American Militarism: Part Two (Charles Krauthammer)

In 1990, thirteen years before President George W. Bush made his fateful decision to order an illegal, immoral war of choice in Iraq, prominent neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer had helped to pave the way for such wars by writing an article for Foreign Affairs which urged the United States to “unashamedly” lay “down the rules of world order and … [be] prepared to enforce them.” His views were embraced by many influential neoconservatives.

In 2001, two years before President George W. Bush ordered an illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq, Mr. Krauthammer blithely asserted, “we are not just any hegemon. We run a uniquely benign imperium.”

But, once in Iraq, nearly 4,500 American soldiers died under that so-called “uniquely benign imperium”. And under that “uniquely benign imperium” tens of thousands of American soldiers suffered serious wounds, not including PTSD.

In addition to widespread destruction, Mr. Krauthammer’s “uniquely benign imperium” caused an excess mortality rate of over 600,000 Iraqis.  Beyond provoking outrage and an increase in terrorism around the world, his “uniquely benign imperium” precipitated widespread ethnic cleansing in Iraq and caused millions of Iraqis to vacate their homes to move to other parts of the country or the world.

Moreover, as Ned Parker has written in the March/April 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs, “the country has become something close to a failed state. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki presides over a system rife with corruption and brutality…. The Iraqi state cannot provide basic services, including regular electricity in summer, clean water, and decent health care…” Thus, one could say that Mr. Krauthammer’s “uniquely benign imperium” broke Iraq, but didn’t fix it.

Unfortunately, the only thing that the Bush administration and neoconservatives like Mr. Krauthammer “fixed” was the intelligence used to justify the invasion. During the fall of 2002, while I was writing in The Philadelphia Inquirer to warn our citizens about the perils of initiating a preemptive war when the intelligence is not rock solid, Mr. Krauthammer was expressing his certainty that Iraq already possessed chemical and biological weapons and might acquire nuclear weapons. Consequently, he urged President Bush to launch a preemptive war against Iraq, lest evil Saddam Hussein use these weapons.

Subsequent events would prove me right about questionable intelligence and him wrong. Like so many other armchair militarists, Mr. Krauthammer never satisfactorily answered the question posed by UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix: “Could there be 100 percent certainty about the existence of weapons of mass destruction but zero percent knowledge of their location?” Being wrong, however, has seldom slowed neoconservatives like Mr. Krauthammer.

Consequently, even if he tried, Mr. Krauthammer could never atone for his decision to urge his “uniquely benign imperium” to wage war and inflict widespread death and destruction on another country. His obnoxious jingoism and mistaken certainty about Iraq’s WMD are indelible stains on his reputation.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t even try to atone. Rather than admit mistakes, Mr. Krauthammer flagrantly doubles down on them.

Last week, The Philadelphia Inquirer published his latest double-down, under the title “Reassessing Bush’s legacy.” Writing as if his mind had been deprived of oxygen, Mr. Krauthammer began his double down with a lame talking point straight out of the Bush campaign: “He kept us safe.”

But, how could anyone claim that President Bush “kept us safe,” when the worst terrorist attack in America’s history took place nearly nine months after Bush became president? Moreover, how could anyone claim that Bush “kept us safe,” when Bush’s own intelligence services produced a National Intelligence Estimate in 2006, which concluded that America’s invasion of Iraq had actually made the world a more dangerous place, due to the proliferation of terrorists and terrorism that it precipitated?

Had Mr. Krauthammer actually engaged in something more than sophomoric apologetics for Bush, he might have found evidence indicating that the Bush administration’s early obsession with regime change in Iraq displaced the attention that should have been given to al Qaeda. Thus, rather than spouting banal propaganda about keeping us safe, Mr. Krauthammer might have urged Americans to investigate the degree to which negligence by the Bush administration permitted al Qaeda to successfully attack America on 9/11.

But, that’s not the only problem with Mr. Krauthammer’s reassessment of Bush’s legacy. A visitor from Mars could read it and not know why Bush gave the order to invade Iraq. In his reassessment of Bush’s legacy, Mr. Krauthammer claimed the Iraq war only had three parts: (1) the initial toppling of the regime, (2) the disastrous occupation and (3) the surge.
No, it did not! It has, at least, five parts. Mr. Krauthammer overlooked the first part, the part that any competent military historian would call the casus belli — the reasons or justifications for going to war. (The fifth part, victory or defeat, has yet to be determined.)

Mr. Krauthammer’s failure to mention the casus belli was predictable. First, he’s no military historian. Second, he has no interest in reminding the public that he advocated false casus belli for preemptive war. Third, for militarists who believe that the United States should “unashamedly” lay “down the rules of world order and … [be] prepared to enforce them,” almost any casus belli will suffice.

For the record, let it be said that the Bush administration spent months attempting to convince Americans that Iraq, led by evil Saddam Hussein, possessed weapons of mass destruction and had ties to al-Qaeda. They were the Bush administration’s foremost casus belli — and, after the invasion and a thorough search, they were proven to be false.

Mr. Krauthammer’s failure to mention these casus belli is a serious matter, if only because Americans never would have supported an invasion of Iraq, had they not been led to believe that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD and had ties to al Qaeda.

But, that’s not all. Mr. Krauthammer also exaggerated the role played by Bush’s “surge.” He credited it for producing “the greatest U.S. military turnaround since the Inchon landing.”

Yet, anyone possessing even the most rudimentary knowledge about the war in Iraq knows that five factors — the Sunni Awakening, the American soldiers who decided to buy off the enemy, the stand-down ordered by Muqtada al-Sadr, the pacification resulting from ethnic cleansing and the “surge” – combined to allow the U.S. to avoid outright defeat in Iraq before Bush left office.

Contrary to Mr. Krauthammer’s effusive praise for the surge, scholars involved in a 2013 Brown University study of the war have concluded: “Studies have shown that the drop in sectarian violence after 2007 was not a result of the US and Iraqi military surge, but a consequence of ethno-religious homogenization. As each group and sub-group claimed its own territory, there was no one left to kill.” (In the process of correcting Mr. Krauthammer, they, too, appear to have exaggerated.)

Although such errors of commission and omission by Mr. Krauthammer call into question his competence or integrity, they have one thing in common. All are designed to allow the Bush administration and neoconservatives like him to slither away from their responsibility for America’s illegal, immoral invasion of Iraq and – worst of all – the prospect of America’s defeat in that war.

Slithering away from responsibility for America’s invasion and possible defeat in Iraq also explains the two most outrageous assertions made by Mr. Krauthammer.

The lesser of these outrageous assertions appears in his Inquirer column that reassessed Bush’s legacy. It occurred when Mr. Krauthammer asserted: “Bush bequeathed to Obama a strategically won war.”

Mr. Krauthammer asserted that the war was “strategically won,” because the surge of 26,000 additional American troops succeeded in providing a safer environment; an environment in which Iraq’s warring factions might achieve political reconciliation. As General Raymond Odierno put it on 13 March 2008, “To capitalize on the reduction of violence in 2007, Iraqi leaders must make deliberate choices to secure lasting strategic gains through reconciliation and political progress.”

But, how could the war have been “strategically won” when, before reconciliation and political progress could even take hold, Bush was compelled to sign a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in December 2008 that would remove all U.S. troops by the end of 2011?

According to Middle East scholar, Juan Cole, “Bush had to sign what the [Iraq] parliament gave him or face the prospect that U.S. troops would have to leave by 31 December, 2008, something that would have been interpreted as a defeat.” Bush was compelled to sign what the Iraqi parliament gave him, because Iraqi officials had already notified the United Nations that they would not renew the UN mandate authorizing foreign troops on Iraqi soil after its expiration at the end of 2008.

Thus, boxed into a corner by the expiring UN mandate, Maliki’s unanticipated determination to rid Iraq of all U.S. troops, and his own impending departure from office, Bush agreed to the delayed removal of all American forces before there was even a hint of reconciliation or political progress in Iraq.

Why, then, would Mr. Krauthammer make the outrageous claim that “Bush bequeathed to Obama a strategically won war?” Why? Because, Mr. Krauthammer also claimed: “Everyone involved, Iraqi and American, knew that the 2008 SOFA calling for full U.S. withdrawal was meant to be renegotiated.”

“Everyone?” That’s nonsense, especially when one considers the words of the woman who actually participated in the SOFA negotiations, Ms. Emma Sky. After acknowledging the gravity of the SOFA negotiations — “if we didn’t get it, the U.S. would have to withdraw 150,000 troops within two or three months” — Ms. Sky asserted that the SOFA signed by Bush marked a change from the surge/counter-insurgency strategy to a strategy designed to foster stability. Right or wrong, those hardly are the words of someone who “knew” that the SOFA needed to be renegotiated.

In addition, Mr. Krauthammer inexplicably overlooked the obvious and enormous Iraqi popular and political support for getting rid of the “American occupiers” — both before and after the SOFA was negotiated. As a reporter for National Journal put it in 2011, “The opposition from across Iraq’s political spectrum meant that Maliki would have needed to mount a Herculean effort to persuade the fractious parliament to sign off on any troop extension deals. His closest advisers conceded that such a deal would have virtually no chance of passing.”

Such evidence, of course, begs the question: “Precisely who constituted the ‘everyone’ who ‘knew’ that the SOFA was meant to be renegotiated?” Was it Mr. Krauthammer and his fellow neoconservatives – their heads exploding over Iran’s growing influence and the loss of 50 American bases?

Nevertheless, notwithstanding the gaping holes in his mendacious claim that “Everyone involved, Iraqi and American, knew that the 2008 SOFA calling for full U.S. withdrawal was meant to be renegotiated,” Mr. Krauthammer brazenly touts that claim to support his most outrageous claim: President Obama “lost” Iraq.

Writing in the Washington Post on 3 November 2011, Mr. Krauthammer blamed President Obama for losing Iraq, largely because of his failure to negotiate a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that would keep American troops in Iraq. His column completely ignores the question of why President Bush signed a SOFA removing the troops in the first place. Bush agreed to remove all troops by the end of 2011, notwithstanding his earlier insistence that, “Setting a date for withdrawal is setting a date for failure – and that would be irresponsible.”

Worse, Mr. Krauthammer’s column completely ignores the elephant in the room: widespread Iraqi opposition to keeping American troops in Iraq. Thus, it’s another piece of work by Mr. Krauthammer that is riddled with intellectual incompetence or dishonesty for the sake of ideological consistency.

In thrall of America as the “uniquely benign imperium” possessing the right to dictate and enforce America’s rules for its new world order, Charles Krauthammer didn’t need to question whether Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction or pause before recommending that Bush initiate a preemptive invasion of Iraq.

But, when the facts on the ground in Iraq caused all of Mr. Krauthammer’s well-known beliefs to tumble like a house of cards, in public — he simply doubled down. Having never learned that it is far easier to start a war than end one, slithery Mr. Krauthammer found himself compelled to launch an exculpatory “reassessment” of Bush (and thus himself) which incorrectly, if not dishonestly, shifted blame to the “weak” president who wisely opposed the war and presided over the troop withdrawal while sheltering the “strong” president who not only sent troops into battle foolishly, but who also authorized their withdraw, tail between his legs.

• See Part 1 here.

Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. He also is President of the Russian-American International Studies Association (RAISA). He can be reached at: waltuhler@aol.com. Read other articles by Walter C., or visit Walter C.'s website.