Tag Archives: saddam hussein

The Death of a Symbol

2 May

I had imagined this day many times, the day we learned Bin Laden was dead. I was already in Saudi Arabia on 9/11, deployed for a boring (and hopefully, short) Operation SOUTHERN WATCH tour, enforcing the no-fly zone over Iraq. Half way around the world, it was mid-afternoon when the World Trade Center was hit, and at first I thought the news coverage was a bad mid-day movie on AFN.

We had a lot of optimism as the war started, as successes built quickly. I had friends back in the US who were jealous I was already deployed – they thought the war would end too soon, and they’d never get a chance to go. As the Taliban government fell and we knew Bin Laden was on the run, our war in Afghanistan was looking more like our snatching of Manuel Noriega in Panama than a drawn out quagmire.

Of course, we didn’t get Bin Laden on my first tour. Like many, I had fallen into a habit of checking the news regularly, thinking Bin Laden’s capture would be the next headline. As 2002 dragged, Bin Laden assumed the role of unscratched itch, an annoyance we had not yet remedied. But more bad-guy targets remained, and within the military, we talked about invading Iraq nearly from the 12th of September. By the end of 2003, we had toppled the Baath government, yanked Khalid Sheikh Mohammed out of a safehouse in Pakistan in just his undershirt, captured a bearded Saddam Hussein in a spider hole, and it seemed like a matter of time before we had Bin Laden as well. I was genuinely surprised when he did not appear in flex cuffs on TV just in time for the 2004 Presidential election. 

I returned to the Middle East in late 2004, this time to Iraq, in a new role as a bomb technician, and to a much different fight. Still we believed the wars would ended quickly, but underneath, frustration was building. By the time I started my second tour in Iraq in mid-2006, Bin Laden was nearly forgotten – we had other local bogeymen, lesser shades of the true evil, that were occupying our time. I was eating a burned, tasteless meal in a Kirkuk chowhall when we saw the news we had killed al-Zarqawi, chief of Al Qaeda in Iraq. I felt a sense of relief, but it was short lived – IEDs were laid as normal later that same day. Nothing changed.

With Bin Laden a no-show at the 2008 Presidential election as well, and the wars stretching on and on (and now in a third theater), like many Americans I had almost forgotten him. Nearly a decade since I had cable news perpetually on, muted in the background just in case we grabbed him, I had given up hope of dramatic finality. The sense of closure and satisfaction waned with each name we crossed off the list. KSM’s groggy mug and Saddam face down in the dirt were replaced with a smoking crater and a mangled body – we killed Zarqawi with two 500 pound JDAMs. Into Obama’s administration, we didn’t even have those final pictures, as video of Predator strikes is rarely released or leaked. The only news footage we regularly saw was of mistaken strikes, killing journalists and innocents. I had decided some time ago that Bin Laden would probably die of kidney failure in a Lahore safehouse, and no one would know.

This morning I awoke to a text message from Chris Smith, asking me to turn on the television. He had sent it last night, and as I wandered to the radio to turn on NPR, searching for the coffee, I wondered what possible big news could break so late on a Sunday. While sleeping through the event was not a scenario I considered the last 9 1/2 years, it is perhaps symbolic of our nation’s level of attention.

Though I find them unseemly, I understand the cheering crowds gathered in Times Square, at Ground Zero, and outside of the White House. This is as close to a victory as we will have in this fight, as near as we will come to signing a treaty on the deck of a battleship or kissing a girl in a ticker tape parade. For some, a sense of closure is now possible, a demon has been exorcised, or, at the basest level, a pride in America, shaken and lately beaten down in the Great Recession, has been rekindled.

I will not be joining the crowds, though, even in spirit, because the wars Bin Laden set in motion endure, and those wars themselves have become a greater horror to me than the original attack of 9/11. A symbol of terrorism died yesterday, but the cancer has metastasized, and the cure has killed more than the original disease. I started losing friends in combat eight years ago, and have no assurance that I have lost the last. Today, our military forces will don gear, hump the Hindu Kush, fly combat air patrols, scout by helo, and disarm IEDs as they have done for nearly a decade. They will do so again tomorrow. We are little closer to finishing what Bin Laden started today than we were last week. And America itself must continue to come to grips with what it has morphed into in the wake of 9/11; the tip that ultimately led to Bin Laden’s death was obtained via waterboarding a detainee in Gitmo in 2004.

Libya isn’t Iraq

20 Mar

I was not a supporter of the Iraq war because the United Nations never approved or otherwise sanctioned the use of force against Iraq. I am a strong believer in the United Nations, it being the only legitimate entity where the world’s nation-states can meet to discuss and solve international crises.  (This post isn’t about the efficacy or efficiency of the United Nations, nor is it an invitation to people to start in about one world government or other John Birch Society talking points).

Despite historical revisionism, the stated reason why the United States invaded Iraq had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein’s brutality; the stated justification for the invasion was that Hussein had violated United Nations sanctions, no-fly zones, and above all, continued to maintain and pursue an active campaign to seek and build a catastrophic arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Colin Powell disgraced himself forever when he took to the Security Council to seek that body’s approval to use military force against Iraq for its alleged failure to abide by UN Security Council Resolution 1441, which was a final chance for Hussein to abide by past disarmament commitments.  1441 was passed unanimously, but did not authorize the use of force without further Security Council action.  Instead, it authorized the creation of UNMOVIC, which commenced a series of inspections, which Hussein famously jerked around and obstructed for the sake of jerking around and obstructing; he had no active WMD program.

The US, Britain, and Spain met in March 2003 and decided independently that Hussein had violated 1441, and that the invasion would commence.  No Security Council resolution was ever introduced or voted on to authorize the use of force, as it would clear that at least one of its permanent members would veto it.  Kofi Annan, the UN’s Secretary-General, said in 2004 that in the UN’s eyes, the war in Iraq was illegal.

The war in Iraq was all about ideology, lies, mistakes, and using 9/11 as a pretext to complete unfinished business from the early 1990s.

By contrast, 2011 seems to be to the Arab world something similar to what the world saw in eastern Europe in 1989. Mass demonstrations and revolutions have sprung up among average citizens to overthrow corrupt mafia regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, with smaller conflagrations in Jordan and Syria. The United States’ chief ally in the Middle East is Israel, and we often see affairs in that region through a “how will this affect Israel” prism.  That’s legitimate, and many have tried to foment domestic opposition to the Arab uprisings by suggesting that these places would all become latter-day Afghanistan Taliban regimes. That ignores how comparatively cosmopolitan and stable Tunisia and Egypt are compared with an Afghanistan that’s been in political, economic, social, and military crisis almost non-stop since the 1970s.

If the Arab uprising is their 1989, then longtime madman Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who has practiced a weird sort of pseudo-Socialism with a strong cult of personality in that country since taking power in 1969, is their Ceausescu. He has plunged that country into a civil war, ordering his military to turn its guns on his own people.  Being mindful of the fact that he took power via coup, he had kept that country’s military deliberately weak, so he has employed the services of foreign mercenaries to destroy the rebellion.

On March 17th, the United Nations Security Council took up and passed Resolution 1973, authorizing the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya, to halt Gaddafi’s bombing of his own population.  It was a second step after Resolution 1970, which called on Gaddafi to stop harming civilians. It includes an arms embargo and an assets freeze.

The resolution was brought about thanks to a Security Council resolution voted on in the United Nations.  It specifically and explicitly authorizes the use of force taking place now in Libya, and the US is participating.  It came about thanks to the urging and support of the members of the Arab League, and the US has not taken the lead in this matter, letting regional actors do so instead – notably France. The stated primary purpose of the resolution and resultant action is legal, sanctioned, and has the stated goal of preventing Libya from using its military and hired mercenaries from murdering its own civilians.

This has no parallel with the Iraq war, and more closely resembles NATO and UN action taken in Kosovo and Bosnia to prevent humanitarian tragedy and slaughter of civilians.