The Cruel Jest of American “Humanitarian Aid” to Iraq

By Juan Cole

The United States of America has no claim on the language of “humanitarian aid” to Iraq after what it did to that country. It is rather as though Washington should send Meals Ready to Eat to the good people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One is happy that the US has dropped food aid for the Yezidis trapped on a mountain after they escaped the so-called “Islamic State” of self-styled “caliph” Ibrahim. But the US press either has a short memory or is being disingenuous when they talk about a humanitarian mission in Iraq!

The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent 8-year military Occupation of that country caused over one million Iraqis to be displaced abroad, especially to Syria and Jordan, but some of them got to Sweden and a few to the US itself.

Further about 4 million Iraqis were displaced internally. Baghdad underwent an ethnic cleansing of its Sunni Arabs, with the proportion likely falling from 45 percent of the city to 15 percent or so of the city. The “Islamic State” push on the capital in concert with other Sunni Arabs is an attempt to recover what was taken from them by the Bush administration. Likewise, the Sunni Turkmen of Tel Afar under the Americans were ethnically cleansed and the town became largely Shiite. Turkmen Shiites are among the northern ethnic groups now menaced by IS.

The US was the proximate cause of a civil war in 2006-2007 in which at some points as many as 3,000 people were being killed each month.

How many Iraqis died because of the US invasion, i.e. the extra mortality rate, is hard to estimate. But likely it was at least 300,000 persons. Typically wounded in war are three times as many as the killed, so that would give us nearly 1 million wounded. Most of the 300,000 who died were men, many of them with families, and in Iraq there were few or no insurance policies. That left 300,000 or so widows and likely 1.5 million orphans.

“Humanitarian mission” may sound good to American ears. But there is no way a few food drops can make up for what the US did to Iraq.


ABC News: “Crisis in Iraq: US launches Second Round of Airstrikes in Iraq”

Posted in Featured,Iraq | 95 Responses | Print |

95 Responses

  1. Juan, I am happy that the US is dropping food and water. I hope they drop a lot more in different areas so that there is better distribution of the food and water….and I hope that the huge number of Yazidi families get a safe passage quickly for they have no shelter on that mountain.
    But you make an excellent point. We should never forget the vast amount of death and continued suffering in terms of the staggering numbers of impovershed widows and orphans and the staggering number of wounded including terrible injuries such as losing both legs, etc.

    We need a memorial built in Iraq and the US for this. I hope there is great documentation and photographs of not only what happened but of photographs and video of those who are currently in deep suffering because of the illegal invasion and attacks. If we attacked Saddam Hussein when he was actively engaged in killing large numbers of Kurds or Shia, I would not have felt bad but we attacked him when there was relative peace in the country except for the mass suffering from the cruel sanctions we imposed on Iraq for some 13 years which also killed at least half a million children. The sanctions which led to large numbers of Shias, Sunnis, and others dying prematurely with great suffering (including premature death within Yazidis) also reveal that our policy in Iraq the last few decades has been not of humanitarianism but that of causing unimaginably massive amounts of suffering. Having said that though, I hope all the Yazidis reach safe areas. May God help all the people there from suffering and guide them in all ways. Ameen.

    • You are spot on correct. And the real criminals, Bush, Cheney, Rummy, and ALL of the neoCONS should be rotting in jail for eternity for their lies, crimes, and blunders of historic proportions.

      • Thank you for pointing to those, who are guilty for the crimes against humanity (the Bush era crew.) I travel a lot in the world, and can compare the news coverage in the other countries and the US news. All we hear here are stupid non-event news. One wonders why people even bother to turn on TV here.

      • Bush invaded Afghanistan, Rumsfeld was DoD chief… once Kabul was in coalition control the Taliban fled to Kandahar, most notably their leader Mullah Omar. Rumsfeld decided not to pursue (Bush had other plans)… now we pay the price. Bush was then planning to invade Iraq for oil.

        Bush advisor Wolfowitz said the Iraqi’s would pay for the war… Bush advisor Rumsfeld said the war would last a few months…

        Let’s not forget the real reason Bush/Cheney invaded Iraq at the cost of $1 Trillion tax dollars and over 4,400 American lives.

        Fox News — Greenspan: Oil the PRIME Motive for Iraq War
        America’s elder statesman of finance, Alan Greenspan, has shaken the White House by declaring that the prime motive for the war in Iraq was oil.

    • It is impossible to undo a war, no do overs, no absolution for additional atrocities, you are stuck with the shame of what was done and for all time what you did will affect the lives of a growing number of people. The fact that we were lied to to gain the support for a war against a tyrant is irrelevent. This atrocity is to America’s shame and the distrust of the World will be our ex president’s legacy.

      • namora: Being lied into war is irrelevant? Holding people accountable for their actions is kinda what we’re supposed to be all about here. If you want to prevent this kind of thing happening again, you concentrate on the causes.

    • Thanks to Mr. Cole for writing about this. Instead of spending $3 million taxpayer dollars to sue the Obama, the Congress should spend that investigating how much damage we caused that country.

      In the end the truth will emerge when history judges Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al., to not only have horribly botched an invasion but horrifically botched an occupation. And now we must go back if for no other reason than to reset our moral compass, plus we had a major hand in creating ISIS.

      Many blame Obama for pulling out of this mess much too soon. But Obama was only fulfilling an agreement Bush had signed in 2009 with the Iraqi regime requiring all U. S. troops out of Iraq by 2012.

    • And EVERYONE seems to have forgotten that the U.S. had control of the $26.5 billion that Iraq had accumulated from “allowed” oil sales—THAT HAD TO BE USED FOR FOOD AND MEDICINE ONLY, PER THE U.S. What happened to THAT money, is it off shore?

  2. Thank you for this concise and timely summary of the reality
    of Bush’s war in Iraq. We need to remember this again and again, lest we slip once again into our easy delusion of being the perfect and chosen world saviors. If we are to have a chance of saving anyone at all, we must remember the cautionary tale of the horrible errors of our recent past.

    This does not at all mean that Obama is not doing what is correct right now, far from it. It just means that whatever help we can now give pales into insignificance compared to the overall horrors resulting from what are undoubtedly the worst foreign policy choices of US history.

    Actually, everyone of us who was paying attention at the time knew Bush in general, and the Iraq invasion in particular, would be a total disaster. This last includes the vast majority of the State Dept, CIA, and high-ranking military at the time, as well as of course all academic experts who actually knew something (excepting the handful of ideological idiots known as neocons). And so we watched that disaster unfold from 2000 until the present moment, unable to stop it or alter its course in any way, helplessly watching a tragedy in the making….. It would all be an unbelievable joke if it weren’t for the enormous cost in human suffering caused by this madness.

    How could any human being choose the insane radicalism of IS or Hamas instead of a Ghandi-like enlightened way? Well, perhaps, simply set as good an example of insanity as we did, then remove all hope and next drive ordinary people to desperation. The watch as their own latent psychosis is amplified beyond measure.

    We now see the results, as the after-waves from the earthquake and tsunami we started
    extend out into the unforseeable future.

    Juan, you didn’t even bother to mention some of the further costs: the continuing tragedies of the cancers and birth defects caused by the DU in Fallujah, documented at the time in Rolling Stone and ignored since then by the media; the contribution to global warming by the immense amount of fuel and resources consumed, by all sides, including by oil field fires; (no one has even attempted to guess at this as far as I know); the additional cost in lost opportunity by not spending these vanished trillions instead on green energy or infrastucture/education/health projects (ditto).

    Bush et al screwed the entire planet royally. Their crimes have never been adequately addressed, thanks to Obama’s “let’s look to the future” cowardly and imbecilic absurdity. Nevertheless, this Prez is infinitely better than Bush, and just now is doing something which must be done. Of course, ironically this in part involves just destroying our own weapons left there by himself, but to do nothing now would certainly be worse. Maybe it takes courage to actually do something right after such a history of wrongs…

    • Yes to all you wrote. The American neocons intended to destroy the area for generations to come, and they’ve succeeded. What they couldn’t control, they were more than content to destroy. Israel’s supposed to feel safe now that the neocons have succeeded, but I think the opposite will come to pass.

      • We all especially politicians/congress forget the wisdom
        of one of our greatest generals, who was also one of
        our best presidents….

        This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

        In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

        We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

        None heeded his words…now they have complete control
        and we are all at their mercy…

        ref: link to

    • Bush & Cheney along with the MIC conspired to bring us 9/11 as the “Pearl Harbor” event to justify attacking Iraq and the Middle East for oil, and continue the looting of the Treasury that was occurring all along. On 9/10 there was a meeting at the Pentagon about the missing 2.3 TRILLION dollars worth of unaccounted purchases, and the next the big distraction and looting on steroids to “protect” us… Bush & Cheney would be in jail except for the largest coverup ever of a crime where 3000+ American citizens are dead and nobody bothered to find out who was really responsible. The problem is stupid Americans who care more about the Kardashian’s, than the ongoing murder of millions of people for the benefit of a few…

  3. Knock out piece. Why such large discrepencies in the 2006 Lancet report that stated that at that time 650,ooo Iraqi people had been killed as a direct result of the U.s. invasion. Iraq Body Count report, a Pentagon report somewhere around 100,ooo. Hope you write a stinging piece about the choice of Obama etc, news pundit using the very powerful term genocide for the potential killing of Yezidis but this same term did not apply to what has happenned to the Palestinians.

    You might be interested in a piece that NPR’s Jackie Northram did on the Israeli border kibbutz town of Netive Ha’asara and how it has been effected by tunnels. She does not talk about why tunnels were built, where they lead and if that is disputed or land that possibly belongs to Palestinians. She even does the sound of Israeli kibbutz kids swimming in pools next to Gaza while Palestinans kids are being pummeled into destroyed buildings etc. How Israel controls the water.

    U.S. MSM has made absolutely sure that Americans (most who do not care) do not know how many Iraqi people have been killed based on the Bush administraton’s pack of lies. Deeply disturbing. No need to wonder why people in that part of the world fear and hate us

    • Per the Israel/Palestinian aside, there’s a reason we don’t use the term “genocide” to describe Israel’s occupation of and/or conflicts in the West Bank and Gaza. They’re not genocidal. Illegal, immoral, inhumane–yes, you could plausibly argue that. But there is no systematic extermination of Palestinians by Israeli or anyone else, and to say otherwise is false and needlessly inflammatory.

      And about the NPR story, do you doubt the existence of Israeli children on the kibbutz? Or the existence of tunnels? And about the children of Gaza, hundreds of thousands of them are still alive, and the last thing they need are adults who dehumanize any group in this terrible conflict.

      • There is a lot of wanton killing & constant harassment of Palestians in the W. Bank & actual encouragement that that in the 3rd major incursion into Gaza.

      • They’re not genocidal. Illegal, immoral, inhumane–yes, you could plausibly argue that.

        “Genocidal” is debatable. There doesn’t appear to be an Israeli plan to kill all the Palestinians, but the right-wing Israelis are not above killing large batches of Palestinians to complete the Zionist plan of transferring all Palestinians out of the former Palestine Territories. As for “illegal” there have been many valid accusations applied to a variety of acts by Israel’s right wing that denounced those acts as illegal.

        Illegal: Intl Law Experts Condemn “Collective Punishment” of Gaza’s Civilian Population: Joint Declaration signed by nearly 150 legal scholars and human rights experts say no justification exists for mass killing of innocent people who have no means of escape by Jon Queally, staff writer – link to

        Immoral: British gov’t minister resigns over ‘morally indefensible’ Gaza policy, urging Palestinians to go to international criminal court by Philip Weiss – link to

        War Crimes: How US Leaders Aid and Abet Israeli War Crimes: Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity by MARJORIE COHN – link to

  4. the tone in this article is unnecessary condescending. the aid does help the yazidis. most educated americans understand the failure of USA military efforts in Iraq. those failures can be discussed further, particularly as they have helped ISIS and other radical, violent groups to flourish in Tigris-Euphrates valley. Nevertheless, the juvenile tone here is dismissive of efforts, taken at some danger to the pilots and relief workers who will operate because of air operations. We know the US govt has messed up, and that oil’s behind the overall strategy. But the author’s arrogant tone subverts the effort to save minorities and non extreme Muslims from ISIS.

    A bit petulant for a scholar-author writing for a general audience.

    • It is like an organized crime boss putting some poor guy in the hospital & then sending him flowers. The critique is not of the aid but the Washington and press discourse around the aid.

      • I very much appreciate your added comment, Dr Cole. We are now on the same page. Regards.

      • Most of the responses here have been unusully balanced for this type of forum. Yes, the official narrative hypocrisy is all too evident. Is it too much to hope tat some positive change will happen eventually?

      • Iraq being the “some poor guy” in this scenario….?

        I am by no means an Obama supporter, but isn’t comparing his administration’s policies to the last administration somewhat of a false equivalency? Maybe I just see it that way because I’m tired of this type of response and the general amount of stress placed on what can not be changed instead of what can.

      • Where is G.W.? Has there ever been a president who has abandoned all responsibility so completely?

        We hear nary a word of contrition…as if he wasn’t even there.

      • The US is not a single crime boss. Iraq is not a single poor guy. The pain reflected in this article is about why in the end the Kurds are getting help and Iran is left out with the short end of the deal.

    • oh boo hoo — Prof. Cole’s “tone” hurts your precious wittle feelings.
      Grow up. The prof. is absolutely correct in pointing out the immense hypocrisy of this so-called “humanitarian” mission and of the tragic amount of destroyed lives that the US is responsible for. In fact, Prof. Cole omits the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives the US murdered as a result of a decade of merciless sanctions long before the 2003 invasion.
      The incredible arrogance on your part to whine about Prof. Cole’s “tone” in the face of the depth and breadth of the US’ destruction of Iraqi lives and Iraqi society is astonishing.
      Americans like you need to learn some humility.

      • Oh sandrahn … am I correct in assuming that you think the Iraqis were robbed of the good life they were living under Saddam? Shame on us … we shouldn’t have bothered Hitler, or Stalin either. Darn meddlers that we are.

        • Proud American, please there are many evil dictators in the world and many people suffering under their reign. Why aren’t we going after all of them? OIL…that’s why.

    • I am a great admirer of Dr. Cole, but your comments are spot-on s_mark.

      Point-scoring and grudge-holding clouds the difficult issues. We look to experts like Dr. Cole for better.

  5. So, did Maliki succeed in making Obama blink? Is Maliki’s resignation now less likely?
    My understanding is that Obama had made providing “support” contingent on Maliki stepping down, and “by his weakness” Maliki, with the help of the real (but neither new or unanticipated) humanitarian crisis, managed to create a virtually “irresistible” opportunity to enter stage left..
    The stories from the mountain redoubt appear wildly inconsistent but tend toward “heart breaking” — but again curious — 50 children died in the massacre of 500 reported several days ago, followed by 50 children died of dehydration, and then again, today NBC with a massacre of 500 (with the added gruesome detail of people buried alive) and then shades-of-Boku Haram “” Some 300 women were kidnapped as slaves”” [[ Slaves? What would Sunni guerrillas want female slaves for? I don’t know, but would devout Salafi crave Yazdi sex slaves? Why would any army on the march encumber itself with prisoners? Inquiring minds, etc.]]
    I do not doubt that there are several humanitarian crises in the region but these crises did not arrive full blown (particularly since two involve long recognized vulnerable minority populations) nor in fact did ISIS, although I see little interest any longer as to how that caught-with-our-pants-down moment (if that’s what it was) came to be.
    Much speculation that in fact, (Saudi-extremist backed) ISIS is a first phase in drawing Iran into the fray … As always, the silence from/about KSA raises even more questions. This “enemy of my enemy” strategizing sucks.

  6. Paul J.-i

    @gotwool i`m beyond pissed with this iraq thing, if obama want too save his face to his people he better condemn israel

  7. Amy Goodman just on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris Perry talking about the hypocrisy of the Obama administrations sending in “humanitarian aid” to the Yazidis. Yet that same Obama administration has stood by supporting the massacre on the Palestinian people in Gaza.

    SMARK “educated americans” oh you mean like the editors and publishers at the New York Bloody Times who promoted the invasion by allowing false and dangerous pieces to be on the front pages of that rag by Judy “I was fucking right” Miller selling the invasion based on known false pretenses. Still MSM host and papers allow the American people to stay in the dark about the consequences of that invasion hundreds of thousands into the millions if you add up every U.S. strike on Iraq over the last 20 years. The hundreds of thousands injured, the displaced. Many of the Americans that do know do not seem to give a rats ass. Educated Americans aye yi yi

    • Actually we are sending food and medical aid to Palestinians. In fact a Palestinian official asked, why are you sending us food on one hand to keep us alive and on the other hand sending the Israeli’s bombs to kill us. It doesn’t make any sense.

      • Sure it makes sense If you assume a rationale of keeping nations and societies dependent. Africa being a historically classic and quite current example.

        In current history we kill Muammar al-Gadaffi who was funding BILLIONS OF DOLLARS worth of African Union development projects… …leading, inexorably, by mayhem-driven economic coercion, to this weeks luvfest with African leaders in DC.

        After you peruse what Gadaffi was funding at the link above see “More Reasons The West Wants Muammar al-Gadffi Dead… Or Gone” for some seriously hi-rez maps of North Africa’s petro-infrastructure … including the refineries… Remember how Cheney’s energy commission BFFs complained about Iraq’s “antiquated” petro facilites? Libya made them quite happy. Now if they can only get the s̶l̶a̶v̶e̶s̶ p̶r̶o̶l̶e̶s̶ employees to work while the region (Libya no longer qualifies as one nation. Divide, conquer, loot) devolves and disintegrates.

  8. To me, it seems there’s a chance that way down the list of important reasons why Obama chose to aid the Yazidis and other Iraqi minorities is that he wanted to send a signal that shows the Israeli government and people, however subliminally, that there was a limit to how much ethnic cleansing he could allow and tolerate – in Gaza and in the West Bank – before doing something to deter it.

    Obama wouldn’t attack the IDF, but he might cut off military resupply if the long-threatened expulsion of Palestinians from Palestine begins to occur.

  9. and, miracle of miracles … first Al Jazeera and now the guardian with a UN Official claim that 20-30-40,000 Yazdi have escaped the mountain after the Peshmerga opened a back-door road — oh wait, what they actually say is “” A spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Iraq said officials had been reporting to the UN that 15,000 to 20,000 people had escaped the siege. “” — whew, that was quick … Let’s see if Obama declares mission accomplished — oh wait, he’s now avoiding — he said it, not me — “another Benghazi” maybe in the Kurdish territory or maybe in Baghdad … can you say “mission creep” I knew you could.
    link to
    Note how the number of “folks” stuck on the mountains appeared to me to have morphed from 40,000 (Guardian 08/07/2014) upwards, but as of this moment, I only find BBC with 50,000.

  10. In pointing to the suffering inflicted on the people of Iraq by the US, we mustn’t forget the dozen years of sanctions that preceded G.W.Bush’s 2003 invasion. The sanctions, engineered by the US and Britain through their control of the relevant UN machinery, killed about as many Iraqis as the war that followed. The price, in Madeleine Albright’s notorious assessment, was “worth it.”

    • Yes, good point, Tony. Seeing this in full is important. It’s describing the entire ‘elephant’. First it was bait and attack in 1991. Then siege warfare for 12 years. Then full-scale invasion-occupation. Now withdraw and retain some control. It’s classic how to manage an empire of war and resource plunder.

  11. There is nothing new with America talking about both sides of its mouth regarding humanitarian aid in Iraq. The United States was placed on a moral pedestal at the end of World War Two based on its role in overthrowing the dictatorships in Germany, Italy and Japan. Fair enough – up to a point. Conveniently ignored were the dictators the US had previously installed throughout Latin America and the Philippines. Ignored were the black soldiers who helped to free people in Europe and who returned to the oppression of Jim Crowism and segregation in the Deep South and racism elsewhere. While there was much said about freeing survivors from German concentration camps little was said about Japanese-Americans, Italian-Americans and German-Americans being freed from American concentration camps. Then came the overthrows of democratically-elected officials in Iran and Guatemala who were replaced by vicious dictators. Later ditto in Chile. And, most recently, we have become aligned with fascists and neo-fascists in Ukraine. Psychiatrists have terminology for people like that, but it isn’t anything you would want on your resume.

    • Bill – Surely you are not equating the Nazi concentration camps with the U.S. internment camps during WWII. Not only was there a quantitative difference — millions of prisoners versus thousands — but there was a significant qualitative difference too (there were no reports of ovens, gas chambers, or other wide-scale exterminations in the American camps). Likewise, the lethal Nazi and Fascist WWII dictatorships are not really comparable to the Jim Crow laws in the United States or the South American dictators you reference. This blame-America-first attitude that we repeatedly see from the American political Left gets pretty tiresome — especially when it argues for such false equivalency.

      The article is guilty of the same type of blame-America-first attitude. Although I was opposed to the Iraq war from the start, I would submit that you cannot really blame the Americans for all of the ills in Iraq like the civil wars and ethnic cleansing, just as you cannot blame the NYPD for crime in Manhattan. It is the criminals who perpetrate the crime not the cops.

      Finally, to the comments above asking where is the Humanitarian Aid to the Palestinians: we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians over the last few years. Are we also responsible for all of the reprehensible acts of some Palestinians and supporters against Israel because of our aid the way the article and commentators want to hold us responsible for all of the internal strife in Iraq?

      • Bill – Surely you are not equating the Nazi concentration camps with the U.S. internment camps during WWII.

        John: I’m not saying they were the same or even similar, but they were both on the same side of the moral divide. One was in the neighborhood, the other was beyond the pale.

  12. Not surprisingly, Glenn Greenwald eviscerates the claim of humanitarianism in bombing Iraq: “U.S. “Humanitarian” Bombing of Iraq: A Redundant Presidential Ritual” by Glenn Greenwald – link to

  13. Tey´re at it with the sanctions game again, over Ukraine. History shows very clearly that sanctions don´t work against “the intended target”. Ordinary people suffer, and good middle class lives are destroyed.
    Sanctions and wars happening over and over again are very clear evidenceof insanity of humanity and that it still has an awful lot to learn…

    • The proximate cause for the suffering in Iraq was Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, his subsequent massacre of Shia and Kurd, and his brutally oppressive regime. But i suppose its easier to blame America than to look at the root causes of violence in the region.

      • I don’t recall all of the events about Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, but there was some confusion involving what the US ambassador was alleged to have told him.

        Then there were the blatant lies in Congress that involved the Kuwaiti ambassador’s daughter’s story about babies being tossed out of incubators aided and abetted by Representative Tom Lantos (D-Israel first then California).

        As for the massacre of the Shia, that might not have happened if Bush the Father hadn’t encouraged them to rise up against Saddam and abandoned them when Saddam attacked them.

      • Joel, knowledge comes easy these days. You should try it. You don’t think the 12 years of very severe sanctions crippled Iraq, left it hanging on by a thread? Killed a couple hundred thousand of its children (as Sec. of State Madelaine Albright admitted) through 12 years of bombing water purification plants and other infrastructure, barring crucial medicines, and such? Plus the no-fly zones, which had real on-the-ground consequences? Well, it most certainly did, including its armed forces. We left it vulnerable to invasion and collapse, which was the intention. Bush Sr. thought he’d invade his second term, but Clinton won and refused to invade, “only” bombing and sanctioning. That’s how it went down. Do you know what’s easier than “blaming America”? It’s easier to just be ignorant. Unfortunately, that makes you part of the problem and someone to blame.

        • The answer is: From money from petroleum. Primary role of owning something is to limit others from using it until they are not a competition. Petroleum ownership is the fast track of the same thing.

      • Joel, you should look up “April Glaspie Iraq.” Glaspie was our acting ambassador to Iraq just before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. She had a meeting with him just before the invasion where she relayed a message from then Sec. of State James Baker III. That message: We value our alliance with Iraq. We have no interest in your Arab vs Arab disputes. We regard them as an internal matter.

        In other words, go ahead and invade, we don’t care.

        We had been backing him in his war against Iran, so it was easy for him to believe.

        If Glaspie had threatened him with a full scale counter-invasion then history would have been different. But we needed a replacement for the Soviet Union, so we encouraged him to go in. We are one of the root causes of violence in the region.

        • Indeed. And yet America intervened to kick Saddam out of Kuwait. Even though many anti-war types were probably against that war too :P

      • Or maybe its just easier to avoid culpability and be in denial, hiding in right-wing Neo-con insincere excuses about being concerned for Shia/Kurd suffering that disingenuously bypasses the illegal invasion and war crime catastrophe in 2003 which wrecked the country and exacerbated everything.

        Its quite easy to blame the US for the instability, deservedly so, since they kicked it off with a depraved fabrication and part of the root cause of the violence in the region that created a new terrorism magnet. The US has had a hand in brutalities and violence before and after 1991, the time you conveniently choose as your ‘proximate cause’ for Iraqi suffering.

        Pre-1991, throughout the 80’s, Saddam was a darling US ally and was supported wholeheartedly in initiating a regional war against Iran that cost over a million lives, including enabling local massacres of Kurds and Shias. The US would happily protect that brutal oppressive regime from any war crimes accusation at the UN.

        When the script flipped around 1991, the US asked those victimized populations, who they earlier couldn’t care for, to rise with assurances of backing them, only to abandon them and see them crushed. Later there would be ‘humanitarian’ and ‘developmental’ sanctions on those populations that would end half a million Iraqi children and worsen conditions for the average Iraqi, which was clearly ‘worth it’ in the words of a notorious US official.

        Seems Iraqis were suffering not just the local brutal oppressive regime but a foreign brutal oppressive regime too, who’d later on delusionally proclaim themselves as ‘liberators’ in an invasion intended for self-serving purposes.

  14. But why do you find it a problem? Instances of humanitarian aid differ, and each should be judged on its own. You conflate time, space, and event in this piece, Juan.

  15. Robert Fisk seems to think this intervention is all about the oil. I find that hard to believe when our President Obama has said it is for humanitarian reasons. He wouldn’t lie to us, would he. Fisk asks how long this “humanitarian” intervention will take. I suggest another Friedman Unit – and another – then another – and (well you get the picture)..

    Iraq crisis: West’s ‘mandate’ is limited by national borders – and don’t dare mention oil: President Obama says ‘problem’ will not be solved in weeks. So how long will it take, asks Robert Fisk ––and-dont-dare-mention-oil-9660393.html

  16. I would also add the sheer destruction of hundreds of thousands, if not over one million Iraqis during the Sanctions regime; 1990-2003, which lasted through three U.S. presidents. The destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure, civil society and civil relations, medical, technical, and social capital devastated Iraq and left it vulnerable to the radicalization of the Iraqi population. The Sanctions regime represented a war of inhumane proportion, a true weapon of mass destruction. And when questioned about its affects on the deaths of one and half million children, Madeline Albright simply replied that “yes it was worth it”. The hypocrisy of America’s goodwill missions leaves any claim to moral authority obscene.

  17. One is happy that the US has dropped food aid for the Yezidis trapped on a mountain after they escaped the so-called “Islamic State” of self-styled “caliph” Ibrahim.

    HuffPost published a link to this article along with the quote “an attempt to recover what was taken by the Bush Administration.

    Now this is important because these two quotes seem to pull apart from one another. In the first he is obviously downplaying the force of ISIS, then in the next he is confirming that they are making a push in Iraq, but only to recover what was “stolen by Bush.” This congnitive dissonance (I put it nicely) must be the only way to dismiss or ignore the horrific consequences of an ISIS victory. Maybe he will enlighten us on his view of the current conflict?

  18. Just to clarify .. the US *did* send food (and medicine and medical personnel) to Hiroshima and Nagasaki soon after, after the formal cessation of hostilities. Providing humanitarian aid after hostilities is not as contemptible as Mr. Cole seems to view it.

  19. Would the prof. care to comment on why a new generation of “Arabists” never took root at Foggy Bottom once Loy Henderson & co. went out to pasture? It seems to me at any rate that an Arabist counterfoil at State may have had a moderating influenced on the gaggle of RC-Zionist New Frontiersmen who gained the ascendancy in the 60s and have held it ever since.

  20. Well said, but it is better to do something even if it appears hypocritical than do nothing like we didn’t do in Ruwanda. The world must have a heart and terrorists must be stopped.

    I read this as saying that the Bush mess in Iraq was really Bush’s mess. There should be a global evaluation and accountability of this mess and Bush, Karl Rove, Chaney….the whole crowd should be put on trial.

  21. One of Americas greatest blunders is thinking that our wonderful democracy is good for the entire world. What worked out fabulously for us would work the same for others. We were a new country blessed with ambitious people starting a new life. We were able to seperate the church and state. It was probably the finest form of govt. for us.
    George Bush apparently thought it would work in the middle east with no clue as to the people he was dealing with.
    Your article is right on the money

  22. I suppose we could debate the past, but frankly the past is for people who cannot live in the present and deal with what needs to be done. Get over your issues and admit that these people need help and leave your pathetic politics out of it. What needs to be done is being done. That is all that matters. All i see on here is a bunch of weak willed people. I served in that bogus war and although i wish it had never happened, i cannot deny that obama is doing what needs to be done in the present.

  23. You are all crazy! Regardless of what happened in the past, the Yazidis do not deserve what has been done to them. Feeding them is a good thing.

    • But it is a tiny drop of milk and honey in a bucket of otherwise repulsive shite. And you can bet that even the tiny bit that “we” are doing eventuated only after a whole lot of nasty Machiavellian “triangulation,” not some rush to a sudden flood of decency and comity. In the meantime, the spooks and sneaks continue to “migrate” arms and training in the skill sets that warrior types just love, setting them up to set themselves up as potentates and warlords for their own account.

      It’s not just “in the past:” it’s what’s going on now, and will be going on into the endless (well, not exactly — there is the global-warming thingie on the horizon) future.

      • “…the spooks and sneaks continue to “migrate” arms and training…”

        The conduit historically… USAID:
        → “US sends disaster relief teams to Iraq”
        Note the phrase : “Much of the assistance will go to…”

        Any guesses where the “not much” goes?
        link to

  24. Maqsood Kayani

    Obama, Kerry, the US admin and the world media must be blind as a bat if they can see a “genocide / humanitarian-crisis” in Iraq BUT NOT IN GAZA !!!

  25. A good military policy would be to ALWAYS provide humanitarian aid and fire on militants targeting civilian populations. The US pick its battles primarily for self interest, for which it cannot declare any moral high ground when it is in someone else’s backyard.
    We owe Iraq for what the W administration pulled off in the name of promoting democracy. In the aftermath of the invasion it became clear that we cared nothing for Iraq.
    So yes Juan, you may rebuke us for destroying that country for our own security but why stir up dissent when we try to do the right thing?

  26. Mr. Cole, thank you for succinctly laying out the facts on the god awful Iraq war. I view what ever assistance we provide as reparations for the the destruction of a country, perhaps a region. I recommend Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson to commenters who may wish to further understand how this all began.

    I long for the days when American foreign involvement around the world was generally soft, even with exceptions like Vietnam. My first job was as a Peace Corps volunteer for three years in Turkey, followed by living in and working throughout Asia. The American fingerprint in most countries involved assistance in agriculture, education, business, health and emergency relief at that time. I do not mean to imply there was no agenda or that we did not employ hard diplomacy. No nation does. But compared to today…….

    Hopefully, John McCain will be the last American Imperialist. It saddens me, no angers me, that the MSM gives him a such a large platform to represent his view of the world. But I guess they believe it does “sell soap.”

    To turn our imperial ship of state in another direction will take time. Only the American people can maintain a new course. I fear Obama has little time left and Hillary is much closer to the McCain hammer diplomacy to do it on their own.

  27. I fail to see why it is America’s fault that shiite militants led by moqtada Al sadr and funded by Iran began killing sunnis. We clearly underestimated the underlying hatred in this society but we could have left them to rebuild alone. The American people owe nothing to the baathist regime of saddam hussein which invaded peaceful and defenseless Kuwait and started one of the most brutal wars of the century…which ultimately led to the use of chemical weapons against civilians in halabja. You frame this article as if American soldiers are randomly murdering civilians but the truth is we risked our lives to make that country better…regardless of the outcome at least we tried. Also what does the American public think is going to happen when Syria has lost around 200000 people in civil war? Of corse when you let 10000 isis fighters capture cities in Syria your going to have issues not just in Iraq and Syria but the entire middle east and the world. If these militants can defeat bashar al assads military of corse they can beat the newly formed iraqi army. The so called “Arab spring” would be better known as the Islamist awakening. This president has never listened to the advice of his commanders on the ground the whole situation is all politics and poll numbers to him….Every single general told him to keep a small force in Iraq just as we have in every country that we’ve built from the ground up ( Germany, Japan, etc). Obama is happy to see Iraq fall just so that he could say I told you so…it’s all deliberate…Unfortunately for him these isis militants are now a threat to the US homeland and will no doubt attack us soon…well see if you still think of us soldiers as murderers then.

    • I like what you said about the US invasion and Bush’s inability, oh you said underestimated, understanding of the underlying hatreds in Iraq. Bush had been warned dozens of times. Even Cheney, in 1994, had given all the reasons why Bush 41 did not remove Saddam in 1991, in an interview you can find on Youtube. American troops did try and do the best job they could after the bungling invasion and subsequent bungling Nation Building by Paul Bremmer. But that doesn’t change the fact, we should have never invaded Iraq, no matter how much of a terror Saddam was to his neighbors. In a way, it was a good thing.
      Obama did not create the Arab Spring, nor did he suddenly cave into a brand new concept. Bush and Blair blathered on endlessly about DEMOCRACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST, after the LIES of WMD had been finally eliminated. So what was Obama to do? Say it’s OK for Iraq and Afghanistan but not for Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya? And as far as leaving American troops in Iraq. NO SOFA agreement, no American troops. Maliki refused repeated offers for a new agreement. So whatever the Pentagon leaders were saying was Mute without a SOFA agreement.

      • You know and I know and everyone who has ever been on the ground in Iraq knows that the SOFA excuse is pretty lame…..Malaki and his goons had already agreed to in in principle the Obama administration wanted him to send it through iraqi parliament which would have caused Malaki to loose political support….does anyone in their right mind actually believe that the US govt would allow one of its soldiers to be tried in Iraq regardless of any paper agreement? The second US troops left Iraq malaki began placing shiite ally in high places in the military…just like any politician in the Arab world he has to worry about being beheaded of corse he is going to protect himself as soon as we leave this is the way of Arab politics.

        True Obama didn’t create the Arab spring but when democratic resistance movements popped up in Syria he let them die and let an army of over 10000 isis militants gain control of dozens of cities and enough military equipment to rival most states in the region. Almost 200000 people have been killed in Syria and no one particularly cares and our government has done nothing but sit by and watch hundreds and thousands of civilians get killed. So while you argue 10 of thousands of Iraqis need our help, isis terrorists are openly training, equipping and planning for attacks on the west, there are AT LEAST 4 conflicts in the world that if left in check could spiral out of control and lead to genocidal activities 2 or 3 of them already have.

        Also for the record
        GWB never listened to his commanders on the ground either I’m not saying that he was perfect or even any good…I a merely making the point that this current crisis in Iraq has a lot more to do with Syria and Barack Obama then with GWB and iraq. It’s easy to judge based on hindsight but actions on the ground have made that irrelevant we must act before this crisis gets worse and we watch isis spread into Lebanon turkey Jordan Gaza and who knows where else. A few paltry airstrikes will do nothing to stop isis they also have thousands of fighters with foreign passport who can easily get into western countries and cause havoc. These airstrikes are a joke the capital of the Islamic state is raqqua in Syria these airstrikes are only for poll numbers the obviously have no military objective other then to protect US citizens…I would argue that we must strike in Syria if we are ever serious about destroying isis.

    • …the truth is we risked our lives to make that country better…regardless of the outcome at least we tried…

      You realize how perverse that would sound to someone like Riverbend, the girl blogger of Baghdad?

      “Looking back at the last ten years, what have our occupiers and their Iraqi governments given us in ten years? What have our puppets achieved in this last decade? What have we learned?

      We learned a lot.

      …. ..

      • Thanks much, Razer Ray, for your reference and your link to Riverbend’s “Baghdad Burning” blog. I’ve been reading her site since before, during, and after the Bush invasion of Iraq. I thought her posts were second to none in showing what it was like in Baghdad in those days, and I tried to keep track of her, but as you no doubt know, several very long periods passed when nothing was heard from her, especially after she and her family fled Iraq and went to Syria and then really especially after Oct 2007, after which there was a period of silence that seems to have lasted almost till now. I am glad to know that she is alive and well and kicking as much as ever, and I think that a lot of experts would have to defer to her when it comes to speaking about events in Iraq clearly and with insight, providing that she has a mind to and is in a situation to do just that.

      • Once again not Americans fault that shiite and sunni extremists funded and equipped by their respective allys (Iran, Saudi Arabia) began bombing each others mosques and fighting proxy wars in Iraq in order to gain control.

        I know many civilians in Iraq I don’t have to read a blog to find out what people think…and what people think is that America abandoned them to slaughter and holy war we should have obviously never left…we should have obviously stopped isis in Syria before the could establish a state.

        And this girl lives in baghdad, therefore she is most likely Shia. If we let the Islamic state capture baghdad she will end up as a slave wife for some wahabi terrorist…so are we done arguing or do more people need to die besides the 200000 in Syria before we act?

  28. Thank you for your brutal honesty! Many Americans at the time seemed so caught up with the government and media propaganda. How could people not be caught up, that was all the media reported. For Bush, the claims of weapons of mass destruction was a stunt to get us all on board for the invasion. Shame on us for believing the Bush rhetoric. As a result of Bush’s international policies and the anti-war sentiment, the world’s view of the U.S. plummeted. These negative views were held by Russia, Germany, France, Poland, Italy, and Spain. There is a Pew Research publication dated March 18, 2003 that verifies this information. For those individuals who believe that the past is for people who cannot live in the present, how did you come up with that conclusion? The reason the past is always addressed, is that it history has proven that the past always repeats itself. I hope the Yazidis people were able to get some relief of their misery from the humanitarian aid drops. Can you imagine having no food, water, or shelter and believing the world has forgotten you? It is certainly not something I could imagine.

  29. Now that Saudi Arabia’s Wahabbi-ruled government supported and controlled extremists, the Islamic State, are sweeping across Iraq and Syria and may soon to engulf other Middle East and North African Muslim nations, the Western world which Turkey is also part of has begun looking to iran as a military and economic bulwark in protecting their interests. As the Islamic State hordes expand, perhaps even Israel may find it in its interests to unofficially align itself with Iran.

  30. This is all Bush & Cheney fault for invading a country that was not threat to the US. They lied to start a war of choice for their own personal gain.

  31. Does the u.s expect a debt of gratitude for the flimsy band aid it is offering for the countless deep stab wounds it has it has inflicted these past few decades?

  32. The USA might have started it if you will, but the sunni’s en shia’s surely finished it themselves. In other countries the US isn’t even needed, they just murder each other nonetheless. It’s easy to blame Israel and the USA for everything, it kinda hides your own incompetence. Look at Syria. Look at all the countries that are burning in the Middle-East.

    About Iraq… Without the firm regime of Hussein controlling it’s population (read: tribes, sunni’s and shia’s), the power vacuum that followed the US invasion could only mean 1 thing and that’s violence. The US tried to fill it up with democracy, but all they did is give an oppressed people more chance to “exploit” their feelings and thoughts.

    I’m glad the USA is giving humanitarian aid. It’s the best thing in the world to help others. USA can be blamed for being arrogant, or incompetent at creating a new, vital, safe democracy. Even conspiracies and hidden agendas could be supported up to a certain degree, but look at the spirit behind it all. The spirit of ISIS is pretty clear; violence, death and submission. The spirit of the US was: anger (9-11), arrogance (police of the world, best military), greed (oil?), but I also genuinely believe there was a 4th value and that’s the one that wanted to leave Iraq behind a better place than it was.

    • It’s worth looking at what actually hides behind that bulls__t phrase “US humanitarian aid”. Here’s a little context that I’ve pulled up, for anyone who wants to inform themselves of what it really looks like.

      Here’s one part of it, how “we” are using a highly decorated $435 hammer to break up the bakery shop, and then using the same hammer to try to make a dainty pastry:

      “Use of the military in humanitarian relief”

      In the late 1940s, the [military-based]relief system began to expand to other areas of the world: the trouble spots of decolonialization (India, Palestine, et al), …

      In the 1950s, the relief system began to expand into the newly- emerging nations, focusing first on the displaced persons that so often resulted from liberation struggles and then on natural disaster relief….

      Or so they thought. The problem was that these responses were often inappropriate and counterproductive. There were many differences between displaced people in Europe and civil war and famine victims of the Third World. Provision of tents to victims of an earthquake or hurricane often delayed reconstruction and failed to address critical land issues. Construction of refugee camps for famine victims drew people away from their land, making agricultural recovery nearly impossible and creating an even larger relief requirement. Massive inoculations were not only inappropriate but, when applied incompletely, they often broke down the people’s natural immunities, actually increasing their risk to disease.

      The military forces committed to these operations also continued to use the same modes and doctrines. Planes are used in ever-increasing instances to deliver food and supplies; engineers are still committed to build refugee camps. Yet there is increasing concern that these uses are not without costs. For example, a number of specialists have pointed out that the use of military aircraft to deliver food in Sudan in 1985 delayed vital decisions on alternative methods and obscured the fact that there was no onward delivery system from the airports out to the rural populations…

      The inappropriate use of military resources is part of a broader problem as well: the scarcity of humanitarian assistance funds. The public perception is that the costs of military participation in humanitarian operations are borne by the respective military establishment; but in most countries, the defense ministry is reimbursed by the foreign ministry/overseas aid department. Even in those countries where the military is not reimbursed, the usual practice is to develop an overall assistance program for the operation and allocate funds among emergency, rehabilitation and reconstruction activities. Within the program, military operations and humanitarian assistance compete for the same funds.

      Military commanders might respond to these criticisms by reminding us that the decisions are usually in the hands of civilian authorities but, in reality, it goes far beyond this. Few civilians are knowledgeable about military capabilities and many harbor unrealistic expectations about what the military can and cannot do effectively. Furthermore, the nature of the relief system itself is such that there are few professional relief managers and many relief workers are first-timers — to them, an army colonel with a helicopter, a jeep and an efficient staff with radios and other equipment looks heaven-sent.
      Today the military is more heavily engaged in humanitarian operations than before…
      And much more at link to

      The other is of course the real nature of “US AID”:

      “A Timeline of US Intervention in Latin America,” link to and a host of other depressing sources if you google “US Agency for International Development CIA military”

      And of course the military establishment is all ready to take over everything when global warming finally produces some major collapses and “human tragedies:” Here’s a slightly dated version of how the War Department has it all covered: “Trends and Implications of Climate Change for National and
      International Security,” link to , written by these ambitious folks: link to

      “We” are ruled by such truly exceptional people, via such exceptional institutions…

  33. definition of chutzpah: bomb Gaza into stone age and then ask the “international community – especially Germany – for massive aid in reconstruction”

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