January 14, 2012 § Leave a comment
As the last U.S. military units got ready to leave Iraq at the end of 2011 after almost nine years of occupation, a familiar cast of Bush Administration officials responsible for starting the 2003 invasion and then managing its aftermath hit the talk show circuit one more time. Their message was predictable: it is too early to say how history will judge their decision to invade Iraq, and no, they do not regret their role in the whole affair. That the likes of Condoleezza Rice and Paul Bremer would prefer that their actions be evaluated by future generations of historians is not surprising: after all, by any measure available today the war can be fairly judged as an unmitigated disaster. And so the distinguished guests rehashed the same arguments they had used since 2002: Saddam Hussein did not comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions, he was a ruthless dictator who had used chemical weapons against his own people, everyone believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, etc. What was somewhat more surprising was that the talk show hosts mostly treated their guests with the same kind of unquestioning deference that characterized the media’s posture in the run-up to the war, obediently citing the most conservative (and almost certainly understated) estimates of the number of Iraqis who died as a result of the war and allowing long-discredited claims to go unchallenged. It is as if the talk show hosts thought it impolite to contradict their guests by questioning the validity of the peculiar form of consequentialist ethics favored by Iraq war apologists, or by bringing up the long list of former U.S. and British government officials who have described in great detail how senior officials in the Bush Administration pressured intelligence agencies into producing reports that would support their case for war, and how members of the Administration deliberately and systematically ignored and suppressed intelligence that did not fit their preferred narrative.
I happen to think that this kind of politeness is a tad overrated, so, at the risk of being insensitive to the wishes of those who think that nine years after the start of the war the time is till not right to judge it, I’ll go out on a limb and declare Operation Iraqi Freedom a crime. The hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed in the war, the Abu Ghraib, and the failure to find the mythical weapons of mass destruction are certainly part of the overall picture. But what made the war a crime before any of the above happened was the indisputable fact that from the very beginning, it was a war of aggression, identified by the Nürnberg Tribunal as “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”
The site of the International Criminal Court reminds visitors that the Tribunal “held individuals accountable for ‘crimes against peace,’ defined as the ‘planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing….’ When the United Nations General Assembly unanimously affirmed the Nürnberg principles in 1946, it affirmed the principle of individual accountability for such crimes.”
I am not so naïve as to think that those responsible for this supreme international crime will be brought to justice any time soon. “International law” remains largely a misnomer when it comes to questions of war and peace, an instrument of victor’s justice in a world where might still equals right. This impunity will help ensure that the American people learn nothing from the experience of the last nine years. (Note the eagerness of most Republican Party candidates for presidency to strike a belligerent pose whenever they talk about Iran.) By pretending that the war was anything but a crime, the media once again fail in their duty of informing the public and thus help lay the groundwork for future wars. U.S. media’s desire to honor the American men and women who were sent into Iraq is understandable, but it must not mean whitewashing history. Those who survived the war can handle the truth.