With a special Iraq War edition, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Nick Robins-Early and Rebecca Klein
American troops have been in Iraq longer than the average high school freshman has been alive. But for the most part, the deadliest U.S. military intervention since the Vietnam War remains a footnote in America’s social studies classrooms. Fifteen years after the U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein, teachers and education leaders are still trying to find ways to teach students about an intervention that has yet to end.
The challenges teachers face are obvious: In a world where there is always too much to teach and standardized tests reign supreme, recent history tends to get left behind, even if this history is essential for understanding modern geopolitics. Content requirements in social studies classrooms vary by state. Beyond that, experts say the handling of this issue likely varies by district. Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of history of education at the University of Pennsylvania, reviewed how some major textbooks handled the Iraq War for the war’s 10th anniversary and was impressed with the books’ complex and multi-sided perspectives on the issue. But in cash-strapped districts, outdated textbooks are the norm. [continue reading]
New York Times
When I was 12, Saddam Hussein, vice president of Iraq at the time, carried out a huge purge and officially usurped total power. I was living in Baghdad then, and I developed an intuitive, visceral hatred of the dictator early on. That feeling only intensified and matured as I did. In the late 1990s, I wrote my first novel, “I’jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody,” about daily life under Saddam’s authoritarian regime. Furat, the narrator, was a young college student studying English literature at Baghdad University, as I had. He ends up in prison for cracking a joke about the dictator. Furat hallucinates and imagines Saddam’s fall, just as I often did. I hoped I would witness that moment, whether in Iraq or from afar.
I left Iraq a few months after the 1991 Gulf War and went to graduate school in the United States, where I’ve been ever since. In 2002, when the cheerleading for the Iraq war started, I was vehemently against the proposed invasion. The United States had consistently supported dictators in the Arab world and was not in the business of exporting democracy, irrespective of the Bush administration’s slogans. I recalled sitting in my family’s living room with my aunt when I was a teenager, watching Iraqi television and seeing Donald Rumsfeld visiting Baghdad as an emissary from Ronald Reagan and shaking hands with Saddam. That memory made Mr. Rumsfeld’s words in 2002 about freedom and democracy for Iraqis seem hollow. Moreover, having lived through two previous wars (the Iran-Iraq war of 1980 to 1988 and the Gulf War of 1991), I knew that the actual objectives of war were always camouflaged by well-designed lies that exploit collective fear and perpetuate national myths. [continue reading]
“YOUR BROTHER CREATED ISIS,” college student Ivy Ziedrich told a startled Jeb Bush after a town hall meeting in Reno, Nevada, in May 2015. The then-Republican presidential hopeful tried to defend his elder sibling, former President George W. Bush, by blaming the rise of the Islamic State on Barack Obama, “because Americans pulled back” from Iraq in 2011. It sounds a bit conspiratorial, right? Calling Dubya the creator of ISIS? The reality, however, is that Ziedrich’s accusation wasn’t far off the mark. Had it not been for Bush’s catastrophic decision to invade and occupy Iraq in 2003, in defiance of international law, the world’s most feared terrorist group would not exist today. ISIS is blowback.
In this week’s episode of my six-part series on blowback, I examine the three ways in which Bush’s misadventure in Mesopotamia helped birth a group that the U.S. now considers to be one of the biggest threats to both U.S. national security and Middle East peace. [continue reading]
There’s a specific reason it is so hard to be president—in normal circumstances—and why most incumbents look decades older when they leave the job than when they began. The reason is that the only choices normal presidents get to make are the impossible ones—decisions that are not simply very close calls on the merits, but that are guaranteed to lead to tragedy and bitterness whichever way they go.
Take Barack Obama’s famed choice not to back up his “red line” promise in Syria, which was a focus of Jeffrey Goldberg’s “The Obama Doctrine” Atlantic cover story two years ago. The option Obama chose—not intervening in Syria—meant death and suffering for countless thousands of people. The option he rejected—intervening—would have meant death and suffering for countless thousands of the same people or others. Agree or disagree on the outcome, any such decision is intellectually demanding and morally draining. Normal presidents have to make them, one after another, all day long. (Why don’t they get any easier choices? Because someone else has made all of those before they get to the president.) Obama’s decision to approve the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound turned out to be a tactical and political success. When he made it, he had to weigh the possibility that it could end in world-publicized failure—like Jimmy Carter’s decision to attempt a rescue of American hostages in Iran, which ended in chaos, and which Carter later contended was what sealed his fate in his re-election run. [continue reading]
Fifteen years ago, on February 15, 2003, the world said “No to War”: Some 10 million to 15 million people, in hundreds of cities and dozens of countries all over the world, embraced the same slogan, made the same demand, in scores of different languages. A war against Iraq was looming, with Washington and London standing virtually alone in their false claims that Baghdad had amassed stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. As we look at the consequences of that war today—Iraq still in flames, wars raging across the region—we need to remember.
Throughout 2002 and into 2003, while George W. Bush’s “Global War on Terror” raged across Afghanistan, Washington continued to build support for a war against Iraq. We need to remember how the mainstream media obediently fell—or eagerly jumped—into line with the propaganda churned out by the Dick Cheney–Donald Rumsfeld policy shops. The most influential papers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, led the way, helping to legitimize the spurious predictions of Iraqis welcoming US troops with sweets and flowers, of yellowcake uranium from Niger, of aluminum tubes that could “only” be used for nuclear weapons. Some among the liberal and independent media collaborated as well. Even Patrick Tyler of the Times (who coined the term “second superpower” to describe the February 15 mobilization) acknowledged years later the “grand deception in which we all share in the responsibility…. The military-industrial complex has its analogue in the press, the media-industrial complex.” [continue reading]