invasion of islamic countries revisited

Combat Veteran and Military Historian Tells Bill Moyers, “No Way” Do We Go Back into Iraq:  “Invading and occupying countries in the Islamic world is a pretty dumb idea,” says Andrew Bacevich.

Moyers and Company / By Bill Moyers

June 20, 2014 |

The escalating bloodbath in Iraq has triggered renewed debate on how muscular America’s foreign policy should be. Speaking about the crisis earlier, President Obama recently said that the US is ready for “targeted and precise military action” against advancing Islamists if needed, adding that “American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq.”

BILL MOYERS: Welcome. They said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that could turn the smoking gun into a mushroom cloud, and they were wrong. They said Iraq had ties to Al Qaeda, and they were wrong. They said the war would be a cakewalk, and they were wrong. Over and again they were wrong, yet 11 years, thousands of lives, millions of refugees, and trillions of dollars later, the very same armchair warriors in Washington who from the safety of their Beltway bunkers called for invading Baghdad, are demanding once again that America plunge into the sectarian wars of the Middle East.

A chorus of kindred voices fills the echo chamber: the same old faces, the same old arguments, never acknowledging the phony premises and fraudulent intelligence that led to disaster and chaos in the first place. A headline at the website ThinkProgress sums it up: “The People Who Broke Iraq Have A Lot of Ideas About Fixing It Now.”

Among the most celebrated of these hawks is Robert Kagan, senior fellow with the Brookings Institution. A darling of the neocons, he’s been a foreign policy adviser to John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Hillary Clinton. In 2002, he and William Kristol wrote that for the war on terrorism to succeed, Saddam Hussein must be removed. When George W. Bush set out to do just that, Kagan cheered him on, and then, in 2006, called for a surge in American troop levels to prevent Iraq’s collapse.

Now Robert Kagan is stirring controversy again with this lengthy article in “The New Republic,” “Superpowers Don’t Get To Retire: What our tired country still owes the world.” He calls for America to return to muscular, global activism.

Kagan’s much-discussed article brought a sharp riposte from another scholar and historian who sees the world and America’s role differently. Andrew Bacevich has seen the horrors of war too closely to advocate more of the same policies that failed in Vietnam and Iraq. A graduate of West Point with 23 years in the military, including time in Vietnam, he teaches history at Boston University, writes best-selling books on foreign policy, and articles and essays in journals both liberal and conservative, like this critique of Kagan in “Commonweal” magazine titled, “The Duplicity of the Ideologues.” Welcome back.


BILL MOYERS: So what do you mean, the duplicity of ideologues?

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, Kagan’s essay, which does deserve to be read, simply because of Kagan’s stature in Washington, gives us a falsified, sanitized, and in some respects, illusory account of recent American history.


ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, his notion of American history, particularly since 1945, is one that we might term an extended liberation narrative where the United States devoted itself, in the wake of World War II, to promoting liberal values, democracy everywhere, fighting against evildoers, and he concludes that this success is being squandered by Barack Obama and those who are unwilling to continue this crusade.

Now, that narrative is only sustainable if you leave a lot of important facts out, or if you distort those facts. So we get no mention of overthrowing Mossadegh in Iran in 1953. We get no mention of the CIA overthrowing the president of Guatemala. We get virtually no mention of the Vietnam War, which he dismisses as sort of an unfortunate incident of no particular significance. And perhaps most egregiously, he utterly ignores the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he served as a cheerleader for. And which to a very large extent, account for the problem that we’re dealing with today in the greater Middle East.

BILL MOYERS: This week, one of his allies, former Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter Elizabeth wrote a long essay in “The Wall Street Journal.” They say, “Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many. Too many times to count, Mr. Obama has told us he is ‘ending’ the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—as though wishing made it so.

His rhetoric has now come crashing into reality. Watching the black-clad ISIS jihadists take territory once secured by American blood is final proof, if any were needed, that America’s enemies are not ‘decimated.’ They are emboldened and on the march.”

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I’d say rarely has a major American newspaper published an op-ed that was so thoroughly shameless. Again, what is the cause? What was the catalyst of the instability that racks Iraq today? The simple answer is the one that Cheney and his daughter don’t want to mention: the unnecessary, misguided, and frankly immoral war launched by the United States in 2003. We destabilized Iraq. In many respects, we destabilized the larger region. And misfortune of Barack Obama is that he inherited this catastrophe, created by the previous administration.

BILL MOYERS: Even Cheney once thought that it would be a serious mistake to occupy Baghdad. This is Dick Cheney in 1994 reflecting on the first Iraq war– when he was Secretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush.

BRUCE COLLINS on C-Span,1994: Do you think the US, or UN forces, should have moved into Baghdad?

DICK CHENEY on C-Span,1994: No.

BRUCE COLLINS on C-Span,1994: Why not?

DICK CHENEY on C-Span,1994: Because if we’d gone to Baghdad we would have been all alone. There wouldn’t have been anybody else with us. It would have been a US occupation of Iraq. None of the Arab forces that were willing to fight with us in Kuwait were willing to invade Iraq.

Once you got to Iraq and took it over, and took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place? That’s a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government in Iraq, you can easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off: part of it, the Syrians would like to have to the west, part of eastern Iraq the Iranians would like to claim– fought over for eight years. In the north you’ve got the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. It’s a quagmire.

ANDREW BACEVICH: I think the contrast between what Cheney said in 1994 and what he says 20 years later is actually very illustrative of this point. And that is that what passes for foreign-policy debate today, is just nakedly partisan. Back in 1994, he was in the business of defending George Herbert Walker Bush. Now he’s in the business of defending George W. Bush. But basically attacks Barack Obama, blaming Obama for any difficulties that we’re having. And the point about naked partisanship I think really applies in a somewhat larger stage. When you look at the people who get invited on the Sunday talk shows, or whose op-eds appear in “The New York Times” or in “The Washington Post” or other prominent organs of opinion, they are people who are participating in this partisan debate.

There is very little effort to look beyond the Bush versus Obama, Republican versus Democrat, to try to understand the larger forces in play that have brought us to where we are today. And the understanding of which could then make it possible for us to think somewhat more creatively about policy than simply having an argument about whether we should, you know, attack with drones or attack with manned aircraft.

BILL MOYERS: What are those larger forces at work? Because Robert Kagan says, quote, “world order shows signs of cracking, and perhaps even collapsing.” And that these changes signal a transition into a different world order, which the United States should attempt to lead.

ANDREW BACEVICH: When Kagan uses phrases like world order, he’s describing something that never really existed except in his own imagination. But again, the point is worth reflecting on. Kagan believes, many people in Washington believe, perhaps too many people in the hinterland also believe, that the United States shapes the global order. That there is an order for which we alone are responsible.

Where does this kind of thinking come from? I mean, I think in many respects, what we see here is the contemporary expression of the whole notion of American exceptionalism. That we are chosen. We are called upon, called upon by God, called upon by providence, to somehow transform the world and remake it in our own image. Now, Robert Kagan wouldn’t state it as bluntly as I just did. But that is the kind of thinking that I think makes it very difficult for us to have a genuine and serious foreign policy debate.

BILL MOYERS: So the other side would argue, as they are, that well, look at the beheadings and the murders, the brutality and cruelty that the radical Islamists are inflicting upon their adversaries, and the people of Iraq. Isn’t that an evil to which we are the only ones can respond?

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, first of all, it is an evil to which we contributed by our folly in invading Iraq back in 2003. There was no Al Qaeda in Iraq under the previous order. That’d be the first point. And the second point I think would be: let’s be practical. Let’s be pragmatic. If indeed we are called upon to act, let us frame our actions in ways that actually will yield some positive outcome.

I’m personally not persuaded that further military action in Iraq is actually going to produce an outcome more favorable than the last one. If what we have here on our hands in Iraq, in Syria, elsewhere in the Middle East is a humanitarian catastrophe, then let us become serious about asking ourselves, what is the appropriate response? What can the richest and most powerful country in the world do to alleviate the suffering of innocent people who are caught up in this violence?

And my answer to that question is not air strikes. My answer to that question is, well, if indeed we have a moral responsibility to come to the aid of suffering Iraqis and Syrians, then we better start opening up our wallets to be far more generous and forthcoming in providing assistance that people need.

You know, we live in a country where if you want to go bomb somebody, there’s remarkably little discussion about how much it might cost, even though the costs almost inevitably end up being orders of magnitude larger than anybody projected at the outcome. But when you have a discussion about whether or not we can assist people who are suffering, then suddenly we come very, you know, cost-conscious.

BILL MOYERS: What form would that assistance take, given the hostilities on the ground there, and the murderous internecine, tribal, sectarian conflicts going on there? How do we help people who are at this moment suffering as a consequence, as you have indicated earlier, of polices we pursued?

ANDREW BACEVICH: People flee these conflict zones. They flee into neighboring countries where they end up in pretty squalid refugee camps, mostly run by the United Nations. Let’s double, triple, quadruple the support that we provide to maintain those refugee camps. Or let’s go beyond that. Let us welcome at least some number of them to America, where they will have safety and freedom. I mean, if we’re serious about caring about the well-being of these people, that’s one practical way to respond to their plight.

BILL MOYERS: So do we conclude from that that you don’t believe there is anything practical we can do on the ground to separate the warring forces or help the government forces in Iraq prevent this violence? Is the only option murderous genocide and optimum paralysis?

ANDREW BACEVICH: We have been engaged in the Islamic world at least since 1980, in a military project based on the assumption that the adroit use of American hard power can somehow pacify or fix this part of the world. We can now examine more than three decades of this effort.

Let’s look at what US military intervention in Iraq has achieved, in Afghanistan has achieved, in Somalia has achieved, in Lebanon has achieved, in Libya has achieved. I mean, ask ourselves the very simple question: is the region becoming more stable? Is it becoming more democratic? Are we alleviating, reducing the prevalence of anti-Americanism? I mean, if the answer is yes, then let’s keep trying. But if the answer to those questions is no, then maybe it’s time for us to recognize that this larger military project is failing and is not going to succeed simply by trying harder.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, the events that are unfolding in Iraq at this very moment promote a debate within Washington revolving around the question, what should we do about Iraq? But there is a larger and more important question. And the larger and more important question has to do with the region as a whole. And the actual consequences of US military action over the past 30 years.

BILL MOYERS: As you know, Iraq has formally asked the US government to launch air strikes against those Jihadist militants. How do you think that’s going to play out?

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I don’t know. My guess would be that this will substantially increase the pressure on the president to do just that. And my question would be if we launch air strikes, and if the air strikes don’t have a decisive effect in turning the tables on the ground, then what? I mean, this is always, I think, a concern when you begin a military operation that you have some reasonable sense of what you’re going to do next if the first gambit doesn’t succeed.

BILL MOYERS: Many people are saying that Barack Obama is feckless, lacks will, or strength, and that he’s enabling the defeat of our interest in the Middle East by pulling the troops back and by being indifferent to what’s happening there now.

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, he’s not indifferent. I mean, I’m not here to defend the Obama approach to foreign policy, which I think has been mediocre at best. That said, the president has learned some things. I think the most important thing the president learned from his predecessor is that invading and occupying countries in the Islamic world is a pretty dumb idea. It leads to complications and enormous costs. So we see him reticent about putting so-called boots on the ground. That said, the president certainly has not been reluctant to use force in a variety of ways. Usually on small-scale drone strikes, commando raids, and the like.

Where I would fault the president is that he hasn’t been able to go beyond learning the negative lessons of the Bush era to coming up with a positive approach to the Islamic world. Shortly after he was inaugurated he went to Cairo, gave a famous speech, speech proposed that there was going to be a new beginning, turn the page, a new beginning of US relations with the Islamic world.

Who would not endorse that proposition? I mean, I certainly do. But it has come to nothing. Nobody in the Obama administration, either in the first term or in the present term, as far as I can tell, has been able to figure out how to operationalize this notion of a new relationship between ourselves and the Islamic world. One can give Secretary Kerry credit for trying to restart the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Were we able to broker a peace that created a sovereign, coherent, viable Palestinian state, that actually could be the one thing we could do that would seriously change the tenure of US relations with the people of the Islamic world. But that effort has failed.

BILL MOYERS: But you seem to think that the other thing we could do is end our estrangement with Iran. What do you think would come from that?

ANDREW BACEVICH: Neither Iran nor the United States has an interest in a massive, bloody, protracted civil war in Iraq. Both the United States and Iran have an interest in greater stability in this region. And I think that it would be at least advisable to explore the possibility, whether this common interest in stability can produce some sort of an agreement comparable to Nixon’s opening to China. When Nixon went to China, that didn’t make China our ally. It didn’t have the immediate effect of bringing about a political change in China. But it did change the strategic balance in ways that were favorable to us and frankly favorable to the rest of the world.

BILL MOYERS: What is it, about how we go to war? We poured blood and treasure into Vietnam and Iraq and wound up with exactly the opposite consequences than we wanted. And we keep repeating, hearing the same arguments and claims that we should do it again.

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, war itself is evil. But war is an evil that should command our respect. War is something that we should not take lightly, that we should not discuss frivolously. And I think that that’s one of the great failings of our foreign policy establishment. That our foreign policy establishment does not take war seriously. It assumes that the creation of precision guided weapons makes war manageable. Removes from war the element of risk and chance that are always inherent in warfare. So these are people who, quite frankly, most of them don’t know much about war and, therefore, who discuss war in frivolous ways.

BILL MOYERS: And yet, there’s this still almost religious belief in force as the savior.

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I think your use of religious terms is very appropriate here. Because there is a quasi-theological dimension to their thinking related, again, to this notion that we are called. We are chosen. We are the instrument of providence. Summoned to transform the world. And therefore empowered to use force in ways not permitted to any others. I mean, the ultimate travesty of the immediate period after 9/11 was the Bush administration’s embrace of preventive war that became then the rationale for invading Iraq in 2003. But it was a general claim. A general claim that the United States was empowered to use force preventively. Before the threat emerges. Not simply–

BILL MOYERS: Pre-emptory strikes.

ANDREW BACEVICH: Not simply in self-defense. And we should note that as far as I can tell, President Obama has not repealed that notion. Indeed, has used it himself in order to employ force in lesser ways in various situations.

BILL MOYERS: So is it duplicity or self-delusion?

ANDREW BACEVICH: It depends I think on who we are talking about here. For somebody like Vice President Cheney berating Barack Obama for somehow surrendering American leadership and in the course of doing that simply ignoring the record of the administration in which he served– that’s duplicity. That’s malicious partisanship.

But I think when you talk about people like Robert Kagan, they believe. They believe what they believe. They subscribe to a worldview that to my mind is utterly misguided. But they are genuinely committed to the sort of propositions that are on display in his “New Republic” article. I mean, it’s just a question of why those propositions continue to be treated seriously when they should not be.

Watch part two of a video interview with Bacevich, followed by a transcript.

BILL MOYERS: How can one hold to the notion of exceptionalism when America performs so miserably in Vietnam and Iraq? Failed in those two wars fought within 30–

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, the, I mean, the belief in American exceptionalism is accompanied by a very specific, historical narrative. I mean, a story of contemporary history to which we swear fealty or give our allegiance. And that’s the story which is centered on World War II. And centered on a very specific interpretation of World War II as a fight of good against evil, in which the United States liberated Western Europe and overthrew Nazi Germany. Now, that story’s not wrong. It’s just radically incomplete.

And the preoccupation with World War II, particularly the European war, then makes it possible to gloss over much of what followed World War II, during the Cold War, those episodes like overthrowing governments that we didn’t like, befriending autocrats and corrupt dictators around the world making monumental mistakes such as the Vietnam War.

BILL MOYERS: What’s the conclusion you draw from that reading of history?

ANDREW BACEVICH: My reading is that there are no simple, moral lessons to be drawn. My reading is one in which yes, of course, there is evil in the world that needs to be taken into account. And some time must be confronted. But my reading would be, let’s not kid ourselves in somehow imagining that the United States represents all that is good and virtuous, we, ourselves, have committed many sins. And we ought to be cognizant of those sins before we go pronouncing about how the world ought to be run.

BILL MOYERS: Right now the Iraqis confront the fate that befell the South Vietnamese. Do we just walk away from what’s happening there?

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I don’t think they face the fate of the South Vietnamese–

BILL MOYERS: You don’t?

ANDREW BACEVICH: –in this sense, we must exercise care in predicting what’s going to happen operationally next week and the week after. But my sense is that this ISIS force, obviously fierce. It’s also relatively small. It doesn’t possess tank divisions. It doesn’t have an air force. It has enjoyed great success in penetrating into the predominately Sunni parts of Iraq. And it professes to wish to overthrow the predominately Shiite government.

My expectation would be that as the Shiites themselves face this prospect that they’ll rally. Not rally in a sense that they’re going to defeat ISIS and eject them from Iraqi territory. But rally in a sense that they’ll be able to deny Baghdad to ISIS, which doesn’t really point to a happy outcome.

It points to the outcome of what could well be a protracted and bloody civil war with the Shiites controlling one part of the country, Sunnis controlling another part of the country and Kurds a third party of the country. That’s not a happy prospect. But I think that’s actually more likely than the scenario we saw in Vietnam back in 1975 where the north simply swept across all of South Vietnam and seized Saigon.

BILL MOYERS: You have recently in “The Los Angeles Times” last week call for rethinking our relationship with Iran. Just as Nixon after Vietnam rethought and reshaped our relationship with our once mortal enemy, China. But that’s the very thing right now, today, the neo-conservatives are opposing. They do not want to change our hostile relationship with Iran.

ANDREW BACEVICH: The fathers of today’s neo-cons were among the people who, back in the 1960s and 1970s, were insisting that unless we fought on to final victory in Vietnam, that the consequences would be catastrophic. That the dominos would fall. That the communists would enjoy a great victory. That victory was not in the offing. And to his considerable credit, the cynical and in many respects amoral Richard Nixon realized that there was one way to salvage at least some positive aspects from this catastrophe in Vietnam.

And that was opening to China. Bringing China, beginning the process of bringing China back into the international community. Making China something other than an enemy of the United States. And that’s what he did. And the notion now it seems to me is that if we had sufficiently bold and creative people guiding U.S. foreign policy today, they might consider a comparable turn with regard to Iran.

ANDREW BACEVICH: I think that it’s manifestly the case that excluding Iran from the international order with the expectation that somehow peace and democracy are going to bloom in Iran, that that’s failed. Iran is an important country. And in many respects, Iranian interests do coincide with American interests. And I think Iraq actually is an example of that.

BILL MOYERS: But the neo-cons are defiantly against collaborating with Iran for any reason because they see that as a potential threat to the survival of Israel.

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, they do. And, I mean, the first point would be why should we listen to them at this stage of the game? But the second thing, I think, is to assess pragmatically this Iranian regime. Now it is possible to build the case, particularly back when Mr. Ahmadinejad was the President of Iran that this a country governed by madmen who wanted nothing more than to wipe Israel off the map and would be willing to sacrifice Iran itself in order to achieve that. It’s possible to build that case.

But I think the case is a false one. I think that, first of all, Ahmadinejad is passed from the stage. We’ve got a new president. A new president’s language is considerably different. But more broadly, if you look at the behavior of the Iranian regime, since the revolution back in the late 1970s, they’ve actually performed pretty rationally. They’re not irrational. They’re not madmen. They’re people, frankly, who you can deal with if you can find those points of interest that coincide.

And my preference, as opposed to, confrontation with Iran, war with Iran, as indeed some neoconservatives would propose, my proposition would be that we should explore carefully whether or not that rational regime can be brought to a point where we can strike a deal with them.

BILL MOYERS: You asked, and I don’t think it was rhetorically a moment ago, why should we be listening to them? And that raises the old question, how do they get the audience and the forum that they have despite a record of failure, deception, and as you say, duplicity?

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I puzzle over that. And the only answer I’ve been able to come up with has to do with the mindset of Washington journalists. You know, the people who book you to come on the Sunday talk shows, the people who decide whether or not your op-ed submission’s going to be accepted by the Washington Post are people who live within this bubble, this Washington milieu in which everything, it seems to me, gets viewed through the lens of partisanship.

Everything is assumed to be an issue of Republicans versus Democrats, left versus right. You know, the people who like Obama and the people who loathe Obama. And so when the booker for some network news show says, well, gosh, Iraq’s falling apart. Who should we get to come on the show on Sunday? Their little rolodex turns up the pro-Iraq war, anti-Obama typical cast of characters.

Rather than thinking about, gosh, isn’t this a historical development of very considerable magnitude. Who are the voices, who are the people who might have something to reflect on? Who are the people who have might have something to say that’s simply not regurgitating the same sort of talking points that we heard last week and the week before?

I mean, I’m struck by how thin the intellectual discourse is when it comes to foreign policy. There was a time in this country when we had very serious thinkers who were taken seriously and who illuminated the fundamental difficulties that we faced in the world.

They weren’t necessarily– they didn’t get everything right. But what they did was to challenge the conventional wisdom and invite people to look beyond simply the partisan debate of the day. I’m not sure who on our national stage today fills that sort of role. And frankly, the absence of these people is a great misfortune.

BILL MOYERS: What price do we pay for the absence of this critical thinking and inquiry?

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, the debate that goes nowhere. I mean, it’s the same talking points are endlessly repeated. That, you know, the warnings against isolationism. The demands for American global leadership, the comparisons with Adolf Hitler.

Whoever the bad guy of the day happens to be, he’s cited as the next Hitler. The recollection of Munich and the warning against appeasement over and over and over again these points are repeated. And they don’t illuminate.

BILL MOYERS: You wrote that a handful of randomly selected citizens of Muncie, Indiana would probably be more reliable on what to do than these oracles in Washington.

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I was only half kidding. And what I mean by that is it seems to me that there– that every day citizens would be more likely to view things realistically, pragmatically and would not be swayed by theological or ideological considerations.

BILL MOYERS: We saw that in their outspoken response and felt response when Obama was considering going into Syria. Public opinion really turned that course.

ANDREW BACEVICH: That was the striking moment. Of course from the point of view of people like Kagan, the president was guilty of great folly and not following through on his threat to go to war with Syria. But I think you’re exactly right. The American people would seem to have learned some important lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan and are not eager to embroil themselves in yet another major war. And I think to his credit, Barack Obama has now acknowledged that.

BILL MOYERS: Kagan, however, laments the fact that Americans show these signs of being world weary. You can hardly blame them.

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I mean, he calls it world weariness. One could also call it world wisdom. I mean, that it shows the capacity of the American people to learn.

BILL MOYERS: But Kagan and his crowd claim that, in your words, that, feckless, silly Americans with weak-willed Barack Obama, their enabler, are abdicating their obligation to lead the planet.

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, it’s not true. Again, here Kagan is playing to this mythic interpretation of U.S. history which contends that the American people are instinctively isolationist. That all we want to do is to turn away from the world. And that’s simply a false narrative.

The American people even before there was an America that is to say before there was a United States, have been engaged in the world commercially, culturally. Once this republic was created the founders and their successors set out to expand this nation to acquire power, to build wealth. That was a project that began in early in the 19th century. And in many respects reached its culmination with World War II. So the notion that there’s this instinct towards isolationism, although it certainly, you know, that’s a piece of propaganda that has been, rather successfully sold, it is simply propaganda. It’s not true.

BILL MOYERS: What does it say to you that at a time when our country can’t stop the killing of children in Chicago or prevent homegrown terrorists from attacking schools with their own private arsenals or cope with the chaos on the border with Mexico or rebuild our broken bridges and highways that there is still this cadre, this body, this community of people who believe we can police the Middle East?

ANDREW BACEVICH: They’re deluded. And I think the point implicit in your question is a very good one. Our power is limited. What are the priorities? And there are domestic priorities that are achingly ignored. And yet are arguably far more amenable to solutions than anything in the greater Middle East. So where you want to spend your money? I think we’d be better off spending some of that money in Muncie, Indiana than in Baghdad.

BILL MOYERS: Back when you published “The Limits of Power” you had hope that the lessons we would learn from Iraq, the financial crash, the great recession that followed would lead to a wakeup call. That we would turn around, turn in a better direction. Things would take off in the right direction. What happened to that hope?

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, it was not fulfilled. There certainly were signs of political change on the left and on the right. The Occupy movement on the left, the Tea Party on the right. But both of those were marginalized I think by the political center, Republican and Democrat which is deeply invested in maintaining the status quo.

Because the Republican party and the Democratic party are supported by, integrated with, a set of structures – whether we’re talking about the National Security bureaucracy or Wall Street – that views change as a threat to their own well-being. And thus far, those proponents of the status quo have succeeded. They’ve gotten their way.

BILL MOYERS: Andrew Bacevich, thank you for being with me.


Bill Moyers has received 35 Emmy awards, nine Peabody Awards, the National Academy of Television’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and an honorary doctor of fine arts from the American Film Institute over his 40 years in broadcast journalism. He is currently host of the weekly public television series Moyers & Company and president of the Schumann Media Center, a non-profit organization which supports independent journalism. He delivered these remarks (slightly adapted here) at the annual Legacy Awards dinner of the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan public policy institute in New York City that focuses on voting rights, money in politics, equal justice, and other seminal issues of democracy. This is his first TomDispatch piece.

iraq and the cheneys


iraq timeline

SUNDAY, JUN 15, 2014 12:00 PM EDT
How the U.S. helped turn Iraq into an al-Qaida haven in just 53 steps

Eleven years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq is on the brink of collapse. We have only ourselves to blame

How the U.S. helped turn Iraq into an al-Qaida haven in just 53 steps
Militants from the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) people raising their flag at the entrance of an army base in Ninevah Province. Iraq. (Credit: AP)
This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

Here’s the short version: The United States invaded Iraq in 2003, claiming that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had both weapons of mass destruction and connections to Al Qaeda. He had neither. Today, both Saddam Hussein and the United States are gone from Iraq.  In their place? Al Qaeda.

This week, an Al Qaeda splinter group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized the country’s second-largest city — Mosul — and several other towns. Latest reports have the militant group at the gates of Baghdad.

With US-trained Iraqi security forces now frantically fleeing the arrival of the ISIL militants — who are so extreme even Al Qaeda couldn’t hang with them, causing the two groups to split — and a central government in total disarray, it’s looking bleak. Someone call the Coalition of the Willing!

So how did it all go so wrong? In these 53 steps.

1. May 28, 1990: Saddam Hussein says oil overproduction in Kuwait is “economic warfare”

2. Aug. 2, 1990: Iraq invades Kuwait

3. Aug. 6, 1990: UN imposes economic sanctions on Iraq

4. Jan. 17, 1991: US launches air operations to liberate Kuwait (and its oil)

5. Feb. 24, 1991: US deploys ground war in Kuwait

6. Feb. 26, 1991: Saddam Hussein orders withdrawal from Kuwait

7. Feb. 28, 1991: US President George W. Bush Sr. says Kuwait is now free

8. April 3, 1991: UN extends sanctions on Iraq for next 10-plus years. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children die as a result of ballooning poverty, malnutrition and disease

9. June 26, 1993: Bill Clinton launches cruise missile attack on Baghdad in retaliation for failed assassination attempt on Bush Sr.

10. Dec. 16, 1998: US and UK launch four-day bombing campaign against sites in Iraq thought to be housing weapons of mass destruction

11. Dec. 19, 1998: Clinton is impeached for lying about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky

12. Sept. 11, 2001: The 9/11 attacks kill almost 3,000 people. 15 of the 19 Al Qaeda militants are from Saudi Arabia. US launches war in Afghansitan, where Al Qaeda is believed to be based

13. Oct. 1, 2002: CIA report alleges Iraq is in possession of WMDs, launching build-up to war

14. Feb. 5, 2003: US Secretary of State Colin Powell tells UN that Iraq has WMDs and Al Qaeda links

15. March 19, 2003: Bush Jr. launches Iraq invasion

16. May 1, 2003: Bush declares “Mission Accomplished”

17. July 2, 2003: Turns out mission not yet accomplished. Bush declares, “Bring ‘em on.”

18. Aug. 19, 2003: It’s brought. UN headquarters attacked in Baghdad, killing 17 people. Al Qaeda claims responsibility

19. Jan. 28, 2004: It’s official: no WMDs in Iraq. Bush maintains Iraq War made the world safer

20. Feb. 10, 2004: Iraqis invite Al Qaeda militants to help fight US occupation

21. April 21, 2004: Spate of suicide bombings hits police stations

22. April 27, 2004: Images of US torture at Abu Ghraib prison air on 60 minutes. Shit hits fan

23. Jan. 12, 2005: Search for WMDs fails, is officially declared over

24. Sept. 9, 2005: Powell says he regrets pre-war UN speech

25. June 8, 2006: Al Qaeda leader killed in US air raid

26. Aug. 21, 2006: Bush acknowledges Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 attacks

27. Sept. 12, 2006: Media reports reveal that US spy agencies believe Iraq War increased terror threat

28. Oct. 4, 2006: A 2005 memo made public reveals that Al Qaeda said prolonging Iraq War is in its interest

29. Jan. 10, 2007: Bush announces escalation of Iraq war

30. May 20, 2007: CIA officials say Iraq War has become big “moneymaker” for Al Qaeda

31. June 11, 2007: US forces arm Sunni militias, known as the Sunni Awakening, to fight Al Qaeda

32. Aug. 8, 2007: Roadside bombs reach all-time high

33. March 10, 2008: Pentagon-funded study finds no connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda

34. Sept. 5, 2008: Outgoing Gen. David Petraeus says Al Qaeda remains dangerous threat in Iraq

35. Feb. 16, 2010: Sectarian tensions soar

36. April 19, 2010: US raid kills top 2 Al Qaeda leaders in Iraq

37. May 10, 2010: 71 dead in widespread attacks blamed on Al Qaeda

38. July 23, 2010: Four Al Qaeda suspects escape from Iraqi prison

39. July 29, 2010: Iraqi insurgents plant “Al Qaeda” flag in Baghdad

40. Aug. 31, 2010: Obama announces end of combat mission in Iraq

41. Sept. 27, 2010: Report says Al Qaeda in Iraq, which many thought had been “defeated,” is actually responsible for wave of terror attacks over the summer, causing the highest casualties in more than two years

42. Oct. 16, 2010: Members of US-backed Sunni Awakening return to Al Qaeda ranks

43. Aug. 15, 2011: 42 bombings rock country, killing 89 people

44. Dec. 18, 2011: Last convoy of US troops leaves Iraq

45. March 20, 2012: Dozens of bombs kill 52 across Iraq

46. July 23, 2012: More bombings, 107 killed

47. March 19, 2013: Al Qaeda plants car bomb, kills 56 civilians

48. April 15, 2013: Wave of bombings kills 75, wounds 350 across the country

49. May 15, 2013: Series of deadly bombings and shootings kill at least 450, injure 732

50. July 22, 2013: Suicide bombers drive car bomb through Abu Ghraib prison, freeing hundreds of convicts, mostly senior Al Qaeda members

51. Jan. 2, 2014: Fallujah and other parts of Anbar province falls to Al Qaeda-linked militants now known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL

52. May 28, 2014: A month after elections, attacks kill more than 70 across the country

53. June 10, 2014: ISIL, an Al Qaeda splinter group, seizes Mosul, Iraq’s second-lagest city, and Tikrit as US-trained security forces flee. ISIL marches on to Baghdad

the fall of mosul and the false promises of modern history

Informed Comment

The Fall of Mosul and the False Promises of Modern History
By Juan Cole | Jun. 11, 2014 |

The fall of Mosul to the radical, extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a set of historical indictments. Mosul is Iraq’s second largest city, population roughly 2 million (think Houston) until today, when much of the population was fleeing. While this would-be al-Qaeda affiliate took part of Falluja and Ramadi last winter, those are smaller, less consequential places and in Falluja tribal elders persuaded the prime minister not to commit the national army to reducing the city.

It is an indictment of the George W. Bush administration, which falsely said it was going into Iraq because of a connection between al-Qaeda and Baghdad. There was none. Ironically, by invading, occupying, weakening and looting Iraq, Bush and Cheney brought al-Qaeda into the country and so weakened it as to allow it actually to take and hold territory in our own time. They put nothing in place of the system they tore down. They destroyed the socialist economy without succeeding in building private firms or commerce. They put in place an electoral system that emphasizes religious and ethnic divisions. They helped provoke a civil war in 2006-2007, and took credit for its subsiding in 2007-2008, attributing it to a troop escalation of 30,000 men (not very plausible). In fact, the Shiite militias won the civil war on the ground, turning Baghdad into a largely Shiite city and expelling many Sunnis to places like Mosul. There are resentments.

Those who will say that the US should have left troops in Iraq do not say how that could have happened. The Iraqi parliament voted against it. There was never any prospect in 2011 of the vote going any other way. Because the US occupation of Iraq was horrible for Iraqis and they resented it. Should the Obama administration have reinvaded and treated the Iraqi parliament the way Gen. Bonaparte treated the French one?

I hasten to say that the difficulty Baghdad is having with keeping Mosul is also an indictment of the Saddam Hussein regime (1979-2003), which pioneered the tactic of sectarian rule, basing itself on a Sunni-heavy Baath Party in the center-north and largely neglecting or excluding the Shiite South. Now the Shiites have reversed that strategy, creating a Baghdad-Najaf-Basra power base.


Mosul’s changed circumstances are also an indictment of the irresponsible use to which Sunni fundamentalists in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Oil Gulf are putting their riches. The high petroleum prices, usually over $100 a barrel, of the past few years in a row, have injected trillions of dollars into the Gulf. Some of that money has sloshed into the hands of people who rather admired Usama Bin Laden and who are perfectly willing to fund his clones to take over major cities like Aleppo and Mosul. The vaunted US Treasury Department ability to stop money transfers by people whom Washington does not like has faltered in this case. Is it because Washington is de facto allied with the billionaire Salafis of Kuwait City in Syria, where both want to see the Bashar al-Assad government overthrown and Iran weakened? The descent of the US into deep debt, and the emergence of Gulf states and sovereign wealth funds is a tremendous shift of geopolitical power to Riyadh, Kuwait City and Abu Dhabi, who can now simply buy Egyptian domestic and foreign policy away from Washington. They are also trying to buy a Salafi State of Syria and a Salafi state of northern and western Iraq.

The fall of Mosul is an indictment of the new Iraqi army, which is well equipped and some of its troops well trained , and which seems to have just run away from the ISIS fighters, allowing some heavy weapons to fall into their hands.

It is an indictment of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and of the Shiite political elite that took over Iraq from 2005, and which has never been interested in reconciliation with the Sunni Arabs. It is not merely a sectarian issue. The particular Shiite parties that have consistently won elections are those of the religious right among Shiites. Before the CIA cooperated with the Baath Party to destroy the Iraqi Left, many Shiites were secular and the Iraqi Communist Party united them with many of the country’s Jews back in the 1950s. The Shiite religious parties dream of a Shiite state. Many want to implement a fundamentalist vision of Islamic law. There is little place for Sunni Kurds or Sunni Arabs in such a state. Al-Maliki himself seems to have a problem with the Sunnis, and his inability to integrate them into his government means that he is losing them to Sunni radicals. His inability to reach out to Sunni Arabs made plausible what the entire Iraqi parliament rejected when it came out, the Biden plan for the partition of the country. Usama Nujaifi, parliamentarian from Mosul and speaker of the Iraqi parliament, was driven to say a few years ago that for the first time since WW I, the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement (envisioning a French Syria and British Iraq) was up for renegotiation.

ethnicity of iraq and middle east
It is also an indictment of the shameful European imperial scramble for the Middle East during and after WW I and the failed barracuda colonialism of the interwar period, as London and Paris sought oil and other resources, and strategic advantage, in areas they had promised the League of Nations they would prepare for independence. In one instance, they just gave away Ottoman Palestine to a European population, leading to 12 million stateless and displaced people to this day.

During WW I, British diplomats promised lots of people lots of things, and were not embarrassed to double book. The foreign office promised France Syria but the Arab Bureau in Cairo promised Syria to Sharif Hussein of Mecca. Cairo wanted Iraq for Sharif Hussein, but so did New Delhi (the British Government of India couldn’t see the difference between ruling Iraq and ruling Sindh or Rajasthan).

As the war was winding down it was clear that the Ottoman Empire would collapse. The French saw Mosul, with its oil wealth, as part of Syria. The British in New Delhi and in Cairo, for all their wrangling, agreed that it should be part of Iraq, which British and British Indian troops were conquering.

When British Prime Minister Lloyd George met with French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau at Versailles, he was eager to push back French claims on Mosul. Since the British and their Arab allies had taken Damascus from the Ottomans, some wanted to renege on the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 altogether. President Woodrow Wilson was also there, with his ideas of self-determination for the peoples of the former empires, and he didn’t want to just see an imperial grab for them. Clemenceau is said to have remarked that he felt he was caught between Jesus Christ and Napoleon.
When Lloyd George met with Clemenceau, the latter is said to have asked him, “What do you want?” Lloyd George said, “Mosul.” Clemenceau agreed. Anything else? “Jerusalem.” You shall have it. In return, the French were assured of Syria, which meant that Lloyd George had betrayed Sharif Hussein and his son Faisal b. Hussein, then in Damascus, for the sake of Mosul’s oil. Afterwards it is said that Lloyd George felt he had gained these boons from Clemenceau so easily that he should have asked for more.

Integrating Mosul into British Iraq, over which London placed Faisal b. Hussein as imported king after the French unceremoniously ushered him from Damascus, allowed the British to depend on the old Ottoman Sunni elite, including former Ottoman officers trained in what is now Turkey. This strategy marginalized the Shiite south, full of poor peasants and small towns, which, if they gave the British trouble, were simply bombed by the RAF. (Iraq under British rule was intensively aerially bombed for a decade and RAF officers were so embarrassed by these proceedings that they worried about the British public finding out.)

To rule fractious Syria, the French (1920-1943) appealed to religious minorities such as the Alawites and Christians to divide and rule; Alawite peasants were willing to join the colonial military as proud Damascene Sunni families largely were not, but when the age of military dictatorships overtook the postcolonial Middle east, the Alawites were in a good position to take over Syria, which they definitively did in 1970.

Ottoman 1878

The countries now known as Syria and Iraq came into modernity having been for 400 years part of the Ottoman Empire. Sometimes it ruled what is now Iraq as a single province with roughly its modern borders, sometimes it ruled it as a set of smaller provinces. At some points the city of Mosul was the seat of a province of the same name. More often its top official reported to the Sultan in Istanbul through Baghdad. Mosul, a large urban center on the caravan and river trade routes stretching to Aleppo and Tripoli to the west and to Basra and India to the southeast, was a major urban place. It was very different from southern Iraq, which through the 19th century converted to Shiite Islam (in part under Indian Shiite influence) and was less urban and more tribal. Still, it was united with the south by trade along the Tigris and by the structures of Ottoman rule.

PM Nouri al-Maliki can only get Iraq back by allying with nationalist Sunnis in the north. Otherwise, for him simply brutally to occupy the city with Shiite troops and artillery and aerial bombing will make him look like his neighbor, Bashar al-Assad.

iraq timeline

Timeline: Iraq 2003-2010Key dates and events in the conflict

Haroon Siddique and Mark Tran
The Guardian


The US launches air strikes on Baghdad after cruise missiles hit President Saddam Hussein’s bunkers in an assassination attempt.


The US president, George Bush, gives his “mission accomplished” speech after landing in a small plane on a US aircraft carrier in the Pacific ocean. He declares that major combat has ended.

Paul Bremer, a veteran US ambassador, is appointed Iraq’s civil administrator and charged with supervising the transition to democracy.


Saddam is captured after being found hiding underground at a farm near his home town, Tikrit. He apparently surrendered without a fight.


A suicide bomber kills at least 100 people at the offices of Kurdish political parties in Irbil during the Eid celebrations.


Four civilian contractors working for the US army are murdered and their mutilated bodies are dragged through the streets of Falluja.


An international outcry is sparked by the revelation of photos showing US guards abusing and humiliating naked Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison.


A video released online shows the beheading of Nick Berg, a US civilian held by militants who say they are avenging the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

Iyad Allawi, a secularist Shia politician in exile until the fall of Saddam, is unanimously voted in as prime minister of Iraq’s interim government.


A defiant and unrepentant Saddam makes his first appearance in court on charges of war crimes and genocide.


In the deadliest single attack on US forces since the invasion, 19 soldiers are killed when a huge explosion rips apart a mess tent at a base in Mosul.


Millions vote in the first multi-party elections for 50 years. A series of attacks across the country kills at least 36 people.


Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish politician, former guerrilla leader and co-founder of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, is sworn in as president of Iraq, reportedly upsetting Saddam, who watched the televised election.


Lynndie England, a US Private who is pictured holding a naked Iraqi prisoner on a leash at Abu Ghraib, is sentenced to three years in jail by a military court.


The Shia-led United Iraqi Alliance is announced as the winner of elections for a full-term government.


A famous gold dome at the sacred Shia al-Askari shrine in Samarra is blown up, prompting fears of reprisal attacks.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most senior Shia cleric in Iraq, sends instructions to his followers forbidding any attacks on Sunni mosques, and calls for seven days of mourning.


Nouri al-Maliki is named prime minister after Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Iraq’s first full-term postwar prime minister, is forced out after being criticised for being ineffective.


Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is killed in a US air strike near Baquba. He had a $25m bounty on his head.


Saddam is executed at the Khadamiyah intelligence centre in Baghdad. Mobile phone footage emerges of him being taunted at the gallows.


More than 400 people are killed as four suicide bombers detonate cars in two villages occupied by Yazidi Kurds in northern Iraq.


Guards from the US private security contractor Blackwater allegedly open fire on civilians in Baghdad, killing 17.

An inquiry into the incident by the Iraqi government later rejects the company’s claim that the US diplomatic convoy it had been guarding was bombed and ambushed, provoking the gunfire.


British forces formally hand over control of Basra to the Iraqi government in a move paving the way for a major reduction in the number of British troops in Iraq.


A motion is passed by the Iraqi parliament allowing former officials from Saddam’s Ba’ath party to return to public life.


Thousands of Turkish troops are sent across the border into northern Iraq in a major ground offensive against the Kurdish PKK rebel forces.


A roadside bomb, followed by a suicide bomb, kills 68 people at a busy shopping area in the centre of Baghdad, the second deadliest attack of the year so far.


The defence secretary, Des Browne, says a final British troop withdrawal has been postponed after fierce fighting between Iraqi security forces and Shia militia.


Senior defence source claims the last British soldiers will leave Basra by June 2009 and will be replaced by US troops.


The new US embassy in Baghdad, one of the largest and most expensive ever built, is officially opened amid heavy security.


The newly inaugurated US president, Barack Obama, announces the withdrawal of 12,000 US troops by the end of August 2010.

Up to 50,000 will stay on until the end of 2011 to advise Iraqi forces and protect US interests.


Parliament appoints Ayad al-Samarrai, of the Sunni Arab Alliance, as speaker. The post is reserved for Sunni Arabs by agreement among political leaders.

Britain officially ends combat operations in southern Iraq, handing over control of their base in Basra to US forces.


Iraqi authorities set the parliamentary election date as 30 January 2010.


US troops withdraw from Iraqi cities, leaving Iraqi forces in control of security.


The first independent inquiry into the Iraq war opens in London.


Maliki announces the formation of a new political grouping of 40 parties, called the State of Law, after a split in the broad Shia United Iraqi Alliance that won the 2005 elections.


Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as Chemical Ali, is executed for crimes against humanity in Iraq’s highest profile execution since Saddam Hussein’s hanging.


More than 60% of Iraqis vote in parliamentary elections.


Former prime minister Iyad Allawi, head of the Iraqiya Alliance, is the surprise winner of the election, but his 91 seats are insufficient to form a government. Talks begin between Allawi and Maliki on forming a new government.


Tariq Aziiz, Saddam’s former foreign minister, accuses Obama of ‘leaving Iraq to the wolves’ by pressing ahead with a withdrawal of combat troops.

Iraq’s most senior commander, Lieutenant General Babakir Zebar, warns that the army is not ready to take over responsibility from the Americans for another decade.

Iraq’s two main political blocs suspend talks on forming a government.

US combat troops leave Iraq, although 50,000 will remain to train and advise Iraqi forces.

out of iraq?

Last US combat troops leave Iraq

Operations officially end two weeks ahead of Barack Obama’s deadline, leaving 56,000 service personnel in the country

Adam Gabbatt, The Guardian
Link to this video

The last American combat troops left Iraq today, seven-and-a-half years after the US-led invasion, and two weeks ahead of President Barack Obama’s 31 August deadline for withdrawal from the country.

The final troops to leave, 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, rolled in convoy across the border and into Kuwait this morning, officially ending combat operations, which began in March 2003.

Former president George Bush launched the invasion, saying: “This will not be a campaign of half measures and we will accept no outcome but victory.”

The war saw the toppling of Saddam Hussein, but became increasingly unpopular against a backdrop of heavy civilian and troop casualties, arguments over the legality of the conflict and a growing sectarian battle in Iraq.

NBC News video this morning showed the last Stryker armoured vehicles rolling through the border gate into Kuwait, officially ending US combat presence in Iraq.

PJ Crowley, a spokesman for the US state department, said that despite the departure being “an historic moment”, the US mission in Iraq continued.

“We are ending the war … but we are not ending our work in Iraq,” he said. “We have a long-term commitment to Iraq.”

NBC News said that the last soldiers to reach Kuwait were proud of the collective effort in Iraq.

“We are done with operations,” said Lieutenant Steven DeWitt of San José, California, as his vehicle reached the Khabari crossing on the border.

“This was a professional soldier’s job,” he said, describing “a war that has defined this generation of military men and women”.

“And today it’s over,” he added.

The Obama administration had pledged to reduce overall troops numbers to 50,000 by 31 August. CNN, however, said that according to the US military there were still 56,000 US non-combat troops in Iraq, meaning another 6,000 must leave if the president is to meet his own deadline.

“Over the last 18 months, over 90,000 US troops have left Iraq,” the president said in an emailed statement published by the Huffington Post.

“By the end of this month, 50,000 troops will be serving in Iraq. As Iraqi security forces take responsibility for securing their country, our troops will move to an advise-and-assist role.

“And, consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all of our troops will be out of Iraq by the end of next year.

“Meanwhile, we will continue to build a strong partnership with the Iraqi people with an increased civilian commitment and diplomatic effort.”

Months of preparation were required before the convoy set off on the 300-mile drive through potentially dangerous parts of the country. The Strykers travelled by night because of security concerns, before finally crossing into Kuwait.

The withdrawal comes in a week when a suicide bomber killed at least 60 army recruits in central Baghdad, highlighting the shaky reality US troops are leaving behind, and the fears that al-Qaida is attempting to make a comeback.

There is unlikely to be much change on the ground in the country after the end of the month, as most US military units actually began switching their focus to training and assisting Iraqi troops and police more than a year ago, when they pulled out of Iraqi urban centres on 30 June 2009.

“Those that remain are conventional combat brigades reconfigured slightly and rebranded ‘advise and assist brigades’,” said the Washington Post. “The primary mission of those units and the roughly 4,500 US special operations forces that will stay behind will be to train Iraqi troops.”

However despite the 56,000 service personnel remaining, The New York Times reported this morning that a “remarkable civilian effort” would be required to fill the void left by the withdrawal, and suggested the number of private security guards could double in the country over the next 18 months.

The state department will assume responsibility for training Iraqi police by October next year.

“I don’t think [the] state [department] has ever operated on its own, independent of the US military, in an environment that is quite as threatening on such a large scale,” James Dobbins, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo and Somalia, told the paper. “It is unprecedented in scale.”

More than 4,400 US troops have been killed in Iraq so far. The current deadline for a full withdrawal of all US forces is the end of 2011, although last week Iraqi Lieutenant General Babakir Zebari said the US would need to maintain a presence in the country beyond then.

“If I were asked about the withdrawal, I would say to politicians: the US army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020,” he said.

Iraq and the US are yet to structure an agreement spelling out future defence arrangements beyond the end of next year, but both sides have indicated that future bilateral ties could extend to border patrols as well as ongoing training and mentoring.

right wing christians in iraq

How American Right-Wing Christians Are Waging ‘Spiritual Warfare’ in Northern Iraq

Evangelicals have established schools, radio stations and churches in northern Iraq — all with the blessings of the Kurdistan government and assistance from U.S. taxpayers.

July 12, 2010 |

On a barren hillside outside Sulaymaniyah in southeast Iraqi Kurdistan sits a small compound of buildings clustered behind battered gray and ochre walls. Atop one wall is a large white sign glittering with gold and azure lettering that reads in English and Arabic: Classical School of the Medes. It is one of three new private schools in the region that teach a “Christian worldview,” the handiwork of American evangelicals from Tennessee.

Since the US occupation took hold, American evangelicals have established not only schools, but printing presses, radio stations, women’s centers, bookstores, medical and dental clinics, and churches in northern Iraq, all with the blessings and assistance of the Kurdistan government. Many of these efforts were funded in part by US taxpayer dollars, channeled through Department of Defense construction contracts and State Department grants.

In September 2003, just four months after US forces took down Saddam Hussein’s regime, 350 evangelical pastors and church leaders assembled in Kirkuk, where they were warmly welcomed by Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government. At that gathering, George Grant, a leader of Servant Group International, the evangelical organization in Nashville that set up the chain of Christian schools, declared that “Jesus Christ is Lord over all things; He is Lord over every Mullah, every Ayatollah, every Imam, and every Mahdi pretender; He is Lord over the whole of the earth, even Iraq!”

CENTCOM documents show that between 2005 and 2007, DOD’s Joint Contracting Command Iraq/Afghanistan paid the Kurdish company Daban Group at least $465,639 for the construction of Grant’s School of the Medes. Two years earlier, tens of thousands of dollars from a State Department-funded program called Healthcare Partnerships in Northern Iraq also made their way into a variety of Servant Group evangelical and humanitarian projects.

In return for the Regional Government’s support for this evangelical presence in Kurdistan, Doug Layton, another Tennessean and a Servant Group founder, served as a crucial liaison for the KRG in Washington during the Bush years. There, he ran Kurdish public relations efforts and recruited evangelical businessmen to invest in the region.

“Since the run up to the Iraq War, [Massoud] Barzani and the KRG played to the Bush administration and its right-wing evangelical Christian base,” said Mike Amitay, a Middle East senior policy analyst at the Open Society Policy Center. “That’s where they saw the power and the money. Barzani was going to let them set up schools and churches and get what he needed.” But, Amitay adds, “given the rise of the Islamic parties in Kurdistan and Assyrian Christian resentment of American evangelical exceptionalism and proselytizing, they’re playing with fire.”

Tennessee Waltz

In the years since Saddam Hussein’s 1988 assault on the Kurds that culminated in the chemical weapon attack on the village of Halabja, some 14,000 refugees from Kurdistan made their way to Nashville, now home to the largest Kurdish population in the United States. In 1992, a cadre of Nashville evangelicals from Servant Group International, including large numbers of Kurdish believers, trooped out of their base at Belmont Church, a megachurch occupying several blocks on Music Square, and made their way to the mountains of Kurdistan in northern Iraq, where they set up shop. They were packing Kurdish-language bibles, bags of cash, medical equipment and a long-range game plan to establish their “Father’s Kingdom” between the Turkish border and Iran. Since arriving in northern Iraq some twenty years ago, Servant Group has widened its global presence, establishing offices, ministries and schools in Turkey, Central Asia, Indonesia, Germany, and Norway.

After seven years of American dominance in the region, they have burrowed deep inside the Kurdistan Regional Government, the ruling coalition of Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). With help from Layton at the Kurdistan Development Corporation and aided by connections with Republican lobbyists and Congressmen in Washington, they have brokered international business concessions and oil drilling contracts and funneled USAID and DOD money into their missions, setting up their chain of Christian schools. In turn, the KRG has backed Servant Group’s ministries and schools with grants of land, buildings and other favors.

Servant Group and its partners are distinguished by their military model of evangelism (what they call “spiritual warfare”); their covert action tactics such as “tent making” or “Kingdom Business” (they enter a country to establish seemingly secular businesses as a cover for evangelism); their intelligence gathering, which they call “spiritual mapping” (where teams of evangelicals conduct full-spectrum “field research'” that includes demographic, historical and geographic data from the neighborhood level to entire countries); an ingrained animosity to Islam; and their dominionist “Kingdom Now” worldview (a fusion of neo-Calvinist authoritarianism and “New Apostolic” Pentecostalism, a millenarian sect of the Assemblies of God whose best known adherent is Sarah Palin).

Servant Group missionaries shrewdly established themselves as valued assets to the KRG ruling families and the Bush/Cheney Iraq War effort. The group had close ties to the Bush administration: Stephen Mansfield, the author of The Faith of George W. Bush, a 2004 bestseller that portrayed Bush as “God’s man” in the White House, served for five years, until 2002, as the pastor of the Belmont Church in Nashville that serves as Servant Group’s home base. Prior to taking the pulpit, Mansfield traveled to northern Iraq with Servant Group to bring bibles and the Jesus film, a widely used evangelical proselytizing tool, to the Kurds. Together, Mansfield and Grant serve as advisers to a consortium of “openly Christian business executives” called American Destiny, who invest in development projects in Kurdistan.

In a 2002 interview in the Association of Classical and Christian Schools bulletin, Classical Schools teacher and trainer Mary Yacoubian said that she joined the Servant Group mission because “they weren’t content with just setting up a church in every city. Their goal was to truly ‘disciple’ the nation — establish Christ’s Kingdom in every area of society: government, arts, medicine, education, law, etc.” After calling Islam “a religion based on fear,” Yacoubian gushed, “We also get to witness believers being baptized in a little plastic pool in our garden! Just think about it. Men and women who have been steeped in Islam are turning to Christ!”

Yacoubian’s statements reflect the dangerous heart of the evangelical exceptionalist conviction — their “Kingdom of God” excludes all possibilities but their particular American brand of Christian society, governance and capitalism.

Doing Well by Doing Good

Douglas Layton is central to these successes. In his January 2002 publication, The Forerunner, longtime Christian Reconstructionist Andrew Sandlin, a close colleague of George Grant, praised Layton for his ambitious incursions into Kurdistan. “If we are going to support missionaries, let’s support missionaries who are going around the world to recapture cultures, not simply win a few souls here and there,” wrote Sandlin. “[C]onsider Doug Layton in Kurdistan, northern Iraq, who is re-building a Christian culture: new Christian schools, new Christian businesses, and more. He is not content to build churches; he wants an entire Christian culture.”

Layton coauthored a book, Our Father’s Kingdom: The Church and the Nation, in 2000, in which he explicitly lays out his mission: “If communists and Muslims can take nations — so can our God!”

That book’s co-author, George Otis, Jr., is a true general in the Spiritual Warfare movement, a self-described army of evangelicals in a battle against “territorial demons” to establish “the Kingdom of Christ.” He heads a global evangelical intelligence agency, The Sentinel Group, that deploys “field cells” with laptops to gather demographic data in countries the movement has targeted for conversion — currently, Uganda, as well as several countries in Central America and the Middle East, including Iraq. The data is forwarded to Sentinel’s computer banks as part of its “spiritual mapping” project.

Layton has pushed evangelism in the Middle East to its legal limits. According to German court documents, Layton was arrested in 1993 in the northern Iraqi town of Dohuk for publicly preaching that Kurdistan would have their “promised country, if the Kurds followed Jesus” and that “Islam would not bring them anything but war and misfortune.” His speech sparked angry street protests, and after his arrest, Layton was ordered out of the country. He apparently sought to make amends by personally lobbying in support of the KDP in Washington where he made speeches at the Council for National Policy and testified at Congressional hearings, championing US support for an independent Kurdistan, investment in the region and Barzani’s KDP, in particular. By 1996 he was back in Kurdistan.

Up until late 2009, Layton served as the Erbil director of the Kurdistan Development Corporation, a KRG-sponsored venture launched in 2004 “to promote, facilitate and establish business and investment opportunities in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq.” Before taking his job at the KDC, Layton held a post at the KRG Ministry of Health, where he wrote speeches for the minister and ran field operations for the USAID-backed Healthcare Partnerships in Northern Iraq.

In 2008 the KRG folded the KDC into a new entity, Kurdistan Investment. It is unclear what role — if any — Layton plays in this revamped bureau. (He is not listed on its board of directors.) Layton currently directs a project called The Other Iraq Tours, which arranges junkets for American businessmen and politicians into Kurdistan. His partners in the company are fellow Servant Group leader Bill Garaway and Jason Atkinson, a conservative Republican state senator from Oregon and occasional Tea Party speaker. The Other Iraq also has strong ties to the military in the United States and Kurdistan. The company is a subsidiary of Point 62 Consulting, headed by retired US Army Col. Harry Schute, who was chief of staff for the Coalition Provisional Authority in northern Iraq from 2003 to 2004 and now serves as a senior security adviser to the KRG.

According to its website, Point 62 “provide(s) security and political advice to several elements of the KRG, principally the Prime Minister’s office and the Ministry of State for the Interior” and “security services to the oil and gas industry.”

Col. Schute, who appears to wear many hats, is also executive vice chairman of VSC Security, a joint venture with the KRG, headed by Keith E. Schuette, a well-connected Republican Party player and up until this year, a lobbyist with Haley Barbour’s BGR Group; Schuette now serves as a senior advisor to the KRG.

In 2005, Bill Garaway joined Layton at the KDC to launch a promotional campaign, Kurdistan: The Other Iraq, a series of video, print, and Internet ads and emails featuring smiling Kurds waving American flags and thanking the United States for its invasion of Iraq. They also touted the ripe investment opportunities that awaited multinational corporations in northern Iraq. To script and produce the campaign, Garaway and Layton brought in Sal Russo, who heads Russo Marsh & Rogers, a Republican PR firm based in Sacramento. The contract would bring the firm “millions of dollars over the next few years” from the KRG, according to Russo. A year earlier, the firm had produced a pro-war media campaign echoing Bush administration claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and had “extensive ties” to Al Qaeda. The ads memorably attacked Democrats who opposed Bush’s war as “willing to undermine support for the war on terrorism to selfishly advance their shameless political ambitions.”

Garaway also produced another, very different, propaganda video, A Journey To Iraq, financed by Servant Group and tailored specifically for American evangelicals. This one featured “faithful Christians answering God’s call to help spread Christianity to the Arab and Kurdish people.”

The Money Trail

In June 2002, as the Bush administration began prepping for the US invasion of Iraq, Congress green-lighted $3.1 million for a State Department-funded program called Healthcare Partnerships in Northern Iraq, ostensibly an effort to improve healthcare in the Kurdish region, but primarily viewed by Middle East policy experts in the United States and local NGO observers as a way to bring the KDP and PUK together under a unified governing body. And who was hired as field operations director for this team-building USAID project? Douglas Layton.

Two-thirds of the Partnership money was swallowed up by Meridian International, a politically connected NGO whose board, at the time, included the wife of then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and its subcontractors, according to an analysis by one of the program’s participants. That left about $1 million for Layton to personally direct into Kurdish health programs. According to published reports by Servant Group and sources in northern Iraq who were involved with the program, Layton funneled much of it into Servant Group operations such as its mobile dental service, health clinics, and into the pockets of KRG officials with whom he was currying favor. Layton also used funds to rent an office in the KRG Ministry of Health for $1,000 a month-another kickback to KRG officialdom-where he wrote speeches for Health Minister Dr. Jamal Abdul Hamid Abbas. According to two NGO sources who were then in Kurdistan, Layton also handed out cash and equipment from Healthcare Partners to Abbas’ cronies.

Beyond the self-dealing and influence peddling, Layton seems to have run a poor operation. Under his guidance, for example, the Partnership set up Internet connections at local clinics and medical schools, then required the organizations to pay $1,000 a month to continue the service — money, of course, they did not have.

A field director for an international NGO involved in health programs in Kurdistan from 2002 to 2004 was not much impressed with Layton or with the Partnership. “HCP was full of shit,” said the field director, who, due to his ongoing work in the politically volatile region, asked not to be named. “Our NGO conducted a series of nursing trainings in all three major hospitals, and we heard of no activity in this area by the HCP.

“You look at the HCP final report and one thing that jumps out is the fuzzy math. They say they gave twenty-six grants averaging about $13,000. That comes out to about $338,000, not nearly the $1 million they say went into the grants programs. As far as reports on grant activities go, this is one of the shoddiest pieces of garbage I have ever seen.”

Mike Amitay is a well-regarded expert on Kurdistan who worked with a number of NGO relief programs in the region during the 1990s. He now serves as senior policy analyst on the Middle East at The Open Society Institute in Washington, D.C. In an email interview, Amitay wrote, “I find it troubling that, given Douglas Layton’s background and his activities on behalf of extreme Christian evangelists, he would be selected to administer significant US government aid programs in Iraqi Kurdistan.”

“I am disconcerted that despite the ineffectiveness of programs previously implemented under Layton’s direction, and knowing of his evangelical activism, Kurdish authorities continued to facilitate his prominent role in the Kurdistan Development Corporation,” he continued. “Despite the threat to Kurdish society posed by Layton’s less-than-hidden agenda.”

The School of the Medes

The principal of the Sulaymaniyah Classical School is Kawa Omer Qadir, a friendly forty-something man with a graying buzz cut and a massive Arabic-language Bible resting in front of him, who welcomed this reporter into his pink office. He says the Classical School of the Medes runs three schools in the region: his in Sulaymaniyah, plus schools in Erbil and Dohuk, each serving grades kindergarten through ten. All classes are in English, he explains, and the programs are funded by the government, through the Ministry of the Education, and by “churches outside Kurdistan.” His 800 students come from upper- and middle-class families, many of them the children of KRG officials. Most are Muslim, making them ripe targets for Servant Group missionaries. “You can count the Christians on the fingers of one hand,” he says.

The schools are part of Classical Development Services International, whose governing board is based in Nashville. The school’s pastor, Yousif Matty, sits on that board, along with George Grant and Bill Garaway.

The school enjoys central heating and air conditioning and its own generator, a luxury that spares teachers and students the routine power outages that plague the city and most of the region. The classrooms are painted pink, like Qadir’s office. In one, eighteen eighth graders were getting a math lecture from a Kurdish teacher from Sulaymaniyah University.

“Most teachers are from Kurdistan,” Qadir says. “But the staff from Classical Development Service Schools International provides us with international teachers who train our teachers and organize the curriculum and program.” One young American teacher encountered at the school, who refused to share her name, says she is a member of Classical Development Schools International but doesn’t receive a salary. She was here “trying to help,” she says, because she believes that “the US has a responsibility toward this country.”

“The government helps us through many ways,” Qadir says. “They gave us this building. They provide security. But we pay their salaries.” That money comes out of donations from American evangelicals through the Belmont Church and other missionary organizations. Between 2002 and 2006, Servant Group pumped $2 million into its Kurdish evangelical operations with the help of Partners International, an evangelical outfit based in Spokane, Washington. Global Hope, another particularly aggressive evangelical organization from Tennessee, is building a $2 million high-tech facility, complete with an Internet cafe called Freedom Center Iraq. The project is headed by Heather Mercer, best known for getting herself arrested by the Taliban in August 2001 when she and another missionary were caught handing out bibles and showing the Jesus film.

Qadir doesn’t go into specifics about his school’s curriculum and teaching philosophy, but George Grant is far less reticent. A Christian Reconstructionist for decades, Grant guides the Classical Schools from his office half a world away at King’s Meadow Study Center, twenty miles south of Nashville. On Franklin Classical School’s website, Grant lays out exactly what he means by classical Christian education. “Our foundational worldview is the unchangeable Word of God-the Bible…. We strive to practice biblical living and teaching everywhere, not only in our curriculum, but also in our administration and our staff…. The students consequently live in a Christian culture dominated by the authority of the Word of God.”

Michael Gunter, a political science professor at Tennessee Tech University, has authored twelve books on Kurdistan; his latest, The Kurds Ascending, deals with the region in the post-Saddam era. Gunter called these American evangelical efforts in Kurdistan “alarming.”

“The Kurds are Muslims, they don’t identify as Christian,” Gunter says. “While they are tolerant of Christians, even the nominal Muslims don’t care for evangelism, especially this aggressive brand. I find it strange that the KRG is allowing this.”

But Bill Garaway has a different take on the Kurds’ religious views. In a podcast interview last July, he brushed aside any evangelical problems inside Kurdistan by saying, “Most Kurds don’t even like Muslims.”

Racist Ties

Grant is the author of The Blood of the Moon, a book first published in 1991 and reprinted in 2001. In his book, Grant calls for conquering the Islamic world by military might in order to bring about Muslim conversion, an obvious prerequisite for achieving his uncompromising theocratic worldview. In his 1987 Dominionist polemic, The Changing of the Guard, Grant wrote: “Christian politics has as its primary intent the conquest of the land — of men, families, institutions, bureaucracies, courts, and governments for the Kingdom of Christ. It is to reinstitute the authority of God’s Word as supreme over all judgments, over all legislation, over all declarations, constitutions, and confederations.”

In an April 2004 lecture at fellow Dominionist R.C. Sproul’s Highlands Study Center in Virginia, Grant said, “We’re to make disciples who will obey everything that He commanded, not just in the hazy zone of piety, but in the totality of life…. It is the spiritual, emotional, and cultural mandate to win all things in the name of Jesus.”

Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist and far-right social movements, is well acquainted with Grant and his schools, which, he argues, “are deeply influenced by white supremacist ideas.” He points, in particular, to Grant’s close association with Douglas Wilson, who founded both the Association of Classical and Christian Schools (of which Grant is a longstanding member) and New Saint Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho, which provides teachers to the Classical Schools in Kurdistan.

Wilson also coauthored a disturbing book, Southern Slavery: As It Was, a neo-Confederate fantasy disguised as history. The book argues that Southern slavery was sanctioned by the Bible and that slaves enjoyed a wonderful life due to the patriarchal benevolence of their evangelical masters. “Slavery produced in the South a genuine affection between the races that we believe we can say has never existed in any nation before the [Civil] War or since,” it reads. “There has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world.” According to Potok, Grant and Wilson are in the leadership of a movement within Christian Reconstructionism called “Celtic Sunrise” that is deeply influenced by white supremacist ideas.

Few Answers

Though I spent months in pursuit of interviews for this story, the evangelical leadership in northern Iraq remained resolutely, uniformly unresponsive. Yousif Matty, the Servant Group pastor in Erbil, begged off repeatedly, first citing health reasons and then saying he would talk, but not for publication. Pastors at two new evangelical churches in the region, the Kurdzman Church and the Free Evangelical Church, were more blunt: “We don’t talk to the media.”

Layton also declined to be interviewed in person for this article and requested that all questions be emailed to him. Seventeen questions covering his role as an evangelical, his performance in the USAID program, how he landed his job at the KDC, and his relationships with several specific individuals were sent; Layton refused to answer any of them.

“Your questions are so full of falsehoods and misrepresentations that I do not think it would be productive to comment further,” he wrote in an email. “My activities in Kurdistan have been to help the Kurds to develop a thriving economy and a democratic society.”

When asked about his longstanding relationships with Servant Group leaders George Grant, Stephen Mansfield, Bill Garaway, Yousif Matty and the coauthor of his book, George Otis, Jr., Layton’s strange response was, “I have never heard of most of the incidents or people you describe and only know slightly most of the other people you mention, and there is simply no truth I have involvement in the issues you raise.”

Because such a blanket denial flies in the face of the facts, it casts a cloud on Layton’s true agenda and that of his fellow evangelicals in the region. “Everyone knows it’s a game. The Kurds just want to cash in,” says Amitay. “The KRG isn’t concerned about what evangelicals say over here. English reports in the US aren’t going to be read over there.” He then points out that the KRG “will draw the line” if the evangelicals pursue aggressive conversion efforts. “A priority for the KRG is a decent relationship with Tehran,” he says. “And there is a rising pro-Islamic movement responding to the economic disparities between wealthy Kurds and the majority of working poor. There is resentment out there that the Islamists can tap into.”

All they’d have to do is read Layton’s comments in a 2003 interview with the evangelical magazine World, a champion of the Christian push into Kurdistan, in which Layton confirmed Amitay’s worries with an inflammatory observation regarding the political dynamics in a post-Saddam Iraq. “Americans made a mistake because of their misunderstanding of Islam,” Layton wrote. “Shia and Sunni will never like us. They will always hate us and our view of government. They don’t recognize inalienable rights.”

The presence of someone like Layton inside the Kurdistan government, brokering foreign investment in the region and setting up Christian schools with the goal of proselytizing to Muslims strikes Michael Gunter, the Kurdistan expert at Tennessee Tech, as a dangerous proposition given the current volatile political climate in Iraq. “The stability of Kurdistan is very fragile right now,” he said, citing the fractious state of affairs in northern Iraq between Kurds, Assyrian Christians, Yazidis, Turkomen and Sunni Muslims that has produced a wave of bombings and assassinations over the past several months. The national elections in March have left Iraq fragmented along political, tribal and religious lines-and have left unanswered the pressing question of who will control the oil-rich regions of Tamim, which includes Kirkuk, and parts of the Nineveh plain.

US military commanders have said that tensions between Kurds and Arabs are the greatest threat to Iraq’s security as American troop withdrawal accelerates. A cadre of US Kingdom Now evangelicals in the mix — especially with ties at the upper levels of the KRG — can only provide more fuel to an increasingly flammable situation.

Rebaz Mahmoud contributed reporting from Kurdistan. This article was reported in collaboration with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

Michael Reynolds is a former correspondent for the Reuters Miami/Caribbean bureau and a senior analyst with the Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Project. He has written on terrorism, crime, politics, and religion for numerous publications, including the Nation, Playboy, Mother Jones, US News & World Report, and Rolling Stone. He is currently writing on the drug wars at NarcoGuerra Times.