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Iraq War Fallout: U.S. ‘Ally’ Backs Syrian Dictator

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Iraq War Fallout: U.S. ‘Ally’ Backs Syrian Dictator


The grim realities of the Iraq war, from its multi-trillion-dollar expense to its awful cost in American and Iraqi lives, were supposed to be mitigated by progress toward democracy in the Mideast – or so the neoconservative politicians and pundits who promoted the invasion have long told us. Now the credibility of that argument, which was never compelling, has been decisively undermined by the latest developments in Baghdad, where President Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is lending support to the Assad regime’s bloody repression of non-violent democracy protesters in neighboring Syria.

Troubling questions about the nature of the Shia parties that came to power following the fall of Saddam Hussein – and especially their relationship with the Iranian government — have long been voiced by critics of the war. Yet today, as Maliki and members of his ruling party openly attack the Syrian protesters while promoting economic deals with both Iran and Syria, those questions seem to have been answered. The Iraqi regime has delivered a verdict on the neoconservative justification for the war – and that verdict could scarcely be more negative.

When the Bush administration (and its enablers in academia and the media) began to promote an invasion of Iraq in 2002, neither they nor their opponents imagined the wave of democratic revolution that has crossed from the Maghreb to the Gulf nine years later – a movement utterly distinct from the failed neocon notion that bringing elections to Iraq by force would eventually reform the entire region. As former CIA analyst Paul Pillar noted in an excellent post on The National Interest blog, the movement that spread from Tunisia to Egypt to Bahrain and Syria drew no inspiration from Iraq – where the carnage and destruction of the American occupation did no service to the cause of liberty in the rest of the Arab world.

For neoconservatives, who continue to influence Republican legislators (and presidential candidates) today, the scalding irony is that rather than promoting the extension of freedom in neighhoring states, Iraq’s president and governing party have spoken out in oppositon to the democratic movement in Syria. Even as the Syrian military murders that country’s protesting citizens every day, Maliki maintains the warmest relations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and a distinctly cold attitude toward the Syrian people, whom he has warned not to “sabotage” the regime. Since the protests began several months ago, the Maliki government has hosted official Syrian visits and encouraged construction of a natural gas pipeline across Iraqi territory from Iran to Syria. He has behaved, in short, more like an ally of Iran and Syria than of the United States – and certainly more like an ally of dictatorship than an advocate of democracy.

A report in the New York Times quoted a television interview in which Maliki blamed the demonstrators in Syria for the violence there, and urging them to use the democratic process rather than riots to express their concerns about the government. (Of course he knows that the “democratic process” is even more a sham in Damascus than in Tehran. ) Meanwhile politicians in Maliki’s party have gone still further, publicly smearing the protesters as instruments of Al Qaeda, which is Assad’s own false excuse for his massive killing spree. Such cynical mockery of the Arab Spring and its courageous Syrian upwelling is shameful, but the shame doesn’t belong to Maliki alone. It is a disgrace shared by the people who helped to bring him to power, not only in Iran but in Washington as well.

Joe Conason

A highly experienced journalist, author and editor, Joe Conason is the editor-in-chief of The National Memo, founded in July 2011. He was formerly the executive editor of the New York Observer, where he wrote a popular political column for many years. His columns are distributed by Creators Syndicate and his reporting and writing have appeared in many publications around the world, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Nation, and Harpers. Since November 2006, he has served as editor of The Investigative Fund, a nonprofit journalism center, where he has assigned and edited dozens of award-winning articles and broadcasts. He is also the author of two New York Times bestselling books, The Hunting of the President (St. Martins Press, 2000) and Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth (St. Martins Press, 2003). Currently he is working on a new book about former President Bill Clinton's life and work since leaving the White House in 2001. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, including MSNBC's Morning Joe, and lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

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  1. JavierDiaz August 16, 2011

    What else could we have expected. We were friends to both. Irak has learned well from us. Children learned by example. They know we invaded their country for financial gains using democracy as a shield…thay are doing the same….they learned well.

  2. kurt.lorentzen August 16, 2011

    The Iraq war was not politics as usual, it was politics taken to the edge. If the Bush administration left anything positive in its legacy, I hope it is the education of “We the People”. The supposed rationale behind the Iraq invasion holds no water at all. The government openly duped the public into thinking there was a real threat (everything from hijackers with box knives to WMDs). Imperialism in Iraq is secondary to closing our society. In the US the powers face a huge obstacle in that votes still pull more strings than anything else (and it doesn’t hurt that the population is armed). We’ve seen the Constitution trampled upon with the “Patriot” act. We are now seeing the “Tea Party” demonized – it’s just a bunch of folks who have their eyes opened to what’s going on. But look at what they’ve done as far as swaying career politicians to actually fight the battles of the grassroots instead of politiking as usual! We have to fight against future “Patriot” acts, wars (in Iraq or Libya). We need to fight for EVERY right outlined in our Constitution. The Bush administration did more to undermine the freedoms those who risked and gave their lives to provide than anyone fully realizes. This was done largely with the blessing of card-carrying Republicans who, just like their Democratic counterparts, tow the party line in group-think mode instead of analyzing situations for themselves. There’s exactly one presidential candidate who understands what’s happening and who’s only agenda is to return the country its founded principles. That’s Ron Paul. He’s running as a Republican, but only because he has no chance as an independent. He embraces many of the “liberal” fundamentals including personal freedom of choice (on all fronts) and getting us OUT of these ridiculous foreign wars. If everyone who says they’re not voting for him because he can’t win would vote for him, he’d win by a landslide, And that’s exactly what politics as usual fears the most – the taking back of the country by the People.

  3. hope.keller August 16, 2011

    Hey Joe,
    Belated congratulations on the National Memo. It’s excellent. This article in particular should make the rounds. The U.S. never had any interest in fostering democracy in Iraq or anywhere else in the Middle East or Maghreb. So Maliki is the natural man for the job. — Hope


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