Countdown to ISIS: 7 ways that 4 US presidents failed in Iraq

Robert Bridge
Robert Bridge is an American writer and journalist. He is author of the book, 'Midnight in the American Empire,' released in 2013.
Countdown to ISIS: 7 ways that 4 US presidents failed in Iraq
​Since 1990, the people of Iraq have sustained some level of US military aggression by four successive US presidential administrations. Yet they failed to find WMDs much like they failed to preclude the rise of the Islamic State.

The Obama administration, while channeling weapons to anti-government Syrian rebels, many with connections to terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda, was at the same time ignoring the rapid rise of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (now Islamic State, or IS) in Iraq, which aspires to the creation of a caliphate throughout the Middle East. This tragedy has its roots at least as far back as the first Bush administration, when the decision to attack Iraq in 1990 was first made.

7. George H.W. Bush ‘invites’ Iraq to invade Kuwait

With George H.W. Bush in the White House just over a year, Iraq began amassing troops on the border with Kuwait, which Baghdad had accused of stealing Iraqi petroleum through slant drilling.

On July 25, 1990, US Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, requested a meeting with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz.

During their first and only conference (transcripts of which are available from the Bush Library), Glaspie reportedly told Hussein: “We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary [James] Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America.”

This statement was taken by the Iraqis to mean that the United States would not interfere in the event of an Iraqi attack on Kuwait. They were wrong.

Former President George H. W. Bush.(Reuters / Kevin Lamarque)

6. Dismemberment of Iraq begins

On January 17, 1991, Bush kicked off Operation Desert Storm. Under the military command of General Norman Schwarzkopf, the United States pounded Iraqi infrastructure over a 43-day period with a total of 109,876 sorties – an average of 2,555 sorties per day.

The short but deadly one-way war became a pay-per-view event, as millions of Americans tuned in from the comfort of their living rooms to watch precision-guided munitions, cluster bombs and so-called daisy cutters, 15,000-pound bombs that destroy anything (including women and children) within a 100-yard radius of the blast zone.

Like some kind of video game, the technological gadgetry of the first Iraq War had the effect of giving military conflict a surgical, other-worldly appearance, in which only Iraqi soldiers perished. Almost a quarter of a century of violence and bloodshed has betrayed the real horror of modern warfare – on soldiers and citizens alike.

Former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.(Reuters / Michael Kappeler)

5. Bill Clinton opens ‘Monica’s War’

For anybody who believed that Republicans are the only political species born with the warmongering chromosome, the dallying Democratic president from Arkansas would set them straight.

Iraq would turn out to be just another bloodstained trophy over the Clinton family’s fireplace, coming after serial bombings in Bosnia (1993), Haiti (1994), Croatia (1995), Zaire (1996), Liberia (1997), Albania (1997), Sudan (1998) and Afghanistan (1998), and preceding attacks on Yugoslavia (1999) and Yemen (2000).

On December 16, 1998, Bill Clinton, with the unquestioning support of British PM Tony Blair, initiated Operation Desert Fox, a major four-day bombing campaign on Iraqi targets (December 16–19). Ostensibly, the justification for the strikes was Iraq's failure to comply with UN Security Council resolutions, as well as their interference with UN weapons inspectors. The real reason behind the Iraqi bombing, however, may have had more to do with Clinton’s sexual liaison with a young intern named Monica Lewinsky and the ‘wag the dog’ situation it fostered.

Operation Desert Fox occurred at the very same time Congress was conducting the impeachment hearing of President Clinton. In a telling indicator of more bad times ahead for the people of Iraq, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said the attacks did not go far enough: "I would be amazed if a three-day campaign made a decisive difference."

U.S. President George W. Bush.(Reuters / Kevin Lamarque)

4. George W. Bush’s ‘bad intelligence’ leads to Iraq invasion

Following the 2001 terrorist attacks of 9/11 on New York and Washington, DC, the ultra-hawkish administration of George W. Bush suddenly found itself armed with a casus belli to take its ‘War on Terror’ to the four corners of the planet.

With Operation Enduring Freedom already in full swing in Afghanistan, and purported terror mastermind Osama Bin Laden still on the run, George Jr. thought it wise to open a second war front in a country that had no connection to 9/11: Iraq.

Given that lack of connection, the Bush administration was forced to produce – together with the Brits – intelligence ‘proving’ that Iraq was harboring weapons of mass destruction.

Thus, political theater got its curtain call, as former Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared in the United Nations, where he waved an imaginary vial of anthrax and warned, “Less than a teaspoon of dry anthrax, a little bit about this amount - this is just about the amount of a teaspoon - less than a teaspoon full of dry anthrax in an envelope shutdown the United States Senate in the fall of 2001.”

Across the pond, Tony Blair ramped up the fear factor when he told the House of Commons. The prime minister told MPs intelligence concludes that Saddam Hussein "has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes, including against his own Shia population."

Amid such fear tactics, the bombs began raining down on Baghdad on March 20, 2003.

U.S. tank takes up position in the Iraqi museum in Baghdad, April 16, 2003.(Reuters / STR)

3. Iraqi museum looted – Ministry of Oil guarded

Aside from the unnecessary bloodshed that the unfounded war in Iraq produced, there was another tragedy of almost equal magnitude, which involved the wholesale destruction of the National Museum in Baghdad, which once upon a time boasted the finest collection of archeological and historical artifacts in the Middle East. The protocols of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, which states that victorious armies are responsible for protecting state treasures, were waved aside.

So where were US troops when all hell broke loose in Iraq? The occupation forces were standing guard at the Ministry of Oil, with its detailed inventory of Iraqi oil reserves, as well as the Ministry of Interior, the headquarters of the ousted regime’s secret police.

A life-size mannequin called "Man in the Hood" is displayed at the "War Is A Crime" exhibition in Kuala Lumpur November 19, 2011. The week-long exhibition, organized by Perdana Global Peace Foundation, recreated scenes from the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq with life-size mannequins of prisoners, and violent images from the Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam wars. According to the organizers, the exhibition seeks to educate the public on the consequences of war.(Reuters / Bazuki Muhammad)

2. Abu Ghraib and the end of American exceptionalism

About one year into the second Iraq War, the Taguba Report, published by the US Army, revealed that soldiers of the 320th Military Police Battalion had been charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with prisoner abuse.

Unfortunate for America’s image abroad, photos than cannot be unseen were splashed across the mainstream media: An impish US soldier named Lynndie England holding a dog leash attached to the neck of an Iraqi prisoner sprawled out on the floor; nude prisoners stacked on top of one another while US soldiers in the background flash the thumbs up; a hooded Iraqi prisoner with arms outstretched standing on a box with wires attached to his body that he was made to believe would electrocute him if he lowered his arms.

Perhaps Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, foreign minister of the Vatican, summed up the shocking revelations best. “The torture? A more serious blow to the United States than September 11, 2001 attacks. Except that the blow was not inflicted by terrorists but by Americans against themselves.”

Reuters / Alaa Al-Marjani

1. Obama bombs Pakistani caves, ignores growth of Islamic State

Barack Obama, America’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, with just seven attacks on foreign states since assuming the mantle of presidential power from his predecessor, George W. Bush, has expressed a rather excessive enthusiasm for killer drone technology. In addition to reportedly having drawn up a ‘kill list’, the Democratic president and his eye-in-the-sky death toys has certainly killed many terrorists, but not without a high degree of collateral damage.

In January, the fifth anniversary of Obama’s drone campaign, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that in Pakistan alone between 416 and 951 civilians, including 168 to 200 children, have been killed. A December 2012 strike in Yemen killed 12 civilians. Meanwhile, Washington observers were scratching their heads as to why the Obama administration was so keen to launch drone attacks in Pakistan, where public opposition to such invasions of territorial sovereignty have been fierce, yet in Iraq, where the officials were actually requesting drone attacks, the Obama administration went missing in action.

Yes, you heard that right. Iraq was actually requesting that the Pentagon initiate drone strikes on Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the very group that overnight transformed into the loathsome Islamic State. In August of last year, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari made a personal appearance in Washington, DC, to legislators. “We cannot fight these increasing terrorist” threats alone, Zebari told reporters in Washington. The top Iraqi diplomat’s request marked the first time he raised the possibility of working with the US military on anti-terrorist drone strikes.

AFP Photo / Staff Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

But despite a tempting invitation to unleash lightning bolts from the sky against America’s arch enemy, the Obama administration demurred for reasons few can fathom.

One thing is certain, however, Obama blew a perfect opportunity to hold Al-Qaeda, and by extension, the bad boys of Islamic State, in check.

“Had Obama acted on those requests, the Islamic State offensive might very well have been stopped,” the Washington Post mused. “The United States could have hit the terrorists while they were still in staging areas in the western Iraqi desert, away from civilians, where they were easy targets for US drones. Instead Obama did nothing, while the Islamic State massed its forces, marched into Iraqi cities, and proclaimed a radical Islamic state.”

Why did Obama turn down Iraq’s desperate request for assistance against Al-Qaeda? In a January 2014 interview with The New Yorker, Obama dismissed the Islamic State as junior varsity amateurs who posed little threat to Iraq or the United States.

“The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” Obama stated.

As British statesman Winston Churchill once quipped, “Americans will always do the right thing – after exhausting all the alternatives.”

With Obama now overseeing attacks on IS forces in northern Syria, the world is still waiting for America to do the right thing. Unfortunately, it looks as if we may be waiting a long time.

Robert Bridge is the author of the book,Midnight in the American Empire, which details the deleterious of excessive corporate power in the United States.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.