On March 20, 2003, Baghdad got its first taste of “Shock & Awe.” A fiery mix of cruise missiles and high-IQ bombs lit up the night sky and unleashed the most lethal air bombing campaign since Vietnam. Within a few weeks, the civilian death toll would exceed that of 9/11.
Four years on, Shock & Awe is the daily reality of a war that has killed 3,200 US soldiers and well over 60,000 Iraqi civilians. The United States is $400 billion poorer and stuck in a quagmire with no viable exit strategy. Authoritative estimates put the war’s ultimate cost in the $2 trillion range (roughly the GDP of France). The sight of a ragtag band of insurgents bringing the US army to its breaking point has made one wonder what all that talk of “sole superpower” was really about. Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and US torture chambers have made one wonder what all that talk about American justice was really about.
It was not supposed to be like that.
“There’s a lot of money to pay for this. It doesn’t have to be U.S. taxpayer money.” (Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Defense Secretary, 3/03)
“I can’t tell you if the use of force in Iraq today will last five days, five weeks or five months, but it won’t last any longer than that.” (Don Rumsfeld, 11/02)
“My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” (Dick Cheney, 3/03)
“And a year from now, I’ll be very surprised if there is not some grand square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush.” (Richard Perle, Former Assistant Defense Secretary, 9/03)
A grand square? Or maybe a grand graveyard. From the threat of WMD to the Saddam-al Qaeda axis to the promise of peace and democracy in the region, all of the assumptions of the US administration have proven to be dead wrong. Some rank Iraq alongside Vietnam as the greatest strategic blunder in American foreign policy. Both times, one nation warned the United States of the impending catastrophe: that nation was France. Both times, its advice was ignored and France was vilified for being right.
“Why France is the enemy of the US.” (Tom Friedman, NYT, 9/03)
“Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool — or possibly a Frenchman — could conclude otherwise.” (Richard Cohen,Washington Post, 2/03)
Cohen now concludes otherwise. Since he is not a Frenchman, by his own logic that makes him a fool—and, by mine, an asshole. Besides the well-documented orgies of French bashing, punishing France was, in fact, official US policy:
“Punish France, ignore Germany, and forgive Russia.” (Condoleezza Rice, 2003)
“We were right, they [the French] were wrong, and I’m here.” (Colin Powell, 9/03)
Not quite, Colin: You were wrong; they were right; and you’re out of office. Chirac warned the US that the Iraq war would open up Pandora’s box. Today the same words can be heard from the mouth of the US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad.
The great black cartoonist Aaron McGruder captured the mood in his bittersweet The Boondocks. In one of the strips (I can’t find the link, so I’ll paraphrase), Huey runs excitedly to his granddad to tell him the good news: “We’re number 3, we’re number 3! Black Americans are now only the third most hated group in this country— after the Muslims and the French!”
As the magnitude of the Iraq fiasco is beginning to sink in, the prescience of the French position has become increasingly obvious to Americans. Both governments have largely made up; and yet francophobia is more firmly entrenched in the establishment media now than ever before. The word French is the newest insult in American-English. What to do? Punish, ignore, forgive? Or maybe, as this site does so effectively, expose the bigots.
Today, four years ago, America took a fateful turn. To those who cooed and swooned obscenely over the whiz-bang marvels of Shock & Awe, I say Happy Anniversary! And for helping hand over control of the region to them, the Iranian mullahs say Thank You!
Note #1: This is an updated reprint of last year’s post.