Regime Change Was Their Common Theme
By John Lawrence
Obama wanted it to be part of his legacy that he ended two wars, those in Iraq and Afghanistan, which were started by his predecessor, George W Bush along with his vice President Dick Cheney. Only it’s not working out entirely as he planned, and he’s coming in for a lot of criticism from, among others, Cheney himself. In a new book, Exceptional, Why the World Needs a Powerful America, written with daughter Liz Cheney, Cheney criticizes Obama while defending his own legacy. Cheney has been in full self-rehabilitation mode ever since he stepped down as George W Bush’s brain.
The criticism now is that Obama left Iraq too soon and thus created a power vacuum that ISIS has filled. No doubt ISIS stepped into the vacuum created by the departure of Saddam Hussein, but the part that Cheney is missing is that his administration took out Saddam for no valid reason whatsoever and created the power vacuum in the first place. As long as Saddam was in power, no group such as al Qaeda or ISIS could possibly have gained a foothold in Iraq.
As Colin Powell said recently on Meet the Press, and I paraphrase, you can’t take out the guy at the top if there is no structure beneath him to support a stable government and expect good results. Certainly neither George W Bush, who wanted to create western style democracies in the Middle East using war as a means, nor Barack Obama, who wanted to do the same thing by encouraging the youth to rise up after getting rid of despicable dictators, have achieved the results they were hoping for.
Powell also mentioned that all sixteen US Intelligence Agencies concurred in the fact that Sadam had weapons of mass destruction. It was a massive exercise in self-delusion and self-deception on a national basis and giving the Boss the results the Boss wanted because the agencies knew what the Boss wanted to hear. There was no integrity or ethics in the massive intelligence apparatus of the US government and the massive deception it perpetrated on the American public, not to mention the rest of the world.
Bush’s perfidy was signaled two years before 9/11 when he told his ghostwriter that he wanted to be a wartime President:
HOUSTON — Two years before the September 11 attacks, presidential candidate George W. Bush was already talking privately about the political benefits of attacking Iraq, according to his former ghost writer, who held many conversations with then-Texas Governor Bush in preparation for a planned autobiography.
“He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999,” said author and journalist Mickey Herskowitz. “It was on his mind. He said to me: ‘One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.’ And he said, ‘My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.’ He said, ‘If I have a chance to invade…if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.” Herskowitz said that Bush expressed frustration at a lifetime as an underachiever in the shadow of an accomplished father. In aggressive military action, he saw the opportunity to emerge from his father’s shadow.
Sadam might have been a bad guy, but he was a bulwark against instability in Iraq. There is no way that al-Qaeda or ISIS could have gained a foothold there as long as Sadam was in power. Part of his effectiveness as a dictator is that he kept the religious tensions bubbling just under the surface in check. When Sadam was gone, religious factions came to the fore and destroyed Iraq’s secularism under Sadam. Part of the problem is that no effective successor to Saddam has materialized, one who can put the lid back on the cauldron.
The only leaders of Iraq in the interim have been incompetent and ineffective. Obama has been too rosy in his assessment of the possibilities for reform in the Middle East. Perhaps a brutal Saddam-like leader is about the best they are capable of in those countries at the present time.
Obama encouraged young Egyptians to reform their country to become a democracy, and that too has been an abysmal failure. Egypt went from being controlled by the military through a couple of iterations, a couple of moves on the chess board, and back to being controlled by the military again despite the “Arab Spring,” the youth revolt and the Internet. You can’t blame Obama for trying to make a better world by relatively peaceful means.
Do Bad Dictators Serve a Useful Function?
The only problem is that that doesn’t seem to be in the cards for some countries whether for historical or cultural reasons. Surely it’s not for a lack of successful models including the US and the European Union, which despite their problems are still light years ahead as civilizations than the likes of Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan. The simmering cauldrons of religious animosity and hatred boiled over once there was no strong and brutal leader to hold them in check. The key to modernizing these societies is first to secularize them.
In 2011 Obama pressured Mubarak to resign and encouraged the protesters, all to no subsequent avail. In a one on one conversation by telephone with Mubarak on February 1, Obama told the Egyptian president nearly point blank to resign, and Mubarak refused. Obama told Mubarak: “It is time to present to the people of Egypt it’s next government.” Mubarak replied: “Let’s talk in the next three or four days.”
Subsequent Egyptian governments were ham-handed and incompetent. TheMuslim Brotherhood’s government under Mohamed Morsi turned into a fiasco. Eventually, the military which had run Egypt for years stepped back in and ousted Morsi who found himself on death row while Mubarek who had been on death row got a reprieve. It’s a topsy-turvy world. So it’s back to square one in Egypt with the military in control and no reforms evidently taking hold. The “Arab Spring” was a bust. It turned to winter pretty fast.
Despite Obama’s peaceful intentions, as contrasted with Bush and Cheney’s warlike ones, Obama’s meddling in the middle East has had negative results. In Obama and Egypt’s Revolution Obama was quoted:
“It is not the role of any other country to determine Egypt’s leaders. Only the Egyptian people can do that. What is clear—and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak—is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now.
“To the people of Egypt, particularly the young people of Egypt, I want to be clear: We hear your voices. I have an unyielding belief that you will determine your own destiny and seize the promise of a better future for your children and your grandchildren.”
It’s clear Obama told Mubarak to leave and encouraged Egyptian young people to create a new society. Trouble was they didn’t know how to do it. They weren’t capable of doing it, and they had no historical or cultural precedents for doing it.
The Road to Hell by Good and Bad Intentions
Even in Libya, which was at least a stable country under Gaddafi, the lack of stability and power vacuum has been exploited by the likes of ISIS. The irony of the situation is that Gaddafi, as well as Sadam, were aging dictators who were mellowing toward the West. Obama’s good intentions have led us down the road to hell just as resolutely as Bush and Cheney’s nefarious ones. Now Cheney’s advice somehow seems relevant again after attempts at reform in the Middle East have fallen flat. The road to hell has been paved with Obama’s good intentions just as they were by his predecessor’s bad intentions.
In fact, at the time of the 2011 NATO intervention, Gaddafi had made nice with the West, given up his nuclear weapons program, and was providing the United States good intelligence on Islamist terrorists. However, because Gaddafi had long been demonized, France and the United States just couldn’t resist taking advantage of the Arab Spring revolt against him to get rid of him for good.
Yet there are still people who argue that toppling Gaddafi was needed for the symbolic goals of standing with the NATO allies and siding with Arab Spring revolts, even though the latter didn’t turn out to be very democratic after all. However, such symbolism is trumped by the harsh reality that, if anything, U.S. security has been eroded by Gaddafi’s weapons being spread around the Middle East and by the resulting internal mayhem in Libya, which in turn has led to terrorist training bases and ISIS strongholds in that country. Even these developments could probably be overstated as threats to the United States per se, but security-wise the United States was still better off when Gaddafi kept things under control in Libya.
Another case in point is Syria. Obama took a stand that Bashar al-Assad had to go. He said that Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people was a game changer. He had crossed a red line. “To use weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations crosses another line in terms of international norms and laws,” Obama told reporters in the Oval Office. In 2011 Obama called for al-Assad to resign after months of his violent crackdown on protesters. The rhetorical escalation was backed by new U.S. sanctions designed to undermine Assad’s ability to finance his military operation. Obama said there was a “red line” in Syria if al-Assad used chemical weapons. It was an empty threat.
“The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way,” Obama said in a written statement. “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.” Result: he’s still in power and millions of Syrian refugees are risking death and besieging western Europe. Talk about good intentions backfiring. Hindsight is making Dick Cheney look good and seem relevant again.
President Obama first declared that it was time for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down in August, 2011, five months into the uprising against his rule. Since then, it’s been the consistently stated position of the White House that resolution of the civil war in Syria requires Assad’s departure. This has remained true even as the focus of America’s attention has shifted to Assad’s enemy, ISIS, and as worsening chaos in Libya and Yemen have led many to reconsider the wisdom of overthrowing dictators in countries riven by sectarian violence.
As long as Sadam was in power in Iraq, Mubarek in Egypt and Gaddaffi in Libya there was no power vaccuum and the liklihood of an ISIS like movement being successful was nil. The fact that al-Assad is still in power in Syria is cold comfort due to the fact that the civil war in that country has destabilized it and created millions of refugees. In the world today there are some 50 million refugees many of them barely clinging to life. It’s a worldwide crisis, and a crisis for western Europe because they’re all determined to get there in order to have a chance at a sane, useful and happy life.
The Arab Spring Was a Total Bust
As of September 2012, governments have been overthrown in four countries: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. The Arab Spring came to nought. All the demonstrations in Tahir Square, all the high hopes and ambitions for a better life, all the sophisticated use of the internet to organize young people, all the Facebook – it all came to nothing despite Obama’s encouragement. It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this.
The Arab Spring was supposed to bring peace, democracy and stability to not only the nations where it took root, but also others around it in the Middle East and North Africa. It was supposed to usher in an end of violence and heavy-handed government tactics, just like it ushered out entrenched leaders. In short, it was supposed to mean a brighter future.
Not more instability, not more violence, not fewer freedoms.
But that’s what happened, even if the level of unrest hasn’t been even or universal. Some countries, such as Jordan, instituted reforms without really roiling their societies. Others, such as Iraq, never saw a popular uprising, but have seen burgeoning violence. And now, Yemen is on the brink of civil war as it battles a rebel group that has overthrown the government and seized parts of key cities.
And now Cheney’s new book gives him the chance to say “I told you so.” Forget about the fact that he and Bush started the whole thing with the removal of Saddam.
Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College is the author of several books, including “Arab Spring, Libyan Winter” and, most recently, “The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South.”
There’s a very dangerous game going on here, both from Hillary Clinton, from the Republicans, from Tony Blair. They want to make the case that the Islamic State is a child of the Syrian war. They want to deny the fact that the Islamic State has its roots fundamentally in the destruction of the Iraqi state by the American invasion in 2003. You know, it’s very easy to destroy a state. It took the Iraqi people over a hundred years to build institutions; that was destroyed by the Americans in an afternoon.
Once you destroy the state, you create a vacuum. For the first time on Iraqi soil, one saw al-Qaeda groups come in, and that was in 2004, when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was a Jordanian militant, comes into Tal Afar and creates al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. You know, even bin Laden found him to be a bit unpalatable, because he was deeply sectarian and extraordinarily violent. The Americans tried to crush al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, but by 2006, despite the big surge, despite the bombing of Fallujah, Ramadi—you know, names that the American public now are quite familiar with—despite the razing of these cities, the Islamic State was born in 2006. It’s not yesterday’s creation. This was a product of the Iraq War.
The roots of ISIS were created when George W Bush destroyed the Iraqi state. It was helped along when Obama told Mubarek and al-Assad to step down and got rid of Gaddafi.
In his book Cheney says, “Those who say the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a mistake are essentially saying we would be better off if Saddam Hussein were still in power”. Well yes, the world would be immeasurably better off if Bush and Cheney had never invaded Iraq and Sadam was still in power. Bush and Cheney had to make their case as strong as possible that Sadam was a threat to the world because he possessed weapons of mass destruction.The real reason is that Bush lusted after being a wartime President with all the “political capital” that would accrue to him.
Regarding Bush the road to hell was paved with bad intentions. As far as Obama is concerned the road to hell was paved with good intentions. Both led to similar results. Removing bad guy dictators created a power vacuum, destabilized several middle Eastern countries and led to the rise of ISIS. We would all be better off if the bad guys had remained in place. The US has been directly responsible for destroying billions of dollars worth of real estate, killing over a million people, mostly civilians, ruining millions of people’s lives forcing them into refugee status and destabilizing Europe because of it. This does not even count the hundreds of billions of dollars the US military-industrial complex has spent on war and the weapons of war, money that has not been spent on creating peace around the world and taking care of pressing social and infrastructure problems at home.
The US has sown acrimony and tension in the Middle East thus insuring resentment towards the US and the west and continued war for the next hundred years unless the US immediately apologizes, turns away from spending billions on war and instead puts that money into peace-building efforts in the Middle East. Money should be transferred from the war machine to the Peace Corps and similar efforts. But US war efforts sustain a self-fulfilling prophecy guaranteeing that the military will have to be used ad infinitum to tamp down the tensions and resentments that it has created in the first place. All those making money off of war should be delighted.
The problem is that Obama is still in the thrall of the neocons whose mantra is regime change. Robert Parry in How Neocons Destabilized Europe has nailed it: “The neocon prescription of endless “regime change” is spreading chaos across the Middle East and now into Europe, yet the neocons still control the mainstream U.S. narrative and thus have diagnosed the problem as not enough “regime change.””
The refugee chaos that is now pushing deep into Europe – dramatized by gut-wrenching photos of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey – started with the cavalier ambitions of American neocons and their liberal-interventionist sidekicks who planned to remake the Middle East and other parts of the world through “regime change.”
Instead of the promised wonders of “democracy promotion” and “human rights,” what these “anti-realists” have accomplished is to spread death, destruction and destabilization across the Middle East and parts of Africa and now into Ukraine and the heart of Europe. Yet, since these neocon forces still control the Official Narrative, their explanations get top billing – such as that there hasn’t been enough “regime change.”