IRAQ 20 YEARS: Chris Hedges — The Lords of Chaos

The politicians and shills in the media who orchestrated 20 years of military debacles in the Middle East, and who seek a world dominated by U.S. power, must be held accountable for their crimes.

We’re Number One – by Mr. Fish

By Chris Hedges

Two decades ago, I sabotaged my career at The New York Times. It was a conscious choice.

I had spent seven years in the Middle East, four of them as the Middle East Bureau Chief. I was an Arabic speaker. I believed, like nearly all Arabists, including most of those in the State Department and the C.I.A., that a “preemptive” war against Iraq would be the most costly strategic blunder in American history.

It would also constitute what the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg called the “supreme international crime.” While Arabists in official circles were muzzled, I was not. I was invited by them to speak at The State Department, The United States Military Academy at West Point and to senior Marine Corps officers scheduled to be deployed to Kuwait to prepare for the invasion.

Mine was not a popular view nor one a reporter, rather than an opinion columnist, was permitted to express publicly according to the rules laid down by the newspaper. But I had experience that gave me credibility and a platform. I had reported extensively from Iraq. I had covered numerous armed conflicts, including the first Gulf War and the Shi’ite uprising in southern Iraq where I was taken prisoner by The Iraqi Republican Guard.

I easily dismantled the lunacy and lies used to promote the war, especially as I had reported on the destruction of Iraq’s chemical weapons stockpiles and facilities by the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) inspection teams. I had detailed knowledge of how degraded the Iraqi military had become under U.S. sanctions. Besides, even if Iraq did possess “weapons of mass destruction” that would not have been a legal justification for war.

The death threats towards me exploded when my stance became public in numerous interviews and talks I gave across the country. They were either mailed in by anonymous writers or expressed by irate callers who would daily fill up the message bank on my phone with rage-filled tirades. Right-wing talk shows, including Fox News, pilloried me, especially after I was heckled and booed off a commencement stage at Rockford College for denouncing the war.

PBS interview with the author on Jan. 31, 2003, six weeks before the invasion.

The Wall Street Journal wrote an editorial attacking me. Bomb threats were called into venues where I was scheduled to speak. I became a pariah in the newsroom. Reporters and editors I had known for years would lower their heads as I passed, fearful of any career-killing contagion. I was issued a written reprimand by The New York Times to cease speaking publicly against the war. I refused. My tenure was over.

No Accountability

What is disturbing is not the cost to me personally. I was aware of the potential consequences. What is disturbing is that the architects of these debacles have never been held accountable and remain ensconced in power. They continue to promote permanent war, including the ongoing proxy war in Ukraine against Russia, as well as a future war against China.

The politicians who lied to us — George W. BushDick CheneyCondoleezza RiceHillary Clinton and Joe Biden to name but a few — extinguished millions of lives, including thousands of American lives, and left Iraq along with Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Libya and Yemen in chaos. They exaggerated or fabricated conclusions from intelligence reports to mislead the public. The big lie is taken from the playbook of totalitarian regimes. 

The cheerleaders in the media for war — Thomas FriedmanDavid RemnickRichard CohenGeorge PackerWilliam KristolPeter BeinartBill KellerRobert KaplanAnne ApplebaumNicholas KristofJonathan ChaitFareed ZakariaDavid FrumJeffrey GoldbergDavid Brooks and Michael Ignatieff — were used to amplify the lies and discredit the handful of us, including Michael MooreRobert Scheer and Phil Donahue, who opposed the war.

These courtiers were often motivated more by careerism than idealism. They did not lose their megaphones or lucrative speaking fees and book contracts once the lies were exposed, as if their crazed diatribes did not matter. They served the centers of power and were rewarded for it.

Many of these same pundits are pushing further escalation of the war in Ukraine, although most know as little about Ukraine or NATO’s provocative and unnecessary expansion to the borders of Russia as they did about Iraq. 

“I told myself and others that Ukraine is the most important story of our time, that everything we should care about is on the line there,” George Packer writes in The Atlantic magazine. “I believed it then, and I believe it now, but all of this talk put a nice gloss on the simple, unjustifiable desire to be there and see.”

Packer views war as a purgative, a force that will jolt a country, including the U.S., back to the core moral values he supposedly found amongst American volunteers in Ukraine.

“I didn’t know what these men thought of American politics, and I didn’t want to know,” he writes of two U.S. volunteers. 

“Back home we might have argued; we might have detested each other. Here, we were joined by a common belief in what the Ukrainians were trying to do and admiration for how they were doing it. Here, all the complex infighting and chronic disappointments and sheer lethargy of any democratic society, but especially ours, dissolved, and the essential things — to be free and live with dignity — became clear. It almost seemed as if the U.S. would have to be attacked or undergo some other catastrophe for Americans to remember what Ukrainians have known from the start.”

The Iraq war cost at least $3 trillion and the 20 years of warfare in the Middle East cost a total of some $8 trillion. The occupation created Shi’ite and Sunni death squads, fueled horrific sectarian violence, gangs of kidnappers, mass killings and torture.

It gave rise to al-Qaeda cells and spawned ISIS which at one point controlled a third of Iraq and Syria. ISIS carried out rape, enslavement and mass executions of Iraqi ethnic and religious minorities such as the Yazidis.]

A Yazidi child in Lalish, Iraq. (Joe Lauria)

It persecuted Chaldean Catholics and other Christians. This mayhem was accompanied by an orgy of killing by U.S. occupation forces, such as as the gang rape and murder of Abeer al-Janabi, a 14-year-old girl and her family by members of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne. The U.S. routinely engaged in the torture and execution of detained civilians, including at Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca

There is no accurate count of lives lost, estimates in Iraq alone range from hundreds of thousands to over a million. Some 7,000 U.S. service members died in our post 9/11 wars, with over 30,000 later committing suicide, according to Brown University’s Costs of War project. 

Yes, Saddam Hussein was brutal and murderous, but in terms of a body count, we far outstripped his killings, including his genocidal campaigns against the Kurds. We destroyed Iraq as a unified country, devastated its modern infrastructure, wiped out its thriving and educated middle class, gave birth to rogue militias and installed a kleptocracy that uses the country’s oil revenues to enrich itself.

Ordinary Iraqis are impoverished. Hundreds of Iraqis protesting in the streets against the kleptocracy have been gunned down by police. There are frequent power outages. The Shi’ite majority, closely allied with Iran, dominates the country. 

The occupation of Iraq, beginning 20 years ago today, turned the Muslim world and the Global South against us. The enduring images we left behind from two decades of war include President Bush standing under a “Mission Accomplished” banner onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier barely one month after he invaded Iraq, the bodies of Iraqis in Fallujah that were burned with white phosphorus and the photos of torture by U.S. soldiers. 

Bush on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln: Premature Mission Accomplished. (U.S. Navy/Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Lewis Hunsaker)

To The Hague

The U.S. is desperately attempting to use Ukraine to repair its image. But the rank hypocrisy of calling for “a rules-based international order” to justify the $113 billion in arms and other aid that the U.S. has committed to send to Ukraine, won’t work. It ignores what we did. We might forget, but the victims do not.

The only redemptive path is charging Bush, Cheney and the other architects of the wars in the Middle East, including Joe Biden, as war criminals in the International Criminal Court. Haul Russian President Vladimir Putin off to The Hague, but only if Bush is in the cell next to him. 

Many of the apologists for the war in Iraq seek to justify their support by arguing that “mistakes” were made, that if, for example, the Iraqi civil service and army were not disbanded after the U.S. invaded, the occupation would have worked. They insist that our intentions were honorable. They ignore the hubris and lies that led to the war, the misguided belief that the U.S. could be the sole major power in a unipolar world. They ignore the massive military expenditures spent annually to achieve this fantasy.

They ignore that the war in Iraq was only an episode in this demented quest. 

A national reckoning with the military fiascos in the Middle East would expose the self-delusion of the ruling class. But this reckoning is not taking place. We are trying to wish the nightmares we perpetuated in the Middle East away, burying them in a collective amnesia. “World War III Begins With Forgetting,” warns Stephen Wertheim.

The celebration of our national “virtue” by pumping weapons into Ukraine, by sustaining at least 750 military bases in more than 70 countries and by expanding our naval presence in the South China Sea, is meant to fuel this dream of global dominance.

What the mandarins in Washington fail to grasp is that most of the globe does not believe the lie of American benevolence or support its justifications for U.S. interventions. China and Russia, rather than passively accepting U.S. hegemony, are building up their militaries and strategic alliances.

China Brokers Deal

Xi Jinping meets King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. (CCTV/Wikimedia Commons)

China, last week, brokered an agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia to re-establish relations after seven years of hostility, something once expected of U.S. diplomats. The rising influence of China creates a self-fulfilling prophecy for those who call for war with Russia and China, one that will have consequences far more catastrophic than those in the Middle East.

There is a national weariness with permanent war, especially with inflation ravaging family incomes and 57 percent of Americans unable to afford a $1,000 emergency expense. The Democratic Party and the establishment wing of the Republican Party, who peddled the lies about Iraq, are war parties.

Donald Trump’s call to end the war in Ukraine, like his lambasting of the war in Iraq as the “worst decision” in American history, are attractive political stances to Americans struggling to stay afloat. The working poor, even those whose options for education and employment are limited, are no longer as inclined to fill the ranks. They have far more pressing concerns than a unipolar world or war with Russia or China. The isolationism of the far right is a potent political weapon.

The pimps of war, leaping from fiasco to fiasco, cling to the chimera of U.S. global supremacy. The dance macabre will not stop until we publicly hold them accountable for their crimes, ask those we have wronged for forgiveness and give up our lust for uncontested global power.

The day of reckoning, vital if we are to protect what is left of our anemic democracy and curb the appetites of the war machine, will only come when we build mass anti-war organizations that demand an end to the imperial folly threatening to extinguish life on the planet.

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for 15 years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East bureau chief and Balkan bureau chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning NewsThe Christian Science Monitor and NPR.  He is the host of show “The Chris Hedges Report.”

Author’s Note to Readers: There is now no way left for me to continue to write a weekly column for ScheerPost and produce my weekly television show without your help. The walls are closing in, with startling rapidity, on independent journalism, with the elites, including the Democratic Party elites, clamoring for more and more censorship. Bob Scheer, who runs ScheerPost on a shoestring budget, and I will not waiver in our commitment to independent and honest journalism, and we will never put ScheerPost behind a paywall, charge a subscription for it, sell your data or accept advertising. Please, if you can, sign up at so I can continue to post my Monday column on ScheerPost and produce my weekly television show, “The Chris Hedges Report.”

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15 comments for “IRAQ 20 YEARS: Chris Hedges — The Lords of Chaos

  1. Henry Chinaski
    March 21, 2023 at 18:06

    There would be no war in Ukraine if the Obama/Biden administration had not directly and overtly participated in the violent overthrow of the elected government of Ukraine in 2014.

  2. lester
    March 21, 2023 at 12:17

    Thanks you, Mr. Hedges, for rejecting American Exceptionalism! Most of us are brainwashed in childhood to believe that we are as perfect and sinless as Adam in the Garden of Eden, and that therefore our war crimes do not count.

  3. Jan
    March 21, 2023 at 00:37

    Every president since FDR would have been hanged at Nuremberg for crimes against humanity. That includes Carter, whose death squads, trained at the School for the Americas, murdered Archbishop Romero in El Salvador. The only difference, it seems, is that technology has made us more efficient killers. On the other hand, I know that Hedges has condemned Putin numerous times but I cannot place him in the same moral sub-basement as our guys. The OSCE told us clearly that before the invasion the Ukrainians had already killed 14,000 civilians in Donbas with indiscriminate shelling and death squads. At what point do Ukrainian actions qualify as genocide and ethnic cleansing? I remember Putin calling for the implementation of the Minsk Accords at least twice in the months before the invasion. Seems clear that diplomacy was not an option, and that the provocations would not have stopped, not even at the Russian border.

    • Spike
      March 21, 2023 at 23:49

      Excellent! Thank you Jan.

  4. Franklin Tees
    March 20, 2023 at 23:58

    You left out Victoria Nuland and Nicolle Wallace, who was Bush’s mouthpiece at the time. Both these war criminals are doing quite well these days.

  5. March 20, 2023 at 21:12

    The usual poignant Chris Hedges. Few describe as well as he the perfidy, human costs and consequences of doing what we Americans so proudly do.

    Now to the Bizarre: The “fascists” are gradually becoming Anti War (except for China which is on every duopoly radar)— while the Progressives and their Caucus have hastily abandoned previous positions…and have begun to de-camp for a 2024 stand in the Valley of Identity Politics. What spins me now: Trump promise that he will end the Ukraine conflict in 24 hours. Yah! And then I rememberthat he was the ONLY president in 60 plus years to stumble his way to North Korea.

  6. March 20, 2023 at 19:13

    Thank you once again, brother Chris, for your lucid and compelling case against the Empire and its state of perpetual wars to maintain and expand its hegemony. Those wars, the enmity and the economic drain they produce, will only further undermine the U.S.’s security- the exact opposite of one of their supposed goals. And they only serve to further undermine any democracy- not only in the nations so destabilized but also in the U.S. As the MICIMATT ever further concentrates its power over all policy, democracy, and all the principles thereof (such as freedom of speech / press, etc.) are further eroded.

  7. March 20, 2023 at 19:13

    John Kirby, commentng on the Xi Jinping-Vladimir Putin meeting, said “if coming out of this meeting, there’s some sort of call for a ceasefire, well, that’s just going to be unacceptable.”

    This statement demonstrates 2 assumptions: (1) The all-powerful US gets to decide which peace measures are “acceptable” between two warring countries, not the parties involved.
    (2) A ceasefire is unacceptable – the war must continue. If this isn’t Orwell’s dystopian world where “War is Peace”!!

  8. CaseyG
    March 20, 2023 at 18:59

    But Trump tried to start a war by murdering Solemani in the Iraqi airport—–He did murder Solemani and nothing good came of that either. It is sad that so many in America think that Trump has a functioning brain.

    • joey_n
      March 21, 2023 at 03:14

      My thoughts exactly. I hoped that his hawkish behavior towards Russia, as was documented three years ago on this site, would give us here pause as to what he truly stands (stood) for and whether we should support it.

    • J Anthony
      March 21, 2023 at 06:45

      Yes I often hear from apologetic Trump-fans that “at least he didn’t start any new wars….”, and I have to remind them, it wasn’t for lack of trying.

  9. shmutzoid
    March 20, 2023 at 18:25

    Another fine piece b Hedges. However, I would argue that Putin has a stronger case to avoid any legal consequences than bush, Cheney, et al. ………Following Russia’s belated recognition of Donbas vote for autonomy, Putin’s SMO was a reluctant measure to protect that region and Russian-speakers from the onslaught of neo-Nazi savagery that had already claimed some 15,000 lives in the prior eight years. Article 51 of the UN charter- ‘Responsibility to Protect’ – makes Putin’s intervention into Ukraine’s civil war a case that could be argued was justifiable. ………. That’s a far cry from the criminality of Bush, Cheney et al trying to make a case from a web of lies for destroying Iraq and killing so many people.
    ……… Putin’s SMO woulda’ been over in a few weeks had not the US jumped in to immediately escalate tensions. The cause of the Ukraine war is not necessarily defined by who “fired the first shot”. The US had been flooding Ukraine with advanced weaponry since orchestrating the coup there in 2014. The provocation of NATO expansion eastward is now conveniently excised from any MSM narrative about the war’s origins. In short, the US got the proxy war it wanted all along by artfully maneuvering Putin into a corner. Putin did everything he could to avoid this war, including proffering a viable/reasonable security plan in Dec. 2022. As with all his other entreaties to discuss in the region, he was ignored.

    It’s very sad to read all these ‘twenty-years-later’ retrospectives on Iraq. So much death and destruction by filthy US war mongers – with NO accountability! SHAME! SHAME!

    Things are only worse in the intervening years since Iraq. The public is kept in the dark more and more about the murderous ways of US imperialism. ……. In the last twenty years, the US has seen military engagement in SEVENTEEN countries. How many fellow citizens do you think know that??? …..exactly.

  10. Drew Hunkins
    March 20, 2023 at 13:37

    It’s fascinating that during the week of the 20th anniversary of one of the most disgusting and grotesque crimes against humanity, our powers-that-be are set to perp walk Trump — definitely an imperfect president, no doubt, yet the only one over the past 35 years who did not start a major military conflagration.

    This confluence of events being the case, we better also see Cheney, Bush Jr, Clinton, Obama, and Biden behind bars for the rest of their lives for all the buckets of blood they’re drenched in. Throw in their top foreign policy advisors and rabid media lapdogs too. Let’s go, round ’em up.

    • Franklin Tees
      March 21, 2023 at 00:00

      Perhaps Trump not starting a major military conflagration has something to do with his upcoming perp walking?

      • Drew Hunkins
        March 21, 2023 at 10:54


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