The Noninterventionists Told You So: With Iraq Enough To Sicken One's Stomach
18 June 2014
By Sheldon Richman
Contrary to popular belief, there is no satisfaction
in being able to say, "I told you so." This is
especially so with Iraq, where recent events are
enough to sicken one's stomach. Yet it still must be
said: those who opposed the George W. Bush
administration's invasion of Iraq in March 2003 — not
to mention his father's war on Iraq in 1991 and the
sanctions enforced through the administration of Bill
Clinton — were right.
The noninterventionists predicted a violent unraveling
of the country, and that's what we're witnessing. They
agreed with Amr Moussa, chairman of the Arab League,
who warned in September 2002 that the invasion would
"open the gates of hell." There was no ISIS or al-Qaeda
in Saddam Hussein's Iraq before the U.S. invasion.
Once again, the establishment news media have
ill-served the American public. In the buildup to the
2003 bipartisan war on Iraq — which was justified
through lies about weapons of mass destruction and
complicity in the 9/11 attacks — little time and ink
were devoted to the principled opponents of
Maybe war builds circulation, ratings, and advertising
revenues. Or maybe corporate news outlets fear losing
access to high-ranking government officials. Whatever
the explanation, far more media resources went toward
hyping the illegal aggressive war than to the case
No one can grasp the complexity of one's own society,
we noninterventionists said, much less a society with
Iraq's unique religious, sectarian, and political
culture and history. Intervention grows out of hubris.
Nonintervention accepts the limits of any ruling
cadre's knowledge. The war planners had no clue how to
reform Iraqi society. But there was one thing they did
know: they would not suffer the consequences of their
You'd think that with the noninterventionists proven
right, the media would learn from their folly and turn
to them to analyze the current turmoil in Iraq. But
you'd be mistaken.
With few exceptions, the go-to "authorities" are the
same people who got it wrong — not all of them
neoconservatives, because interventionists come in
different stripes. The discussion today is almost
exclusively over how the Obama administration should
intervene in Iraq, not if it should intervene. Even
Paul Wolfowitz, one of the wizards of the original
invasion, gets face time on major networks. He was
part of the crowd which said that American invaders
would be greeted with rose petals, that regime change
in Iraq would spread liberal democracy throughout the
Middle East, and that even peace between the Israelis
and Palestinians would take place.
These "authorities" were wrong about everything —
assuming they believed their own words — but that
seems not to matter.
They have their own story, of course. It's not the
2003 invasion that has brought Iraq to disintegration,
they say. It is Barack Obama's failure to leave U.S.
troops in Iraq after 2011. This argument doesn't work.
First, Obama (wrongly) asked Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
to allow troops to remain beyond the deadline
negotiated by Bush, but al-Maliki insisted that U.S.
personnel who commit crimes be subject to Iraqi law, a
reasonable demand. Obama would not accept that.
Second, why should we believe the advocates of the
original invasion when they say a residual U.S. force
could have prevented the offensive now conducted by
ISIS, aka the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham
(Levant)? It's far more likely that if American troops
were in Iraq today, they would be killing and dying.
Al-Maliki is everyone's favorite scapegoat now, and
the ruler known as the Shi'ite Saddam certainly is a
villain. He has arrested respected Sunni figures and
ordered troops to shoot peaceful Sunni demonstrators.
But recriminations against the Sunnis, who were
identified with Saddam's secular Ba'athist party,
started with the American administration of Iraq.
U.S. intervention now would be perceived as taking the
Shi'ite side in the Iraqi sectarian war. (Obama is
intervening, though on the opposite side, in Syria,
which helped build ISIS.) The conflict is complicated
— not all Sunnis and Shiites want sectarian violence —
but that's all the more reason to think that neither
American troops nor diplomats can repair Iraq. The
people themselves will have to work things out. As for
terrorism, it is U.S. intervention that makes
Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The
Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (www.fff.org).