Skip to content Skip to footer

You Have the Watches; They Have the Time

Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham are right to deplore the tragedy and waste of the war in Iraq, but they should look in the mirror for accountability.

“Time in jail and time in the jihad mean nothing to us. … Your watch’s battery will run down, and its hands will stop. But our time in the struggle will never end. We will win.”
– Mujahid Rahman Afghan fighter, Newsweek, 2011

According to the BBC News and other sources, the US-installed and -backed government in Iraq has lost control of the city of Fallujah to fighters aligned with militants who are affiliated with al-Qaeda. According to The Wall Street Journal, “Residents and officials said US weapons were pillaged from armories after fighters took control of Fallujah and skirmished with Iraqi government troops on the road to Baghdad.”

After eight years of war, the lives of more than 4,000 American troops and approximately 134,000 Iraqi civilians and nearly $2 trillion in directly associated costs, armed rebels are regaining control of a major Iraqi city and using US weapons to do it. Prominent Republicans are blaming the Obama administration’s withdrawal from Iraq for these recent developments.

Republican Sens. John McCain, from Arizona, and Lindsey Graham, from South Carolina, have stated jointly that these events are “as tragic as they were predictable.” They went on to accuse the Obama administration of misleading the American people into believing that Iraqi government officials wanted US forces out of their country. “The administration’s narrative that Iraq’s political leadership objected to US forces remaining in Iraq after 2011 is patently false.”

McCain and Graham are correct: These events are “as tragic as they were predictable.” The problem with their assessment is that their “predictions” come ten years, thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars too late. President Obama merely extracted US forces from the fool’s errand called “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” There was never a belief by any objective analyst that the United States could win a war in Iraq. The American people were never willing to invest the time, blood and treasure necessary to “win” once American forces became bogged down in the predictable slog called Iraq. History is replete with examples of the difference in mind-set between those who invade to steal resources and those who are willing to die to repel such an invasion. The Afghan fighter’s statement concerning Afghanistan applies to Iraq as well, “Americans have the watches; we have the time.”

McCain and Graham are correct: The American people were misled by a narrative on the issue of Iraq. But it wasn’t crafted by the Obama administration. They were misled by former President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and other administration officials, including most especially the Office of Special Plans in the Pentagon, led by Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith from September 2002 to June 2003.

On March 19, 2003, US forces began military operations in Iraq. Bush stated: “The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder.” According to the report “Iraq on the Record” by Democratic California Rep. Henry Waxman, Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rice and Rumsfeld made 237 specific misleading statements about the threat posed by Iraq in 125 public appearances. These appearances consisted of “40 speeches, 26 press conferences and briefings, 53 interviews, 4 written statements, and 2 congressional testimonies. Most of the statements in the database (report) were misleading because they expressed certainty where none existed or failed to acknowledge the doubts of intelligence officials. Ten of the statements were simply false.”

According to the report, the statements began at least a year before the commencement of hostilities in Iraq, when Cheney stated on March 17, 2002: “We know they have biological and chemical weapons.” Bush and his cronies lied about Iraq’s nuclear capabilities, chemical and biological weapons, the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda and Iraq as an urgent threat. They also lied about the possibility of a “mushroom cloud,” Iraq’s attempt to acquire uranium and the relationship between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

McCain and Graham went on to say, “Thousands of brave Americans who fought, shed their blood, and lost their friends to bring peace to Fallujah and Iraq are now left to wonder whether these sacrifices were in vain.” Again, they are correct. But the confusion of our brave warriors is not the result of Obama’s withdrawing them from the conflict and removing them from harm’s way.

Their consternation stems from the answers to four other questions. First, why did the Bush administration lie to Congress and the American people to get us into that ill-advised, ill-conceived, reckless waste of blood and treasure in the first place? Second, why did irresponsible representatives such as McCain and Graham fail to stand up for the American people and real American interests and vote for the invasion of Iraq? They knew or should have known that the narrative provided by the administration was a lie. Third, why did Obama forsake his obligation as president and give the perpetrators of this fraud a pass on their accountability by deciding to “turn the page” and not investigate the obvious? Fourth, where has the mainstream American media been in holding these war criminals accountable?

The repercussions from the failures in Iraq are manifesting themselves in Syria, Afghanistan, Lebanon and other parts of the world. Contrary to partisan foolishness and hype being touted by the likes of McCain and Graham, it’s not the result of the US withdrawal.

It’s the result of the short-sighted perspective and arrogance of an overextended failing hegemon that never really understood its enemy to begin with. “Time in jail and time in the jihad mean nothing to us. … Your watch’s battery will run down, and its hands will stop. But our time in the struggle will never end. We will win.” America has the watches, but the “enemy” has the time.