Friday, May 6, 2011

Condi Rice on the Iraq War: Standing by Her Man

Huffington Post reports on Lawrence O'Donnell's MSNBC interview with Bush's Sec of State, Condolezza Rice, in which he directs the discussion to the rationale for invading Iraq.  By the end, it's clear that O'Donnell's challenge to her to show that Saddam Hussein was clearly a threat to the U.S. has gotten under her skin, as she accuses him (more than once) of being seriously "mis-informed."  It's a truly sad performance, but it's obvious that Dr. Rice will go to her grave standing by "her man" - the president to whom she once referred (in a memorable slip of the tongue) as "my husband."

I'm especially struck by how she spins the "facts" - and sloughs off some unpleasant realities about the US's actions over the years.  Quoting from the interview:
you have not focused on the fact that Saddam Hussein had been a threat to the United States of America, to the Middle East, since he invaded Iran. Now we made the wrong call then, and we supported him against Iran. He then became a more monstrous threat. After 1991, shooting at our aircraft in the no-fly zone that was supposed to be keeping his air force on the ground. Trying to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction. Breaking out of the sanctions through the scandalous oil for food program. Yes he was a threat. With or without mature weapons of mass destruction, he was a threat. And nothing of value is ever won without sacrifice, of course the lives lost will never be brought back. But an Iraq that is not a threat to invade its neighbors, not a threat to reconstitute its weapons of mass destruction, not a threat to pay Palestinian terrorists as suicide bombers, that is going to be a better Iraq and a better Middle East. And so, in fact, I think that what we did in Iraq will be demonstrated by history to be an important part, an important pillar, of a new Middle East."

There are a few spins here that beg credulity:
  •  For example, in her insistence that Saddam had been a threat to the Middle East ever since his invasion of Iran in 1980, she at least does admit that the US "made the wrong call."  That's a rather facile dismissal of the fact that we supported Iraq financially, as well as with satellite intelligence; and by the end of the war, the US navy was effectively at war with the Iranian navy, destroying Iranian boats as well as oil installations.  And in her accusations that Saddam used weapons of mass destruction during the eight-year war that Saddam's 1980 invasion commenced - well, yes, he did, and we knew about it all along, and did essentially nothing to dissuade him or to criticize him (even when he used poison gas against Kurdish villagers at Halabja) until later, when he went from being our guy to bad guy.
  • "Breaking out of the sanctions through the scandalous oil for food program."  Let's get real.  Saddam was able to smuggle oil out for kickbacks that enriched himself and his favored cronies.  To say that his ability to do that threatened the US is, to put it most charitably, a stretch.  He was unable to rebuild his military (after the disaster of Desert Storm in 1991) to an extent that it could indeed pose a serious threat. (Condi's assessment that Saddam was a threat even without WMDs is absurd.) Meanwhile, the sanctions had reduced Iraq to (in the assessment of human-rights workers who visited there) to a pre-industrial condition, by denying the country of so-called "dual-use" materials needed to rebuild basic infrastructure.  As Joy Gordon has demonstrated (on the basis of the documents from the UN subcommittee in charge of sanctions enforcement), the US took the lead in ensuring that even basic materials for rebuilding water and electrical supply were denied to Iraq.  Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis - many of them young children - paid the price (which, according to Clinton's Sec of State Madeleine Albright's infamous 60 Minutes interview, "was worth it."). 
  • "Trying to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction."  It's not just that we know now that he'd abandoned that program years before the 2003 invasion.  Bush et al. knew then that (1) there was no trustworthy intelligence to back up that claim, and (2) the UN inspectors who were in Iraq, diligently looking for the evidence until just before the invasion, could find no such evidence, and said so - and Bush and Condi knew it, but decided on an invasion anyway.
  • "Nothing of value is ever won without sacrifice," but the result will be a "new Middle East."  One would have hoped that Condi had expunged from her vocabulary that phrase - "a new Middle East" - that was part of her infamous characterization of the 2006 war in Lebanon.  When Israeli warplanes were bombing Lebanese cities and strafing Lebanese trying to flee, she tried to reassure and comfort us all by declaring that these were simply the "birth pangs of a new Middle East."  Not for nothing was she at times referred to in the aftermath as the midwife from Hell.

Finally, Dr. Rice insists to O'Donnell that
"it's simply ill-informed and ahistorical to suggest that a dictator as brutal as Saddam Hussein would have allowed an Arab uprising in his country. . . .   If you think for one minute that you were going to be able to take Saddam Hussein down by mass protests in the streets, then you're clearly ill-informed. . . .   we'll never know, but I would have to say, anybody who thinks that that was going to happen, would have to be pretty ill-informed."
Indeed, we'll never know, but the fact of the matter is that Saddam did allow "an Arab uprising," in February and March of 1991, among the Shia in southern Iraq - an uprising that George H. W. Bush encouraged, only to hang the Shia out to dry when they rose up.  And even as you spoke, the people of Syria and Libya were rising up against (and the people of Egypt and Tunisia had already ousted) dictators that, back when you were Secretary of State, you would never have expected to fall victim to uprisings by people motivated, not by religious fervor, but by a hunger for dignity, a better life, and self-determination. 

I'm sure that at some point, Dr. Rice will publish a memoir of her tenure in the halls of American power.  If her pronouncements in this interview are a sample, she'll cause only further embarrassment for a Bush administration whose denizens, as she believes, will be vindicated by history.

Condi had better reconsider.  Eternity is a long time to wait.

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