The following is an excellent excerpt from the book “THE UNTOLD HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES” by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick from Chapter 13 “THE BUSH-CHENEY DEBACLE: “The Gates of Hell Are Open in Iraq” on page 529 and I quote: “From President Bush on down, administration officials were simply delusional. In April 2003, “Nightline’s” Ted Koppel was incredulous when Andrew Natsios, the administrator of the Agency for International Development, told him that the total cost to U.S. taxpayers would be $1.7 billion. [Paul] Wolfowitz insisted that Iraqi oil revenues would be sufficient to finance the post war reconstruction. As he observed, Iraq “floats on a sea of oil.” By the time Bush left office, the United States had spent some $700 billion on the war, no including interest payments on borrowed money and long-term care for veterans, many of whom suffered crippling physical and psychological injuries.
Conditions in Iraq went from bad to worse when L. Paul Bremer replaced Garner in early May. Bremer swiftly dissolved the Iraqi army and police force and ordered former Baath Party members fired from government posts. Looting swept Baghdad as undermanned coalition forces could not maintain order. While national treasures disappeared from Iraq’s museums, U.S. troops and tanks protected only the Oil Ministry building. The country rapidly descended into chaos as electricity failed, water supplies dried up, sewage ran in the streets, and the sick and wounded overwhelmed hospitals. While Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), operating out of the heavily fortified Green Zone, issued upbeat reports, the insurgency, fueled by armed and disgruntled former Iraqi soldiers, whom Runsfeld contemptuously dismissed as “dead-enders,” grew and war costs skyrocketed. The Pentagon requested an additional $87 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan.
By November 2003, coalition forces were suffering thirty-five attacks per day. Angry insurgents flooded in from throughout the Islamic world intent upon ousting the infidels. Bin Laden and Zawahiri urged fellow Muslims to “bury [the Americans] in the Iraqi graveyard.” In September, between one thousand and three thousand were thought to have arrived, with thousands more on the way. One highly placed U.S. official noted, “Iraq is now Jihad Stadium. It is the place for fundamentalists to go now, it is their Super Bowl, where you go to stick it to the West. . . there are an infinite number of potential new players.”
Bremer set about reorganizing the Iraqi economy, which essentially meant privatizing the national oil company and two hundred other state-owned companies. Planning for this had begun before the invasion, when the U.S. Agency for International Development drew up its “Vision for Post-Conflict Iraq.” Contracts for $800 million had been awarded to five infrastructure engineering firms, including Kellogg, Brown & Root and Bechtel. The Treasury Department had been busy circulating a program for “broad-based Mass Privatization” among financial consultants.
On May 27, 2003, Bremer announced that Iraq is “open for business again” and began issuing orders. Order no. 37 set a flat tax rate of 15 percent, slashing the tax burden on wealthy individuals and on corporations, which had been paying around 45 percent. Order no. 39 privatized state enterprises and permitted 100 percent foreign ownership of Iraqi firms. The profits, in their entirety, could be removed from the country. Leases and contracts could last for forty years and then be eligible for renewal. Order no. 40 privatized the banks. Rumsfeld testified that those reforms created “some of the most enlightened—and inviting—tax and investment laws in the free world.” With estimates of reconstruction costs reaching $500 billion, it is no wonder that “The Economist” called it “a capitalist dream.” According to Nobel prize-winning former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz, Iraq was getting “an even more radical form of shock therapy than pursued in the former Soviet world.”
Caught off guard by the strength of the insurgency, the Pentagon sent U.S. troops into combat without sufficient armor to protect vehicles that were targeted with improvised explosive devices. The sheer incompetence of officials sent by the Bush administration sometimes strained credulity. The “Washington Post” reported that job seekers were chosen based on right-wing political views and loyalty to the Bush administration, not expertise in development, conflict resolution, or the Middle East. Jim O’Beirne, a Bush appointee, asked job applicants if they had voted for Bush, if they approved of his war on terror, and even if they supported “Roe v. Wade.” According to the “Post,” “A twenty-four-year-old who had never worked in finance—but had applied for a White House job—was sent to reopen Baghdad’s stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for homeschooled children were tapped to manage Iraq’s $13 billion budget, even though they didn’t have a background in accounting. “The “Post” reported that many of those tasked with rebuilding Iraq focused instead on “instituting a flat tax.,. . . selling off government assets, . . . ending food rations,” while the economy collapsed and unemployment skyrocketed.
In May 2003, law enforcement experts from the Justice Department reported that Iraq needed six thousand foreign advisors to revamp its police forces. The White House sent former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik to be the interim interior minister, along with a dozen advisors. Kerik, who would later be imprisoned after pleading guilty to eight felony counts, lasted three months before departing, leaving Iraq in worse shape than he found it. The Bush appointees proved to be the Keystone Kops of nation building. With a gut-level belief that governments were not capable of providing for their people, they set out to prove their convictions right. By September 2004, conditions had deteriorated so dramatically that Amr Moussa, head of the Arab League, announced, “The gates of hell are open in Iraq.”
Lacking sufficient troops to carry out basic functions, the government hired an army of private security guards and civilian contractors to do much of the work, often at outrageous cost and with little oversight. By 2007, they numbered 1600,000. Many Blackwater security guards had served in right-wing militaries in Latin America. They and other foreign personnel had been granted immunity from arrest by Iraqi authorities. Other support operations were outsourced to companies like Halliburton, which raked in profits in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. With 40,000 employees in Iraq alone, it earned more than $24 billion by 2008, much of it coming from questionable no-bid contracts. After the invasion, Halliburton jumped from number nineteen to the top spot on the U.S. Army’s list of contractors. When Senator Patrick Leahy confronted Cheney on the floor of the Senate about Halliburton’s shameless profiteering, Cheney erupted, “Fuck yourself.” Not only were Halliburton and its subsidiary KBR found to have repeatedly overcharged the government, but KBR’s shoddy electrical work on U.S. bases resulted in hundreds of electrical fires and the electrocution of numerous soldiers.
Conditions deteriorated further on February 22, 2006, when a bomb destroyed the golden dome of the Shiite shrine in Samarra. Enraged Shiites attacked Sunnis and their religious sites throughout the country. Suicide bombings and murders of civilians became commonplace. The country teetered on the edge of civil war.
Award-winning journalist Helen Thomas confronted George Bush: “Mr. President, you started this war, a war of your choosing, and you can end it alone, today. . . . Two million Iraquis have fled their country as refugees. Two million more are displaced. Thousands and thousands are dead. Don’t you understand you brought the al Quaeda into Iraq?” “Actually, I was hoping to solve the Iraqi issue diplomatically,” Bush responded. “That’s why I went to the United Nations and worked with the United Nations Security Council, which unanimously passed a resolution that said disclose, disarm or face serious consequences.”
Bush had earlier said he invaded Iraq after giving Saddam “a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in.” Even the “Washington Post” had felt compelled to comment: “The president’s assertion that the war began because Iraq did not admit inspectors appeared to contradict the events leading up to war this spring: Hussein had, in fact admitted the inspectors and Bush had opposed extending their work because he did not believe them effective.”
Bruce Bartleett, who served in both the Reagan and first Bush administrations, described George W. Bush’s psychology to journalist Ron Suskind in 2004:
“This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Quaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can’t be persuaded, that they’re extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he’s just like them. . . . This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts. He truly believes he’s on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence. But you can’t run the world on faith.”
Suskind noted that when people questioned Bush’s policies that appeared to fly in the face of reality, “The president would say that he relied on his ‘gut’ or his ‘instincts’ to guide the ship of state, and then he ‘prayed over it.’” One of Bush’s senior advisors accused Suskind of being “in what we call the reality-based community.” He informed him, “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. . . . We’re history’s actors. . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
Not everyone was so sanguine about denying reality. Seven noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne described the Iraqi situation to the “New York Times” in August 2007:
“Viewed from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. . . . to Believe that Americas, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. . . . Sunnis. . . now find themselves forming militias, sometimes with our tacit support. . . . The Iraqi government finds itself working at cross purposes with us on this issue because it is justifiably fearful that Sunni militias will turn on it should the Americans leave. . . a vast majority of Iraquis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side. . . the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed miserably. Two million Iraquis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. . . . In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise. . . . the primary preoccupation of average Iraquis is when and how they are likely to be killed. . . . our presence. . . has. . . robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are—an army of occupation—and force our withdrawal.”
In early 2008, Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard economist Linda Bilmes calculated that the cost of the Iraq War would actually reach $3 trillion, or 1,765 times what Natsios had estimated. What did Iraqi citizens and U.S. taxpayers receive in return? In 2008, the International Red Cross reported a humanitarian “crisis” in Iraq leaving millions without clean water, sanitation, or health care: “The humanitarian situation in most of the country remains among the most critical in the world.” Twenty thousand of the 34,000 doctors who had practiced in Iraq in 1990 had left the country; 2,200 had been killed and 250 kidnapped. In 2010, Transparency International ranked Iraq the fourth most corrupt country in the world, just behind Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Somalia.
But the starkest display of what the United States achieved came in March 2008, a month in which Baghdad received two prominent visitors; Dock Cheney and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Cheney sneaked into Baghdad under a veil of secrecy, protected by a massive security force, and then beat a hasty retreat before his presence was known. Ahmadinejad broadcast his plans in advance and drove in a motorcade from the airport. The “Chicago Tribune” reported:
“Ahmadinejad was greeted with hugs and kisses on the first day of his historic visit to Iraq. . . , marking a dramatic break with the past for the two former foes and a new challenge to U.S. influence in Iraq. . . . Ahmadinejad. . . planned to spend two days in Baghdad. He is sleeping outside the relative safety of the Green Zone. . . . Iraq and Iran are expected Monday to announce a series of bilateral agreements concerning trade, electricity and oil. “There are no limits to the cooperation that we are going to open up with our neighbor Iran,” al-Maliki told reporters. Ahmadinejad was the first national leader to be given a state reception by Iraq’s government. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Ahmadinejad held hands as they inspected a guard of honor, while a brass band played brisk British marching tunes. Children presented the Iranian with flowers. Members of Iraq’s Cabinet lined up to greet him. . . . At every step, Ahmadinejad and his Iraqi hosts underlined the common interests of the two countries, whose long-hostile relationship has been transformed by the installation of a Shiite-led government following the U.S.-led invasion. . . . “The two people, Iraqi and Iranian, will work together to bring Iraq out of its current crisis, “ Ahmadinejad pledged.”. . . Iraq is already in the hands of the Iranians. It’s just a matter of time,” said independent Sunni parliamentarian Mithal al-Alusi. “Ahmadinejad’s message is; Mr. Bush, we won the game, and you are losing.””
Standing in the U.S.-controlled Green Zone alongside the Iraqi prime minister, Ahmadinejad dismissed Bush’s repeated allegations that Iranian agents were arming and training Shiite militias and demanded that the United States “accept the facts of this region: the Iraqi people do not like or support the Americans.”
He was right. The Americans were the big losers, and Iran turned out to be the big winner. Its principal enemy had been eliminated, and its influence was now paramount in the region.
Already bogged down in two disastrous wars, there was little the United States could do about Iran, a charter member of Bush’s “axis of evil,” besides repeatedly decrying its expanding nuclear program, its meddling in Iraq, its support for terrorism, and the inflammatory statements by its president. Because Bush was bent on confrontation with Iran, he missed a historic opportunity to mend relations in the early part of the decade and to do so on the United States’ terms.
Following 9/11, Iran assisted the United States in its fight against the Taliban—their mutual enemy—in Afghanistan. Then, after extensive informal discussions, Iran proposed a grand bargain in May 2003. In exchange for enhanced security, mutual respect, and access to peaceful nuclear technology, Iran offered recognition of Israel as part of a two-state solution; “full transparency” on its nuclear program; help in stabilizing Iraq; action against terrorist groups in Iran; the halting of material support for Palestinian opposition groups in Iran; including Hamas, and pressuring them to “stop violent actions against civilians “ in Israel; and a concerted effort to transform Hezbollah into a “mere political organization within Lebanon.” But because the administration neocons were intent on toppling the Iranian regime, not improving relations with it, they rejected the Iranian initiative and girded for war. It was a blunder of epic proportions.
In 2005, Philip Giraldi, a former senior CIA official, reported, “The Pentagon, acting under instructions from. . . Cheney’s office,” had ordered the U.S. Strategic Command to prepare plans for a “large-scale air assault on Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons.” Nuclear weapons were reserved for hardened and underground facilities and the uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. Vehement objection by the Joint Chiefs forced Bush and Cheney to remove this option. In 2007, the Bush administration again began stirring the pot with Iran. As late as October of that year, Bush warned that Iran was intent on acquiring nuclear weapons and that its doing so might cause World War III. His effort to drum up war sentiment was derailed in early December when the intelligence community released a new National Intelligence Estimate concluding with “high confidence” that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, repudiating its findings of only two years earlier.”
(THE BUSH-CHENEY ADMINISTRATION HAD A BUNCH OF DRAFT-DODGERS, WHILE ALL THE WHILE THEY WERE PROMOTING WARS AND THE WORST ONE BEING IN IRAQ, WHO REALLY NEVER HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH 9/11. WHEN THEY STARTED THEIR PRESIDENCY, AFTER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON LEFT OFFICE WITH A HUGE SURPLUS OF $128 BILLION, PRESIDENT GEORGE W BUSH PROMPTLY GAVE HIS BILLIONAIRE FRIENDS THREE TAX CUTS AND THE NUMBER OF BILLIONAIRES JUMPED FROM 13 IN 1985 TO MORE THAN 450 IN 2008. THE UNITED STATES WAS FAST BECOMING A NATION OF HAVES, WHICH REPRESENTS THE RICHEST 1 PERCENT AND A COUNTRY OF HAVE-NOTS, WHICH REPRESENT THE 99 PERCENT. THIS IS THE REASON THAT DEMOCRACY MUST HAVE ELECTIONS BUT IT WOULD BE GREAT IF WE COULD GET A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT TO GET BIG MONEY OUT OF POLITICS.
LaVern Isely, Progressive, Overtaxed, Independent Middle Class Taxpayer and Public Citizen and AARP Members