There is a lot of hand wringing about the current situation in Iraq: who is at fault, who lied, who said the truth, and what if anything will the U.S. government will do about it. But even among the most savvy observers of the situation, the most liberal of minds, the root cause is ignored, the real reason why the U.S. invaded Iraq in the first place. Beyond oil, or weapons of mass destruction, or terrorism there is one reason for the current debacle.
There are many ways to approach this subject, many of which require an in depth historical analysis of the forces unleashed upon the region.
I’ll try to keep it simple.
In 1990 Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. In doing so he bit the hands that fed him: Saudi Arabia, the Gulf’s States, the (former) Soviet Union, and of course the United States. Saddam had been a useful proxy against the Islamic Republic of Iran, who before the revolution against the Shah, had been an Anglo-American proxy in the region. No one wanted Saddam to win the eight year war with Iran, they simply wanted to tie down Iran in a costly conflict in hopes of punishing or even toppling the regime (the war did the opposite by uniting the Iranian people under the Ayatollah’s rule in the face of an existential external threat) and of course, keep the oil flowing. The war kept oil prices low, since all parties were ready to flood the commodities market with an abundance of oil. But after the war, in which both sides claim victory, which meant none of them won anything but piles of corpses, Iraq emerged with a gigantic dept, one she could no repay as long as oil prices remained so low. It did have a huge army and Saddam was willing to use it.
Hence the 1991 war or should I say the opening stage of a decade long war against Iraq by the United States and its allies. Saddam, the once obedient proxy turned rabid and the U.S. decided to smack him on the mouth. Not put him down, just smack him back into place. Except that Saddam, in order to survive, decided to continue to, “defy,” the U.S. Had he meekly went back to be a servant of U.S. interests he would have avoided invasion but probably faced a coup from within. So the corrupt broken Iraqi government shambled on for twelve years under the constant scrutiny of coalition air power, with the occasional missile or bomb lobbed his way to remind him who was really in charge.
Why no go all the way to Baghdad in the winter of 91? Because Washington didn’t have a substitute for Saddam. Modern empire avoids the hassles of direct rule by supporting client states. The empire provides military funding and training, the proxy grants free access to markets and resources (at next to nothing) to the empire. As far as the empire is concerned it is a win-win situation. Unless the inherently corrupt proxy fails to provide for its people, a hard thing to do when the wealth of your nation is being drained by a foreign power. Or maybe the proxy, “embarrasses,” its imperial masters by, oh, I don’t know, invading a oil rich ally. The usual response is to sponsor a revolution or military coup that sweeps the old and brings the new, the obedient new, of course.
But Saddam would not budge.
The neocons, who did not like the old ways of empire, pushed for direct intervention. To hell with the subtleties and complications of proxies and clients. The only reality in modern RealPolitik ™ was that the U.S. had the most powerful military in the world. It had won the Cold War (by virtue of outlasting the other side, but lets not quibble about the details) it could take on the fifth of a pound hamster in Baghdad. 9/11 provided the steaming pot, but the neocons needed the right mix of ingredients to kick off an invasions. The found it in terrorism+WMD. Terrorism played to the desperate need of Americans to avenge the attack on 9/11 even if they got details like ethnicity, geography or history wrong in the process. WMD provided that old unifying essential threat that silences the critics everywhere.
But the goal was imperial expansion. Direct control of the region. To make an example of the runt of the litter to force everyone else in line.
The one thing that imperialist always forget is that what makes the empire, breaks the empire.
Welcome to today.