When President Obama threatened a limited military strike against Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons against civilians, the uproar was overstated but understandable. The lessons of the Iraq War, and to a lesser extent the war in Afghanistan, have been well-learned by the American public, and while that is not an excuse for isolationism, it is a good reason for caution. A couple of events last week provided timely reminders about the Iraq disaster that should long be remembered even as the war fades into history.
The U.S. Justice Department last Thursday brought new charges against four former security guards from Blackwater Worldwide accused of killing 14 unarmed civilians and wounding 18 others in Baghdad in 2008. Members of the four-vehicle convoy racing through Nisour Square claimed they were attacked by insurgents, but FBI and federal prosecutors found that the shooting was an "unprovoked illegal attack" against civilians, one that further inflamed Iraqi hatred against Americans. A U.S. District Court judge threw out the charges against the Blackwater guards, but two years ago, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found that the judge had "made a number of systemic errors based on an erroneous legal analysis," setting the stage for the action Thursday by the judge.
This was just one of many controversies involving Blackwater, which the Bush-Cheney administration hired to outsource a variety of war-related activities on the cheap. The White House created a rogue army answerable to no one that did great harm to America’s image abroad. Blackwater has since changed its name to Xe Services and then to Academi, but it can’t hide the past or cause Americans to forget the painful lessons learned about the dangers of contracting out war to mercenaries.
Also last Thursday, 61 Iraqis died in a spate of car and suicide bombings as the nation weathers its worst outburst of violence since that fateful year of 2008. The recent attacks came as Muslims celebrated the religious holiday of Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, and the deadliest explosions in Baghdad Thursday were timed for sunset, said authorities, when the largest number of families were heading out to public places to celebrate.
Many of most of the attacks are attributed to al-Qaida, which is trying to undermine the Shiite-led government. Al-Qaida, of course, was not in Iraq until the Bush-Cheney White House invaded and destabilized Iraq in its pursuit of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction and to engage in failed nation-building. Al-Qaida, the terrorists behind the attacks of September 11, 2001, were let off the hook in Afghanistan by the Iraqi invasion and Osama bin Laden escaped punishment until a military mission approved by President Obama succeed in killing him.
Al-Qaida’s move into Iraq taught America about the law of intended consequences, as well as of the dangers of naively blundering into ferocious, centuries-old Shiite-Sunni battles without understanding the players or the playing field. These were lessons learned at great cost in terms of American soldiers killed and crippled and American money wasted. They should never be forgotten.