The question continues to baffle me after all these years. (It seems that conventional wisdom is settling on “access to oil,” but we have this brilliant new technology that gives us access to as much oil as we need — it’s called “money.”) David Graeber’s recent piece in The Baffler provided me with fresh insight:
It does often seem that, whenever there is a choice between one option that makes capitalism seem the only possible economic system, and another that would actually make capitalism a more viable economic system, neoliberalism means always choosing the former. The combined result is a relentless campaign against the human imagination. Or, to be more precise: imagination, desire, individual creativity, all those things that were to be liberated in the last great world revolution, were to be contained strictly in the domain of consumerism, or perhaps in the virtual realities of the Internet. In all other realms they were to be strictly banished. We are talking about the murdering of dreams, the imposition of an apparatus of hopelessness, designed to squelch any sense of an alternative future.
In particular, the overriding concern is to make sure that no protest movement can possibly appear to succeed — and preferably, it wouldn’t even begin. He uses the example of the Iraq War:
the war planners made an almost obsessive effort to ensure the wars [in Afghanistan and Iraq] were effectively protest-proof. Propaganda was incessant, the media was brought on board, experts provided exact calculations on body bag counts (how many U.S. casualties it would take to stir mass opposition), and the rules of engagement were carefully written to keep the count below that.
The problem was that since those rules of engagement ensured that thousands of women, children, and old people would end up “collateral damage” in order to minimize deaths and injuries to U.S. soldiers, this meant that in Iraq and Afghanistan, intense hatred for the occupying forces would pretty much guarantee that the United States couldn’t obtain its military objectives. And remarkably, the war planners seemed to be aware of this. It didn’t matter. They considered it far more important to prevent effective opposition at home than to actually win the war.
This leads me to an inexorable conclusion. The true answer as to why we invaded Iraq is, “Because you can go fuck yourself.” It sounds like I’m kidding, but I’m really, really not.