Defeat: Losing Iraq and the Future of the Middle East
a book by Jonathan Steele
(our site's book review)
The Amazon blurb says that While much has been made of the faulty intelligence claim that Saddam had a secret arsenal of weapons of mass destruction that was used to justify the U.S. invasion, in reality the failures of political intelligence were equally serious.
Award-winning reporter Jonathan Steele reveals the disastrous mistake U.S. decision-makers made by not seeing that the post-Saddam vacuum would be filled by Shia Islamists with close ties to a resurgent Iran. They underestimated the complexity of Iraqi society and the deep well of proud nationalism that was bound to produce resistance if the U.S. did not make clear that it intended to withdraw quickly.
Steele shows, for the first time, how the invasion and occupation were perceived by ordinary Iraqis whose feelings and experiences were ignored by Western policymakers. The result of such arrogance, Steele demonstrates, was a failure that will forever resonate among the darkest chapters of American and British history. Blending vivid reportage, informed analysis, and powerful historical narrative Defeat: Losing Iraq and the Future of the Middle East is the definitive anatomy of this horrendous catastrophe.
Jonathan Steele " . . . asserts that the effort was preordained to fail, doomed by the twin sins of ignorance and arrogance. At the core of these sins was the inability of policy makers to comprehend that even the best-intentioned and 'benign' occupation of a foreign nation usually means humiliation for the occupied and will trigger eventual resistance. Steele suggests that a rapid overthrow of Hussein followed by a rapid withdrawal of American and British forces could have resulted in a successful, or at least a tolerable, outcome. Instead, the invaders chose to 'rebuild' Iraqi institutions, resulting in a prolonged stay."—Jay Freeman (from Booklist)
It's likely there are billboards like these—or there will be—since most Iraqis recognize that things were much better when Saddam Hussein ruled and before Americans invaded
Steele rightly sees the American desire for a neat and simplistic analysis, looking for good guys with white hats and bad guys with black hats like in U.S. cowboy movies, as the fatal flaw in our "good intentions." U.S. citizens and politicians have the unfortunate habit of believing Hollywood movies full of stereotypes, cliches, and heroic American soldiers—the truth is much more complicated. This 2008 book missed the exciting climax of the Iraqi drama—the gift that—like herpes—just keeps on giving: ISIS. Steele is right that from the start the occupiers were bound to lose and that they have, in fact, already lost. One percent of Iraqis, in polls, said that the goal of our Iraq invasion was to establish democracy. Seventy percent said that the goal was to take over Iraq's resources and to reorganize the Middle East. Only 1% had drunk the Kool-Aid in our CIA-controlled propaganda in Iraq, while over 2/3 knew better. See Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World.
This 2008 book missed the exciting climax of the Iraqi drama—the gift that—like herpes—just keeps on giving: ISIS
"The occupiers have not achieved the politicians' claimed goals of democracy and a pro-Western regime, nor will they. More people have been killed in the occupation's five years than in Hussein's 32 years. Mass detention of innocent civilians in a brutal counter-insurgency war breeds resistance not support. In 2004, the USA estimated there were 5,000 insurgents, in 2005, 16,000, in 2006, 20,000 and in 2007, 70,000. 2007 was the deadliest year yet for the USA. In a poll last December , 85% of the people of Basra thought that the British occupation had a negative effect; just 2% thought it positive." (Source: Superb study of a criminal war, William Podmore)
Only very naive U.S. citizens believed the U.S. goal in Iraq was creating democracy—no Iraqis and few smarter Westerners believed such baloney, and the neocon warmongers in charge knew better
Bush and Blair had no idea of the sense of humiliation foreign dominance of their country would be bound to generate in Iraqi minds. Compassion alone should have told them that the way Iraqis would feel wouldn't be that different from how we'd feel if they invaded and wrecked our country, unprovoked, which killed essential services like electricity, food distribution, sewage handling, and it caused much joblessness. It would be foolish to suggest that merely dumping Saddam would have been sufficient to a coalition with a strategy, in Steele's words, "for giving US oil companies control over Iraq's resources and for threatening Iran." For our military, those who believed they came as liberators of Iraq are seen by Iraqis as murderous outsiders and those who cooperate with them are seen as traitors. "The Middle East has been repeatedly invaded and occupied by Westerners for the last eight centuries, with its dominant religion despised and belittled," says Steele.
Statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Firdos Square after the US invasion of Iraq
"Nearly every mistake the Americans made after toppling Saddam," says Steele, — "from the use of heavy-handed tactics at checkpoints and during house searches, to the failure to spend reconstruction money intelligently, the underestimation of the armed resistance as nothing more than a few 'former Baathists and foreign jihadis’, the killing of hundreds of civilians in air strikes, the reluctance to transfer genuine sovereignty to Iraqis, and the refusal to name a date for withdrawal - strengthened Iraqis’ feelings of outrage at the humiliation they were expected to digest. The occupation was a daily affront to their dignity, as well as an increasing source of violence and death.
Dubya and Obama blew up everyone they didn't like the looks of, and not only were some of them innocent, most of the murdered bystanders were innocent as well
The killing of hundreds of civilians in air strikes via Predator drones was U.S. terrorism at its worst and Iraqis hated us for it, often striking back with terrorism of their own
"Bush and Blair seemed unaware of Iraqi history, the broader context Arab nationalism, or the depth of Arab and Iraqi frustration over Western support for Israel’s policies. The biggest error was their failure to see the strength of Islamism. Islamists, already on the rise in Iraq in the final decade of Saddam Hussein’s secular regime, were bound to become stronger if he was toppled. Islamism, of course, opposes the West’s dominant presence in the Middle East. It is one response - perhaps the most powerful one over the last two decades—to the shame and humiliation caused by the remorseless onrush of Western influence."
Arabs have had enough of US military might; the U.S. operates from a position of Might Makes Right, and yet they inevitably demonstrate the concept that Might Makes Stupid
The evidence in 2008 (when the book was written) was, in Steele's opinion, that life has improved for Iraqis as they begin to assume the U.S. is finally leaving. The stakes are high. Dubya’s disastrous adventure in Iraq, which should never have happened, seemed to be drawing to a close. Steele says "It spelt misery and death for millions of Iraqis and accelerated the decline of U.S. power throughout the region. The former cannot be undone but the latter can be reversed—to a degree. The U.S. dominance of the 1980s and 1990s will not return. But a president who can deliver a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians will get a massive infusion of credit for himself and for the U.S. as a whole. Arabs have had enough of US military might. A display of soft power that brings positive results will go much further in winning Middle Eastern hearts and minds."national debt
Unless American citizens start defecating money, Obama's doubling of the debt has put us all in deep doo-doo
Steele seemed to believe in Obama's election year promises about leaving Iraq, dealing with the Israel/Palestinian mess, and bringing down the debt. We did not. It is now 2018 and it turns out we were right to believe Obama was a liar. Obama kept none of these promises. See How Obama Betrayed America....And No One Is Holding Him Accountable.
It is now 2018 and it turns out we were right to believe Obama was a liar
He ramped up the fighting and ramped up the murders via Predator drones, ignored the Israel/Palestinian situation, and doubled the debt from ten trillion to twenty trillion. Domestically he created the disaster/scam that is Obamacare that Obama knew wouldn't and couldn't work as designed under any circumstances since well people could be predicted to avoid it and sick people could be predicted to sign up to try to get the well people to subsidize their care. Obamacare was designed by the insurance companies to give them windfall profits—which it did. Among Obama's sins: his shocking abuses of taxpayer dollars; his bitterly divisive style of governing; his racism; his shameless usurping of the Constitution; his scandals and cover ups; his policy failures at home and abroad; the unprecedented expansion of government power; his smearing of reporters and political rivals including using the IRS and illegal surveillance against them; his horrid and unprecedented oppression and imprisoning of patriotic whistleblowers; his Alinsky dirty tricks and coverups; his castrating of Clinton's workfare bill; his gifting the "too big to fail" companies with a trillion dollars of taxpayer money as a reward for the devastating 2007-2008 crash.
Steele had no crystal ball, so he couldn't possibly have known just how badly the big O would botch the job
Of course, Steele had no crystal ball, so he couldn't possibly have known just how badly the big O would botch the job. The ultimate botching of the job came when his bungling of the Middle East situation wrecked Iraq and created ISIS! See Unmasking ISIS: The Shocking Truth.
Even though the author's views about Dubya and Iraq up until 2008 were detailed and accurate, the next ten years up to the present (2018) represent the worst case scenario as far as both the U.S. and Iraq are concerned. The situation got so miserably botched and took such nasty turns that it would appear that Steele's book is rather obsolete unless he updates it, however, his 2011 book Ghosts of Afghanistan: The Haunted Battleground sort of serves that purpose. But even though ISIS existed in 2008, it waited until 2014 to make its world-shaking move. In 2014, ISIS took control of Falluja, Mosul and Tikrit in Iraq, and declared itself a caliphate, which is a political and religious territory ruled by a leader known as a caliph. They brutalized everyone and everything they touched, filming beheadings and becoming THE Middle East terrorists by skillful planning, organizing, and social media recruiting. ISIS has claimed responsibility for hundreds of terrorist attacks in the Middle East and around the world as well as inspiring attacks in Europe and the U.S. See Jonathan Steele's When Mosul falls: Iraq may win the war, but risks losing the peace and The battle for Mosul is won. But can Iraq survive?.
Dubya saw himself as an heroic warrior and conqueror that is building an empire which he hopes will outshine the 500-year reign of the British Empire, but Iraqis desperately want us to leave the Middle East
The Iraq War propaganda campaign was to ensure our citizens would accept permanent warmongering and also accept our young being used as cannon fodder
Let's look at the facts: the WMD nonsense was a lie and Dubya and his flunkies knew it. So why DID they invade since it wasn't fear of WMDs? Dubya was behind the instigation of a propaganda campaign to instill fear in the American populace with false claims about Iraq and the campaign was also to portray Dubya as their saviour ("I'm declarin' victory!") so that they will accept an abysmal domestic policy that goes against their own interests, as well as accepting permanent warmongering from all present and future presidents that lead to our young being used as cannon fodder. Without question, the Bushes and Obama and the shadow government see themselves as heroic warriors and conquerors that are building an empire which they hope will outshine the 500-year reign of the British Empire. However, the nations of the world do not see themselves as willing colonies in such an empire, nor should they. See Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World.
Somebody is paying the corporations that destroyed Iraq and the corporations that are rebuilding it. In both cases, they're getting paid by the U.S. taxpayer—gifts from U.S. taxpayers to U.S. corporations
"Empires are costly. Running Iraq is not cheap. Somebody's paying. Somebody is paying the corporations that destroyed Iraq and the corporations that are rebuilding it. In both cases, they're getting paid by the U.S. taxpayer. Those are gifts from U.S. taxpayers to U.S. corporations," says Chomsky. And US citizens never had a say in the matter. So it was more like we were robbed by these multinational corporations (e.g., Halliburton)—by the corporatocracy. Not a gift, and never willingly.
At least with the Nigerian Princess Scam, one gets to decide whether or not to send a little money to Nigeria "so that one can get back a fortune. (Or not!)" With the shadow government instigated empire building involving mass murder in Iraq, we never got a choice. Fear and prejudice were whipped into a frenzy by CIA propaganda in the mainstream media ("mushroom clouds over Manhattan") until the public would support ANYTHING just to have the heroic military save us from the big bad Iraqis who were going to be throwing nukes at us any minute and killing us horribly. The only scam bigger than the Nigerian Princess scam is the Iraq War scam!
Here's the REAL 'Nigerian Princess,' and note that 'she' is laughing at you
"The US military maintains roughly 300,000 active military personnel in over 150 countries and nearly 800 bases globally.
"So, has the so-called War on Terror succeeded?
Our War on Terror is actually a War OF Terror, and for every terrorist we kill, 10 more pop up to avenge him—our military is running a terrorist factory
"Even if we take seriously the criteria by which it was propagandistically sold to the US public, as well as the rest of the world, the answer must be a resounding 'no.' The Global Terrorism Index revealed that, as of 2014, there had been a fivefold increase in global terrorism fatalities since 9/11.
Today, especially with the administration of President Donald J. Trump, whatever vestiges of the U.S. empire project that are left are being summarily burnt out (good!)
"Another result of these post-9/11 policies has been the decline of the US empire. US power in the world and its days of being the sole superpower were already waning when 9/11 occurred. Today, especially with the administration of President Donald J. Trump, whatever vestiges of the U.S. empire project that are left are being summarily burnt out.
"Clearly, there is no merit in preserving the U.S. empire. The primary question we are left with, then, is how many more people will die as this empire fights a losing battle to maintain its dominance?" (Source: 9/11: The Beginning of the End of the US Empire Project, Dahr Jamail)
U.S. neocons' imperialism and warmongering is out of control yet the Congress tasked with stopping such abuses is mute—something smells rotten in Washington! The game is rigged.
One constant when Steele walked around Iraq is being told by Iraqis that they wanted the Americans to leave Iraq. They were rightfully suspicious of our motives, which turned out to be control of oil and filling up the coffers of the corporations working in overseas construction (e.g., Halliburton) and security (e.g., Blackwater). "The United States is invading Iraq. It's as open an act of aggression as there has been in modern history, a major war crime. This is the crime for which the Nazis were hanged at Nuremberg, the act of aggression. Everything eise was secondary. And here's a clear and open example. The pretenses for the invasion are no more convincing than Hitler's," says Noam Chomsky.
This is the crime for which the Nazis were hanged at Nuremberg, the act of aggression. Everything eise was secondary. And here's a clear and open example. The pretenses for the invasion are no more convincing than Hitler's
Trying to ram democracy down Iraqi throats was a bad idea, especially since they knew we'd only honor their decisions as long as we found a way to control them (often by proxies like in 1980s Central America)
Jonathan Steele is Senior Foreign Correspondent and in-house columnist on international affairs for The Guardian. Educated at Cambridge and Yale, he has reported for The Guardian since 1965. In his present role he travels frequently to the Middle East and has contributed to the Guardian's coverage of Iraq since the start of the war. Steele has won numerous prizes for his foreign news reporting, including the James Cameron and Martha Gelhorn awards. A frequent broadcaster on the BBC and CNN, Steele has written several books on international affairs.