The most tragic and infuriating piece of writing of the week came in Tuesday’s New York Times. It carried a very plain and simple headline.
"Fifteen Years Ago, America Destroyed My Country"
Except for Sinan Antoon’s richly deserved jeremiad, the 15th anniversary of the worst foreign policy disaster in modern American history went sailing by largely unremarked, at least in this country. After all, over here, everyone was too busy keeping track of the latest news involving the vulgar talking yam the country had installed as president, how he was still truckling to Russian oligarchs, how he was still being run to ground by Bob Mueller, and about how he was being outwitted and out-lawyered by a lady from the adult entertainment industry.
My last visit was in April 2017. I flew from New York, where I now live, to Kuwait, where I was giving a lecture. An Iraqi friend and I crossed the border by land. I was going to the city of Basra, in the south of Iraq. Basra was the only major Iraqi city I had not visited before. I was going to sign my books at the Friday book market of al-Farahidi Street, a weekly gathering for bibliophiles modeled after the famous Mutanabbi Street book market in Baghdad. I was driven around by friends. I didn’t expect the beautiful Basra I’d seen on 1970s postcards. That city had long disappeared. But the Basra I saw was so exhausted and polluted. The city had suffered a great deal during the Iran-Iraq war, and its decline accelerated after 2003. Basra was pale, dilapidated and chaotic thanks to the rampant corruption. Its rivers are polluted and ebbing.
Remember, back in the dim times, that the first use of the phrase “draining the swamp” came out of the lunatic notion that scrambling the entire Middle East would somehow result in the creation of several peaceable Rhode Islands. This was also peddled as the concept of “hitting the hornet’s nest,” a genuinely stupid idea in any context. (It was also the basis for Thomas Friedman’s famous formulation that the Iraqis should just “suck on this.")
The results are in. Iraq never recovered. Syria devolved into civil war. We got closer than ever to the inhumane regime in Saudi Arabia, now engaged in mass slaughter in Yemen with weapons we supplied, because there’s never been a problem with that before. And the most remarkable result of all is that almost nobody paid any real price for their role in this nightmarish escapade.
No one knows for certain how many Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion 15 years ago. Some credible estimates put the number at more than one million. You can read that sentence again. The invasion of Iraq is often spoken of in the United States as a “blunder,” or even a “colossal mistake.” It was a crime. Those who perpetrated it are still at large. Some of them have even been rehabilitated thanks to the horrors of Trumpism and a mostly amnesiac citizenry. (A year ago, I watched Mr. Bush on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” dancing and talking about his paintings.) The pundits and “experts” who sold us the war still go on doing what they do. I never thought that Iraq could ever be worse than it was during Saddam’s reign, but that is what America’s war achieved and bequeathed to Iraqis.
A lot of people should have taken Tuesday off. The green rooms should have emptied as a day of atonement. George W. Bush should have spent the day in the stocks.