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The Truth about Iraq: ISIS Has Been Caused by Total Failure of Bush Policies
The American military wrecked Iraq. Then Bush appointees thought the 'free market' would magically solve all problems. Here is what we should do now.
By Thom Hartmann
As war-hawk Republicans hit the airwaves blaming President Obama for the rise of ISIS in Iraq, and the Congress considers (and complains about) a new authorization for the use of military force in Iraq, it’s important to take a careful, honest look back at the last 13 years in Iraq.
This exercise is about more than blame; it’s about looking at what was done, what didn’t work - and most importantly - this exercise about what policy the US should use, moving forward.
Imagine, God forbid, that a state in America were to be dramatically attacked (a 9/11 level of destruction only on steroids), or fall apart because of a natural disaster. Illinois, for example - or Missouri. Massive destruction, damaging most of the homes - it could be an epic natural disaster, a cyber attack, or a series of nuclear device detonations. Water is cut off, electric wires downed, the phone systems taken out. People are dazed, in “shock and awe.” The prisons are damaged, and thousands of criminals are now on the streets, quickly melting back into the civilian populace. The destruction is massive.
The federal government then responds. It puts up a wall around the entire state, and removes from office all employees and elected officials of the state and local governments. The feds fire all the police and fire departments. They stop paying doctors and hospitals. They throw up cordons around each city to prevent nearby communities and neighboring states from coming in to help. Why? Because the powers-that-be believe that a mythical force - “The Free Market” - will automatically and magically come to the aid of the damaged state.
The federal government declares that instead of paying normal taxes and getting normal services, nobody will any longer get Social Security payments, food stamps, Medicare or Medicaid. All the “big government” programs are ended, replaced with a flat 15% income tax and an elimination of all regulations on corporate action, either local or multinational. Unions are outlawed. The 200 largest companies - and thus the largest employers - in each city are shut down, because they’ve been running “inefficiently”: they’re now for sale to any transnational corporation that wants them. Consistent with the warhawks’ belief that the only legitimate function of government is military, 130,000 troops are deployed to maintain “order”.
But the people are now unemployed. Those with enough assets to do so have already fled the state forever, knowing they will find better opportunities elsewhere. Those remaining find it hard to get gas for their cars, have only sporadic electricity, and become victims of water-borne disease (the government-run water treatment facilities have been abandoned, on the assumption that the “Free Market” will take care of water needs). Citizens are also subjected to crime from the recently freed criminals. People loot the now-closed stores, looking for food and things that they may be able to sell to ward off the danger of their current unemployment.
At first, they protest in the streets, demanding a return of their jobs, their water and electricity, and some federal money so the remnants of the local construction companies can begin to rebuild their cities. But the federal government orders soldiers to suppress the demonstrations, and soldiers shoot and kill some of the protesters, finding it “impossible” to tell the difference between “protesters” and “criminals.” The people fight back, shooting at the soldiers. The President declares martial law, and in the background brings in black-ops specialists to funnel guns and training to professional hit men to take out those citizens who may have any history of political dissent. Within weeks, bodies of young men with their hands tied behind their backs and bullets in the back of their heads begin to show up on the streets of Springfield, or Jefferson City.
The people of the surrounding regions - the rest of America - want to know what is going to be done for Illinois, or Missouri. The government says that the state occupied by military forces will soon be pacified if we just give it a bit more time, more troops, and more tanks and bullets. Discussion of the return of “normal” government - Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security payments, free health care, public education, water, electricity, and food stamps - are all absent from the news media, which is owned by big corporations who agree with the belief that the mythical “Free Market” will solve everything, eventually.
Meanwhile, people in Missouri or Illinois are both fighting among themselves and against the army. Black and white, Asian and Hispanic, rich and poor - neighborhoods are creating their own militias to protect themselves, and shooting on sight anybody who “looks different” who enters their own territory. In the power vacuum created by the loss of government, religious leaders emerge as the new power brokers, and churches and mosques and synagogues become centers where people can find food, shelter, and an authority figure who can resolve local disputes. The federal government declares these local religious figures “insurgents” and orders the military to find and arrest them. The military is meanwhile coming under increasing attack from local people, pissed off that they are getting progressively less and less water, electricity, and food. Two thirds of all medical personnel have fled the state, and the hospitals destroyed in the disaster have not been rebuilt. Local contractors want to help out and put people back to work, but they are forbidden from getting any federal monies. Their workers remain unemployed.
Meanwhile, the President hires some friends of his from Texas to go into Illinois or Missouri to rebuild the cities using out-of-state labor with all the money going to his friends in Texas. The locals in Illinois or Missouri resent this - given the fact that there are no jobs for them - and begin to shoot at the “contractors” as well. The insurgency is now well under way. The President pleads with the American people for another few billion dollars to pay for his military operation and his Texas contractors. His generals talk about how they’ve pacified parts of Kansas City or Evanston. The US House and Senate are torn apart between a desire to pull out the soldiers - who are dying in increasing numbers - and those who believe we must first “pacify” the “insurgents” in Missouri or Illinois. Unable to reach a consensus, and with a general loyal to the President pushing for more time and money to “pacify” the state, Congress votes another few billion dollars and more time to the President.
Meanwhile, the President’s advisors tell him that if he can just wait long enough, the magical “Free Market” will solve all problems in Illinois or Missouri. Eventually, transnational corporations will see the huge and cheap labor force in the cities - which are now totally impoverished - as an asset. The 15% flat tax will bring prosperity. The privatization of Social Security and medical services and schools will bring “opportunity” to the people of the two cities. Just wait, it’ll happen. The only solution allowed for discussion is the military solution.
And, sure enough, as neighborhoods reorganize themselves by race and ethnicity, as the young protesters are killed off, and the local religious leaders take over the functions of government - providing education, health care, and even food and safe water - the violence subsides in those localities. The President claims these reductions in local violence are “proof” that his military strategy to pacify Illinois or Missouri is “showing progress.” And so, for another year, the nation votes for more military funds, waiting for the magical “free market” solution to take hold, forgetting the lesson of 7000 years of city-state civilization that public services, progressive taxes, and local government are necessary to a civil and functional society.
The rest of the nation, weary from the violence and death of occupying Illinois or Missouri, finally elects a leader that will end the bloodshed. The prior President had already negotiated an agreement with the state to remove the federal occupation. So - the feds pull out the military forces in Illinois or Missouri. What is left? Destruction, destitution, and a state divided along religious and race lines. The citizens get most - if not all they need to survive, from the local religious leaders. And they are angry. Disaffected. Resentful. Desperate.
Sound eerily familiar? This is what the Republicans and the Bush Administration did to Iraq. And - what they did, created the environment for the rise of ISIS.
Lest you’ve forgotten, the main reason why the Bush Administration had no “Plan B” for Iraq, no planning whatsoever for anything beyond the first 3 months after the successful war to knock down Saddam’s government, is because they instead had an economic plan. Bush’s old Andover Prep School roommate L. Paul Bremmer dissolved the 200 largest companies in Iraq, putting people out of work and putting the companies up for sale to transnational corporations. The nation’s progressive income tax was replaced by a 15% flat tax. State-subsidized food distribution was phased out, as was the Iraqi equivalent of Social Security for both retirees and the disabled, widowed, or orphaned. State-subsidized higher education was privatized. “Domestic content laws” that required Iraqi labor or components in Iraqi-sold products were done away with; the doors were thrown open to transnational corporations to take up to 100 percent of their profits out of Iraq, and to import into Iraq their cheap-labor-made products from outside the country. Labor unions were banned, and transnationals could bring in cheap labor from outside the nation (no longer “illegal immigrants” because laws on immigration for labor were done away with), displacing Iraqi workers.
The response of the Iraqi people was to fight back. And the response by the Republican True Believers in the mythical “Free Market” was to use the only tool they believe government should have - the military.
Now we’re asking if the military should again return to “degrade and destroy” ISIS. It’s the wrong question. Instead, we should be asking: When are we going to do in Iraq what we did in Europe after war destroyed that continent? When are we going to begin a “big government” solution, empower labor, raise taxes on the rich to reinstate social welfare programs for the poor, and protect local industries with tariffs and domestic content laws (like the Chinese and Japanese use)? Only when these things begin will we really see an end to endless military conflicts in Iraq.
ISIS understands this. They have won over parts of the population by providing the services that government should - but can’t because Bush dismantled it. ISIS supplies water, returns electricity, gives men jobs, educates boys and girls. They even give money to mothers caring for the home and children. It is the desolation caused and vacuum left by the “free-market” neo-cons that have provided the breeding ground for ISIS.
Since it was the failed economic plan that brought about the problems we now face in Iraq, we must avoid trying the same solution again. This means more than destroying ISIS - and something radically different than re-occupying Iraq. We must rebuild what Bush and the neo-cons broke.
Thom Hartmann is an author and nationally syndicated daily talk show host. His newest book is "The Crash of 2016: The Plot to Destroy America — and What We Can Do to Stop It." This article appeared at Alternet.
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