The Iraq War - A Catastrophic Success

Category: Middle East, World Affairs Topics: George W. Bush, Government And Politics Views: 4352

"For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
-Matthew 6:21

On the campaign trail last October, Vice President Dick Cheney created a small stir when, speaking of the Iraq war, he declared: "I think it has been a remarkable success story to date when you look at what has been accomplished overall." In view of the rampant violence raging in Iraq, the widespread devastation of the country's human and material resources, and the dim prospects for its future peace and prosperity, Cheney's statement seemed bizarre, and the Democrats seized on it as still another example of the disconnect between the Bush administration and reality. Yet, on closer inspection, we can see that the war has indeed been a huge success, though not exactly in the way that the vice president intended to claim.

In a characteristically unwitting way, President George W. Bush himself stumbled upon a resolution of the seeming paradox when he told Time magazine's interviewer last summer that the war had proved to be a "catastrophic success." By that oxymoron, he sought to convey the idea that in the invasion the U.S. military forces had overcome the enemy unexpectedly quickly, "being so successful, so fast, that an enemy that should have surrendered or been done in, escaped and lived to fight another day." Although this hypothesis seems far-fetched as an explanation of the nature and extent of the resistance now being waged against the U.S. occupation forces and their collaborators in Iraq, the term "catastrophic success" does express the character of the war precisely. We need only bear in mind that the catastrophe afflicts one set of people, whereas the success accrues to an entirely different set.

Moreover, to appreciate the war's success, we must keep in the forefront of our thinking the instrumental rationality of its perpetrators. We must ask: Who bears the responsibility for launching and continuing the war? What are these individuals trying to achieve? And have they in fact achieved these objectives? Having answered these questions correctly, we shall be obliged to conclude that the war has been a huge success for those who brought it about, however disastrous it has been for many others, especially for the unfortunate people of Iraq.

A short list of the war's perpetrators must include the president and his close advisers; the neoconservative intriguers who stirred up and continue to stoke elite and popular opinion in support of the war; the members of Congress who abdicated their exclusive constitutional responsibility to declare war, authorized the president to take the nation to war if he pleased, and then financed the war by a series of enormous appropriations from the Treasury; and certain politically well-placed persons in the munitions industries and in interest groups that have chosen to support, sometimes for reasons based on religious beliefs, a war that they perceive as promoting Israel's interests or as bringing about the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. Each of these responsible parties has gained greatly from the war.

President Bush sought above all to be reelected. In his 2004 campaign, he made no apologies for the war; indeed, he sought to take credit for launching it and for waging it relentlessly since the invasion. Vice President Cheney also campaigned actively on the same basis. Bush and Cheney's efforts have now yielded them the prize they sought.

In reshuffling his cabinet for a second term, the president has retained the belligerent Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense. Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and other key warmongers remain in their top positions at the Pentagon, while other neocon desk-warriors, such as Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, and Elliott Abrams, special assistant to the president at the National Security Council, retain their important offices elsewhere in the government-continued success for one and all. Even George "Slam Dunk" Tenet, who resigned as Director of Central Intelligence of his own accord, not because the president held him accountable for the manifest failures of U.S. intelligence efforts during his tenure, recently reemerged to accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of what the president described as Tenet's "tireless efforts" in service to the nation-God help us if the next intelligence chief's tireless efforts bring forth equally fatal results.

Members of Congress have no regrets about authorizing Bush to attack Iraq or about continuing to fund the war lavishly. These career politicians crave nothing more than they crave reelection to office, and nearly all the incumbents who sought reelection in the 2004 elections gained this supreme objective: all but one (Tom Daschle) of the 26 incumbent senators running and all but six of the 402 incumbent representatives running succeeded-outcomes that imply a reelection rate greater than 98 percent for incumbents running in both houses combined. Backing the war has obviously proved to be entirely compatible with, if not absolutely essential to, the legislators' quest for continued tenure in office. If as a consequence of these political actions thousands of Iraqi children had to lose their eyesight or their legs or even their lives, well, c'est la guerre. Politics is no place for sissies.

While authorizing enormous increases in military spending during the past four years, members of Congress have helped themselves to generous servings of pork from the defense-appropriations bills they have passed. According to Winslow T. Wheeler of the Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C., "by the time Congress had finished with the bill [fiscal year 2005 appropriations for the defense department] in July [2004], House and Senate members had added more than 2,000 of these 'earmarks'" for home-district projects, thereby dishing out to themselves "a record-setting $8.9 billion in pork" to use in buying votes from their constituents. In this workaday plundering of the taxpayers for wholly self-serving reasons, congressional doves as well as hawks, Democrats as well as Republicans, relish the opportunity to act as pork-hawks.

Between fiscal years 2001 and 2004, national defense outlays, defined narrowly as in the government's official reports, rose by nearly 50 percent (approximately 40 percent after adjustment for inflation). This still-continuing upsurge ranks with the great military buildups of the 1960s and the 1980s. The beauty of all this increased spending, of course, is that every dollar of it lands in somebody's pocket. Those to whom the pockets belong make a practice of lobbying hard for increased military spending, and they are prepared to compensate in various ways, some legal and some not, the politicians and bureaucrats who steer the money their way.

Procurement of goods and services from private contractors has been a major item in the increased military spending of recent years. In fiscal year 2000, the top ten contractors together received prime contract awards of $50.6 billion; just three years later, in fiscal year 2003, they got $82.7 billion-an increase of 63 percent (well in excess of 50 percent even after a generous adjustment for inflation).

Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, and Raytheon are the biggest boys on this block nowadays, but lest anyone think that an aspiring smaller fellow cannot play in this league, let Halliburton serve as an inspiring counterexample. Back in fiscal year 2001, this company ranked 37th among the defense department's prime contractors. Thanks to the war and Halliburton's foot in the door as oil-field-service expert and caterer to the troops in Iraq and its environs, the company leaped to 7th place in the rankings in fiscal year 2003, with prime contracts in that year valued at $3.9 billion. Furthermore, even this outstanding corporate success seems to have been but a springboard to greater accomplishments. By the end of 2004, Halliburton's contracts for Iraq work had accumulated to approximately $10.8 billion, with more in the works.

Notwithstanding the success that Halliburton, Bechtel, Dyncorp, and other "old boy" service contractors have achieved in connection with the Iraq war, the really big military money still goes to the suppliers of whiz-bang weapons platforms and related items: aircraft, rockets, ships, tanks and other combat vehicles, satellites, and communications and other electronic equipment, along with software, maintenance, training, and upgrades for the foregoing products. In this arena of institutionalized cronyism, the living dead rise from the Cold War graveyard to haunt the halls of Congress whenever the defense-appropriations subcommittees are in session. You might wonder how the military will employ, say, an F/A-22 fighter, a B-2 bomber, or an SSN-774 attack submarine to protect you from a suitcase nuke or a vial of anthrax slipped into the country along with the many shipments of contraband goods that enter unseen by government agents. But never mind; just keep repeating: there is a connection between the War on Terrorism and the hundreds of billions being spent on useless Cold War weaponry. It's important to Congress, the Pentagon, and the big contractors that you make this connection.

As for the Christian (dispensationalist) soldiers marching onward as to war-in this case, it's more than a metaphor-in order to ease the worries of "God's chosen people" about Israel's hostile neighbors or to hasten the glorious mayhem of the prophesied "end times," suffice it to say that these fundamentalists worked hard to elect their favorite man to the presidency, and they succeeded in doing so. Indeed, one can scarcely imagine a viable national politician who would come closer to satisfying this interest group than George W. "Faith-Based" Bush.

In sum, when we ask ourselves who took the United States to war in Iraq (and keeps it engaged there) and what those individuals hoped to gain by doing so, we quickly come to appreciate what a roaring success this venture has been, and continues to be, for all of them. In view of the endless death and destruction being visited upon the hapless people of Iraq, however, not to mention the great and growing number of deaths, injuries, and mental disorders being suffered by U.S. troops in the Mesopotamian killing fields, we might well describe this adventure as a catastrophic success.

Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at The Independent Institute and editor of its scholarly quarterly journal, The Independent Review. He is also the author of Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government and the editor of Arms, Politics and the Economy: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives.

  Category: Middle East, World Affairs
  Topics: George W. Bush, Government And Politics
Views: 4352

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Older Comments:
Indeed "n," may the almighty punish those evil men and woman who continue to support American terrorism all over the globe. No need to shed tears for criminals and gangsters.

You're one to speak of corruption arent you Austin ? Coming from those who support genocide and mass murder thats almost funny. The typically stupid knee jerk reaction from a war mongering american dullard incapable of critical thought.

Until the Islamic world realizes the tremendous corruption that occurs within it, the current system of dictatorships and poor living conditions will continue.


I would prefer to have a civil discussion on the issues, that is why I sought out this website. If you don't like my comments, debate with me. We will more likely find common ground through an honest discussion than competing as to whom can hurl the worst epithets. If common ground is not your goal, then who is the warmonger? Before you call half the population of the United States a redneck, you had better check the definition and make sure you are not one yourself.

Shame on you Bush and shame on the American red-necks who voted in a warmonger. May God punish you all for your war crimes.


you have a funny way of justifying your illegal actions in iraq. here is your comment:

"I believe the major beneficiary as well as the major cause of the chaos in Iraq are the theocratic bureaurocrats in Iran"

you first bomb a country and then blame others as beneficiaries. the mullahs of iran did not start this war. remember it was bush and his neocons who lied to you about wmd and iraq's connection to 911. the chaoes was created by your government. now any party and his dog will push for gains and with the exception of the stooges put in by bush, no other party in iraq wants americans troops on their land. they are the foreigners, the invaders. don't forget that.

you sem to be sold on this idea that it is now the american responsibility to ensure that iraq is stable before US troops leave. thats also the neovons reasoning. yet your forget that huge bases are built for the next 2 decades. they just keep telling you that they'll be there for another 5 years, then 'as long as it takes' rumsfeld. then as long as the war on terror lasts. etc. dream on!

ask yourself this question: why are you so concerned about mending iraq now when it was not broken in the first place. shock and awe mean anything to you? did you not break a whole country in the first place? and why did you do so? and why your government supported and pushed for draconian sanctions against iraqis for 1 years reducing the oppostion to beggars and weakening the very people who fought saddam? truly your treachery knows bo boundary? leave the mullahs to us and we will deal with our own if you please can deal with your war-mongers dressed up in civilised garb who have their civilised ways with reports and power-points to convince equally stupid UN officials with a bunch of drummed up lies about ME. your government is infested with zionists like bolton, perle, wurmser, wolfowitz, etc. go bqark at their doors and mend your foreign policy and the insurgents in ME will disappear.

Who's coming up with conspiracy theories now? Bruce man, stop making up stories...the biggest players in the business of Iraq are U.S. companies like Boeing, the multitude of U.S. and U.K. oil companies, and the shameless private military companies operating in Iraq as subcontractors under the U.S. army and other armies part of the coalition. Please unmask yourself.

The real question you should ask yourself is, maybe you despise Islam and the Muslims who adhere to the faith, maybe that is what is blinding you.

You should understand that Muslims, whether they are Iraqi, Afghani, or Irani, do not want any violence, or unjust killings. Start to ralize that TV is not the best source for world news these days man; open your eyes to the fact that this problem will not be solved by finger pointing! That is my biggest point, as far as the beneficiaries are concerned, we all know who started this mad race for that gooey black stuff people would kill over, but again that is only a fraction of the entire picture. You see, why shouldn't Iran be a beneficiary when this is a political matter involving their own part of the world? U.S. administration ordered their then puppy dog Saddam to go to war with Iran, at what cost, 1 million lives to be lost? Who was the beneficiary to that catastrophe Bruce? Recollect your thoughts for a moment, and ask yourself, shouldn't the people of their own lands be allowed to settle their matters themselves without illegal foreign intervention or hegemonic coercion to embrace an American version of a free electoral process? Bush didn't just make a few little mistakes buddy, stop trying to downplay that disgrace. Somehow your way of seeing things have become like a mountain out of a mole. yet at the same time you enduringly attempt to downplay the reality of things as they are...c'mon man I've had enough of this crap from such morons!

I bet you think Mahathir Mohammed is responsible for the Tsunami Earthquake!


Part II

Maybe I am blinded by my patriotism, but let me paint you a scenario that your religion may be shielding you from seeing. I believe the major beneficiary as well as the major cause of the chaos in Iraq are the theocratic bureaurocrats in Iran. Using their influence through the Shiite network as well as their own operatives, they, along with the Fedayeen Sadaam for different reasons, have set as their goal a systematic attack on anything that would make the reconstruction and democratization of Iraq successful. A democracy in an Islamic nation next to Iran would be a very real threat to their hold on power and their ability suppress any dissent. They have no regard for the people of Iraq. Why else would they continue to sabotage the infrastructure that would make a recovery possible?

Many of the things stated as the cause of the insurgency are in fact the result of the insurgency. You say you want us out of Iraq. We too want to get out of Iraq. However, we have a responsibility to leave the country with a stable government. Leaving the country now would leave the mobster with the most thugs in charge. The biggest factor delaying an election is the lack of security. The lack of security is a direct result of a concerted effort to cause instability. American servicemen have a tough job in a tough place. Do some of our forces respond excessively? Do some of our forces break our own laws? Probably yes to both. But they will be prosecuted, not glorified by the clerics who praise the suicide bombers.

You ask who is enjoying the insurgency? Answer me, who is in charge of the insurgency?



Part I

I agree that Sistani has been a moderating influence but I am afraid that his voice is being drowned out by more radical clerics. I'm sure that his statements are being tempered by the real threat of assassination, a fate of a similar moderate cleric(I don't recall his name but it occurred shortly after the initial hosilites). Now any election worker or any Iraqi even associated with any attempt the US makes to improve the Iraqi situation does so at great risk to their own life.

I don't mean to paint all muslim clerics with the same brush as I am sure there are very devout clerics who want nothing other than do the will of Allah and minister to their flock. I do think the power muslim clerics seem to have over their worshipers needs to be handled in a responsible way. I don't have access to what Moqtada Sadar was printing that lead Bremer to shut him down. But I have seen a lot of what I would consider nothing but hate speech aimed at the infidels and glorifying the suicide bombers. In the context of current Iraq, this could be considered an act of war and an argument could be made to justify such an action. Even in America, hate speech and crimes of hate are set aside as not necessarily a protected speech and are subject to a different set of laws.

Saying that Bush is enjoying the current chaos maybe a popular statement in your circles but I would doubt that it has a shred of truth. Very few in America including Bush are enjoying the current situation. Bush's main fault was his inability foresee and to listen to those who could foresee the current insurgency, but to say that he is enjoying seeing American serviceman die at the hands of the very people they thought they were rescuing is mean spirited.

Continued in Part II



Part of your reasoning is right but you are totally wrong in your comment:

"The theocratic Ayatollahs and their "cleric" minions seem to be the principle beneficiaries of the violence."

Because you either do not know or seem to forget that Sistani, the most respected ayatollah, has always cooled the hard-headed Shiites and called upon them to be patient and choose non-violent methods. He is the one who, right from the begining, demanded democracy from the American and furthermore has called for a separation of Mosque and politics.

As for Moqtada Sadar, he first chose to voice his opinion via his newspaper. It was Bremer who did not like what moqtada was saying and decided to close his newspaper, thus giving him the option of violence when Bremer actually issued arrest warrant for Moqtada's detention. Now, if you understand anything about Iraqis, they are staunchly proud people. knocking down their doors at dawn and humiliating them in front of their women and children does not sit very well with them. After all, Americans are the invaders, Saddam or not Saddam. Many fight to dive US troops out and like Bush was warned, the "terrorists" are on the increase.

Who benefits? as you question. Think again and you will find a host of people who will benefit. Haliburton is one, Sharon is another, and OBL loves all that chaos as much as Bush loves it. Truly America has no exit plan and that is saying something because they make the rules and change it as they go. It was first WMD, then regime change, then human rights, then democracy, then bigger ME plan and the list of fancy names continues. So, take a look in the mirror before you blame Iraqis! Sad your patriotism blinds you.

I agree with your assessment of the Iraq war as a "catastrophic success." The question is why did it become catastrophic and who is to blame. Certainly the Bush/Pentagon people made some mistakes. Their intelligence was noteworthy for what it lacked and they listened to a lot of people with axes to grind. However, I still don't hear of many singing the praises of Saddam and wanting to go back to his oppression.

From what I can see, it is the "insurgency" that has taken what could have been an orderly progression to democracy and turned it into the current chaos. I fail to grasp the goal of the insurgency.

They say that is is a holy islamic jihad against the infidel foreigners. I fail to see the holiness of suicide and of murder of innocent women and children. Saying that this jihad is in the name of Islam is no better than Ku Klux Klan members lynching blacks in the name of Christ. Also, who is the infidel? Last time I checked, the Koran viewed Abraham and Jesus as prophets all serving the same God/Allah. An infidel must mean anyone who doesn't interpret things exactly as they see them. That would also mean most Muslims.

The daily news from Iraq leads me to believe that the insurgency is being backed by forces as far removed from religion and as self-serving as anything Bush could conceive. One has to ask who is benefitting from all this violence? Certainly not the people of Iraq nor the poor youth who have been brainwashed into suicide.

The theocratic Ayatollahs and their "cleric" minions seem to be the principle beneficiaries of the violence. By condoning violence, fomenting hatred, outlawing cooperation, and assassination of Iraqis trying to form a government, they strike a blow to their biggest threat, democracy. They have put their own political career ahead of the people they are supposed to be caring for and cloak it in the name of Islam. The corrupt Popes of the middle ages would be the closest analogy.

It is true that a few people brought this catastrophe on us. But more than 1/2 of us (the American people) thru our support behind it one way or another. As we pull our heads from the sand and tear off the Red, White, & Blue blindfolds we have been wearing we need to speak out against the continuation. Not only to those in power, but also our neighbors or coworkers.

May Allah Guide Us
Salam Alaikum

Yussef Dunn

If Cheney believes Iraq is his big success then I would hate to see what he terms as failure? He most certainly shares his DNA with the ostrich.

Someone should give him a one-way ticket to Fallujah to rub the sleep off his eyes. Stupid blind man, war-monger, thieving lying, conniving, morally decripped soul-less man. He must be brought to justice one day, insha'Allah, along with his band of thieves.