It feels strange, at this point in my life, to find myself biting my tongue. And yet there it is. It’s not as if I feel overtly threatened. My e-mail might be screened, and my telephone calls monitored, and my bank transactions scanned, and my medical records accessed, but nobody is likely to come looking for me (since I’m neither Muslim nor of Arab descent). I don’t work in the media (like Bill Maher or Phil Donohue), so I probably won’t be fired. I’m not an entertainer (like the Dixie Chicks), so I probably won’t be boycotted and shunned. I’m not in politics, so I won’t be derided (like Howard Dean) or abused by Ann Coulter and a host of right wing hatemongers.
No, it’s just that I’m aware of a mood, a climate, a state of mind, that labels my contrarian opinions as unpatriotic. Even unspeakable. If I want to remain an ordinary Joe in good standing, I can hide these ideas like Anne Frank’s family in the attic of my mind, but it would be dangerous for them to show themselves on the street.
Grant the Bush administration this: They’ve been great at mind control. If facts and logic indicate the administration has lied about one thing or another—say Iraq, to take an obvious example—, you may, like me, find yourself hesitating to say so at work, or at church, or over the backyard fence.
So, like a patient in group therapy, struggling to make his way to health, I have a need to say the unspeakable, and to say it with the forcefulness I actually feel. Here are seven true things about Iraq it’s not okay to think, let alone speak:
1) The war in Iraq isn’t a noble cause; it’s a naked crime. The war was never about spreading democracy; it has always been about controlling oil supplies—or, more accurately, about ensuring U.S. global dominance by controlling the Persian Gulf. It’s the fulfillment of a plan for imperial expansion originally hatched by Henry Kissinger more than thirty years ago.
Kissinger’s scheme was revived by Paul Wolfowitz in 1992 in a policy proposal titled “Defense Policy Guidance,” and then again by the Project for the New American Century (a right wing think tank which has included Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Scooter Libby, Richard Perle, and John Bolton, among others) in a 2000 report called “Rebuilding American Defenses.”
With George W. Bush’s rise to the presidency, those men became his military and foreign policy team. When the attack came on September 11, they finally had both the clout and the chance to fulfill their dream.
Connecting the dots is child’s play: The Bush officials I’ve named laid out specific plans for the Persian Gulf—which anyone can read if they wish—and now they are carrying them out. People who can’t see the dots because they are blinded by stars and stripes are the kind of Americans the Bush people count on— good-hearted, God-fearing, and gullible.
The war was illegal and immoral from its conception, the neoconservatives’ bastard baby, birthed with a campaign of lies, swaddled with American flags, and laid in a TV tube. We invaded and occupied a country that had neither the intent nor the means to harm us. The war is hardly a legitimate source of American pride. Guilt, shame, and remorse are more appropriate emotions. But those seem as scarce as Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” (WMDs).
2) The inspections were working perfectly; that’s why they had to be stopped. U.N. inspectors weren’t finding any WMDs because there were none to be found. There was a danger that they might actually complete their work and conclude that Iraq had no WMDs, blowing the cover for our planned assault. That would never do, so the U.S. gave them a deadline to leave the country.
This whole run-up to the war was marked by clumsy lies and a compliant American media. Administration officials (including Donald Rumsfeld, and Colin Powell in his obscene performance at the U.N.) claimed that we knew what weapons of mass destruction Iraq had, in what amounts, and where they were located. If all of that were true, the simplest course would have been to share some of that “intelligence” with the weapons inspectors. What kind of media fails to ask such an obvious question as “Why don’t you tell the inspectors where they are?”
The media failed to remark on an even bigger lie, this one mouthed by both President Bush and Senator Pat Roberts: that Saddam Hussein wouldn’t let the inspectors in. When the inspectors were in and running all over Iraq! The inspectors weren’t forced out by Saddam Hussein; they were run out by the U.S. so the bombing campaign could begin. What kind of media lets something so big go unremarked, and literally lets the administration get away with murder?
3) Our early whirlwind “victory” was a mirage in the desert. The race to Baghdad encountered minimal opposition. U.S. forces seemed to be a juggernaut as they raced to secure oil fields and the Interior Ministry. The oil was the goal; the Interior Ministry would provide Saddam Hussein’s spy files, which could then be used to manipulate and blackmail figures in the new government. Grabbing those files would also prevent details of U.S. support for Saddam from falling into the wrong hands.
The problem? The token opposition was part of Iraqi strategy. Most Iraqi soldiers simply took off their uniforms, hid their weapons, and melted into the landscape, to begin a well-organized resistance. The resistance was greatly aided by the U.S., which focused on the oil and the spy files, and ignored the rest. “The rest” included schools, museums, businesses, and office buildings, which were left to looters; water, power, and communications installations, which were likewise left to looters; and weapon depots and ammunition dumps, which were quickly emptied and supplied the firepower for the insurgents. Dumb, dumb, and dumb!
4) The war in Iraq is already lost—but not if you judge it by the administration’s real aims rather than the reasons it gives publicly for the war. If the war is to be judged by its success in combating terrorism or installing a model democracy—the current public excuses— then it’s an obvious disaster. The occupation is breeding insurgents faster than mosquitoes spawn in a stagnant pond, and Iraq has devolved into a chaotic, violent, hopelessly-divided state. Those conditions are steadily worsening.
The irony is that while the administration is losing the war in the terms it sold it to the public, it’s doing just fine in terms of its actual goals. No doubt they had hoped to succeed at both.
If you judge the war from the Cheney/Rumsfeld realpolitik, they’re within reach of most of what they aimed for. Our occupation forces, with Halliburton’s help, are racing to complete five mammoth permanent bases, which will allow us to dominate the region militarily for the foreseeable future. There’s no strong central Iraqi government to oppose us; we’ve replaced it with a federation of three weak, largely self-governing regions. The oil-rich territories are in the hands of the Shiites and our clients the Kurds; the minority Sunnis get sand and a dipstick. They’re furious, but who cares?
Mr. Bush asserted once again, in his Fourth of July speech to troops at Fort Bragg, that he’s not leaving Iraq with anything less than victory—this against a background of multiplying murders and massacres in Baghdad, as the situation continues to deteriorate. Mr. Bush isn’t actually anticipating victory; he’s just buying time until the permanent bases are completed and our colonial garrisons are in place, along with a weak and compliant Iraqi government. His refusal to accept anything other than a clear victory is, in fact, a way to set the table for an extended occupation, in the range of fifteen to twenty years.
The only victory here is of greed and arrogance over decency and common sense. This president is too small a man with too big an agenda. Thousands more will die, many thousands more will be crippled, and billions of dollars will be squandered before he struts out of office. Sooner or later, somebody else will have to call it quits and clean up his mess—at which point Mr. Bush’s backers can attack the new leader for having “lost Iraq.”
5) Handwringing over “intelligence failures” leading up to the war is a joke. Are we really supposed to take seriously all of these media pseudo-efforts to explain “how we could get it so wrong”? Do people really believe that intelligence agencies with hundreds of thousands of employees and billions of dollars in their budgets are so totally incompetent that teenage kids surfing the Internet can easily come up with better information than we used to launch the invasion of Iraq?
“We got it so wrong” because the administration demanded that we get it wrong, and intelligence agencies fell into line. It’s almost humorous to read the same explanation being trotted out by each of the countries joining in the invasion—Britain, Italy, Australia… incompetent intelligence agencies everywhere. Really, you might ask, what are we getting for our money? Why don’t we just give a couple of computer-savvy high school kids a part-time after-school job digging up facts, and use the billions of dollars we save to pay for providing health care, or feeding the hungry, or housing the homeless?
6) The “noble men and women of our armed forces” are an ordinary group of people, with the same virtues and vices as people elsewhere. Many are decent, honorable, and well-intentioned —good citizens who willingly risk their lives to defend the rest of us. The trust of those good people has been abused in the most cynical, calculated, and evil way possible.
On the other hand, some of those troops are lazy, incompetent, violent, brutal, or cruel. If you know several soldiers, you know some you would be glad to have as your sons and daughters—and some you wouldn’t trust to shovel out a chicken house if you couldn’t keep them under your eye.
Thomas Ricks, senior Pentagon correspondent for The Washington Post, said in a Fresh Air interview that one of the things he discovered and found most dismaying during hundreds of interviews with military personnel was that Abu Ghraib wasn’t a rare exception—that, in fact, abuse and mistreatment of Iraqis by American troops was widespread. What kind of blinkers do people wear to avoid seeing the atrocities in Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, Samarra, Haditha, Ishaqi, Mahmoudia—the list goes on and on—for what they are: the natural corollary of a brutal occupation?
Yet ultimately, the question isn’t “What are the soldiers like?” so much as it is “What are they being used for?” An army is a tool of the state, and can be judged by the purpose for which it’s turned loose. See #1 above.
7) “Support our troops” means “support our policies.” It seems like a nice gesture: Support all those kids you know, the sons and daughters of friends and neighbors. But the unspoken part of the neocon’s message is: “or shut up.” The effect is to transform people’s worry for friends and family who are in the military into support for the invasion and occupation. How do you support troops whose love for their country is being callously exploited? Who are being deceived into dying?
Those aren’t rhetorical questions. The best support is to tell the truth. Yesterday I came across a hopeful sign: The dollar store in town isn’t stocking “Support Our Troops” ribbons anymore. Instead, they have a box of ribbons reading “Bring Our Troops Home Safely.” I’ll gladly slap one of those on my tailgate.
© Tony Russell, 2006