9/11, Iraq, and the historical record

The U.S. discourse space is filling up rapidly with “ten years after” pieces related to 9/11. Me, these days I mainly just feel tired, tired. People in the U.S. political elite never listened to those of us who, prior to September 2011, had spent a whole career studying and interacting with the problems of the Middle East and the world, and who warned as loud as we could about the dangers of over-reacting and of taking that oh-so-tempting path toward militarism and U.S. unilateralism.
Actually, it was far worse than that. It’s not just that they did not listen to us. They derided us and our expertise and many well-connected members of the elite went to great lengths to exclude our voices from the national discourse. Many of us suffered great professional harm from those campaigns.
So how do I feel today when I see this piece from WaPo uber-columnist Richard Cohen? In it, Cohen finally comes straight out and calls the situation in Iraq in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion there “a disaster” and notes,

    It was not Saddam Hussein who attacked us, and it was not Saddam Hussein who had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons or a nuclear program. None of these existed — not a mere intelligence mistake, as is now claimed, but a mistake caused by preconceived notions, an insistence on seeing a goblin in every shadow, a nuclear program in the weak glow of a watch face, a lust for the head of Saddam Hussein. Oops, we marched smartly off to the wrong war.

At the end of the column Cohen comes as close to a “mea culpa” as I have seen him get:

    I went home on Sept. 11 with my shoes dusted with the detritus of the World Trade Center. I felt a hate that was entirely new to me. Soon after, the anthrax attacks began, and I was ready for war — against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, for sure, but against Saddam Hussein as well. I was wrong, and for that I blame myself, but I blame us all for going along with it and then rewarding incompetence with another term…

Excuse me, Richard Cohen? ” I blame us all for going along with it…” ??
There were a good few of us who did not “go along with” the whole project to invade Iraq, who questioned the flim-flammy evidence being adduced to justify that invasion from the very beginning. Go back and read the CSM columns I was writing in the months before March 2003. Go and read what I was blogging in February 2003… The record is there.
And now, Richard Cohen, you have the gall to say, “I blame us all”??
What a self-referential, sad, and immature person you are, Richard Cohen, for (a) completely ignoring the contribution made by all those of us who warned against the invasion of Iraq from the get-go, and then (b) trying to dilute the level of the “blame” you allot to yourself by trying to make the claim that, “everyone else did it too.”
Everyone else did not do it.
So now, firstly, you owe us an apology. Secondly, you need to tell us what you will do to rebuild the basis of the national discourse so that that wilfull, ideologically manipulated “manufacturing of consent” that happened in the lead-up to March 2003 never happens again.
This is not all about you, Richard Cohen. It is about steering this country back to a foreign policy that is based on a solid respect for both facts and the principles of international law. And no, we are not there yet, by any means….

9 thoughts on “9/11, Iraq, and the historical record

  1. Don Bacon

    Okay, so much for Richard Cohen, now how about a much larger figure, one involved in contemporary misbegotten wars with their violations of international law, I mean Barack Hussein Obama?

  2. Clif Brown

    I well remember the absolutely manic rush to go to war in Iraq. I was on the street on the far north side of Chicago at a march against the war that was quite moving. It took place in an area of mixed Pakistani-Americans and Indian-Americans. The march contained all sorts of ethnic groups and it’s a big regret of mine that I lost the photos I took there.
    But I also recall feeling at the time that it wouldn’t matter how many marched, the decision had already been made at the highest levels of incompet…I mean of the U.S. government. Our foolish president was all but giddy at the prospect of war and self-righteousness swamped the country.
    Now we are commonly asked by the press the silly question: “where you you on 9/11?” I can say for myself that nothing could be more trivial. What matters is that we were about to rip apart two distant countries and kill many times the number of innocents who died at the WTC. None of those “over there” would have pictures and bios in the NYT.
    I thought we had learned something from Vietnam. The lesson was quickly lost in the adrenalin rush of the 1991 turkey shoot in Iraq. Then it was back to the pure arrogance that came to a zenith with the neo-cons.
    So now we are broke and hundreds of thousands are dead. But Leon Panetta is lamenting that a military force that dwarfs that of all the rest of the world combined should suffer financial cuts and “national security” has made every American subject to the microscope of our own intelligence agencies.
    And I can easily image Israel pulling some stunt on Iran to draw us in. When does this insanity end? Is the Obama administration capable of ANY courageous act that breaks with the awful record since 9/11?

  3. KDJ

    Helena,
    Toward keeping your spirit up, I copy the link to the current issue of The Geographical Journal, which will take you to the TOC for the journal’s themed section on 9/11, titled: Ten years after: September 11th and its aftermath, guest edited by Simon Dalby.
    This collection of essays is edited and authored by some of the most insightful critical political geographers in the academy, who in this issue explore the impact of the September 11 attacks and the ensuing spatio-political aftermath, in global view. Notably, many of these authors posited compelling arguments against the US invasion of Iraq – as did you.
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/geoj.2011.177.issue-3/issuetoc
    Take care,
    Kevin

  4. paul

    More willful obscurantism from Cobban. She knows, everyone knows, that the plan to invade Iraq and the intention to do it was waiting for an excuse. The invasion of Iraq wasn’t a mistake caused by unfortunately skewed thinking. It was a plan that unfolded to perfection, except that subduing Iraq took a little longer than expected. As Cobban knows, subsequent wars, including the attack on Libya, were also part of that plan, and that means that we know, with something close to certainty, that attacks on Syria and Iran lie before us.
    Remember, folks, NO ONE CARRIES MORE WATER FOR THE WARMONGERS than supposed peacemakers who make more excuses for the warmongers than peace. Coached by ‘progressives’ like Cobban, everyone sighs sadly about the terrible mistakes that were made, even as the next planned war is rolled out.

  5. Henry James

    Regardless of Cohen’s personal position on Iraq, his analogy between WW1 and War On Terror does not work.
    WW1 lasted about 4 years and created the new world, new culture of the early 20c. This outcome had little to do with the original goals of those who started the war, but the results, although horrible, were definite.
    Now War On Terror is 10 years old, but where are the results? Even its original name gradually fades away. All we see is gradual degradation of the late 20c culture. Cohen does not recognize this simple fact.

  6. joe

    the right war would have been against r. cohen’s primary country and the cause of the iraq war and the other ME conflicts current and planned – israel.

  7. bb

    Hard to get worked up about Iraq now. Saddam was executed for his crimes more than 5 years ago. Baath/salafi insurgency to defeat the democratically elected govt was routed more than 3 years ago.
    Iraq has had 3 democratic elections under full proportional representation a la Europe in 5 years, plus a constitutional vote enshrining a genuine democracy: the first arab democracy in history.
    Arguments in Iraq today are between the elected representatives and the executive, just like in the USA. No longer is an Iraqi regime gassing its own citizens, cutting out their tongues on the street, or consigning them to mass graves.
    Cohen’s silly oped just reveals his ignorance of the depraved dimensions of the Saddam/Baath regime before 2003; of the brutal sectarian nature of the Baath/Salafi insurgency that followed it and his ignorance of Iraq today: its pluralism, free media /social media, parliamentary system where the minority Sunni parties are now in the coalition government, an emblem of reconciliation.
    Yes, its hard to get worked up about Iraq. US anti-Iraq bloggers/commenters stopped posting about it years ago, about the time Zawaquiri was despatched. Been in mourning ever since for the loss to the cause perhaps.
    But Assad and the Syrian regim, and the Iranian mullahs are still going about the business. So there is hope yet, comrades. You should cheer up.

  8. rosemerry

    Helena! I worry to see misguided and rude writers like “paul” who seems to take Cohen’s views as being yours.
    Much worse is bb’s complete fantasy about Iraq. This cannot be anyone who reads your blog or any of the hundreds from ICH,tomdispatch, chris floyd,my catbird seat, countercurrents.org,electronic intifada,or others linked to these.
    All the best to you and your family.

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