Feb 17th 2016

Sanders is Right: Iraq is Important

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

 

Bernie Sanders has been unfairly criticized for being a "Johnny One Note" on foreign policy because he continually reminds voters of his early opposition to the Iraq War. To explain why he continues to emphasize the importance of his decision to oppose that war, Sanders has pointed to the speech he gave back in October 2002 in which he laid out five important reasons why he feared the Bush Administration's march to war.

Critics and cynics have flippantly dismissed his understanding in foreign affairs and have, therefore, ignored that important speech. Because it was so prescient, it deserves attention, not scorn. Here, in short, were the five reasons he gave in 2002 for opposing the Iraq war:

1) The Bush Administration provided no "estimates of how many young American men and women might die...or how many tens of thousands of women and children in Iraq might also be killed".

2) Then there was the concern "about the precedent that a unilateral invasion of Iraq could establish in terms of international law and the role of the United Nations".

3) Because the United States was "involved in a very difficult war against international terrorism", Sanders echoed Brent Scowcroft's concern that "an attack on Iraq...would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counter-terrorist campaign"

4) With the US "facing a $6 trillion national debt and a growing deficit...a war and long-term American occupation of Iraq could be extremely expensive".

5) Finally, Sanders expressed his concern with the "unintended consequences" of the war. "Who would govern Iraq [after] Saddam and what role will the US play in the ensuing civil war that could develop?" In reaction to the war, would extremists destabilize other governments in the region and would the "bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority be exacerbated?"

To understand the significance of these five points, it is important to recall the false narrative the Bush Administration was pitching in advance of the invasion, and what actually happened as a result of their disastrous decision to go to war.

In the lead up to hostilities, the Bush crowd created an elaborate web of deceit to sell their plans. The biggest lies they told were not those about Saddam's nuclear program. More disturbing was the rosy picture they painted about how easy it would be and the positive outcomes that would follow.

Defense Department officials assured Congress that the effort would only require a commitment of 60,000 to 90,000 troops. They predicted that the regime could be toppled in six weeks and the war would be won in six months, costing the US a mere one to two billion dollars, with the rest being covered by Iraqi oil revenues. American troops would be greeted by Iraqis as liberators, and "the beacon on freedom would shine bright, lighting up the Middle East".  

What happened, of course, was closer to what Sanders had predicted. After eight bloody years of war and occupation, over 4,600 Americans died, with the lives of tens of thousands more shattered by debilitating injuries and PTSD. One of the more troubling consequences of this war are the 22 veterans who commit suicide every single day—meaning that we lose more young men and women every year to PTSD-induced suicide than we lost during the entire war. The cost of the war, the occupation, and the long-term care of wounded veterans is approaching three trillion dollars.

Compounding this tragedy are the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who were killed in the war and the civil conflict that followed. By dismantling Iraqi institutions and attempting to create from whole cloth a sect-based Iraqi government, the Bush Administration stoked latent sectarian tensions that resulted in campaigns of ethnic cleansing and a dysfunctional political order.

Instead of defeating terrorism, the war served to aggravate it, with al Qaeda and its successor ISIS spreading to at least 16 countries. At the same time, the war and our behaviors exhibited in the war (Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo) led to a precipitous decline in respect of and support for America across the globe—putting our country at even greater risk.

One final "unintended consequence" of the war was not only the growth of extremist currents in the Arab world but the unleashing of an emboldened Iran on the region. With Saddam and the Taliban defeated, Iran was able to expand its influence in Iraq and project its claim to be the leader of the "resistance against the West".

As Bernie Sanders correctly notes, it wasn't just the Bush Administration that supported this disastrous war. The Democratic-led Senate passed the resolution that was used to justify the invasion. And so, dear critics and cynics, before suggesting that Sanders lacks the wisdom to conduct foreign policy, pay attention to the judgment and foresight he demonstrated in what he has rightly termed the most critical decision Senators were called on to make in this century.

In bringing up his opposition to the war, he is not only distinguishing himself from Hillary Clinton, who supported the invasion, he is also correctly laying the predicate for a more thoughtful realist-based foreign policy grounded in respect for international law and institutions, cooperation with partners, and diplomatic engagement. 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "
Jun 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " While many conservative Republicans opposed Trump and saw that he posed a danger to their party and democracy itself, they were hesitant to buck the mass movement they had created, fearing that it would turn against them. Some of these same conservatives assumed that with Trump's defeat, the horror of January 6th, and the former president's banishment from social media, the time had come to restore sanity to their party. But the GOP leadership’s continued cowering in the face of what they now call "Trump's base" has caused them to circle the wagons and purge their ranks of those who call for sanity. "
May 26th 2021
Editor's Note: This article is about the Federal Reserve, inflation in the 1970's, and possible similarities to today.
May 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Netanyahu claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people. He certainly is not. Many Jews around the world, including me, despise Netanyahu’s racist politics. As an American, I am also deeply troubled by the US government’s knee-jerk support of Israel. Fortunately, I am not alone in this view. A growing number of Democratic Congressmen, Jews and non-Jews alike, have called on the United States to stop supporting Israel’s lawlessness. The truth is that the US government’s uncritical support for Israel has come to depend more on evangelical Christians, such as former US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, than on American Jews, who are deeply divided by Netanyahu’s actions. And the evangelicals’ real interest in Zionism is not Jews’ security, but Armageddon, the end of the world, which they believe will come only when all Jews are in Israel."
May 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "This period in US history could go down as the moment when America’s democratic system for electing a president – the most consequential duty of US citizens – was broken, perhaps for good."
May 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "While reading Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) monumental report “A Threshold Crossed,” I felt a range of emotions. It also left me with one big question. I was deeply impressed by the report’s rigorous scholarship. At the same time, it brought to the surface feelings of anger and profound sadness. It’s an extraordinarily complete study detailing not only the many ways Israel has violated a broad range of Palestinian human rights, but the ideology of racial superiority and entitlement that Israel has used to justify its repression." ..... "My advice to both Israel’s defenders and weak-kneed liberals is​, “Read the damn report.” "
May 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: .... "He transformed a transitioning market economy into a stable statist project that rests on an alliance of his inner circle," ..... "He transformed Russia from a respected member of the international community into a rogue state" .... ". He energized NATO by providing it with the adversary it lacked after the end of the cold war," ..... "He befriended hopelessly corrupt, dysfunctional, and unstable dictatorships..." ..... "He forged a quasi-alliance with China, thereby enhancing Russia’s dependence on the one country that might have reason to appropriate those Russian territories inhabited by Chinese."
May 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "On the face of it, the latest escalation of violence is following the template of all inter-ethnic wars. Muslims observing Ramadan shouted nationalist slogans and clashed with Israeli right-wing groups chanting “Death to the Arabs.” The Israelis haughtily marched with their national flag on Jerusalem Day, marking Israel’s capture in 1967 of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the site of the biblical Second Temple, and of Al-Aqsa, completed in the year 705. Battles in and around the Al-Aqsa compound erupted, with worshipers inside throwing stones at the Israeli police, who responded by firing rubber-tipped bullets and other projectiles, wounding hundreds."
May 13th 2021
"Regardless of how the current and future violent conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem will end, there will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace unless East Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state while the city remains united."
May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."