Panetta: Iraq War was “worth it”

There are several important questions raised by the Defense Secretary's endorsement of the war

Topics:

Panetta: Iraq War was "worth it" U.S. Army soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division board a plane at Camp Adder moments before the unit leaves Iraq. (Credit: AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

(updated below)

A day after visiting Iraq, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke to reporters in Turkey on Saturday and said this, according to the DoD’s own site:

“There is no question that the United States was divided going into that war,” he said. “But I think the United States is united coming out of that war. We all recognize the tremendous price that has been paid in lives, in blood. And yet I think we also recognize that those lives were not lost in vain. . . .

“As difficult as [the Iraq war] was,” and the cost in both American and Iraqi lives, “I think the price has been worth it, to establish a stable government in a very important region of the world,” he added.

The “price” that Panetta believes is “worth it” includes dead civilians in the hundreds of thousands, countless more maimed, millions of Iraqis internally and externally displaced (a huge number who remain so), tens of thousands of American soldiers killed and/or injured, and at least $1 trillion spent, contributing to “austerity” so severe that Panetta himself has been urging cuts to core social programs. That is above and beyond future Saddam-like oppression, tyranny and sectarian strife under the Malaki regime. As the always-insightful military historian and former Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich put it this week: “Recalling that Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and alleged ties to al-Qaeda both turned out to be all but non-existent, a Churchillian verdict on the war might read thusly: Seldom in the course of human history have so many sacrificed so dearly to achieve so little.”



Panetta’s statement is highly reminiscent of the 1996 2001 incident in which Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was asked by Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes about the sanctions regime imposed on Iraq: “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright replied: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.” They’re similar not just because the words are virtually identical, though they are, but also because they spring from the same rotted imperial mentality. Regarding Panetta’s declaration that the Iraq War was “worth it,” I have three questions:

(1) If the attack on Iraq was “worth it” — meaning the benefits outweighed the costs — then doesn’t that mean that Democrats (including President Obama) owe George Bush, Dick Cheney and friends a sincere apology for all those attacks they voiced over the years about the war? How can the Iraq War simultaneously have been a “stupid war” (President Obama’s 2002 description) and one where “the price has been worth it” (Panetta)?

(2) Consider how often U.S. officials announce to the Muslim world, either in essence or, as here, explicitly: yes, our actions extinguished the lives of hundreds of thousands of your innocent men, women and children, but we think it’s worth it. What is the inevitable outcome of that message being sent over and over?

(3) If the highest levels of the U.S. government believe the Iraq War was “worth it,” then doesn’t it stand to reason that more of the same should be done? That is the point Bacevich raised in identifying what may end up being the most destructive cost of all from the Iraq War:

The disastrous legacy of the Iraq War extends beyond treasure squandered and lives lost or shattered. Central to that legacy has been Washington’s decisive and seemingly irrevocable abandonment of any semblance of self-restraint regarding the use of violence as an instrument of statecraft. With all remaining prudential, normative, and constitutional barriers to the use of force having now been set aside, war has become a normal condition, something that the great majority of Americans accept without complaint. War is U.S.

One senses that this was what the likes of [Vice President Dick] Cheney, [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld, and [Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz (urged on by militarists cheering from the sidelines and with George W. Bush serving as their enabler) intended all along. By leaving intact and even enlarging the policies that his predecessor had inaugurated, President Barack Obama has handed these militarists an unearned victory. As they drag themselves from one “overseas contingency operation” to the next, American soldiers must reckon with the consequences. So too will the somnolent American people be obliged to do, perhaps sooner than they think.

It’s reasonable to argue (even though it’s ultimately unpersuasive) that Panetta, as Pentagon chief, cannot or should not be as aggressively critical of the war which U.S. soldiers fought as other officials might be. But he could easily discharge that duty without offering a ringing, bottom-line endorsement of the war, which is exactly what is achieved with “we think the price is worth it.” If that is the view of the top-level Obama officials — who, it must be remembered, did everything in their power to extend the Iraq war beyond the 2011 deadline negotiated by the Bush administration – that is a seriously disturbing and likely consequential revelation.

 

UPDATE: I was on Democracy Now this morning discussing Bradley Manning, along with the bill President Obama will sign to codify indefinite detention; both segments can be viewed at the DN site, respectively: here and here. Prior to the beginning of my segment, I listened to government informant Adrian Lamo provide one incoherent, dishonest answer after the next to the excellent questions posed by DN host Amy Goodman (those interested can view that segment here), so — I confess — I was a bit irritated (to put that mildly) once my segment began from having spent the prior 10 minutes listening to the individual responsible for Manning’s facing life imprisonment and possibly a death sentence, spouting one inanity after the next.

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>