“The Price is Worth It”
Washington’s Widow-Makers on “the Iraq War”
The nationally narcissistic and racist mindset of the American Empire has long found terrible expression in the mouths of executive branch Democrats. When informed of the criminal and unnecessary nuclear annihilation of the Japanese city of Hiroshima in August of 1945, Democratic U.S. President Harry Truman referred to the event as “the greatest thing in history.” The Truman administration dashed off a cold and vengeful press release that read as follows:
“Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima and destroyed its usefulness to the enemy. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of T.N.T. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British ‘Grand Slam’ which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare.”
“The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold. And the end is not yet. With this bomb we have now added a new and revolutionary increase in destruction to supplement the growing power of our armed forces.”
The administration said nothing about the tens of thousands of innocent Japanese civilians whose lives were snuffed out in an instant or about the utter lack of “military necessity” behind the atom-bombing (repeated in the even more senseless nuking of Nagasaki) of already-defeated Japan.
The future Republican President and then top U.S. military commander in Europe Dwight Eisenhower had a different take. As he recalled years later:
"I had been conscious of depression and so I voiced to (Secretary of War Stimson) my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary [emphasis added], and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at this very moment, seeking a way to surrender with a minimum loss of 'face.' …..Japan was at the moment seeking some way to surrender with minimum loss of 'face'. It wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing." 
“The Destruction Was Mutual”
Another great quotation in the Hall of Democratic Party Imperial Shame is Democratic President Jimmy Carter’s statement at a 1977 press conference that the United States owed no apology to Vietnam because “the destruction was mutual” during “the Vietnam War.” Between 1962 and 1975 the world’s richest nation and powerful military state in history (the United States) launched a one-sided imperial assault that murdered 3 million Indochinese (including many Laotians and Cambodians as well as 2 million Vietnamese) and turned vast swaths of Southeast Asia into a wasteland. Yes, the “war” killed tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers in “combat” and had a traumatic effect on American life and politics, but Carter’s comment was like saying that “the destruction was mutual” between a homicidal maniac who butchered everyone in a small town and a resident of the town who succeeded before dying in cutting off one of the killer’s fingers in self-defense. “The Vietnam War” has always been a misleading description for what Noam Chomsky rightly described in the 1960s as “the [U.S.] crucifixion of Southeast Asia.”
“The Price is Worth it”: From Albright to Panetta
Who can ever forget the 1996 episode in which Democratic 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,” Stahl asked, “is the price worth it?” Albright replied as follows: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.” President Bill Clinton’s top diplomat didn’t even bother to dispute the number. She immediately stated that 500,000 dead Iraqi children were a sacrifice worth making to advance U.S. global goals. As she explained three years later, “The United States is good. We try to do our best everywhere.” 
We have been given a chilling Albright flashback in an interesting comment on “the Iraq War” by Democratic President Barack Obama’s Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. A day after visiting Iraq last week, Panetta spoke to reporters in Turkey and said the following, according to a Pentagon newspaper and his department’s own Web site: “There is no question that the United States was divided going into that war 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 despite the cost in both American and Iraqi lives, Panetta added, “I think the price has been worth it, to establish a stable government in a very important region of the world.”
More Disastrous Than the Mongols
Let’s be clear about “the price” and who paid. The cost that Panetta believes is “worth it” includes millions of dead, maimed, and displaced Iraqi civilians, a massive destruction of Iraqi infrastructure and public health capacity, an outward exodus of much of Iraq’s professional class, tens of thousands of American soldiers killed and/or injured, and, as left commentator Glen Greenwald notes, “at least $1 trillion spent, contributing to ‘austerity’ so severe that Panetta himself has been urging cuts to core social programs.” According to the respected journalist Nir Rosen in the December 2007 edition of the mainstream journal Current History, “Iraq has been killed, never to rise again. The American occupation has been more disastrous than that of the Mongols who sacked Baghdad in the thirteenth century.”  All of this happened because of a monumentally illegal and brazenly petro-imperialist U.S. invasion (launched with a spectacular bombing campaign shamelessly advertised by the Pentagon as an effort at Hiroshima-inspired “Shock and Awe”) that was sold on thoroughly false pretenses – on the bogus claims: that Iraq had been involved in the 9/11 terror attacks, that Saddam Hussein was connected to al Qaeda, that Saddam’s government possessed a large stock of unconventional “weapons of mass destruction” (WMDs), that Iraq posed a serious danger to people in the region and around the world, and (the main justification after the WMD pretext collapsed) that the U.S. sought to export democracy and self-determination to Iraq – a nation with vast petroleum resources Washington sought to control.
It was a blatant and completely unnecessary (to use Eisenhower’s phrase on the Hiroshima bombing) neocolonial war of aggression that Obama and numerous other top Democrats claimed to oppose before its launching and in the elections of 2004, 2006, and 2008. None of the reporters questioning Panetta in Turkey followed up with what might seem an obvious question, asked later on Salon by Greenwald: “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?”
Meanwhile, if anyone cares, leading high-tech “defense” (empire) companies like Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed-Martin made a profits killing from the military contracts taken out on the Iraqi people - consistent with Noam Chomsky’s observation 43 years ago that the costs of empire are distributed over the entirety of American society but the gains “revert to a few within.”
“Bugsplat”: “Unworthy Victims” Who “Cannot Be Perceived”
Reflecting on the parallels between Panetta’s “worth it” comment and Albright’s 16 years ago, Greenwald asks Americans to “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,” Greenwald asks, “is the inevitable outcome of that message being sent over and over?” 
It’s a good question, but how often, really, do those officials explicitly acknowledge the unnecessary deaths of innocents on the wrong side of America’s imperial guns and policies? The more common practice is to simply ignore and delete these officially “unworthy victims,” consistent with the name given to the Pentagon’s computer program for calculating civilian casualties in advance of the March 2003 Iraq invasion: bug-splat. Before their deaths can be called “worth it” in some venues, most of America’s officially unworthy victims are sent down Orwell’s memory hole. They never died at Uncle Sam’s benevolent, blood-soaked hands in the first place. Their murders never happened, as far as the official record keepers are concerned.
At least Albright and Panetta briefly acknowledged that people on the other side of “our” policies paid a “price.” Iraqi victims were totally invisible in Obama’s monumentally idiotic comments on “the end of the Iraq War” at Fort Bragg, North Carolina last week.
Declaring the war he campaigned for the presidency against "an extraordinary achievement,” Obama praised the armed forces for their "commitment to fulfill your mission” – their assignment of executing a monumentally destructive occupation that led to the deaths of millions of ordinary people. There was great pain, Obama acknowledged, on the path to what he called "this moment of success” – pain for Americans. As Chris Floyd writes in an eloquent commentary:
“He spoke of suffering, he spoke of sacrifice, he spoke of loss and enduring pain -- but only for the Americans involved in the unprovoked war of aggression, and their families. He did not say a single word -- not one -- about the thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of Iraqis killed by this ‘fulfilled mission,’ this ‘extraordinary achievement,’ this ‘success.’ ”
“These human beings – these sons and daughters, fathers, mothers, kinfolk, lovers, friends – cannot be acknowledged. They cannot be perceived [emphasis added]. It must be as if they had never existed. It must be as if they are not dead now.”
“The divorce from reality here is beyond description. It is only the all-pervasiveness of the disassociation that obscures its utter and obvious insanity. There is something intensely primitive and infantile in the reductive, navel-gazing, self-blinding monomania of the American psyche today.”
The Fort Bragg speech was just another moment of Orwellian oratory from Obama, the self-described heir of Martin Luther King, Jr., and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. He is the unnamed mass murderer of an untold number of Pashtun children who has said more than once that the U.S. should never apologize for its actions because it is an unquestionably benevolent and positive force in the world.  We are good.
4,500 American Homes v. 90,000 Iraqi Widows
It isn’t just the president who exhibits the psychotic, nationally narcissistic “divorce from reality.” Listen to this revealing dialogue from the “Public” Broadcasting System Newshour’s discussion last Friday between former news anchor Jim Lehrer, syndicated liberal columnist Mark Sheilds and conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks:
LEHRER: “…I don't want to make the same mistake that you said the moderator [of a recent Republican presidential debate] made and not talk about the Iraq war. It came to a conclusion. What are your thoughts about it? Was it worth it in cost to Americans first in terms of lives and money, and also, of course, in lives of the Iraqis?”
SHIELDS: “No, it was not worth it.”
“This was a war that the generals opposed, generals like Brent Scowcroft, and Anthony Zinni, and Joe Hoar, and Norman Schwarzkopf, and Eric Shinseki, people who had seen combat and tasted it. It was a war favored by civilians who had never experienced combat, whether it was Richard Perle, or Paul Wolfowitz, or Don Rumsfeld, or George Bush, or Dick Cheney.”
“And the reality was that we went into war under false pretenses. We went into a war that was not paid for. We went in for a war on a go-it-alone policy. And 4,500 American homes will not have a son, daughter, husband or wife this Christmas or any Christmas in the future, see their children grow up as a consequence of it. And 33,000 are wounded, many in a disabling way.”
“I think it's left us weakened. I think it's left us with less influence. I don't think Iraq is.” . .
LEHRER: “We, the United States of America?”
SHIELDS: “We, the United States of America.”
“And, strategically, the greatest advantage has gone in that neighborhood to Iran, which now has an influence disproportionate to what it had before this war began.”
LEHRER: “David, how would you see it?”
BROOKS: “Yeah, I don't know whether it was worth it. The cost was obviously high in lives, treasure and national morale.”
LEHRER: “So, your sense of it now is that it's possible if -- that it could turn out very positive?”
BROOKS: “It's possible it could turn out badly. I say that with no confidence. But I would say we have moved from a period of stagnation to a period of turmoil. Whether that's good or bad turmoil, history will judge.”
How nauseating to hear the safe, protected, overpaid and massively over-rated neoconservative Brooks pontificate on how history will someday determine whether or not it was a good or bad thing for the American Empire to have pulverized, blown apart, starved, mutilated, poisoned and burned the bodies of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children, women and men, young and old. He should ask some among the massive number of Iraqis who lost friends and loved ones in “Operation Iraqi Freedom” if the invasion “could turn out badly.”
But equally offensive are the comments of the Democrat, Shields. He is concerned about the weakened strategic power of “We, the United States of America,” but can’t follow up on the ex-Marine Lehrer’s lead on the price paid by the Iraqi people. “4,500 American homes will not have a son, daughter, husband or wife this Christmas,” Shields said. Terrible, yes, but would Shields like to comment on recent reports that roughly 9 percent of Iraq’s women, about 900,000, are widows (one Iraqi government agency puts the figure at 1 million), thanks in no small measure to the criminal U.S. invasion. A United Nations report estimates that at the peak of sectarian violence (directly traceable to the invasion) in 2006, nearly 100 women were widowed each day. “The Iraqi Ministry of Social Affairs pays widow’s benefits to 86,000 women,” the New York Times reported last Thanksgiving Day, “most of whom, it says, lost their husbands in the latest war.”
Where’s the War? (Not Over Here)
As Floyd notes, “The Iraq War has not ended. Not for the dead, not for their survivors, not for the displaced, the maimed, the lost, the suffering, not for all of us who live in the degraded, destabilised, impoverished world it has spawned…” It’s a good point but why buy into the term “the Iraq War”? Like “the Vietnam War,” the invasion of Iraq has been a one sided, neo-colonial, deeply racist, and imperial crucifixion inflicted on a very poor state by the world’s only Superpower, the richest and most armed nation in history, rightly identified by King in 1967 as “’the leading purveyor of violence in the world today.” The description still holds.
Reserving the Right to Transgress
Greenwald asks an interesting question: “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?” Well, yes, but I would frame the issue a bit differently. The smarter imperial widow-makers of Washington know very well that the Cheney-Bush-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz invasion of Iraq was an epic strategic blunder, one that has strengthened the position of regional enemy Iran and global rival China. But just as the Obama administration wishes to reserve for itself the right to wield dictatorial police state powers (assassination, detention, surveillance and more) that candidate Obama claimed to oppose when seducing liberal and moderate voters in 2007 and 2008, it also wishes to reserve for itself the right to wage unprovoked petro-imperial wars of aggression in places like Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, and, of course, Iran. It therefore does not find serious criticism of “Bush’s war” advisable. What you say on the path to the commander-in-chief’s position is one thing; what you say after getting into the never-apologize role of the world’s leading Mafia Don is another thing altogether. Such is the ugly Machiavellian and Orwellian game of imperial politics in the world’s only superpower.
Paul Street (www.paulstreet.org) is the author of many books and studies, including Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Paradigm, 2004), The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, 2010), Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History (Rowman&Lirttlefied, 2007), and (co-authored with Anthony DiMaggio) Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Paradigm, 2011). Street can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
 “U.S. Responses to Dropping the Bomb,” NuclearFiles.org, read at http://www.nuclearfiles.org/menu/key-issues/nuclear-weapons/history/pre-cold-war/hiroshima-nagasaki/us-responses-to-bomb.htm
 Martin Kelly, “Atom Bombing of Hiroshima Press Release, Harry Truman- August 6, 1945,” http://americanhistory.about.com/od/worldwarii/a/presshiroshima.htm
 Gar Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb (New York: Vintage, 1995).
 Joseph Nevins, “Beyond the Myth: Remembering Jimmy Carter the President,” Dissident Voice (December 11, 2002), read at http://dissidentvoice.org/Articles/Nevins_Carter.htm
 Donna Miles, “Panetta: Campaign to Establish Sovereign Iraq was ‘Worth It,’” American Forces Press Service, Department of Defense (December 16, 2011), read at http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=66515
 According to Just Foreign Policy two years ago, relying on data from the British medical journal The Lancet and Iraq Body Count, the U.S. invasion of Iraq had led to 1,455, 590 Iraqi deaths. “The number is shocking and sobering, It is at least 10 times greater than most estimates cited in the US media, yet it is based on a scientific study of violent Iraqi deaths caused by the U.S.-led invasion of March 2003.” http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/iraq
 Nir Rosen, “The Death of
 CNN, “Shock and Awe Campaign Underway in
 U.S. Senatorial candidate, Senator, and presidential candidate Obama’s actual record on
 Greenwald, “Panetta.” Perhaps Cheney and Bush et al, should thank Panetta for helping burnish their disastrous legacies by describing their goal in
 In this respect,” Chomsky noted in 1969, “the empire serves as a device for internal consolidation of power and privilege.” Chomsky, For Reasons of State (New York: New Press, 1970), 47. It’s not for nothing that big business feels repeatedly threatened by the ironic specter of peace – the terrible threat of a social-democratic “peace dividend.”
 Greenwald, “Panetta.”
 The phrase belongs to the left critics Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, who have noted how foreign others killed and injured by U.S. and U.S-allied violence go mostly unreported and un-mourned in the mass U.S. media, whereas the victims of officially designated enemy violence—real or imagined—receive extensive attention that is the subject of endless moral outrage. See Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, The Politics of Genocide (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010); Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (New York: Pantheon, 1988); Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism: The Political Economy of Human Rights, vol. 1 (Boston: South End Press, 1979); Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, After the Cataclysm: Postwar Indochina and the Reconstruction of Imperial Ideology: The Political Economy of Human Rights, vol. 2 (Boston: South End Press, 1979).
 “ ‘Obama Has Kept the Machine Set on Kill’–Journalist and Activist Allan Nairn Reviews Obama’s First Year in Office,” Democracy Now (January 6, 2010) at http://www.democracynow.org/2010/1/6/obama_has_kept_the_machine_set
 I am flashing back here to some remarkable comments that British playwright Harold Pinter made while accepting the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005. In his brilliant and courageous speech, Pinter noted that while “the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, and the ruthless suppression of independent thought” in the former Soviet Union were widely known in the Cold War West, the United States’ imperial crimes were hidden beneath “a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.” Rapacious “America” had “slaughtered and crippled millions, both directly and indirectly, through wars big and small, executions, invasions, coups, the sponsorship of dictatorships, the equipping of repressive regimes, “economic sanctions,” and more, Pinter noted. “But you wouldn’t know it,” Pinter added. “It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it never happened….” See “Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize Lecture” at http://havetoremember.wordpress.com/2009/04/13/harold-pinters-nobel-prize-lecture/
 “Remarks by the First Lady and President on the End of the War in Iraq,” Fort Bragg, North Carolina, December 14, 2011, read at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/12/14/remarks-president-and-first-lady-end-war-iraq See also Obama’s weekly radio address (titled “Honoring Those Who Served in Iraq”), which proclaimed that “For nearly nine years, our nation has been at war in Iraq. More than 1.5 million Americans have served there with honor, skill, and bravery. Tens of thousands have been wounded. Military families have sacrificed greatly – none more so than the families of those nearly 4,500 Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice. All of them – our troops, veterans, and their families – will always have the thanks of a grateful nation.” Nothing about the Iraqi victims who “cannot be perceived” (Chris Floyd) – casualties of a one sided imperial assault whose criminal and imperial nature also cannot be perceived. Read the morally idiotic radio address at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/12/17/weekly-address-honoring-those-who-served-iraq-war-comes-end
 Chris Floyd, “War Without End, Amen: The Reality of America’s Aggression Against Iraq,” Empire Burlesque (December 16, 2011) at http://www.chris-floyd.com/component/content/article/1-latest-news/2200-war-without-end-amen-the-reality-of-americas-aggression-against-iraq-.html. “In March 2003,” Floyd notes, “the
 Paul Street, “Obama’s Letters of No Apology,” Dissident Voice (August 9, 2008), read at http://dissidentvoice.org/2008/08/obamas-letters-of-no-apology/; Paul Street, “Blood on the Nobel: On Words, Deeds, and Imperial Re-Branding,” ZNet (December 14, 2009), read at http://www.zcommunications.org/blood-on-the-nobel-by-paul-street; Paul Street, “Killer Obama, Dr. King, and the Triple Evils,” Black Agenda Report (January 12, 2010), read at http://www.blackagendareport.com/content/killer-obama-dr-king-and-triple-evils; Paul Street, “America’s Worthy and Unworthy Victims Before and Since 9/11” (May 4, 2011), read at http://www.paulstreet.org/?p=335; Paul Street, “Never Forget Their Crimes, Always Deny Ours,” ZNet (September 11, 2011), read at http://www.zcommunications.org/never-forget-their-crimes-always-deny-ours-by-paul-street
 Perhaps the “P” in “PBS” should be officially taken to signify not “Public” but rather “Pentagon” or “Petroleum” (oil company advertisements regularly appear in the Newshour’s opening minutes) or “Presidential” or “Prozac” (to signify its deadening impact) or “Pacification.”
 “P”BS Newshour: “Shields, Brooks on Iowa Debate, 'Rattling Sabers' Over Iran, Iraq War's Legacy,” December 16, 2011, read transcript at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/politics/july-dec11/shieldsbrooks_12-16.html
 Andrew E. Kramer, “After 9 Years of War, Too Many Widows,”
 Greenwald, “Panetta.”