The Speech President Obama Should Give about the Iraq War (But Won’t)

Here is the speech that I wish President Obama would give about the Iraq War, but which neither he nor any other president ever will.

Fellow Americans, and Iraqis who are watching this speech, I have come here this evening not to declare a victory or to mourn a defeat on the battlefield, but to apologize from the bottom of my heart for a series of illegal actions and grossly incompetent policies pursued by the government of the United States of America, in defiance of domestic US law, international treaty obligations, and both American and Iraqi public opinion.

The United Nations was established in 1945 in the wake of a series of aggressive wars of conquest and the response to them, in which over 60 million people perished. Its purpose was to forbid such unjustified attacks, and its charter specified that in future wars could only be launched on two grounds. One is clear self-defense, when a country has been attacked. The other is with the authorization of the United Nations Security Council.

It was because the French, British and Israeli attack on Egypt in 1956 contravened these provisions of the United Nations Charter that President Dwight D. Eisenhower condemned that war and forced the belligerents to withdraw. When Israel looked as though it might try to hang on to its ill-gotten spoils, the Sinai Peninsula, President Eisenhower went on television on February 21, 1957 and addressed the nation. These words have largely been suppressed and forgotten in the United States of today, but they should ring through the decades and centuries:

“If the United Nations once admits that international dispute can be settled by using force, then we will have destroyed the very foundation of the organization, and our best hope of establishing a real world order. That would be a disaster for us all . . .

[Referring to Israeli demands that certain conditions be met before it relinquished the Sinai, the president said that he] “would be untrue to the standards of the high office to which you have chosen me if I were to lend the influence of the United States to the proposition that a nation which invades another should be permitted to exact conditions for withdrawal . . .”

“If it [the United Nations Security Council] does nothing, if it accepts the ignoring of its repeated resolutions calling for the withdrawal of the invading forces, then it will have admitted failure. That failure would be a blow to the authority and influence of the United Nations in the world and to the hopes which humanity has placed in the United Nations as the means of achieving peace with justice.”

In March of 2003, it was the United States government itself that contravened the charter of the United Nations, aggressively invading a country that had not attacked it and against the will of the UN Security Council. The war was preceded by a summit in the Azores of the US, Britain, Spain and Portugal, for all the world as though it were the sixteenth century and a confusion between empire and piracy still prevailed.

No one denies that the government of Saddam Hussein was brutal. The one good thing that came out of this sad affair, and an achievement of which individual American servicemen and women may be justly proud, is the ending of a murderous tyranny. The American military fought valiantly and as it was ordered to by civilian politicians, most of whom had fled military service themselves. The military does not make policy and my critique of the war is not directed at it. To say all this is simply to acknowledge a complex reality, not to justify an illegal action. Nothing extraordinary had happened in Iraq in 2002 or 2003 to provoke an Anglo-American invasion. We learn in kindergarten that two wrongs do not make a right, and that the ends do not justify the means. Above all, international order is fragile and threats to that order increasingly menacing, and to toss away the achievement of the United Nations charter in favor of a war that was if not unilateral, certainly unilaterally decided upon, was a severe blow to the peace, prosperity and security of us all.

The cost of this unprovoked and foolhardy adventure to the United States has been profound. A country known for its efficiency and prowess was made to look like a band of bumbling fools. The world’s best armed forces were mired in a quagmire that sapped its strength and attention, and permitted challenges to the US to go unanswered in the rest of the world. Iran was transformed from a minor annoyance– blocked by the Iraqi Republican Guards from a significant role in the Middle East– into a regional superpower with powerful influence in Baghdad, Beirut, Manama, Kuwait City, and Damascus. There is no doubt that more benefit accrued to Iran from the Iraq War than to the United States.

Over 35,000 Americans have been killed or wounded in the Iraq War from hostile causes, and some 40,000 were killed or hurt in incidents classified as “non-hostile,” though likely many of these injuries actually occurred because of attacks. A generation of Americans will suffer brain damage, post-traumatic stress disorder, or physical disabilities because of this violent war, in which roadside bombs were deployed in the thousands against poorly armored vehicles that the Bush administration could not be bothered to replace with sturdier ones. The cost of the war so far, approaching a trillion dollars, is dwarfed by the cost of caring for the damaged veterans, and will likely mount to $5 trillion or more in coming decades. That sum is nearly half the entire current national debt.

The constitution, laws and traditions of the American Republic were also wounded by this war. High officials explicitly authorized torture. The United States government became among the chief purveyors in the world of sado-masochistic pornography, coming out of Abu Ghraib. The White House, shamefully, became a center of concerted propaganda so divorced from reality that its own press spokesmen privately and sometimes publicly admitted the dishonesty of their own discourse. The so-called PATRIOT Act contains provisions that clearly contravene the Bill of Rights and yet they have become so ingrained in the practices of the law enforcement community and so beloved by the enormous national security sector that even I have not dared touch them.

The damage to the United States and to international order and law is deep and our nation and our allies will not soon heal from its wounds. That damage is dwarfed, however, by the world-historical catastrophe that our invasion unleashed upon Iraq. The overthrow of the government with no plan for what might replace it; the dissolution of the Iraqi army; the willful neglect and destruction of the Iraqi public sector; and the animus against the Sunni Arab population mandated by the United States destroyed the foundations of order and economic activity in Iraq. The refusal of then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to properly garrison Iraq after its conquest left it without sufficient US troops to guarantee security. Instead of seeking reconciliation and an equitable new order, the Bush administration installed partisan conspirators in power and allowed them to adopt punitive policies toward the former ruling group. These policies were largely responsible for provoking a Sunni Arab insurgency of enormous proportions, which continues to fight and to seek the destabilization of the new Iraq even today.

The United States essentially conducted an ethnic revolution from the outside in Iraq, installing fundamentalist Shiites and separatist Kurds in power in Baghdad. This policy could have been foreseen to lead to a sanguinary civil war, which it did. In summer of 2006, as many as 2500 civilians were showing up dead in the country’s alleyways every month, showing signs of torture– drilling, chemical burns, and disfigurement. Only when the advancing Shiite militias had ethnically cleansed much of Baghdad and environs of its Sunni Arabs did the violence begin to subside. How many Iraqis were killed in all this violence is controversial. It should be remembered that hundreds of thousands also died because of dirty water and lack of medical care, since many physicians and nurses fled the constant clashes. Surely the total death toll attributable to the US invasion and occupation, and the Iraqi reaction to them, is in the hundreds of thousands. Millions have been wounded. Some 4 million Iraqis were displaced, some 2.7 million of them inside the country, and most remain homeless. Iraq is a country of widows and orphans, of the unemployed and the displaced.

The insistence of the United States on shaping the new Iraqi constitution, in defiance of the demands of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani that it be indigenous, and Washington’s continual meddling in Iraqi politics have produced a continually paralyzed government and, in recent months, no government at all. The likelihood that democracy can survive in this land rendered violent, with its foreign-imposed charter and laws and its deep ethnic and sectarian grievances and disputes, is frankly low. War boosters continually confuse elections with democracy, and deadlocked government with good governance, and American intervention with moderation and balance.

The United States is now gradually leaving Iraq militarily. Although this withdrawal is stage-wise and gradual, have no doubt that it is real and enduring. The United States will honor its agreement with the Iraqi parliament to withdraw, just as it honored the wishes of the Philipinnes’ legislature when it closed its naval bases there in the 1990s. But it must be acknowledged that we leave Iraq a wounded nation. Most of the billions the US Congress voted for reconstruction in Iraq was wasted, stolen or frittered away on poorly thought-out projects. The new government has found it impossible to deliver basic services, provoking significant popular demonstrations in recent months.

Iraq is, however, a resilient society with its own natural resources. After a decade and a half of crippling American economic sanctions followed by shock and awe and military occupation, it is for the best that we leave the Iraqis to settle their affairs among themselves. Our overbearing presence and biased policies have in themselves helped provoke governmental gridlock on the one hand and a prolonged ethno-sectarian conflict on the other.

We have irrevocably harmed ourselves, and been responsible for inflicting or provoking a calamity that has gripped virtually every Iraqi by the jugular. We have left the world less secure and more uncertain, and have created a baleful example that other nations may yet invoke in pursuing their own aggressive adventures. We can best make amends by ensuring that there is no American imperialism in Iraq, and no neo-imperialism. Iraqis are our friends and we will offer them as much training, technical help and advice as they ask for. But we will not be like the colonial powers of the last century, which granted pro forma independence to their former colonies but went on attempting to rule from behind the scenes.

This war was fought to open up Iraqi petroleum to development and export to the world market. No one would have needed to fight a war for oil if the United States government had put sufficient resources into developing and implementing green energy. Portugal is now generating 45 percent of its electricity from wind, solar and hydro-electric sources. A new generation of electric vehicles can be powered without petroleum. A green America, and a green world, is likely to be a much more peaceful world, in which resource wars will be less likely. Solar and wind power are everywhere and need no soldiers to guard them or to take them from others.

We cannot undo what has been done. We cannot pretend that the United States did not violate the United Nations charter and the Geneva Conventions. But we can make amends. We can seek redemption as a nation. And our salvation lies in forswearing permanent war, aggressive war, undeclared war, and police actions as a way of life. A new century beckons. Some sought to make it a new American century. It will inevitably, however, be an Asian century, a century marking the emergence on the world stage of China and India. The United States will be among the smaller of the powers in this new geopolitical framework and it may not have the biggest or the most dynamic economy. The best guarantee of the peace and security of Americans is not international anarchy and aggressive warfare, but world order and the international rule of law. We shall seek our redemption by redoubling our support of the United Nations and our commitment to collective security and human rights. We shall return to the ideals enunciated by Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1957, to the ideals of the man who actually led the defeat of fascism and who knew right from wrong, unlike our latter-day politicians.

We shall inscribe in our hearts and exemplify in our lives these words of his:

“If the United Nations once admits that international dispute can be settled by using force, then we will have destroyed the very foundation of the organization, and our best hope of establishing a real world order. That would be a disaster for us all . . .

Posted in Iraq | 64 Responses | Print |

64 Responses

  1. Well done piece that summarize what was done and what needs to be done next.

    Using Obama as a a hypothetical speaker is a good way to think through an alternative policy for the region. This is not outside the realm of possibility and it will be interesting to see how the actual situation plays out in the coming years.

    As the USA continues to collapse, we will have to take some dramatic steps. Your article describes a step in the right direction but with the power of the military and the uninformed public, the changes of taking this step are very, very low.

  2. Now THAT sort of a speech might actually begin ‘Restoring Honor’! The only ‘fault’ I find with it is that no mention is made of the tons and tons of aerosolized DU that has been visited upon not just the Iraqis and their environment, but all of us. Talk about compounding the original massive crime….

  3. Thank you for the quotation from Eisenhower regarding the Suez debacle. I Knew he put a stop to Britain, France and Israel’s nonsense, but I did not know these details.

    A quite similar view to yours has been posted on the BBC’s website by its chief foreign correspondent, John Simpson:

    link to

    • What an interesting use of the word ‘nonsense’. And what a patronising person you must be, to comment thusly when you have no knowledge of the circumstances regarding the decision. For your information the USSR played an equal part in stopping the tripartite aggression following Egypt’s decision to nationalise the Canal. I would suggest that you do a little reading before dismissing history out of hand, especially as you probably weren’t around at the time.

  4. It is true that Obama will never make this particular speech his own. Unlike our last president, however, this man can read beyond the level of “My Pet Goat”. Hopefully, he has already considered the facts of the matter and agrees with them, though his actions and words certainly provide no clue as to that being the case.

  5. Professor, thank you for mentioning the UN Charter. When I was a kid in elementary school, after WWII, there were blue flags in my school and the UN meant something. People had worked hard to provide an international framework for solving international problems peacefully. Now that has been largely lost (except for you) . The Iraq debates, whether to attack that country or not, never considered the UN Charter. Neither did Afghanistan, nor Iran for the last half dozen years.

    So the UN Charter means nothing to the US warmongers. For all intents and purposes it has seemingly (and wrongly) gone the way of the League of Nations, into the dustbin of history. Thanks again for mentioning it.

    • Absolutely not! Recall that this whole exercise can be summed up as a “chickenhawk” war. The entire crusade and the planning and execution belong to a lot of fellows who never served a day, but who inherited their gravitas re:warfare from the likes of Eisenhower (noting the Nixon connection).

  6. Oh forget all that stuff Prof. It is a great speech you write. But at this point it reads like a very long note from a unwanted, and uninvited, house guest that overstayed their limited welcome weeks ago. ‘screw the note…just go’

    The old USA?….I would have liked to hear, and expected to here, the kind of the speech you wrote. Sense of history and all that. Now? I would just like to see him say we are out. We’re sorry we came, and we’re sorry we overstayed our qualified welcome. Good by. All, I repeat, ALL military personal (including civilian contractors hired by the US) out of Iraq now. We can offer them over the horizon protection if they, a duly elected Iraq govt wants it, otherwise we are out of there.

  7. Thanks for putting everything in black and white. This would be a death blow for the Republicans to admit and no such thing will see the light of day. But more importantly, this speech will not be delivered by Obama for some obvious reasons.

    1. As it is, Obama is falsely accused by the right for being a Muslim (as if there is anything wrong with being one), for being born in Kenya, for being a socialist, communist, Nazi, etc. If he was to deliver the message you wrote, I can not even imagine the reaction from the right, and maybe to an extent from the conservative left. Sadly, a good portion of the population will never accept the construct you laid down although the majority of the world knows the facts from day one.

    2. I am not totally convinced that Obama shares your opinion. I have voted for the guy but I am regretting my actions ever single day. Every action he took so far is evidence that he is not ruling from the center, but from the right. He has been busy trying to appease the right (despite the rights’ total condemnation of his actions) from day one. I would not in a million years expect Bush to deliver this message, but Obama is not that different from him; yes, he knows how to campaign and do the talk, but not the walk. His low ratings are not the result of the work by the right because they never voted for him anyway; it is the outcome of the dissatisfaction of the center and the left that voted for him.


  8. Obama won’t give this speech, but I suspect he privately agrees with many of Dr. Cole’s sentiments. He raises an important theme about Truman and Eisenhower: both presidents believed in the United Nations as an instrument of international law and order. From Kennedy on down to Bush, when U.S. disregard for the UN reached its nadir, this belief has steadily eroded. Even though the President subscribes to Ike’s credo, the American people – and significant chunks of the foreign policy elite – have largely abandoned it.

  9. Despite the fact that every word of it is true, Professor Cole, if Obama made that speech, he and his party might not just be driven from power in 2010 and 2012, but he’d very likely be impeached. America is not the same country that it was when Eisenhower was President. It is, instead, a declining imperialist and colonial power that is becoming more warlike and reactionary as it declines.

  10. “Over 35,000 Americans have been killed or wounded in the Iraq War from hostile causes, and some 40,000 were killed or hurt in incidents classified as “non-hostile,”

    Hmm, I believe these numbers are incorrect by an order of magnitude.

    link to

    • Hmm, I believe these numbers are incorrect by an order of magnitude.

      Your link shows 3492 KIA and 31,929 WIA (totalling 35,421) compared to the 35,000 total mentioned by Professor Cole for hostile casualties. So there’s no order of magnitude difference there, unless you’re just looking at KIAs as casualties, when he mentioned killed and wounded. Killed and wounded is the normal definition of casualties, but I think that we’ve been encouraged by the Government to only look at KIAs; they want to low-ball the cost of the war.

    • Perhaps you mistook the figures for “killed” only when it actually says “killed or wounded”. The wounded figures don’t come close to the actual number, possibly by an order of magnitude.

    • From your link:

      “OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM includes casualties that occurred on or after March 19, 2003 in the Arabian Sea, Bahrain, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Persian Gulf, Qatar, Red Sea, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.”

      The efficiency of our military in evacuating those wounded in combat to medical facilities in Europe has saved many lives and allowed far better care than would have been available in Iraq. It has also allowed the Department of Defense to skew the data. Soldiers wounded in combat who survive until the plane carrying them out of Iraq lifts off the ground but die in flight or afterward of their wounds are not counted as casualties of the Iraq operation. Combat veterans suffering from PTSD or other ailments as a result of their service in Iraq are not included in the casualty counts either.

      It is impossible to accurately estimate the number of casualties in any war. It is made more difficult when the government’s definition of a casualty is tainted by political goals.

  11. Excellent speech professor!
    He should also say:
    I also deeply regret that my country only accepted less than a thousand of the several million Iraqi refugees. It refused to take in even the Iraqi Christians fleeing in hundreds of thousands. And although it was my country that turned the Iraqi christians into refugees, it was countries like Syria that took most of the half million christians and Sweden that took Tens of thousands of them, but my country refused even few hundreds of them.

  12. Obama was pilloried for “apologizing” for American policies, though he did not in any way apologize. Can you imagine what would happen if he actually did?

  13. Prof Juan Cole nails it again.

    Except for not shedding some light or questions about just how many Iraqi people have been killed , injured and displaced as a direct consequence of our illegal and immoral invasion. How this omission (or not counting) is a crime in and of itself. What this willingness to ignore those numbers of dead says about our government , military, MSM and ultimately about the American people.

    • Sorry re read. Prof Cole totally nails it
      “How many Iraqis were killed in all this violence is controversial. It should be remembered that hundreds of thousands also died because of dirty water and lack of medical care, since many physicians and nurses fled the constant clashes. Surely the total death toll attributable to the US invasion and occupation, and the Iraqi reaction to them, is in the hundreds of thousands. Millions have been wounded. Some 4 million Iraqis were displaced, some 2.7 million of them inside the country, and most remain homeless. Iraq is a country of widows and orphans, of the unemployed and the displaced.

      • “Iraq is a country of widows and orphans, of the unemployed and the displaced.”

        Starting to sound like America the Beautiful:

        America, America!
        God mend thine every flaw!
        Preserve thy soul in self control,
        Thy liberty in Law!

  14. Hope someone in the MSM picks up on Prof Coles speech that we wish Obama would give about Iraq. Have Rachel, Keith etc ever had Cole on?

  15. Nice words, Professor, as usual. Thorough and complete. That are kind of like a bent twig on a pomegranate tree inundated by the flood of blood and treasure puked out by the World Militarized Culture, a flood that dwarfs the horror of the Indus Valley. One would pray that people were listening to something other than their own tribal drums.

    Speaking of which, “we” have now reached the exalted status of having raised up the Self-Justifying War. It seems Our Troops Are Being Killed, over there in Notagainistan. After a decade of a different approach to the mortal shattered remains of Our Troops, there’s a New Openness about the Hallowed Dead.

    Remember when, not so very long ago, if you looked real carefully, you could barely almost see that GIs were dying over there. (Every OTHER death is a “terrorist,” you know.) See how fast we go, from sneaking the dead carcasses of our Service To Their Country sons and daughters stateside to a secluded, far-from-the-prying-eyes-of-The-As-Yet-Not-Fully-Trained-Media corner of Dover AFB, and burying them in secret at undisclosed locations, all fearful that the immanence of Real Actual Dead Sons And Daughter Guys And Gals would Weaken Our Will, to this latest shamelessness in the effort to keep the Forever War on the rails.
    Now the jungle drums are beating out a new tune, the same martial music as the Malleable Press People who publish stories like this one, complete with wonderfully unconsciously ironic pronouncements like

    Some time after he joined the Marine Corps, Nathaniel Schultz filled out a questionnaire asking him why he had signed up.

    “Self reliance and ability to protect my family,” Schultz wrote. “Decided if I go to war I might as well be the best, most well-trained. To fight for righteous, individual freedom for myself and all children of God no matter where they were raised.”

    The story reports that the newly minted Lance Corporal was “killed Aug. 21 during combat operations in Afghanistan’s war-ravaged Helmand province.” And war-ravaged, exactly WHY, again? I guess them Hajjis ain’t no children of God. Or so it might seem from the bumper sticker I just saw: “Kill ‘Em All, Kill Every One Of Them, And Let Allah Sort ‘Em Out.”

    And that article follows this one in February, and this one in March, and this one just a few days ago.

    Too bad there are no dams or “barrages” to stand in the way of or even divert slightly the overtopping of this insane deluge.

  16. There may be more truth here (in the speech) than many Americans care to stomach. Most of this doesn’t fit into the overall view we like to have of ourselves. Though wouldn’t it be something if a president actually gave this speech. The outcry, of course, would be enormous. But would such a speech made by an American president actually be liberating? Would the people, the American people, in a majority, actually support the truths contained in the speech? Would it lead to a change of course?

    Hard to know, since, as Cole says, this is the speech no president will ever make.

  17. I think I would have liked to be alive when Eisenhower was President.

  18. Supporters of the invasion and war for toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime will continue to place the fault of a fractured society on Iraqis. As veteran correspondent John Burns of the New York Times writes today, America removed Saddam, but Iraqis failed in forming successful and stable governments ruling over a peaceful country.

  19. What comes to mind “is that it was worse than a crime, it was a mistake”. Iraq has turned out to be a massive strategic defeat, had it not turned out that way, the illegality of our invasion would be forgotten.

    It is only right that the US try to make amends for it’s crimes, but given that our defeat is so complete, that is very unlikely. We refused to do so after the Vietnam war and we will refuse to do so now. Losing a war unleashes unpredictable political reactions: sometimes very negative (Germany after WWI), sometimes positive (France after Algeria) and sometimes both (the US after Vietnam). But a desire to make amends to the wronged parties is not politically possible.

  20. Some very well made points!
    Minor quibble if I may:
    re (paragraph 17) “We have irrevocably…… Iraqis are our friends and we will offer them as much training, technical help and advice as they ask for.”

    Should read: We would like you, one day, to be able to consider us as friends, in the meantime and in order to earn that trust, we will provide as much money as it takes to rebuild what we have directly and indirectly destroyed.

  21. I suspect the humanitarian catastrophe in the aftermath of this Iraq debacle will go on for many years. For it is when people try to return that the trouble starts.

    It appears that in the quote Eisenhower here was channelling his thoughts about war. A man who led many to their own death and to inflict death upon many more, yet he appears to have accounted for their legacy in his actions. Just try to get the generalissimos of today to reflect on the direct effects of their decision-making. Too many drones, too many ‘smart’ bombs to be bothered!

  22. To complete this speech I think the President should have offered war reparations to Iraq, the sum to be determined by a neutral party. This would be the right thing to do and would demonstrate that the US has taken responsibility for its actions in a concrete manner. Words are cheap.

  23. Re: “No one denies that the government of Saddam Hussein was brutal. The one good thing that came out of this sad affair, and an achievement of which individual American servicemen and women may be justly proud, is the ending of a murderous tyranny.”

    I strongly disagree. We are not the world’s policeman or moral overseer. Servicemen should be proud to risk their lives for their country, not for economic-political agendas that are dressed in morality and which pander to American political mythology and its infamous exceptionalism; a serviceman who risks his life, and possibly the welfare of his family for reasons other than the direct defense of his country should not be “proud,” he should be ashamed of allowing himself to be treated as a pawn. And this is quite aside from the obvious fact that there may be acts of heroism in any war theatre; that does not bear on the question of the war’s legitimacy or illegitimacy.

    Our “war” in Iraq is not a “war”: it is an illegal invasion that has brought incalculable suffering. There is nothing at all to be proud of here. If we had wanted to bring Saddam down, we had plenty of opportunities before betraying him (yes, he used to be our “ally”; I remember Rumsfeld cozzing up to him) with our usual perfidious tactics. We specialize in supporting brutal dictatorships so long as they are convenient.

    • That is a pretty shallow and cold thing to say about the soldiers caught in the middle of this mess. You act as though it is simply a matter of choice for a soldier to refuse to fight in an unjust war (which this most certainly was). Do you really mean to say that a soldier who is now at home suffering from all kinds of war related trauma “should be ashamed” of his or her service? When are we going to stop with this crap about the soldiers being as culpable as the wretched and corrupt human beings who lead them? Look what it did to the men and women returning home from Vietnam. The hippies and other anti-war activists were right to condemn the war in Vietnam but they had no right to treat the returning soldiers the way they did. That to me was just as disgraceful as the war itself. You seem to have done your research and seem to have an informed opinion about how the American leadership works in this country but you mention nothing about the economic factors that play into military service. It’s not nearly as black and white as you make it out to be. Ask yourself honestly, would you have the guts to refuse to fight in a war and risk imprisonment? I know I wouldn’t. My solution (if you can even call it that) is to simply not join the military. Of course I had the luxury of a middle class upbringing which allowed me other options in my life. I urge you to take another look at your opinion about soldiers and try and see a much more nuanced, complicated picture.


  24. Nice speech President Obama might even give. But you see the ever voluminous hump of hypocrisy on his back, the empires back really. You see Rumsfeld in Bagdad, Kermit Roosevelt in Tehran and countless cuddling of dictators, Kings and military juntas not to mention a finger in every pie and the biggest sham of all, the UN to insure and implement the interests of the world powers and the coalition of willing. Mystical Poetry, That’s all.

  25. And yet it seems impossible to mention to the two million plus Iraqi’s slaughtered during the now 20 year long genocide.

  26. Obama is a smart guy, but if he has any convictions he has no character to give them substance. And maybe he has considered what happened to John Kennedy when it looked like he wanted to put away the Vietnam War, Operation Mongoose and the rest. Since Kennedy did send my father to talk with Castro and work out a deal, I think the fears of those who arranged to knock off Kennedy were probably justified. The coup d’etat of November 22, 1963 has a long shadow. Presidents know what happens if they try to go the way Kennedy seems to have been headed.

    The pattern was well established by Eisenhower’s day. Eisenhower was no Eisenhower. Iran, 1953. Guatemala, 1954. South Vietnam, 1954-1961. Syria, 1956 and 57, only that didn’t work out. Indonesia, 1957-58, didn’t work out either. Lebanon, 1958. Cuba, 1960, culminating in the Bay of Pigs. Congo, 1960, culminating in the murder of Patrice Lumumba.

    • You illuminate a very important point: US Imperial behavior has not changed one iota since such behavior was initiated by Truman. When I was born in 1955, the US Empire was just as brutal and Barbaric as it is today, and the lies it produces to justify its behavior are no different either, as are the methods used to manufacture consent for its Barbarism.

  27. Another constitutional mishap: Not declaring war. Since the U.S. stopped doing that, our wars have been muddy.

  28. very, very good. thank you for your years of tireless efforts and selfless sacrifices in service of truth and justice.

  29. Thank you for reminding me that George W. Bush was very possibly the worst President in the history of the U.S.A.. He is certainly in the top three worst. Hopefully, history will judge his administration rightly for what it was–an abomination.

  30. Wow.. what a great speach ! I liked it and it is really what I’d like to hear. It is a honnest analysis of what the Americans have done to the Iraqi and why it is wrong.

    However, I’d add two-four important points at the end :

    1) The US president should present the official excuses of America to the Iraqi people.
    2) The US president should offer due and generous compensations for all the damages created by the US invasion and occupation. The amount should be decided by a neutral institution (the UN ?) and be fair, allowing the reconstruction of a devastated Iraq.
    3) The US president should say when the remaining 50’000 troops and the private security guards paid by the Americans will withdraw too and this should be in a relatively short term (a question of years, not dozen of years).
    4) The US should recognize that his huge ambassy is totally disproportionated, as are the numberous conselors and advisers; the most part of those buildings should be given to the Iraqi. As is, the so called ambassy looks more like a colonial administration supervising the local government. It is clear that as long as so many Americans stay in Iraq, Iraq is a free independant country only on the paper.

  31. Overall, I found the piece to be well-written and an important exercise in imagining a political discourse that resembles reality. However, please be advised that the numbers of American casualties listed in the tenth paragraph of the essay were grossly inflated. A zero was added to both figures, and should read 3,500 and 4,000, respectively, instead of ten times that number. Simple mistakes like these can ruin an entire piece of scholarship, and completely delegitimize an otherwise valuable statement.

    • Jonathan, a casualty is defined as an injury bad enough to send a soldier to the hospital or infirmary, even if just some shrapnel in the forearm. The figures cited are correct.

  32. I found it rather odd that Prof. Cole would cite Eisenhower as a president to emulate and a man who “knew right from wrong” (especially in a piece about war in the Middle East). His administration was responsible for the overthrow of the democratically elected PM Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran and, one could argue, helped sow the seeds of modern day Islamic fundamentalism. Not surprisingly, Eisenhower (like Bush) was also acting at the behest of oil corporations (Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, I believe). To imply that Eisenhower had some sort of moral compass is a bit of a stretch. I think it’s easy for a leader to dismiss the acts of other nations (France, Israel, etc) but what we really need in this world are leaders who are capable of honestly turning this critical eye upon themselves and the nations they lead. Yeah, I don’t think so either. That’s even less likely than Obama reciting Prof. Cole’s speech next week on national television.

  33. I do not support repatraitions for Iraq from the US. It is not that they are not deserved but Iraq does not need them. Once it is free and peaceful it has the potential to become a very prosperous area Buddhas willing. Anyways the Iraqis owe huge repatriations of their own to Iran so if there are going to be repatriations to anyone some paperwork could be saved by just having the US pay repatrations to Iran.
    To make such a suggestion proves that I am honest person. I hope for a secular socialist future for Iran but giving the Iranian government repatriations would actually strenghten their postion. It would make the job of the people that I have the best hopes for harder. I have not asked them but I think that they would be willing to make the sacrifice.
    Now as another examplel of my honesty I will state that if I had magical powers to force the US to pay repatriations to Iran would I do so. No, again not that Iran does not deserve repatriations from the US but Iran is not exactly a destitute country.
    The US owes many countries repatriations (and even many of its own citizens). There are other countries in the world that desperately need the money that they should get like Congo and Haiti and Nicarauga and Honduras, perhaps Vietnam.

  34. Un discurso genial, profesor. La última década puesta en blanco y negro.
    Un saludos desde Buenos Aires.

  35. link to

    “Iraq Is a Shattered Country”–Nir Rosen on Obama Declaring an End to US Combat Mission in Iraq

    President Obama declared an end to the combat mission in Iraq Tuesday night in the second Oval Office address of his presidency. Although tens of thousands of US troops, special operations forces and private contractors remain in Iraq, Obama announced that Operation Iraqi Freedom is now officially over. We go to Baghdad to speak with independent journalist Nir Rosen. [includes rush transcript]
    link to

  36. Nir Rosen slams Obama’s speech about Iraq in his interview on Democracy Now.
    “in many lives life was better for Iraqi’s under Saddam”

    “SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And Nir, well, talk about that suffering. I mean, there was a—you’ve documented closely the civil war that gripped Iraq a few years ago, as well as the refugee crisis that the war spurred. What has Iraq gone through in these past seven years?

    NIR ROSEN: It’s become a [inaudible]. There’s not a [inaudible] I meet that hasn’t [inaudible] touched by [inaudible] having a loved one killed or beheaded or wounded in an explosion. There’s not a trip I make to Iraq where I don’t have to delete somebody’s name from my cell phone because they’re dead. Every time, there’s a few new names. Everybody has been touched by it.

    Life, in most ways for people, has gotten much worse. In terms of services, most places here have one hour of electricity a day. People can’t go to sleep at night—it’s like 120 degrees—until 3:00 in the morning or quite late, because they’re waiting for the power to come back just so they can turn on the AC on. No sewage, dirty water, mounds of trash on the street. Baghdad and other areas are heavily militarized, which means that every minute or so when you’re driving, you get stopped by police or army. They search your car. Now, on the one hand, it’s reassuring; on the other hand, it’s just one more indignity and hassle the Iraqis have to go through to survive. And they don’t have the chance to think about the future. They have to think, in many cases, just about how am I going to get electricity today, how am I going to travel what should be a fifteen-minute trip across town that will take four hours because the city is so destroyed and shattered.

    And, of course, there’s constant killing still, with silenced pistols, with magnetic sticky bombs, as they’re called. Nobody knows who’s doing it or why. Some of it’s mafia-related. Some of it’s political parties feuding with each other. Some of it, of course, is terrorist-related. Life remains quite scary for many Iraqis.

    So, you have a competing trend, however, because despite the violence that’s quite scary, you also have life improving significantly since the peak of the civil war—people out until quite late. There’s a curfew at midnight in Baghdad, but until then, you have people out in many neighborhoods. It’s quite normal. New shops being opened, new cafes. Those who have money are no longer afraid to display their wealth. Obviously that’s a sign that criminal gangs are less of a threat than they used to be.

    And you do have an Iraqi security force which is relatively competent and able to take out militias. And, in fact, they get many tips from citizens. I was talking to an Iraqi intelligence officer in one neighborhood and asking him if he was worried about the militias coming back, and he said no. Just recently, a former militia leader returned from Iran to the neighborhood, and he got over a hundred calls on his SIP line from people in the neighborhood letting him know.

    So there are some improvements, but obviously Iraq deserves much better than this. In many ways, life was better under Saddam, certainly in terms of security, the cleanliness of the street. But I think it’s offensive to be celebrating this or even to be paying much attention to this day. It’s an artificial milestone. You still have 50,000 soldiers here. They consider themselves combat troops. I’d say that—their general says they’re combat troops on a non-combat mission. But they’re still authorized to to take preemptive action against any perceived threat. And in Mosul, it’s a real war. A friend of mine who’s on a base up there got killed—nearly got killed by a mortar just last night. In other parts of the country, you still see American military vehicles on the roads on patrol unescorted. So the Americans are still engaged in combat, and you have 4,000 American special forces troops who are going out with Iraqi special forces. Basically they can kill whoever they want, whenever they want. They’re nominally beholden to Prime Minister Maliki, but in fact they operate pretty much independently.

  37. That’s a a great speech! I have read of Eisenhower and Kennedy speaking as leaders when it came to Israel. I can only recall these two US presidents. Have their been any others?

  38. Our relationship with Iraq becomes even more complex when you recall that not only was Saddam a tyrant, he was our tyrant. He rose to power because of the clandestine support of the US. He was unpopular and it is doubtful he would have been able to seize power without the US backing him. The US then goaded him to fighting a bloody and useless 8 year war with Iran which he lost.
    When Saddam invaded Kuwait (who were slant drilling in Iraqi oil fields and which used to be part of Iraq before the British carved up the Middle East into oil rich, pro western principalities) we retaliated and sanctions were imposed. This becomes even more convoluted when you recall that the US Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, gave Saddam a virtual green light by say the US would not interfere.
    As for the rest of the “speech”, it takes a man of great character and stature to admit mistakes and to signal a new direction that tries to amend those mistakes.
    Obama is a “small” man, of questionable character, who plays amoral games involving domestic politics instead of governing. The Pentagon is in charge of his foreign policy.

  39. While one cannot imagine Obama giving this speech, it is possible to see alternatives to the escalation of war in Afghanistan. And the guilt is certainly not his, or even Bush’s, alone. How many in the US have actively opposed these wars? I suspect not as many as could and should have.
    And, yes, it is very, very difficult for those brave soldiers who refuse deployment, or come to oppose the war and refuse to continue. I looked in the faces of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and resisters and Winter Soldiers who’ve put their freedom on line for their conscience and testified to the routine atrocities that they are ordered to commit, only to be ignored; the pain is palpable. There are more and more who do though, being scorned by their comrades in arms, losing their pensions, or veterans’ benefits, and even going to jail. Their stories can be heard at That organisation supports them and deserves our help.

  40. “Obama was pilloried for “apologizing” for American policies, though he did not in any way apologize. Can you imagine what would happen if he actually did?”


    The majority of the American people remain hugely nationalistic and extraordinarily sensitive to anything that challenges that, as you saw there. A majority of us may have disagreed with the Iraq war, but because it was “no longer worth it,” not because of any moral qualms. They may be okay with the withdrawal; but if you even imply that our country should be held to the same moral standards as everyone else and admit fault when there so clearly is one, they’ll run sobbing into the arms of the Republicans who’ll coo and soothe them with “there, there, of course America didn’t do anything wrong, the liberals are the real meanies for saying otherwise.”

    The fact that we as a people are more upset by the admission of this sin (a war that caused the deaths of over a million Iraqis) than we are by the sin itself is nauseating, and speaks volumes about what a joke our sense of right and wrong has become.

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