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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Remember Iraq?

(updated below)

One of the most bizarre and disturbing media phenomena in some time is the very sudden, and virtually complete, disappearance of the war in Iraq from the media radar. That country is literally falling apart, engulfed by what even war proponents are acknowledging increasingly appears to be an inevitable civil war and growing anarchy. And yet for the last week, Iraq was barely discussed, save for a completely inconsequential gossipy sideshow about whether the Democrats did something which the Republicans would never, ever do -- namely, exploit a national security matter (Prime Minister Maliki's condemnation of Israel) for political gain.

For the media, new wars are always more exciting than old wars, but the Israel-Lebanon war is not (yet) "our war," despite the zealous dreams of American warmongers. What is very much our war is the true disaster taking place in Iraq. What is going on there is not just devastating for Iraqis -- although it is very much that -- but for American national security as well. And yet the proponents of this war seem to be eager to simply forget the whole thing and just move on to their next little project, blithely accepting the fact that Iraq is going to be engulfed by civil war and anarchy and that there is not much we can do about it.

But there is no greater danger to American national security than the complete mess which war proponents have made of Iraq, and to know that, one can just listen to what they themselves have been saying for the last several years. Let's use war proponent Joe Lieberman as an example.

Here is what Sen. Lieberman said in an October 7, 2002 speech when explaining why he was one of four sponsors in the Senate of the Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq:

But we must understand that the ultimate measure of a war's success is the quality of the peace that follows. If, in the aftermath, we leave the Iraqi people to fend for themselves in chaos and squalor, without more freedom or opportunity, we will end up hindering, not advancing, the wider war against terrorism and slowing, not speeding, the world's march toward democracy and the rule of law.

And when Sen. Lieberman spoke at the Brookings Institute on April 26, 2004 -- when he, in essence, urged Democrats in an election year to stop being so critical of President Bush's decision to invade Iraq -- Sen. Lieberman warned that our national security depends upon what the outcome in Iraq will be, and made clear that a chaotic, violent Iraq would be devastating to American security:

I repeat, the outcome of this new war in Iraq will have enormous consequences for the people of Iraq, America and the world. If our enemies prevail and America retreats, Iraqis will face chaos, or a dictatorship, or both. The Iraqi domino could fall backwards as easily as it could fall forwards, and topple hopes for democracy throughout the Middle East. The region would be profoundly destabilized, which would gravely endanger American security, and the fanatical Islamic terrorists will be emboldened to take more aggressive actions against people in America, Europe and the Islamic world. The safety of our children’s future would be greatly endangered.

In March of 2004 on the Senate floor, Sen. Lieberman similarly warned: "If we fail to stop these insurgents and lose the peace in Iraq, we will condemn the Iraqi people to relentless violence, the Middle East will be destabilized, and we will give the forces of worldwide terrorism new confidence, new energy and new resources to attack us."

For exactly those reasons, the proponents of the destruction of Iraq have single-handedly done more damage to American national security than all other groups combined. And having insisted for years that the fate of the free world and American security hangs in the balance in Iraq, they now just want to forget about the whole thing, pretend it never happened, and shut their eyes to the disaster they created and which they so plainly cannot control.

It isn't just that our occupation of this imploding country is being ignored by the media. What is so striking is the way which Iraq is now being talked about. It is purely surreal how the primary challenge to Sen. Lieberman is described -- in a way that is intended to be dismissive, to belittle it -- as all stemming from just one little, tiny disagreement: Iraq. Gosh, Sen. Lieberman is such a great Senator -- he votes the right way on the environment and everything -- and all he did was make one little mistake -- Iraq -- and now everyone is turning on him. That is so irrational and mean and unfair.

It is the proponents of this invasion who have insisted that Iraq is the centerpiece of American national security, that it is the primary front in the war on terror, that failure is not an option, etc. etc. They used their militaristic posture in Iraq -- and the "appeasing weakness" of opponents of the invasion -- to win two consecutive national elections. And now that the extent of the damage they created is too glaring to be denied, they want to walk away from it all, insist that it's unfair to hold them accountable for it, and hope that the media moves on to more interesting and exciting adventures than the plodding, depressing collapse of Iraq.

But along with the assault being waged on the rule of law domestically, Iraq is the political issue of our time. Our preemptive, disastrous invasion of that country has fundamentally changed not just the perception of America's character around the world, but America's national character itself. We spawned chaos, militia rule, and a sectarian civil war in the middle of the most inflammable region on the planet, and did so while knowing that chaos and lawlessness are exactly the conditions in which terrorists groups thrive.

And we have no idea of how far things will unravel, of how far and wide this violence and instability will spread. But there is no greater danger to American national security -- no more potent ally of terrorism -- than the implosion of Iraq that our invasion created. And to know that, one can simply look at what the war proponents have been saying for the last four years.

What rationale exists for not holding accountable the architects and authors and advocates of this debacle? It is not irrational that political challenges are being made against war proponents. What would be irrational is if there were no such challenges. Those who advocated this invasion -- and, worse, those who continued to insist that things were going well long past the time when it was clear that such claims were false -- have revealed themselves to be completely lacking in judgment if not integrity and honesty. It is self-evident that removing that faction from political power is a critical goal, arguably the most critical.

It really seems as though the "plan" now in Iraq is just to step back and allow the whole country to collapse. That impression is strongly bolstered by the fact that war proponents seem eager to ignore Iraq and focus on other matters just as the civil war and destruction of that country seems to be reaching the point of no return. War proponents continuously argued that chaos, violence and instability in Iraq would be a grave threat to American security and a great ally of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. And yet exactly that situation has resulted from our invasion, and now the proponents of the war -- and apparently much of the media -- want to just forget about all of that.

UPDATE: Via Atrios, it seems that Lieberman himself yesterday "suggested that he wanted to move the debate away from the war. 'We’re going to try hard to focus this back on the issues that I think really are ultimately more important to the future of families in Connecticut: jobs, health care, education,'" he said.

Somehow, the war went from having "enormous consequences for the people of Iraq, America and the world" to being something that isn't really all that important to talk about.

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