number of women, mainly widows, who are primary breadwinners in family: 2 million.

Iraqi refugees displaced by the American war to Syria: 1 million

Internally displaced persons in Iraq: 1.3 million

Proportion of displaced persons who have returned home since 2008: 1/8

Rank of Iraq on Corruption Index among 182 countries: 175
It's easy for Alter to say Iraq is "better off." After all, its not like he ever got shot while approaching a traffic checkpoint, or contracted cancer from depleted uranium munitions, or was tortured at Abu Grahib prison, or saw one of his kids' limbs blown off, or had to watch helplessly as some pissed off Marines stormed his house and forced him, his wife and children to the floor, pinning them there while they ransacked all of their earthly belongings.

But the most galling part is that last sentence, where Alter condescends to admitting he was wrong about the "fiasco," but clearly sees no reason why he should say he was sorry, let alone resign from his position in disgrace. After all, it wasn't anyone he personally knows who was butchered or maimed, or had their home and/or livelihood destroyed by the arrogance and hubris of warmongers like Jonathan Alter. Heck, all those people that bad stuff happened to were not Americans, or even Europeans for that matter, so it doesn't really count, don't you know. Unlike in a real job, being a card carrying member of the punditocracy is not only great fun, but also gets you a mulligan on being completely wrong on matters of life and death.

If you want to know yet another reason why not only American liberalism, but also the mainstream media are so thoroughly discredited, look no further than the example of Jonathan Alter. I almost prefer far right commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity to the likes of him. At least those guys don't pretend like they care about the horrendous damage caused when their hideous ideas become public policy.

Bonus: Chimpy Bush wasn't Cheney's only toy


  1. I think you may be mis-reading Alter when he wrote:

    Is Iraq better off? Yes, we removed Saddam Hussein, but...

    I think the Yes refers only to having removed Saddam Hussein, not to whether Iraq is better off. Having said that, your condemnation of the invasion is much for powerful and accurate and necessary than his.

    I hate Tom "Suck. On. This." Friedman so much, I would dearly love an opportunity to throw a pie in his face.

    Did you see Glenn Greenwald's column about Hitchens?


    It's pretty good:

    ...Hitchens was an extremely controversial, polarizing figure. And particularly over the last decade, he expressed views — not ancillary to his writings but central to them — that were nothing short of repellent.

    Corey Robin wrote that “on the announcement of his death, I think it’s fair to allow Christopher Hitchens to do the things he loved to do most: speak for himself,” and then assembled two representative passages from Hitchens’ post-9/11 writings. In the first, Hitchens celebrated the ability of cluster bombs to penetrate through a Koran that a Muslim may be carrying in his coat pocket (“those steel pellets will go straight through somebody and out the other side and through somebody else. So they won’t be able to say, ‘Ah, I was bearing a Koran over my heart and guess what, the missile stopped halfway through.’ No way, ’cause it’ll go straight through that as well. They’ll be dead, in other words”), and in the second, Hitchens explained that his reaction to the 9/11 attack was “exhilaration” because it would unleash an exciting, sustained war against what he came addictively to call “Islamofascism”: “I realized that if the battle went on until the last day of my life, I would never get bored in prosecuting it to the utmost.”

    Hitchens, of course, never “prosecuted” the “exhilarating” war by actually fighting in it, but confined his “prosecution” to cheering for it and persuading others to support it...

  2. @Gail - I actually don't think the average Iraqi who was not a dissident is "better off" without Saddam. They are no more "free" under the current corrupt regime than they were then, just more apt to be killed in sectarian violence.

  3. i think tom friedman is a crypto-neocon.