Harper's Finest — March 21, 2013, 6:06 pm

Harper’s Magazine on the Iraq War (2002–2013)

Tracing our coverage of the war, from Lewis H. Lapham to Andrew J. Bacevich

Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attack on the

Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attack on the “Lost Platoon” of the Puerto Rican National Guard, Ramadi, February 2004. Painting by Steve Mumford, Harper’s Magazine, March 2005

This week marks the tenth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. As longtime readers of Harper’s Magazine know, we were a leading voice against the war even before it had begun. In our October 2002 issue, while the Bush Administration was working to justify the invasion to the American public, our editor, Lewis H. Lapham, penned “The Road to Babylon: Searching for targets in Iraq,” in which he laid out a perspective that informed our coverage in the years that followed. The article, which is available in its entirety here, provides an excellent big-picture view of the debate in the months leading up to war: 

Competing television net­works scheduled different time slots for the Pentagon’s forthcoming fireworks display — before and after November’s congressional election, in early January when the weather around Baghdad improved, next April because the Air Force needed six months to replenish its inventory of precision bombs. Com­peting newspaper columnists advanced competing adjectives to characterize the “extreme danger” presented to “the entire civilized world,” but none of them offered evidence proving that Saddam possessed weapons likely to harm anybody who didn’t happen to be living in Iraq; important military au­thorities appeared on the Sunday-morning talk shows to endorse policies of “forward deterrence” and “anticipatory self-defense,” but none of them could think of a good reason why Saddam would make the mistake of attacking the United States; the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 31 and Au­gust 1 conducted hearings on the question of Iraq and learned that its expert witnesses couldn’t say for certain whether they knew what they were talking about. The few shards of undisputed fact collected over two days of testimo­ny suggested that Saddam doesn’t sponsor Al Qaeda (or any of the other terrorist brigades that have asked him for money and explosives over the last eleven years), that the Iraqi army, never formidable, is less dangerous now than when it was routed in the four days of the Gulf War, the Iraqi Air Force of no consequence, the civilian economy too impoverished to support the reconstruction of the nuclear-weapons program dismantled by UNSCOM between 1991 and 1998, and Saddam himself best under­stood as a small-time thug apt to deploy chemical or biological weapons (if he possesses chemical or bio­logical weapons) only as a last and cowardly defense of his own person.

In the same issue, Harper’s published an assessment by David Armstrong of the intellectual underpinnings of the war. Armstrong revealed the coming conflict to be the fulfillment of a gradual evolution in American defense policy that Vice President Dick Cheney, in particular, had nurtured. In the ensuing years, Harper’s ran many more critiques of the Bush Administration’s arguments for, and prosecution of, the war. We also reported extensively on the lives of those it affected.

A list of some of those articles follows, concluding with our most recent take on Bush’s folly: Andrew J. Bacevich’s “A Letter to Paul Wolfowitz,” in which Bacevich challenges the former deputy secretary of defense to confront both the legacy of the war and his role in bringing it about. “Help us learn the lessons of Iraq,” Bacevich concludes, “so that we might extract from it something of value in return for all the sacrifices made there. Forgive me for saying so, but you owe it to your country.”


A selected list of Harper’s Magazine features on the Iraq war ($ = subscribe to read):

“The Road to Babylon: Searching for targets in Iraq,” by Lewis H. Lapham (October 2002)

“Dick Cheney’s Song of America: Drafting a plan for global dominance,” by David Armstrong (October 2002)

“Chronicle of a War Foretold: On the move with Ahmed Chalabi, the man who would be king,” by Charles Glass (July 2003, $)

“Beyond Baghdad: Lost in the cradle of civilization,” by Paul William Roberts (July 2003, $)

“Beyond Fallujah: A year with the Iraqi resistance,” by Patrick Graham (June 2004, $)

“The Bereaved: Mourning the dead, in America and Iraq,” a photo essay by Peter Turnley (August 2004, $)

“Baghdad Year Zero: Pillaging Iraq in pursuit of a neocon utopia,” by Naomi Klein (September 2004, $)

“Out of Iraq: The rise and fall of one man’s occupation,” by Adam Davidson (February 2005, $)

“Watching the Tempest: Drawings from Iraq,” by Steve Mumford (March 2005, $)

“Every Land Is Karbala: In Shiite posters, a fever dream for Iraq,” an Annotation by Steven Vincent (May 2005, $)

“Improvised, Explosive, & Divisive: Searching in vain for a strategy in Iraq,” by Tom Bissell (January 2006, $)

“Under the God Gun: Battling a fake insurgency in the Army’s fake Iraq,” by Wells Tower (January 2006, $)

“Judgment Days: Lessons from the Abu Ghraib courts-marial,” by JoAnn Wypijewski (February 2006, $)

“The Minister of Civil War: Bayan Jabr, Paul Bremer, and the rise of the Iraqi death squads,” by Ken Silverstein (August 2006, $)

“Misinformation Intern: My summer as a military propagandist in Iraq,” by Willem Marx (September 2006, $)

“Down! Up! You’re in the Iraqi Army Now,” an illustrated feature by Joe Sacco (April 2007, $)

“The Black Box: Inside Iraq’s oil machine,” by Luke Mitchell (December 2007)

“Exodus: Where will Iraq go next?” by Deborah Campbell (April 2008, $)

“A Letter to Paul Wolfowitz: Occasioned by the tenth anniversary of the Iraq war,” by Andrew J. Bacevich (April 2013)


Also of note: Bacevich published an op-ed in the Washington Post on the tenth anniversary of the war, assessing whether the United States could be said to have won. Publisher John R. MacArthur wrote in October 2002 about the connections between George Bush Sr.’s approach to building the case for war in Iraq and his son’s attempts to do the same. And in December 2011, on the occasion of the withdrawal of the final remaining U.S. troops, James Sligh compiled nine years’ worth of Weekly Review events into an Iraq War Review.

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