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Fifteen years after invading Iraq: A mechanical and wilful forgetting Open in fullscreen

Andrew Leber

Fifteen years after invading Iraq: A mechanical and wilful forgetting

61 percent of Americans now hold a favourable view of George W. Bush, writes Leber[Getty]

Date of publication: 20 March, 2018

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Comment: The United States inflicted terrible damage on another people for no clear reason and no clear gain, writes Andrew Leber.
"A lot of people are saying, 'Man, I wish George W. Bush was still our president right about now. So I just wanted to address my fellow Americans tonight and remind you guys that I was really bad." - Will Ferrell as George W. Bush, Saturday Night Live.

In one of the more thoughtful reflections on the Second World War, the late writer Lee Sandlin noted how collective memory of the war's inanities and insanities slowly faded into oblivion with the passing of time.

"The work of erasure goes on all around us, incessantly and inexorably; a million silent losses are obliterating the war," while "when it came to an end, people were glad to be rid of everything about it".

If such is the fate of greatest cataclysm in human history, let alone American history, what hope can we have that the US-led invasion of Iraq registers anything but less and less with each passing year?

I lived overseas, in grade school, when the machinations of factions within the Bush administration set the United States on a collision course for war - neoconservatives hell-bent on settling old scores with Saddam Hussein, newly empowered by post-9/11 uncertainties that made any threat seem plausible, no matter how fantastic.

The war came, whether I knew it or not, despite the largest protest event in human history. "American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger," intoned President Bush late on 19 March, marking the start of a war of choice that would consume his presidency, overshadow the next and echo throughout the present.

I moved back to the United States shortly after that speech, to the Hampton Roads region of Virginia - a big military area, with the nation's largest Atlantic naval base. More than one friend from high school has still been stationed in Iraq within the past year, a presence greatly curtailed but hardly ended since the formal withdrawal of US forces in 2011.

This suggests how little we dwell on the repercussions of that war of choice, and on the repercussions of other US foreign policy decisions the world over

The fact that 61 percent of Americans (among them 54 percent of Democrats!) now hold a favourable view of President George W. Bush, suggests how little we dwell on the repercussions of that war of choice, and on the repercussions of other US foreign policy decisions the world over.

Never mind President Bush's willingness to let a handful of ideologues hijack American foreign policy towards pre-defined goals of regime change. Never mind the administration's wilful efforts to ignore any and all planning for post-Invasion Iraq. Never mind the dismantlement of the Iraqi Army and much of the Iraqi state in service to an absurd misreading of history - the roots of the lawlessness and sectarian strife that would engulf Iraq for years, the first inklings of which were discussed by Mark Danner way back in 2003.

Little wonder the outcry against President Trump from some quarters of America strikes some as more than a little disproportionate.

US forces topple the statue of Saddam Huseein on 9 April 2003 in Baghdad's al-Fardous square [Getty]

As Egyptian blogger Omar Kamel opined in the aftermath of Trump's electoral victory, "We do not think Trump is any better, but we think a Trump victory would force the USA to admit to what it has become, and would allow other countries around the world to react appropriately now that the cover has been blown."

It doesn't take full disillusionment with America to realise how little we as a country care about what happened to the country we invaded, along with its people.

By 2016, the war had faded from view save as a standard by which to judge presidential candidates' foreign policy acumen: "Did you support the Iraq war?" as a gotcha question rather than an invitation to debate the war, meant - and still means - for America, for Iraqis, for the broader Middle East.

For America, Iraq-beyond-the-headlines is known to a limited number of academics, analysts and journalists; a scattered Iraqi diaspora; and the sizeable yet select number of servicemen and women who spent any stretch of time in the country.

Conveying the immense reality of that country in its entirety requires a great deal of patience, empathy and willingness to accept that the United States inflicted terrible damage on another people for no clear reason and no clear gain.

Read more: Operation Iraqi Freedom: The death of an army

Far easier to withdraw into the same fantasies of good vs evil that saw the film American Sniper - with its devout American marksman gunning down cackling, power-drill-wielding Iraqi militiamen - garner nearly half-a-billion dollars at the box office.

The much-feted movie The Hurt Locker, with its searing look at the chaos and carnage of the conflict, didn't even clear $50 million mark.

It doesn't take full disillusionment with America to realise how little we as a country care about what happened to the country we invaded

What, then, to do against the tides of mechanical and wilful forgetting? In drawing up some key readings to mark the passage of fifteen years since the invasion, here are a few thoughts.

First, the war(s) in Iraq have displaced millions of Iraqis inside the country and sent hundreds of thousands of people abroad as refugees. Donate to groups that support refugees and migrants, including Doctors without Borders and the International Refugee Assistance Project. Look for local groups in your area.

Second, stay informed. Read history, literature and analysis in addition to the news. Look for diverse Iraqi voices and develop your own opinion.

Finally, and most importantly, bear witness. The least we can do as Americans or citizens of other nations that joined the invasion, is acknowledge our own moral responsibility for what has happened.

Andrew Leber is a PhD student in the department of government at Harvard University.

Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewMLeber

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

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