By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Columnist
Wednesday 19 March 2008
Politics is the art of controlling your environment.
- Hunter S. Thompson
Five years in Iraq.
That's 1,825 days since "Shock and Awe" lit up the skies above Baghdad, all of which was captured live and in living color by unblinking CNN cameras with unobstructed views of the carnage.
3,991 United States soldiers have died in Iraq since then. That's a little more than two United States soldiers killed per day. Every day. For five years.
More than 40,000 United States soldiers have been wounded in Iraq since then. That's more than twenty-one United States soldiers wounded per day. Every day. For five years.
The last Congressional Budget Office report on the monetary cost for Iraq dates back to October of last year, and tabulates that cost at $421 billion. The CBO cannot be censured should that number prove lower than what has actually been spent, as it is understood that all the other millions pilfered by profiteers and passed on in bribes were not duly recorded in the books, and thus cannot be accounted for.
The CBO's number must be considered inaccurately low on spec, thanks in part to a nifty little cash-and-carry hootenanny from three years ago in July of 2005. A report from the UK Guardian tells the tale: "The auditors have so far referred more than a hundred contracts, involving billions of dollars paid to American personnel and corporations, for investigation and possible criminal prosecution. They have also discovered that $8.8 billion that passed through the new Iraqi government ministries in Baghdad while Bremer was in charge is unaccounted for, with little prospect of finding out where it has gone. A further $3.4 billion appropriated by Congress for Iraqi development has since been siphoned off to finance 'security'."
But wait, there's more: "Pilfering was rife," continues the Guardian report. "Millions of dollars in cash went missing from the Iraqi Central Bank. Between $11 million and $26 million worth of Iraqi property sequestered by the Coalition Provisional Authority was unaccounted for. The payroll was padded with hundreds of ghost employees. Millions of dollars were paid to contractors for phantom work. Some $3,379,505 was billed, for example, for 'personnel not in the field performing work' and 'other improper charges' on just one oil pipeline repair contract."
This one example, just one among the multitudes, makes the existence of significant gaps in the accuracy of the information supporting the CBO's conclusions a safe assumption. As for the money not present on the official balance sheets, well ... to paraphrase John Kenneth Galbraith, that cash went to the same place your lap goes when you stand up. Even the guys who stole it probably don't know what happened to it all, not completely, not for certain. If the Federal Reserve had stuffed those bills into the belly of a ballistic missile and launched the thing into deep space, they'd know exactly as much about where it is as they now know about what happened to the cash literally dumped into Iraq. It's somewhere, and nowhere, and all the way gone.
$421 billion spent over 1,825 days in Iraq comes to $230,684,931 plus change per day. Every day. For five years.
And that number is low.
Fast-forward the tape ten years to 2017, via the calculations recently published in a new book by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard University professor Linda Bilmes, and the cost of attacking Iraq will be somewhere in the vicinity of $3 trillion. This is based on the assumption that United States soldiers will still be dying in Iraq ten years hence. Six to four and pick 'em on that one. Sucker bet.
George W. Bush's banner-bolstered "Mission Accomplished" photo-op happened four years and ten months ago. This event is noteworthy for myriad reasons, Bush's gruesome and unspeakably inaccurate grandstanding being foremost among them. Also, as an aside, Bush's use of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln as a backdrop for his 1,825-days-wrong-and-counting festival of balderdash set a new world record for Largest Prop Ever Used For Political Gain, by any world leader, ever.
That event was followed the very next day by a comment from General Tommy Franks, leader of the US attack and invasion of Iraq. A reporter apparently had the unrivaled gall to query Franks on the matter of Iraqi civilian casualties. "We," replied Franks, "don't do body counts."
The man was not lying; in the five years since the United States invaded Iraq, not one attempt has been made by any United States government agency or office to accurately count the civilian dead and wounded. A number of non-official efforts have been made to find some kind of answer for that cheeky reporter's question. In October of 2004, a team of experts sponsored by Human Rights Watch put forth their best attempt to provide a number.
"One of the first attempts to independently estimate the loss of civilian life from the Iraq war has concluded that at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians may have died because of the US invasion," reported The Washington Post. "The analysis, an extrapolation based on a relatively small number of documented deaths, indicated that many of the excess deaths have occurred due to aerial attacks by coalition forces, with women and children being frequent victims."
That was four years ago, and might not be accurate. Two years later, the British medical journal the Lancet put the number of Iraqi civilian deaths at 655,000. A hue and cry was raised about the methodology of that study, so we really don't know how many have died. Is it a million dead Iraqi civilians, is it two million, or only a half-million? Two hundred thousand, or one hundred thousand? Fifty thousand, or ten thousand? Nobody knows, because we don't do body counts.
One thing is sure. Iraqi civilians have been dying. Every day. For five years.
Mainly, because the motivations behind the invasion and occupation of Iraq came down to power, payback and greed, which makes this entire calamity just another ghastly page within the oldest book in humanity's bloody history.
Vice President Dick Cheney is, by far and away, the most powerful man in the present administration. He is still bitter from watching the slow annihilation of Richard Nixon, his first boss in Washington, at the hands of a Democrat-dominated US Congress fueled by broad and vocal support from an outraged public. Nixon was Cheney's archetype, the Unitary Executive version 1.0, who tried to raze the separation of powers doctrine to the ground by brazenly declaring the Presidency to be beyond any legal limitations, beyond any meddling intruders sniffing for secrets in the name of oversight, and thus vested with the same absolute authority once claimed by the Stuart kings of old.
Yet that Nixonian leviathan collapsed and came to grief before the Legislature, the Judiciary, and the rule of constitutional law. Cheney was a man thwarted, and so he would brood on that defeat for many long years, and would bide his time. Few people, not even his closest Republican colleagues, were aware of the stone-fisted authoritarian lurking behind that bland conservative facade.
One passage from a Washington Post analysis of Cheney's long career in government and business stands out: "Cheney's muscular views on presidential power, then and now, offer one answer to the question raised often by former colleagues in recent years: What happened to the careful, mainstream conservative they once thought they understood?"
What happened? Opportunity happened, at long last, George W. Bush and 9/11 and a manufactured state of permanent war happened. Over these last five years, virtually every invocation of the ever-expanding powers laid claim by Executive privilege, every ignored Congressional subpoena, every assertion of confidentiality or national security to block even meager attempts to scrutinize White House activities, every summary termination of a US attorney who refused administration orders to cripple offending Democrats with baseless abuses of prosecutorial discretion, every refusal to obey black-letter laws requiring the release of administration documents even to the harmless librarians at the National Archives, every signing statement that eviscerates another duly-passed bill from Congress, every attempt to stack the Justice Department and the federal court system with devoted yes-men whose only qualification is their total loyalty to and complete Judicial protection of the administration, with neither heed nor concern paid to whatever laws or freedoms or principles are rubbished by the process, every one of these lethal attacks upon America's constitutional infrastructure have been committed under the ill-defined and therefore limitless legal prerogatives afforded to American presidents "during a time of war."
Because war in Iraq presented Dick Cheney with the means to fulfill his decades-old ambition: to invest the Executive branch with unprecedented and unlimited power, to settle a few festering scores with that nettlesome Legislature, and to cash in on the spoils of supremacy by rerouting every available dollar out of the Treasury and into tax-sheltered coffers of like-minded comrades in the oil and warfare industries, comrades who eagerly joined in the plunder and have happily fattened their fortunes with money that now might as well be in the same place as your lap once you stand up. Somewhere, nowhere, and all the way gone.
Author and former presidential adviser Sidney Blumenthal, writing in November of 2005, noted where Dick Cheney's plans had led him, and the nation, to that point. "The making of the Iraq war, torture policy and an industry-friendly energy plan," he observed, "has required secrecy, deception and subordination of government as it previously existed. But these, too, are means to an end. Even projecting a 'war on terror' as total war, trying to envelop the whole American society within its fog, is a device to invest absolute power in the executive. Dick Cheney sees in George W. Bush his last chance. Nixon self-destructed, Ford was fatally compromised by his moderation, Reagan was not what was hoped for, the elder Bush ended up a disappointment. In every case, the Republican presidents had been checked or gone soft. Finally, President Bush provided the instrument, September 11 the opportunity. This time the failures of the past provided the guideposts for getting it right. The administration's heedlessness was simply the wisdom of Cheney's experience."
It is certainly possible that those Bush administration officials who advocated legalizing the torture of prisoners, and who celebrated Bush's recent veto of legislation to prohibit same, are simply a bunch of clandestine bondage freaks with a taste for the whip and the waterboard. It doesn't matter. The one and only reason this White House chose to legitimize the infliction of ruthless agony with the stamp of presidential approval is because somebody somewhere forbade them from doing it.
They may all genuinely despise the very idea of torture, but not as much as they despise being told "No" under any circumstances. "No" is the red flag to Cheney's bull. "No" is unacceptable to the Unitary Executive. "No" will not stand, period, and whatever the matter at hand may be is almost completely irrelevant to the argument as they see it. Forcing "No" into becoming "Yes," or forcing the defeated retreat of whatever adversary dared to defy them with a "No," is the complete sum and substance of Bush administration ideology.
Outrageous as it may seem, that is the answer.
This is a wretched anniversary. Let us not do it again next year.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: "War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know" and "The Greatest Sedition Is Silence." His newest book, "House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation," is now available from PoliPointPress.