By Henry "Chip" Carey
A series of bombings in Iraq on March 19th marked the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion. The attacks, which took place in Shiite neighborhoods, killed at least 56 people, injured over 200 and are believed to be the work of al-Qaida. The continued violence in Iraq is a reminder of the long-term consequences of U.S.-style “hit and run” intervention. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. shocked but never awed, leaving conditions for the most vulnerable populations worse than when they arrived. While both are among the longest wars in American history, the U.S. left too soon to improve or rebuild what it had destroyed.
The lunacy of the U.S. invasion, which killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and almost 4,500 Americans, has been long lamented. The several trillion dollar bill for the war continues to cost Americans, and Iraqis are still haunted by its consequences. America should earn a lesson and stop its bellicose posturing toward Iran.
The many critics of the Iraq war before it began were ignored. Almost a year before the invasion, in spring 2002, I asserted that the U.S. would invade Iraq in a class offered by Georgia State University, entitled “America and the World.” Students didn’t believe it was a certainty, but the march to war was already clear for anyone watching.
Before Dick Cheney oversold the intelligence at CIA headquarters, the CIA contradicted the Defense Department’s new intelligence unit’s assertion that Saddam was in some way responsible for 9/11. Then, however, the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program sent captured former al-Qaida operative Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi to be tortured personally by Egyptian Interior Minister Omar Suleiman in 2003. The result was tragic: Al-Libi asserted that Saddam gave chemical weapons training to al-Qaida. Colin Powell repeated the induced lie to the UN Security Council a month before the invasion. After it was too late, the CIA concluded that al-Libi, rather than information garnered from torture generally, was unreliable.
When the U.S. intervenes militarily in countries, the local populations hate us for devastating their countries and staying long enough to disrupt social order but not long enough to foster democratic institutions. Further, in that fog of war, we lose track of the women, who we claim to be liberating, but who often end up beaten, oppressed, or even murdered in the process.
This is true in both Iraq and Afghanistan. While not great before the U.S. invasion, the situation of women has deteriorated, despite some initial moves to improve their status. Under Soviet rule of Afghanistan (1979-1989), women experienced the greatest levels of social progress, in terms of education, employment opportunities, personal safety, and rights within the family. Afghan president Najibullah (1987-1992) was not to be admired. Nevertheless, he continued the modernization progress that enabled women and men to get an education and career, while curtailing Islamization of politics. The U.S. stopped that process by arming militant Islamists, who toppled the Soviet-backed government and became the Taliban.
Today, the governments of neither Iraq or Afghanistan protect women. The U.S. empowered the Shiite religious government in Iraq, by insisting on ‘democratic’ elections, while in Afghanistan, a secular façade rules through electoral fraud. In both countries, many young women must provide for their families and are widows with children, who lack a social safety net and basic freedoms and face constant violence.
U.S. public opinion remains in denial of this ugly history. Since Iraq, the U.S. has intervened in Libya. We overstepped Security Council authorization to protect the Libyans’ lives and getting rid of Gaddafi. His execution in October 2011, further, was a war crime for which the U.S. has never complained or pressed for investigation and prosecution.
The U.S. may be preparing to invade Iran with the same “hit and run” mentality. War in Iran would be a war of choice. No one in the U.S. is debating whether or not Iran can or cannot have a nuclear weapon. American politicians all say a nuclear Iran will not be allowed and that bombing the country is still on the table. This will only provide the clerical regime an excuse of foreign invasion to put their women out of their universities and back into their homes.
The potential for negotiation with Iran is not as far-fetched as it sounds, because both countries have at least one important, common national interest. The U.S. and Iran share an interest in containing or eliminating al-Qaida, which is Sunni, while the Iranian regime is Shiite. Iran cooperated with the US after 9/11 in fighting al-Qaida in Afghanistan, though the details of which are unclear. Iran has detained al-Qaida operatives who fled Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion in October 2001. As part of a detainee exchange, Iran captured and transported 15 suspected terrorists to Afghanistan authorities in March 2010, knowing that the United States was in control. Six of these suspects were placed in secret CIA detention there.
In the ongoing commitment not to allow Iran to ever develop nuclear weapons, the drums of war are pounding. We would do well to remember that invasions have consequences for civilians, especially women. The United States needs to soften those drums.
Henry "Chip" Carey is an associate professor of political science at Georgia State University. He is the author of Privatizing the Democratic Peace: Policy Dilemmas of NGO Peacebuilding and Reaping What You Sow: A Comparative Examination of Torture Reform in the United States, Israel, France and Argentina.
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