On the 20th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, it’s important for us as a nation to reflect on that conflict and its consequences. As the vice president of the United States in 2003, I was one of the architects of the project to go after Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction. Today, I believe it’s important to offer an honest assessment of my role in the Iraq War. Looking back on it now, I have to say that, wow, I mostly got it right.
Seriously, the Iraq War went basically as well as I could have hoped.
We in the Bush administration justified the war on the basis of destroying Saddam’s WMDs and bringing democracy to the Iraqi people. Twenty years later, we know that Saddam didn’t have any WMDs, and that the United States left Iraq in the throes of poverty and violence. Critics then and now have suggested that we deliberately misrepresented intelligence, and that spreading democracy was merely a fig leaf for our true goal of maintaining U.S. political and economic dominance over the world.
To that, I say, no shit. Duh. Of course we were lying. Of course we only went in to maintain American hegemony. That was the whole plan all along.
Christ, what country do you think we are?
In hindsight, it’s stunning to see how right I was about the long-term impacts of invading Iraq. Sure, there are the obvious wins of destabilizing governments we don’t like, strengthening U.S. control over the oil industry, and killing a bunch of Muslims. That was all pretty neat, and exactly what we expected. But let’s be honest about the Iraqi victims: You don’t care about them, and I don’t care about them. Because, ultimately, the goal of the Iraq War was much bigger than that, and we achieved that goal: the victory of the U.S. war machine over the American people.
In my heart of hearts, I figured that if Americans would accept the Iraq War, then there was nothing they wouldn’t accept. It seems clear, 20 years later, that I’ve been proven right.
For starters, we wanted to put the American political and media class on a permanent war footing. After the Soviet Union collapsed, things looked dicey in terms of keeping Americans all frothed up about foreign adversaries. Sure, 9/11 helped, but what we really craved was a rationale for endless war. In Iraq, we implemented our playbook for the post-Vietnam, post-Soviet, 21st-century invasion, and it’s amazing to see how well it all played out. Today, all we have to do is say “democracy,” and our political and media elite will rush to support any military action like slobbering dogs. I don’t mean to be immodest, but that’s exactly how I predicted it would go down.
Any Iraq War reflection must contend with the rise of ISIS—one of America’s greatest accomplishments. ISIS was a real home run for us. We suspected that sowing wanton violence across the Middle East would stoke anti-American insurgencies that didn’t conform to conventional national or geographic boundaries. In theory, they could be everywhere. And if the enemy could be everywhere, it justified basically any action to stop them. Which was great, because the deliberately vague war on terror gave a blank check to the men and women who bravely reap the profits of our private military contractors.
I imagine the name Halliburton rings a bell? What we wanted to do, what Rumsfeld and Condi and I and the rest of that bunch really wanted to do, was forever shift war-making into the hands of weapons contractors and mercenary armies. Not only does that make me and a bunch of my buddies incredibly rich, but it makes it so that even if regular people wanted to stop the war machine, they couldn’t. All decisions are made outside public control, and there aren’t any democratic mechanisms left to stop it. Of all the legacies of the war, that might be my absolute favorite.
I’m calling on all Americans to support our mission to invade Thailand and restore democracy.
Gotcha! You started feeling all patriotic for a second there, didn’t you? Started getting all indignant about those poor suffering Thai people and ready to put their flag in your social media handle? I have no fucking clue if Thailand has a democracy, and I don’t care. But inspiring that knee-jerk jingoistic reaction in you, that right there is the legacy of the Iraq War. That’s my legacy.
When I’m right, I’m right.
Because ultimately, that might be the thing we were most right about: We figured that tying being a “real American” to patriotism would make it effectively impossible to mount a serious anti-war effort in this country ever again. Since the Iraq War, Democrats have been so worried about being labeled soft on terrorism that they’ve given full-throated support to every military action that our weapons lobbyists and intelligence agencies could devise. In addition, legitimate public grievances over America’s most heinous actions can be reduced by the media to feckless “culture war” battles, which neutralizes their power. If you don’t believe those were major driving forces behind the war in Iraq, I have a weapon of mass destruction to sell you.
It’s easy for armchair critics to condemn the Iraq War. But you have to remember what things were like back in 2003. People actually trusted the government and had faith in the idea of America. Trust and faith aren’t very sturdy things to build a perpetual war machine on, and they don’t make a lot of money, either. The Iraq War eroded faith in the government and drove more Americans into suspicion and hatred, just as we hoped it would. Combine that with rising inequality and the American cult of the individual, and you have a perfect recipe for ensuring that most Americans are too disillusioned to mount collective resistance to any governmental transgressions. That’s what I always hoped the Iraq War might accomplish, and man, it feels good to be right.
Looking back, it’s safe to say the Iraq War was the high point of my career. Except maybe shooting that guy.