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How the Iraq War Changed US Politics and Emerged Trump

Twenty years ago, Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, an administrative clerk at the Pentagon, learned of the existence of a new secret department called the Office of Special Plans.

The office was created because the Bush administration wanted to hear about intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Kwiatkowski, then 42 years old, saw firsthand how the catastrophic war unfolded.

“I had a tremendous amount of faith in my superiors, that they were there for a reason, that they were really wise and powerful and that it was all a fairy tale, but I found out that there are very incompetent people in very high positions,” he says. .

Kwiatkowski, who became a Pentagon whistleblower on the war, is now a farmer, part-time college professor and occasional political candidate for the libertarian wing of the Republican Party in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. He says he was cynical about war and politics even before he was appointed to the Pentagon’s Middle East and South Asia Department in 2002. But up close, the disruption to American rule deepened his disillusionment.

“There is a crisis of faith in this country,” says Kwiatkowski. “As always, when there are these crises of faith, populist leaders emerge, and the emergence of Trump has certainly responded to the crisis of faith. It will be interesting to see what happens next, because Americans have a lot less to be proud of than we think.”

In general, Kwiatkowski believes that the experience of the Iraq war has imbued Americans with a healthy skepticism about what the establishment tells them, however far it goes.

“I could walk into a Walmart right now and ask everybody about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and probably three out of ten people, maybe more, would swear it’s all true,” he says. “Public propaganda in this country is exceedingly good.”

Polling data over the past two decades suggests that general opinion on US foreign policy is fairly stable. When the Chicago Council on Global Affairs asked Americans “Whether it would be better for the country’s future if we (the US) actively participated in world affairs or stayed out of it,” 71% supported interventionism in 2002, and 64% still supported it in 2021 .

More generally, the invasion of Iraq coincided with a collapse in public confidence in the government, which, after the September 11 attacks, had briefly recovered from the decline caused by the Vietnam War. The Pew Research Center poll shows that the post-Iraq malaise is deeper and longer.

“[La guerra en Irak] said, especially to young people, that the government cannot be trusted,” says John Zogby, another American pollster. He also said that the US military, as powerful as it is in the world, has serious limitations and cannot impose its will, even on small countries.

And he adds: “Americans will continue to make war, but they want their wars to be short and make a positive difference.”

There are still US troops on counter-terrorist missions in Iraq and Syria. The authority to use military force, which Congress granted the Bush administration before the 2003 invasion, has not yet been revoked by the Senate and has been cited by the Obama and Trump administrations when justifying operations in the region.

Colin Rowley, the FBI whistleblower who exposed the security flaws that led to the 9/11 attacks, wrote an open letter to the agency’s director in March 2003 warning of an “avalanche of terrorism” following the invasion of Iraq. Now, two decades later, no one is responsible for the fatal mistakes.

“I think the real danger is that the propaganda has been too successful and people like Bush and Cheney have been rehabilitated,” Rowley says. Even liberals have come to terms with Bush and Cheney.

The terrible mistakes made before and during the Iraq war did not force anyone to resign. Neither George W. Bush nor his Vice President Dick Cheney (or any other senior official who facilitated the war and then claimed responsibility for the disastrous occupation) have been held accountable before any kind of commission or tribunal.

However, the Iraq stain arguably changed the course of US policy and hurt those who supported the war.

“In a way, you could say that Iraq got Obama into the presidency, not Hillary Clinton,” said Daniel Dresner, a professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. “I don’t think Obama would have won the 2008 Democratic primary if Hillary hadn’t supported the war.

The war also opened a rift in the Republican Party, strengthening the anti-interventionist faction that culminated in the election of Donald Trump in 2016.

George W. Bush and his former vice president have drawn favor from the liberal press for their tacit opposition to some of the excesses of the Trump era, but they have paid off, according to Kenneth Pollack, a Middle East and military expert at the American Enterprise Institute. The political price, by marginalization within one’s own party.

“The system punished those people. If you supported Bush, if you were one of the neoconservatives, you are no longer welcome in the party,” says Pollak. “I would say there was a lot of accountability, but it was American-style accountability.”

Among those excluded were traditional conservatives, whose positions on domestic social policy are less extreme than those of Republicans on the “Trump” wing. The drive to go to war was fueled by partisanship—the Bush administration despised Democrats and all opposition—but it also served as a catalyst for the extremism that led to Trump and the January 6, 2021 uprising.

“It’s very difficult to say how much Iraq was responsible for that, but it seems to me that it was a major element in the deterioration of our partisanship,” says Pollack.

Pollack is a former CIA analyst and pro-invasion Democrat who believed in evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and supported a humanitarian argument that justified the war as a means to topple the dictator. He jokes that he’s the only one to apologize since then. Not quite, as other pundits such as conservative commentator Max Booth have also expressed regret, but there has been no public expression of regret from the senior officials who made the fateful decisions. This is one of the main ways in which the United States has yet to properly calculate for war.

A former CIA official who contacted several members of the Bush team for an upcoming book on the United States and Iraq says some privately express regret for particular decisions and choices, but others condone them.

“They told me face to face: No, I wouldn’t change anything. I would do the same thing again, which is shocking to me,” says Pollak. “I don’t understand how you can look at the behavior of Americans during this period and not regret it.”

Translated by Julian Knochaert.

Source: El Diario





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