My Turn: From Inauguration to Baghdad, via Benghazi and Bergdahl
This image made from video shows smoke rising from an explosion as Kurdish Peshmerga security forces fighting militants from the al-Qaida inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Tel Al Wared, 20 kilometers 20 kilometers (13 miles) west of Kirkuk, Iraq on Saturday, June 14, 2014. After a decades-long dispute between Arabs and Kurds over the oil-rich northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, it took just an hour and a half for its fate to be decided. As al-Qaida-inspired militants advanced across northern Iraq and security forces melted away, Kurdish fighters who have long dominated Kirkuk ordered Iraqi troops out and seized full control of the regional oil hub and surrounding areas, according to a mid-ranking Army officer. He said he was told to surrender his weapons and leave his base. (AP Photo via AP video)
President Barack Obama answers a question during a press conference on the White House complex in Washington, Friday, March 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Bergdahl family and released by the Idaho National Guard shows then Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl, 23, of Ketchum, Idaho. Afghanistan's Taliban says it has suspended "mediation" with the United States to exchange captive U.S. soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five senior Taliban prisoners held in U.S. custody in Guantanamo Bay. Bergdahl's reception if he is released could vary from hero, a deserter, or just a young man from Idaho whose life took a U-turn in the mountains of Afghanistan. (AP Photo/The Bergdahl Family via Idaho Nayional Guard, File)
FILE - In this May 25, 2013 file photo, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. speaks at a news conference at the World Economic Forum, in Southern Shuneh, southeast of Amman, Jordan. McCain said Friday, the day after he returned from an unannounced trip to Syria, that Syrian rebels battling the forces of President Bashar Assad need ammunition and heavy weapons to counter the regime's tanks and aircraft. (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon, File)
In 2009, President Barack Obama inherited a badly broken world – damaged way beyond Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn rules. Eight years of President George W. Bush’s reckless interventionism and incompetence, egged on by his vice president and a cabal of Neocons, chickenhawks and Islamophobes, had eroded America’s global authority and prestige.
In 2009, on President Obama’s Inauguration Night, Republican lawmakers and strategists gathered in Washington, D.C.’s Caucus Room restaurant to plot a way to subvert the newly elected President’s agenda – even before he got a chance to present one.
Since that night, many Republicans and assorted co-conspirators have spent an inordinate and, to my mind, unpatriotic amount of time and national treasure trying to disenfranchise, neuter, delegitimize and humiliate this president – with disastrous consequences for the United States. Consequences that are playing out in Iraq today.
That gathering included Republican co-conspirators Eric Cantor, Pete Sessions, Paul Ryan, Jim DeMint, Tom Coburn, pollster Frank Luntz and the irrepressible – and almost always wrong – Newt Gingrich.
After a nearly four-hour dinner, their strategy was set: Oppose everything.
The fact that in 2009 America was entering the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression didn’t deter them. A week later, Cantor led House Republicans as they unanimously voted against the president’s economic stimulus plan.
It never got any better. By October 2010, Mitch McConnell was quoted as saying that his party’s primary goal was to make Obama a one-term president. Obama’s opposition – Republican lawmakers, accompanied by a varying coterie of libertarians, Tea-Partyers, sovereign-staters, unreconstructed confederate sympathizers and racists – systematically worked and continue to work, to neuter the American president without regard for any potential consequences.
President Obama isn’t without fault. He failed to appreciate that Republicans had no interest in bipartisanship or cooperation, that they would oppose not just his agenda but him personally. It took the president too long to realize that nothing he could do would entice his opposition into cooperation, whether it was rescuing America from financial collapse or uniting on critical international issues.
Today’s Iraq news is grim. The Middle East, so carefully designed and demarcated by Western powers between 1914 and 1922, is unraveling, and President Obama is both being criticized and called upon to act by the very architects of Iraq’s destruction.
Witness John McCain, who believes the United States achieved victory in Iraq, who thinks the surge pacified Iraq, when in fact what it accomplished was to reduce the number of American casualties in Iraq without healing the fractured nation.
Witness John McCain, who believes that bringing back the Neocons, the chickenhawks and generals that brought us Iraq in 2003 can pacify Iraq today.
Witness the shameless return to the airwaves and op-ed pages of the five-time draft-evading Dick Cheney, of Paul Bremer, Judith Miller, Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Kristol, Doug Feith and the infamous Kagans – all of whom never met a war to which they weren’t willing to send other people’s daughters and sons to die.
Witness the shameless embrace by America’s news media of those voices who cost us more than 4,400 American lives, tens of thousands of American wounded, nearly 2 billion U.S. dollars, more than 100,000 dead Iraqis and created a perhaps irreparable Middle East.
The damage done
Let me tell you what I think.
I think America destroyed Iraq. I think the Timberland-booted poseur Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, almost singlehandedly so humiliated and disenfranchised Iraq’s Sunni minority that they were easy prey for Sunni extremists preaching revenge, “piety” and Sunni solidarity.
I think hubris destroyed Iraq, empowered Iran, alienated allies and reignited regional sectarian differences that had been dormant for decades, if not centuries.
I believe that in 2009, Republicans, who by and large had supported Bush’s reckless American adventurism, were so focused on delegitimizing Obama that they failed to see how precarious America’s global posture had become as a result of George W. Bush’s incompetence, and continued to pursue President Obama even into international waters.
If you are a foreign leader and you hear former congressman Allen West say, “Ladies and gentlemen, I submit that Barack Hussein Obama’s unilateral negotiations with terrorists and the ensuing release of their key leadership . . . represents high crimes and misdemeanors, an impeachable offense,” then why would you think that Obama would pose a threat to you?
This week, in Mesopotamia, we are witnessing the cost of that reckless opposition.
If you are a foreign leader and you witness how Republicans and their right-wing enablers, by focusing on Benghazi and Bowe Bergdahl rather than on America’s international strategic interests, became co-conspirators in the weakening of America, why would you fear the United States?
Benghazi and Bergdahl
Given that in the case of Benghazi the facts are so well-known and in Bergdahl’s case the facts are yet to be determined, one can only assume that the opposition is either inexcusably ignorant or is being deliberately dishonest.
Between official inquiries, numerous investigations and David Kirkpatrick’s reporting for the New York Times, there is no controversy over what happened in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012.
I think the Benghazi mission was very clearly a CIA operation and that is the reason why Obama administration officials have never been able to speak fully about it. Some senators privy to this knowledge are taking advantage that not all aspects of what happened can be talked about without jeopardizing classified information.
Accept there are some things you will never know.
As for Bergdahl, we don’t know whether he had some form of PTSD, suffered from some form of dissociative fugue, went AWOL or deserted. There is time to get answers to those questions now that he’s home.
As we wait for the truth of Bergdahl’s capture and captivity, let’s note what New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote: “It doesn’t matter if Bergdahl had deserted his post or not. It doesn’t matter if he is a confused young man who said insulting and shameful things about his country and his Army. The debt we owe to fellow Americans is not based on individual merit. It is based on citizenship, and loyalty to the national community we all share.”
From the beginning, whether about a birth certificate, a liberation theology preacher, Benghazi or Bergdahl, the consistent Republican meme has been to continue to try to associate President Obama with Islam and Muslims.
Fox’s Bill O’Reilly said Bergdahl’s father “absolutely looked like a Muslim. He talked in the language of the Taliban, and he thanked Allah.”
Fox’s Brian Kilmeade questioned Bergdahl’s loyalty, suggesting he may have been “collaborating with the enemy.” Kilmeade also criticized Bergdahl’s father for growing a beard that made him look like a “member of the Taliban.”
Later, Fox presented a report based on “secret documents” alleging Bergdahl’s conversion to Islam.
Lawmakers who once pressed Obama to bring Bergdahl back were quick to criticize the deal. On Memorial Day, Sen. Kelly Ayotte called on the Obama administration to make Bergdahl’s release an urgent priority. Days later, she said, “The administration’s decision to release these five terrorist detainees endangers U.S. national security interests.”
Certainly there are questions, political, legal and military, and they will be answered because America can do that well.
Was it the right deal? I think so. Republicans forget that their beloved President Reagan had his own “Fast and Furious” program when his administration sent weapons to Iran so Iran would order Hezbollah to release hostages it was holding in Lebanon – weapons Iran then used against our then ally Iraq! But the larger question is whether, at a time when President Obama has been so weakened because of the relentless, over six-year long attack to emasculate him, America can act with the authority it takes to try not just to quiet the current fires in the Middle East but to partner with other parties, even with countries like Iran, to try to imagine a new Middle East based on local interests rather than upon outdated Western imperial interests.
(Robert Azzi is a writer and photographer living in Exeter. He can be reached at email@example.com.)