With more than $500 billion spent, 3,218 U.S. casualites and tens of thousands more Iraqi dead (but who’s counting them, really?), perhaps the best way to measure the Iraq war is through the eyes of a pop star.
Let’s recall Spears’ infamous trust in King George during her CNN interview with Tucker Carlson, who originally came to ask about her kiss with Madonna.
“Honestly, I think we should just trust our president in every decision he makes and should just support that, you know, and be faithful in what happens.”
How else is Spears pertinent? She was born in 1981, the year our government began courting favor with Iraq. We were still sore with Iran for seizing our embassy, even if they returned all 52 hostages alive. Saddam Hussein was our man, the logical counterweight to Iran’s Islamic revolution. So it was that the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, fearing the same sort of revolution. So it was that Saddam began oppressing Iraq’s Shia, fearing the same sort of revolution. And even before Britney began gearing up for her budding career as the Mouseketeer later to kiss Madonna, then U.S. special Middle East envoy Donald Rumsfeld was busy shaking Saddam’s hands in December 1983 and, again, in March 1984.
Saddam gassed the Kurds in his 1987-88 Anfal campaign, most notoriously at the village of Halabjah, where his mustard gas and nerve agents killed 5,000.
Spears won her first Star Search audition three years after those obnoxious Kurds were gassed, in 1992, but lost her second round. Like, bummer. More than 100,000 Kurds went missing in Iraq thanks to Saddam, but the United States didn’t take notice until our man in Baghdad invaded Kuwait, where he killed 1,000 civilians and threatened oil ports. To be fair, it took even Newsweek 14 years to put the picture in true perspective in its Sept. 23, 2002, article “How Saddam Happened.”
“When Saddam bombed Kurdish rebels and civilians with a lethal cocktail of mustard gas, sarin, tabun and VX in 1988, the Reagan administration first blamed Iran, before acknowledging, under pressure from congressional Democrats, that the culprits were Saddam’s own forces,” reported Christopher Dickey and Evan Thomas. “There was only token protest at the time.”
Spears soldiered on, knockin’ ’em dead during the 1993-94 New Mickey Mouse Club with Justin Timberlake. Then came her big 1998 break as “ â€¦ Baby One More Time” hit the airwaves.
“One more time,” or rather “one more year” seemed the unofficial motto behind our support of an embargo that hurt innocent Iraqis, as opposed to Saddam’s tyrannous regime. When confronted with UNICEF’s 1996 estimate that the embargo cost 500,000 Iraqi children their lives, then U.N. ambassador Madeleine Albright told 60 Minutes, “We think the price is worth it.” A later study on the embargo’s effects by Columbia University researcher Richard Garfield brought the estimated number down to 227,000, easing our conscience somewhat'if we paid attention.
We looked the other way when Saddam murdered his people. After 9/11, however, we weren’t going to look away. “We will meet that threat now, with our Army, Air Force and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of firefighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities,” President George W. Bush huffed in March 2003.
No, we weren’t looking away this time. But were we looking in the right direction? Even before the invasion, astute observers pointed out that most of the hijackers were Saudi. What’s a former Mouseketeer to think?
The straight scoop had to wait until July 2004, when Thomas H. Kean and fellow 9/11 Commission Chair Lee H. Hamilton reported: “To date, we have seen no evidence that these or the earlier contacts [between al-Qaeda and Iraq] ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship. Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al-Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States.”
This was about the time Spears abandoned a 55-hour marriage to a childhood friend, then began a relationship, and later a marriage, with backup-dancer Kevin Federline.
Not to worry. The nine members of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States chimed in with the 9/11 Commission as well, come March 2005: “Not one bit of [the prewar intelligence] could be confirmed when the war was over,” they stated.
We heard more castigation even last month, when Thomas F. Gimble presented the Defense Department’s inspector general report that Pentagon Policy chief Douglas J. Feith was too enthusiastic, to connecting Iraq with al-Qaeda before March 2003.
The point here is not that blind trust in our leaders leads to a ruined pop career, a divorce that affects young children, a shaven head and offshore drug rehab, although it’s hardly surprising that someone as clueless about politics would be equally clueless about life.
The point is, rather, that it takes both a clueless, trusting populace and a reckless leadership to lead us into a hole this deep. Even today, four years into Iraq’s mess, key members of the House Intelligence Committee'Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, and Reps. Jo Ann Davis, R-Va., and Terry Everett, R-Ala., still cannot differentiate Sunni from Shia Muslim where Middle East conflicts are concerned.
Does that make you eager to remain, as Spears said, “faithful in what happensâ€?