Shock and Awe

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S1: In late January 2003, three Iraqi expats came to the White House. They met with President Bush, Vice President Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The purpose of the meeting, which came two months before the U.S. invasion, was a little unclear. The writer Kanan Makiya was one of the Iraqis.

S2: And my overall impression is that the whole thing was essentially a public relations exercise. The questions were pro forma, but among them was how do you think the Americans will be received? And I think we all answered that they would be received positively.

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S1: Makiya actually told the president that they’d be greeted with sweets and flowers. But what he remembers most about the meeting is the plan that Bush laid out for after the invasion.

S2: President Bush suddenly announced that there would not be one army going into the into Iraq, but two armies and I remember was myself who asked him, what do you mean? And then he said the first army would be to topple the regime. And very shortly thereafter, there would be the second army to rebuild Iraq and to relaunch the country. Now, as he said this, he suddenly lifted up his eyes and looked at Condoleezza Rice. And I think his words were right, meaning have I described it correctly? And then the other thing that I remember is that Condoleezza Rice, her eyes looked to the floor as she said yes.

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S1: For Makiya, Rice’s body language was a tell. The plan for after the invasion might not be fully baked. Makiya suspicion was confirmed when he met with retired Army General Jay Garner. Garner was the guy who would be in charge of the so-called second army rebuilding Iraq.

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S2: He was in an empty office and with one secretary and hardly any files. And he said he had just started his job the week before. And I was utterly shocked by this.

S1: Garner had worked in Iraq during Desert Storm. Now he was taking a four month leave from his job as a military contractor to manage the post-war effort. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld seemed to think that was plenty of time. George W. Bush was the first American president to hold an MBA. He was supposed to bring managerial skill to the executive branch, but the Bush White House turned out to be a bureaucratic mess, and nowhere was that clearer than in the planning for post-war Iraq. The president’s top foreign policy people had radically different ideas about what the U.S. should do, but most of the time they didn’t make their pitches to the president and let him decide. Some administration officials soft pedal their views. Others use bureaucratic sabotage to get their way. Colin Powell, who ran the State Department, had always been skeptical of invading Iraq, although he never explicitly told the president not to go ahead with it. On the other hand, Rumsfeld’s Department of Defense was all in on the war. The job of getting those different agencies to work together to plan the war and its aftermath fell to Frank Miller. He worked for Condoleezza Rice.

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S3: The task that I was given was to examine all the nuts and bolts issues that had to be addressed if the United States went to war against Iraq, obtaining overflight rights, things like that that nobody was taking care of.

S1: None of these conversations were smooth or easy, especially the ones about what was supposed to happen after the invasion. That’s because the two main players, Rumsfeld and Powell, were thinking about that problem very differently. Powell believed that Iraq, after Saddam, would be the US’s responsibility. He subscribes to the Pottery Barn rule. If you break it, you own it. His State Department had a group called the Future of Iraq project. They were trying to think about what kind of government might emerge in Iraq. They didn’t have any real power Kanan Makiya was in those State Department meetings.

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S2: I thought it had to be a federal state and there very many different kinds of federalism. Should it be administratively structured federalism or should they be ethnically structured federalism? So we were having those kinds of debates since none of us were doing anything practical.

S1: Miller met with the Future of Iraq project once. He didn’t find their conversations particularly useful.

S3: What they told us was sort of philosophical things, not action oriented things that they never asked to come back and see us again. And we didn’t ask to see them because that wasn’t what we were about. We were trying to fix things.

S1: So when it came to the hands on work of rebuilding Iraq, that State Department project was all talk. No action by Donald Rumsfeld. The secretary of defense didn’t even want to talk. Rumsfeld liked the phrase, we don’t do windows, meaning we, the military don’t do humanitarian stuff. Robert Draper, the author of To Start a War, says Rumsfeld also tossed around a second catch phrase.

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S4: We’re going to take our hands off the bicycle seat and let them learn how to ride the bicycle for themselves. Incredibly condescending thing I have to say to say of the Iraqi people. But that was his view. We’re going to do them this monumental favor of relieving them of this tyrant. But we’re not going to sit around and have soldiers hammering schoolhouses together and keeping the peace. That’s for the Iraqis to do.

S1: Before Rumsfeld ran the Defense Department, he spent a decade in private business and he got sort of obsessed with efficiency. He liked taking over companies and downsizing them. In 2001, the U.S. military had forced out Afghanistan’s Taliban and installed a transitional government. A year later, it wasn’t yet clear that American forces would remain in the country for decades to come. At that point, Afghanistan was Rumsfeld’s vision of modern warfare, quick targeted strikes and a speedy resolution with a minimum of expense and lives lost. Rumsfeld wanted to get in and get out. He wasn’t interested in reconstruction, but he also didn’t want to give up that turf to anyone else.

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S4: When it became clear that there would be some kind of post-Saddam occupying force, then Rumsfeld seized the moment and decided, well, if that’s going to happen, it’s sure as hell is going to be the Pentagon. It’s not going to be the State Department. If there was going to be a bicycle seat and hands on it, he sure didn’t want to be Colin Powell. So Rumsfeld really muscled out the State Department. The Defense Department then became in charge. And this really had disastrous consequences because Rumsfeld himself had a personal disinclination to immerse himself in the details, the very complicated details after the invasion, when it was clear that it was not going to be, as some had said, a cakewalk.

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S1: The way Frank Miller describes it, Rumsfeld could be incredibly annoying. He liked to play mind games.

S3: One of Donald Rumsfeld’s trick was to pretend to doze during a meeting. And as things were done, he would say, well, what about X, Y or Z, which had already been discussed and decided twenty minutes earlier and sort of completely through discussions with President Offtrack, which made. Difficulty in running a meeting and reaching conclusions,

S1: Miller remembers one meeting in particular about rebuilding plans. Tommy Franks, the general in charge of the invasion, was also there. And that meeting, General Franks outlined the same plan that Bush mentioned to Kanan Makiya American troops sticking around to rebuild the country.

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S3: The president asked Franks, as our forces swept forward, who is going to maintain law and order behind them? And Frank said it was the U.S. military. And, of course, there was no plan for the military to do that. But we didn’t know that. We asked that twice.

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S1: Why do you think he didn’t tell the truth?

S3: I have no idea.

S1: How how pissed were you when you found out?

S3: Hugely. Hugely.

S1: A spokesman said General Franks had no comment. This is slow burn, I’m your host, Noreen Malone. In this series, we focused on the ideas and the people that launched the war in Iraq, that’s where all the energy was among the American foreign policy leadership. And that decision to invade Iraq is what’s that? Everything else into motion with the way the invasion was executed had enormous consequences. It remains in many ways the legacy of the Iraq war. So why didn’t the administration make a real plan for what to do after the bombing stopped? Who was most responsible for that failure and what were the consequences for the people of Iraq? This is episode shock and Awe. On March 17th, 2003, George W. Bush demanded that Saddam Hussein surrender power Saddam stayed where he was and the U.S. invaded Iraq. 48 hours later, the U.S. was joined by a small coalition that included Great Britain and Australia.

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S5: The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder. We will meet that threat now with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of firefighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities.

S6: Now, this is what it looked and sounded like in Baghdad.

S7: I remember we were we were sleeping, we just hear the bombing everywhere.

S1: Jamal Ali was an aircraft engineer in Baghdad.

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S7: So that’s when this war started. And we follow the bad because the whole house was shaking.

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S1: Ali heard a rumor a week beforehand that the invasion might be happening soon. He hadn’t really believed it, but he bought a generator and stored some food just in case in 2003.

S7: I call it really a dirty war because they want to get it over fast. So they are getting out of the water stations, electrical station and all the essential things for the people, which is that’s not good everywhere you you live. At least there is something important for for the Oliker to hit. A lot of people got killed for no reason. Some of my friends or my relatives and some of them, they’re even missing. They don’t know what’s going to happen to them.

S1: The night the shock and awe bombing of Baghdad began, NBC’s Ann Curry was on the USS Constellation aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. Curry watched as the planes took off. The young pilot named Nathan the Currey had spent time with while reporting from the.

S8: Then when the planes finally got back, I searched out Nathan and there was an older pilot with him and Nathan was talking a mile a minute about taking up targets in Baghdad and how the mission worked. And then I turned to the older pilot and he had experience the first Gulf War, and he had been quiet this whole time until finally he said that flying over the desert, he could see the headlights of the US ground forces moving in and he passed over them. And as he was heading towards Baghdad, he had this strange feeling knowing that on the Iraqi side, there would be some poor slob in some tower, probably no idea what was going to happen and no choice but to man his post. And he felt for him. It was just so interesting to hear that from a man who just dropped bombs and knew he had kill people.

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S1: By early April, American forces were all over Baghdad at their Keith Crane lived in the neighborhood of al-Mansour, full of well-off people and Iraqi government officials. He grew up with Kurdish relatives and a leftist mother. He hated life under Saddam. What did you think when you heard that Saddam was going to go? Were you supportive of that?

S9: No, I was supportive of Saddam’s to go, but I wanted him badly to go by Iraqi hands.

S1: Keith Crane was working as a journalist and translator. One day he went up to the roof of his aunt’s house. It was clear that Saddam’s military was on its way out.

S9: And I look in the skies and I see the American like coalition forces, aircraft. And I was like, Gee, Zouliou like. That means that there’s no resistance at all because otherwise they would not be like, so visible.

S1: Then Kukan went out into the streets. There were huge crowds of people, all in civilian clothes. He saw one Iraqi soldier drop a duffel bag on the ground and take off his uniform. The soldier was trying to escape

S9: and I asked them what is happening and they said, it’s a massacre, man. It’s a massacre. They are sending us, like, to confront the Abraham like tanks and stuff. And it’s like they give us like our RPGs, but our RPGs, like don’t even hit the American tanks and stuff or like nothing happened when we hit them. And then the American tank will shoot us with one bomb and we’ll be like like shredded into pieces and stuff. My heart like like I felt like somebody stomped on my heart and just like I cannot believe it, I knew these guys are going to their death.

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S1: On April 9th, 2003, Rumsfeld announced that Baghdad had fallen, Iraqi capital was in chaos. Looters busted into the National Museum and stole priceless antiquities. U.S. soldiers were as close as 50 yards away, but did nothing for six days. Pentagon officials say that was a matter of prioritization. Soldiers had secured more important sites like the Ministry of Oil, and there’s still combat going on, especially outside the city. Rumsfeld said the chaos was part of the price for a liberated Iraq.

S6: Stuff happens and it’s untidy and freedom’s untidy and free. People are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They’re also free to to to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that’s what’s going to happen here

S1: after the invasion that they’re Keith Crane and his neighbors took food and supplies from a warehouse near his home. That warehouse belonged to Red Crescent, the Muslim worlds version of the Red Cross.

S9: If you don’t have a law system that can’t govern your life, chaos is going to be the only order. And that’s what happened. I’m just saying it’s human being nature. I’m really sorry for you. Many people thinks they’re superior to Iraqis. They’re just like misguided.

S1: There was no electricity in Baghdad, so and his friends would play backgammon in the street.

S9: So that was only joy. And then the American troops would come in and, like, kick us into our houses. And you can’t imagine. I mean, you’re American, right? Yes. I’m sorry for the question, but anyway.

S1: No, that’s OK. Yeah. I asked you where you were from. Yeah. Ask me where I’m from.

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S9: I imagine I came from another country or something as an invader. And I tell you, go back to your house and imagine how would you feel about it.

S1: By early May, Bush and Rumsfeld decided to replace General Jay Garner. Someone else would now take charge of reconstructing Iraq. Paul Bremer was an alum of Andover, Yale and Harvard. Everyone called him Jerry. He’d been the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands and worked as an executive at Henry Kissinger’s consulting firm. Now, he was going to run the Coalition Provisional Authority, the transitional leadership of Iraq. When Bremer met with Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense mostly wanted to know whether he got along with other members of the Bush foreign policy team. Did he ask you much about Iraq or what you knew about Iraq?

S10: No, it it he will have known from reading my resume, which I assume his staff gave, gave him that I while I had had some experience in the Middle East, I did not have any experience with Iraq, nor did I speak Arabic.

S1: Did you think that was a problem or a potential problem?

S10: Not really. I think there certainly were other people who could have probably done the job better by virtue of having had some experience in Iraq. On the other hand, some of the people who had experience with Iraq probably would have had a problem. Accepting the mission which was given to me by President Bush, which was to help the Iraqi people get on their feet and basically help them install a democratic process in place to choose their own government,

S1: why would people with more knowledge of Iraq had have had a problem with that?

S10: Where because the Iraqis had failed to do that for decades and there were in the American government at the time. People who basically did not believe that. I mean, in a broad sense, did not believe that Arabs were capable of self-government. I thought it could be done. Of course, I had no experience doing it. In fact, as a country, we had not done this since the end of the Second World War. So it was it was a significant undertaking.

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S1: Bremer got a two week crash course on Iraq before flying into Baghdad. On its very first day, he brought up an idea for how to handle the looting. I want to ask you about a comment that you made on your first day in Iraq that was leaked. You suggested at a staff meeting that the U.S. military should shoot the looters.

S10: Well, I was I was basically had in mind what we did in Haiti when our I think it was the Marines who went in Haiti. There were there were similar, although nowhere near as as intense or as broad as broad looting there. And the Marines shot a few people and that was the end of the looting.

S1: It looks like that’s not quite what happened in Haiti. Reporting suggests that the shooting by the U.S. military actually set off some of the looting. But regardless, deliberately using lethal force against civilians would have been a radical break with the U.S. military’s rules of engagement, not to mention morally indefensible. Bremer oversaw two significant orders in May of 2003. The first was known as De-Baathification, the removal of members of Saddam’s Baath Party from positions of power. It was inspired by the denazification of postwar Germany. Kanan Makiya says he, Anacapa Chalabi first conceived of the idea when they were working with the Iraqi National Congress.

S2: So we wanted anybody with a high level ranking not to play a major role for a period of time to allow another generation of leaders to arise from within Iraq who were not parties and to learn the art of politics. And politics is an art and it requires time.

S1: The thinking here was to temporarily ban senior members of the Baath Party, the ones most likely to be loyal to Saddam and most complicit in his regime. That’s not how De-Baathification ended up working. Is implemented by Ahmed Chalabi and his nephew and almost every single government worker was targeted, more than 50 thousand people lost their jobs. If you were an elementary school teacher who joined the party because it was the only way you could get work, you were out of luck. Bremer second big policy move was the disbanding of the Iraqi army. This meant that hundreds of thousands more Iraqis were suddenly out of work and a lot of them were young men. And now they had even more reason to be angry with the US. It’s still kind of a mystery how disbanding the army became the official U.S. policy. Frank Miller says the plan had been to keep the army intact and disband only the Republican Guard, the small group closest to Saddam. The idea was to use the Iraqi army to help rebuild the country. But at some point that plan changed. The change seemed to come from Donald Rumsfeld’s deputies or maybe the office of the vice president. But Miller believes that Ahmed Chalabi might have been responsible to Chalabi remember, saw himself as the future leader of Iraq.

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S3: We don’t know why, but there is this notion that Chalabi had been in the Pentagon saying you can’t keep the Iraqi national army because they will not be my army. I need them completely disbanded so I can build an army that is loyal to me that actually makes sense to me. That’s the only thing that makes sense to me.

S1: Chalabi and his allies always denied that he’d been behind the disbanding of the Iraqi army. Whoever’s idea it was, the U.S. government ended up backing it. Frank Miller, watch that decision happen up close. Bremer was the one who told the president that disbanding the army was the new plan. Lots of high ranking officials, including Colin Powell and Miller himself, were totally blindsided.

S3: And the president made the bad call. The president did not say, well, this is certainly different from what we agreed in March. Give us 48 hours to think about that. The president just said, yeah, well, you’re the guy on the ground, Jerry. Let’s go with it.

S1: No one spoke up. The order went into effect the next day.

S3: I can’t tell you that if we kept the army together and if we had truth and reconciliation instead of brutal De-Baathification, there still wouldn’t have been an al-Qaida in Iraq and an ISIS. But we didn’t have to light the match and drop it on the pile of sticks and help poured gasoline on it.

S1: When I asked Paul Bremer about the disbanding of the Iraqi army, he brushed off any responsibility for the plan or its consequences. He said the army had essentially already fallen apart.

S10: The fact of the matter is that we didn’t disbanded itself, disbanded. So the choice we faced, which had been the choice, had already been made before I came back, was who are we going to recall Saddam’s army or were we going to create a new army? And the decision was made to create a new army and it was the right decision.

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S1: So what do you say to people who would say that you and Rumsfeld and company sort of pushed these orders through without going through a formal process?

S10: I was told by the Pentagon when they handed it to me that it had been fully coordinated in the interagency process. And nobody that I know of has ever said that’s not true. So I believe that was done.

S1: In fact, lots of people have said that’s not true. Colin Powell, Frank Miller and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, among others in general Miller, doesn’t have much patience for Paul Bremer’s explanations and excuses.

S3: This is from the man who tried to rule Iraq with an iron hand. Oh, I didn’t know that was happening. Oh, my goodness. Was he really doing that? It’s at best disingenuous. At worst. It’s something else. I don’t buy it for a second.

S1: Bremer isn’t the only person to blame for the disaster. He made some very bad calls, but he was at the end of a long line of very bad calls. Still, there’s something about him that’s galling. People describe Bremer to me as imperious and that quality certainly came through in our interview. I find it frustrating to talk to you. On the one hand, he presents himself as the man in charge on the other. He rejects any suggestion that he be held responsible for what happened while he was in charge. Samir now works as a ski instructor in Vermont seasonally. The two orders, the purging of the Baathists from government jobs and the disbanding of the Iraqi army had huge consequences for Iraqi society. When Saddam ruled Iraq, Sunnis had a privileged place in the nation’s institutions, even though they were the minority in the country. Most of the Baathists were Sunnis. So are most of the officers in the army. One of the fundamental questions for Iraq after Saddam was who gets to be in charge now before the war? Kanan Makiya and Ahmed Chalabi used to discuss that question Makiya imagine a unified nation where Sunnis and Shiites and everyone else saw themselves as Iraqis. First and foremost, Chalabi want to power. And he thought the best way to get it was to champion the interests of his people, the Shia majority over the Sunnis who had kept them down. Makiya remembers going on a long walk with Chalabi a month before the invasion. That’s when he realized they had very different visions.

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S2: He thought that this was a turning point in which, for the first time in the 14 hundred years since Islam came into being that Shiites would exercise power inside Iraq. He understood the importance of that.

S1: After the invasion, Chalabi threw his support behind Shiite opposition leaders.

S2: Here is the great failure is that the Shiites of Iraq, you know, were oppressed and could not stop thinking and behaving like victims after they took power, when they were no longer actually victims and instead imposed the victimhood on Iraqi Sunni Iraqis.

S1: Frank Miller,

S3: we we created a nightmare. Instead of having a truth and reconciliation event, we had a situation of extreme revenge.

S1: By the summer of 2003, the consequences of disbanding the military and firing all those Sunni bureaucrats were clear. Iraq was divided against itself. The country was wracked by violence. In 2006, a civil war broke out. The government that emerged is often described as a Kleptocracy. Its parties are almost entirely ethnocentric. There was enough chaos that ISIS took over large parts of the country, which led to another war that finally ended in 2017. Some of ISIS’s top leaders had been in Saddam’s army before it was disbanded. And in the most recent Iraqi election, voting participation was the lowest since 2003. And now, in 2021, the country is on the verge of financial collapse. There was one thing the Bush White House did plan for in detail after the invasion, propaganda. The White House had always shown a knack for salesmanship. Remember, Bush wanted Madison Avenue people to Giroux up his case for war before it went to the public. And when the war started, the Pentagon hired a guy who’d worked for Good Morning America and the magician David Blaine to design its press briefing room in Qatar. So it’s not surprising that the Bush administration wanted to create a big TV moment after the invasion. And on May 1st, they did. Frank Rich was writing about politics for The New York Times opinion page during that time, but his background as a theater critic came in handy.

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S6: They decide ahead of time that Bush is going to announce mission accomplished on a aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln. They send a producer to the ship several days ahead of time to all the preparations. They get a Navy small Navy fighter jet and inscribe it. Commander in Chief George W. Bush along the side. And the event begins with Bush Co piloting this plane to land on the Abraham Lincoln in what looks like the middle of the Pacific.

S1: The backdrop and the military uniforms might have suggested that Bush was somewhere near the war zone. In fact, he was almost 8000 miles away.

S6: They positioned the cameras in such a way that you think it is the middle of the Pacific, but in fact, it was less than 40 miles away from San Diego. And if the cameras had been positioned differently, you would have seen the skyline of San Diego, the Sheraton Hotel and all the rest of it.

S1: Ann Curry was on the ship reporting

S8: President Bush landed emerging from the cockpit in a pilot’s flight suit and walking the deck, looking very top gun. I mean, I heard people all around me whispering in approval. I mean, his flight suit was very tight and he had a swagger like a hero in a Hollywood movie.

S1: Then there was a five hour intermission. Bush came back wearing a business suit.

S6: They wanted to wait to what Hollywood is known as the Magic Hour dusk when color photography cinematography looks so lush. It’s the moment, you know, where the couple embraces and kisses on the beach. They wanted that light

S1: with a banner behind him that said Mission Accomplished. Bush gave a speech declaring victory or at least an end to major combat operations. He called it a win in the battle against terrorism and said the U.S. had succeeded in removing an ally of al-Qaida and the WMD. They’d keep looking for them.

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S5: We’re pursuing and finding leaders of the old regime who will be held to account for their crimes. We’ve begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated,

S1: TV pundits loved Bush’s performance. Chris Matthews on MSNBC called Bush a hero. He said women like a guy who’s president on PBS. Gwen Ifill called him part Tom Cruise, part Ronald Reagan. Frank Rich was at least impressed by the execution.

S6: I have to say, as somebody who, you know, was a theater critic, someone who now works in television production, my hat’s off off to them. It was it was, you know, some good shit.

S1: That scene on the USS Abraham Lincoln was phony and a lot of ways, but it points at one important truth. This was Bush’s war. May not have brainstormed it or mastered the details of it, but he decided on it, he put on the flight suit, he took credit. Admittedly, it is weird how much of a nonentity Bush was and much of the planning and execution of the Iraq war. There’s this notion that he was simply a bumbling idiot or a puppet, but he was in charge. And this all happened because of how he chose to lead. There were plenty of people in the Bush administration who thought the Iraq invasion was a bad idea or thought it wouldn’t go as planned. But no one in the administration told him, don’t do this. That’s their fault. Yes, but it’s also the presidents Bush created an atmosphere where no one felt inclined to directly challenge or argue with him. In the end, only two people in the president’s inner circle felt comfortable telling him not to invade Iraq. Barbara and Jenna, his college age daughters. In July 2003, Paul Bremer tried to jumpstart Iraq’s democracy with something called the Iraqi Governing Council. Here’s how the logic for selecting the council went. Since there was a slight majority of Shiites in the country, 13 of the 25 members needed to be Shiite. There also needed to be the right proportion of Kurds and Sunnis and other minority groups.

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S2: Kanan Makiya everybody who was chosen was chosen to represent something, and nobody was chosen because they knew one thing or one tiny little thing about how to lead their country out of a gargantuan mess. That Saddam Eclectica

S1: Makiya thinks it was destructive identity politics masquerading as democracy

S2: because people thought that’s where. Oh, that’s the beginning of democracy representation. We have got a pretty picture here. We can all look at the fact that the pretty picture was made up of people who are self-interested motives and and sectarian motives and not Iraq, were not acting in the interest of Iraq, didn’t cross anybody’s mind, or if it did, they didn’t think it was important.

S1: Kanan Makiya Keith dream of a unified, democratic Iraq hasn’t happened. The whole project of getting involved in trying to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Would you do it again if you got another life to do it over?

S2: And we live with paradoxes and contradictions on our lives. Nothing in me could ever say Kanan you should not have supported the overthrow of such a regime. On the other hand, the way I did so was by supporting and playing a role in legitimizing an opposition. That behaved shamefully, that became sectarian, that did not have any higher interest than selfish, either sectarian interests or even self-serving individual interests in mind. But there was no alternative. The only alternative is do nothing.

S1: Makiya is still wrestling with the role he played in what happened to his country, but he is at least willing to defend the ideas that drove his support and to take responsibility for what he said and did. Some prominent Americans who supported the Iraq war talk about it as a failure of execution, as an idea that might have worked in theory, if not for mistakes on the ground, but that line of thinking, what’s a lot of people off the hook, like the ones who made the decisions, the ones who didn’t speak up, who listened to the wrong voices, who believed the wrong information, who are just following orders, who failed to learn anything about the place they thought they were saving alongside everything else. The Iraq war was a tragedy of office politics. Bureaucracy often devolves into the art of reputation management. All these years later, veterans of the Bush administration are still pointing fingers rather than owning up to the part they played. Paul Bremer, for instance, disputes the idea that the work he did in Iraq was a failure.

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S10: I think we actually did succeed in doing what we said we were going to do. No country functions perfectly. Take take a look around the United States these days. But in terms of the mission that we set out that was given to us by the president, we accomplished an extraordinary amount in the 14 months we were there. We didn’t get everything done and there were still problems.

S1: But there’s been tons of death, destabilization, destruction. How much responsibility do you feel like you bear for that?

S10: I would say that what we have responsibility for is that that there have not been 10 times as many deaths as there was under Saddam.

S1: According to a 2013 study, more than 400000 Iraqis died as a result of the war, plus more than 4400 Americans. I asked Jamal Ali, the Iraqi engineer, what he would say to Paul Bremer if he could talk to him,

S7: should I say the American way or in a polite way,

S1: say that in an American way

S7: is Takaro my country.

S1: Ali has read Bremer’s book, by the way. Well, what did you think? There were a couple things that Bremer did, De-Baathification and disbanding the army. What did you think about the way

S7: you see when I told you, screw the country? I’m not kidding. This is this is one of the worst things he did. I mean, this is if I can count how much things he did to destroy my country, I can just just go forever. We used to live in a big prison. This is how I how I describe it, but in the prison there is food and there shelter shelters and there’s security. What happened in 2003, American came and took us from this prison and they throw us in the desert and the desert. There is nothing we are free, but there is no electricity. There’s no food. So if you are in the desert and your prison, which one you prefer.

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S1: At the Arcachon, on the other hand, sees a few bright spots in what’s happened since Saddam left, there’s more access to information to the Internet. He points out Becker Khan will never endorse how that change happened.

S9: It felt like very condescending. You know, like it’s like you are right. Like we are your saviours and stuff like, you know, you’re talking about a country that have five or seven thousand years of life codes and history. And it was invaded by so many countries and they survived all of these invasions and stuff. And you really think you are the savior. I mean, you really have no clue.

S1: Jamal Ali and his wife stayed in Iraq for two years after the invasion. She was an anesthesiologist in a war zone. Things got bad. They left in 2005, first for Jordan and then a few years later for Minnesota. In America, neither of them can do the work they trained to do.

S7: So living in the US, it’s just like going on a trip, a living in a five star hotel compared to your country. But you always want to go back. The food here, no matter what you do to it, it’s not going to taste the same thing. The relation with the friends and relatives are way different than here in us. You know, your neighbor. I can hardly talk to them like once a week or when sometimes when someone over their neighbors are just like part of your family.

S1: Do you ever think about going back?

S7: Well, I tried, but my sisters told me, don’t come. It’s just too awful.

S1: We were told the United States invaded Iraq in the name of democracy to give people a voice in their government, but ordinary Iraqis, the ones who had to live with the consequences of the war, they didn’t get any say at all in what happened to them. Slow burn is a production of Sleepless Slates membership program Slate plus members get bonus episodes of Slow Burn every week, where we’ll go behind the scenes into the making of the show. And there are clips and interviews that we couldn’t fit in here. And this week’s bonus episode, you’ll be hearing more from Kanan Makiya Jamal Ali and the director can head over to Slate Dotcom such burn to sign up and listen. Now it’s only a dollar for your first month. We couldn’t make slow Burnham without the support of Slate plus. So please sign up if you can head over to say dotcom, says Lovren. And one more note of business. We wanted to issue a correction from Episode one. I mistakenly said that Ahmed Chalabi was buried in his family vault, but in fact his body rests in the Kadhimiya holy shrine in Baghdad. Slow burn is produced by me, Jason de Leon and Sophie Summergrad, the editorial direction by Josh Levine and Gabriel Roth, our mix engineer is Merritt Jacob Brennan. Angelides composed our theme song, The Artwork for Soberness by Jim Cook. Special thanks to Jared Holt, Allison Benedikt Lowe and Lou John Thomas. Joel Anderson, Joshua Keating, Fred Kaplan, Derek John, Rachel Strahm, Megan Karlstrom, Seth Brown, Chout to Usher Solutia, Katie Raeford, Leah Campbell and obvious. Gentlemen, thanks for listening.