My short visit only confirmed my conviction and fear that the invasion would spell disaster for Iraqis. Removing Saddam was just a byproduct of another objective: dismantling the Iraqi state and its institutions. That state was replaced with a dysfunctional and corrupt semi-state. We were still filming in Baghdad when L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, announced the formation of the so-called Governing Council in July 2003. The names of its members were each followed by their sect and ethnicity. Many of the Iraqis we spoke to on that day were upset with institutionalization of an ethno-sectarian quota system. Ethnic and sectarian tensions already existed, but their translation into political currency was toxic. Those unsavory characters on the governing council, most of whom were allies of the United States from the preceding decade, went on to loot the country, making it one of the most corrupt in the world.
We were fortunate to have been able to shoot our film in that brief period during which there was relative public security. Shortly after our visit, Iraq descended into violence; suicide bombings became the norm. The invasion made my country a magnet for terrorists (“We’ll fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here,” President George W. Bush had said), and Iraq later descended into a sectarian civil war that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands more, irrevocably changing the country’s demography.
The next time I returned to Baghdad was in 2013. The American tanks were gone, but the effects of the occupation were everywhere. I had low expectations, but I was still disheartened by the ugliness of the city where I had grown up and horrified by how dysfunctional, difficult and dangerous daily life had become for the great majority of Iraqis.
Via Charles, who reminds us of this essential document:
A lot of this is pure Friedman — the idiotic non-sequiturs about “bubbles,” “suck on this.” But he’s actually quite right about the mentality that caused the key decision-makers to make this extraordinarily stupid decision. Most Republicans thought that Clinton’s increased focus on stateless terrorist organizations was stupid, that ROGUE STATES were the real threat. 9/11 proved this false, and happened in part because the Bush administration believed things that weren’t true. Iraq was in substantial measure an attempt to retrospectively justify an erroneous premise. The idea that destroying the Iraqi state and hoping that some random Heritage Foundation interns could supervise the formation of a stable democracy ex nihilo would protect the United States from terrorist attacks was insanely stupid on every level, but that doesn’t mean that most of the people responsible for the Iraq War didn’t believe it.
I’ve mentioned this before, but it drove me crazy when Michael Moore — given the ability to speak to a mass audience about the folly of the war — wasted a lot of time in Fahrenheit 9/11 on a dumb conspiracy theory about hypothetical pipelines that had shit-all to do with either war. It was irritating, but it’s a common fallacy: the idea that bad decisions must ultimately have a crudely venal motive rather than being motivated by bad ideas or misguided principles. It sounds sophisticated, but it’s false. The lesson of both 9/11 and its aftermath is that people motivated by bad ideas and/or misguided principles can do far more damage than mere grifters.