Unless you were under a rock last week, you were exposed to more than your fair share of those “Story of the Decade” lists covering every aspect of every conceivable thing across every platform of American media. There was so much traffic around those lists that Tina Brown and our own Arianna Huffington must have been beside themselves with the click-throughs on The Daily Beast and HuffPo between Christmas Eve and this past Sunday.
But don’t let ‘em fool ya, there is only one story of the past 10 years. It’s that President George W. Bush used his 2003 State of the Union address to lie to our nation and the world to justify the pre-emptive invasion of a sovereign country and fellow U.N. member state that neither attacked nor posed a threat to the United States. Every other big story of the decade — the rise of China as a global superpower, the rise of Iran as a regional player, and the rise of the jihadi — happened as a consequence of the great Neo-Con-job that was Operation Iraqi Freedom.
China’s larger role on the world stage came as a result of its economic power, demonstrated by its financing the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Because the People’s Republic extended credit to the U.S. government, the Bush administration was able to take the unprecedented step of cutting taxes at wartime so that no group of Americans (other than military families) would have to sacrifice for the war effort. Had we done what we usually do to pay for a war (passed a war tax or sold war bonds or both) instead of borrowing from the Chinese, the Beijing Olympics would have looked much different.
We now have to deal with Iran as a power within the region because we removed the largest check on the Shiite Islamic Republic: the minority Sunni military regime of Saddam Hussein ruling over the majority Shiite population in neighboring Iraq. Thanks to W’s disastrous disarming of the dictator, the Iranian regime (and its paramilitary wing, Hezbollah) is able to impose its will from the Afghanistan/Pakistan region of Western Asia through Iraq to Lebanon — from which it can fire rockets into Israel. Because we changed the Iraqi regime, Iranian clerics now have a sphere of influence from Af/Pak to the Mediterranean; with Saddam in power, the Iranians would still be largely contained.
The failure of President Bush’s global war on terrorism to prevent the rise of the jihadi would have been the biggest story of the past 10 years if not for his monumental blunder in Iraq. We can’t forget that the world was on our side in September of 2001 with newspapers in France and Italy proclaiming “We Are All Americans.” It’s impossible to tell how different the effort to win over hearts and minds in the Muslim world would have been if Osama Bin Laden had been captured or killed in the months after the hijackings of that September, but it would have been easier. Muslims are active and energized as a group (remember when hundreds of thousands protested cartoon images of the prophet?) and we could have used the senseless killing of Muslims by other Muslims as a starting point for a discussion about jihad in the modern world.
But once Lil’ Bush got a hold of Bill Kristol’s “How To Change a Hostile Regime in 90 Days or Less” handbook, it was on to Iraq where images of American soldiers killing Muslims would be beamed around the world via satellite to inspire a new generation of jihadis willing to die to defend their brothers and sisters.
As for the 2003 State of the Union address, there can be no doubt that President Bush lied. A lie is a conscious effort to deceive or a deliberate attempt to create a false impression; and there were two key deceptions/false impressions created by the president. The first was the deception that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was trying to acquire uranium to build a nuclear weapon and the second was the false impression that Iraq might then give that weapon to al-Qaida to use against the U.S. The White House had been notified in an “unequivocal” memo weeks before that the uranium story was “baseless and should be laid to rest,” and the CIA had already reported that “al-Qaida,” including Bin Laden personally, and Saddam were leery of close cooperation.” Yet President Bush still represented the infamous “16 words” as fact and asked us to “imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans, this time armed by Saddam Hussein” as though it was a realistic possibility. Then he told the U.N. where to stick it and introduced the world to “shock and awe.”
Measured in the trillions of dollars spent, the millions of displaced refugees, the hundreds of thousands of lives lost, or the tens of thousands of casualties, the invasion and occupation of Iraq stands as the story of the past decade. Factor in the opportunity costs of destroying any credibility the U.N. had left and losing American prestige and moral standing around the world, and nothing else even comes close.
Kenny Mack is a multi-platform content provider with four-quadrant crossover appeal who thinks the death of the paid daily newspaper will contend for the story of the current decade. His past columns are archived at www.ifyoumissedit.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.