How Many Body Bags?
By Robert Scheer/The Nation
On Sunday, nineteen more young Americans died in Iraq serving the
vanity of an American President who woefully betrayed them and
no idea where his policies are taking the country.
This is a President who, as is now amply clear, has systematically
lied to the troops and the nation about the reasons for going to war,
distorting evidence to claim that the United States was threatened by
Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and linking Iraq to
September 11 terrorist attacks. Having led the country by the nose
into a clumsy, ill-advised Middle East power grab, President Bush is
faced with a terrible quandary: What do we do now?
The first thing is to resist the logic of the self-fulfilling
prophecy: Bush claimed Iraq was a center of international
terrorism--it wasn't--and now says that because terrorists are coming
over Iraqi borders to take potshots at Americans, we need to stay
"We won't run," Bush said, cavalierly dismissing the lives of the
young soldiers mired in his folly. This amounts to using our young
and women as bait and assumes there are a finite number of fanatics
who can be dispensed with once and for all.
In fact, the US occupation of the historic center of the Arab world
has provided Al Qaeda and other like-minded groups with their most
effective recruiting poster yet, and we are fighting them on their
terms and on their turf.
Meanwhile, attacks also are coming from various Iraqi quarters:
who enjoyed favors under Hussein and those who may have been
see the United States overthrow the tyrant but have since become
alienated by an occupation that inevitably inspires nationalist as
well as religious opposition.
Why can't we learn from our history in Vietnam and the experiences
the French in Algeria and the Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza
no occupation by an army of "the other" is ever welcome? Only last
week, Israel's army chief of staff issued a warning on the limits of
an occupying power to achieve its goals through the exercise of
military force. "It increases hatred for Israel and strengthens the
terror organizations," Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon told Israeli reporters,
adding: "In our tactical interests, we are operating contrary to our
Some pundits and politicians, even those who may have been
about the war to begin with, now argue that we must "finish the job,"
even if it means increasing our commitment of troops or ruling Iraq
indefinitely. This is, however, exactly the kind of stubborn and mushy
thinking that led us into the hell of the Vietnam War and the deaths
of 58,000 Americans and more than 2 million Vietnamese and
The occupation of Iraq is not working and will not work. For Iraqis,
our culture is offensive and our tactics heavy-handed. As none other
than the American-sponsored Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi put it
after the latest guerrilla attacks: "The Americans, their methods,
their operations and their procedures are singularly unsuited to deal
with this kind of problem."
And US intentions in Iraq are far from clear. Though there may be an
echo of "white man's burden" that seeks to export "civilization," even
that highly questionable goal is clouded and undermined by the fact
that Washington inevitably will put a higher priority on having a new
Iraq serve the United States' superpower needs--oil, commerce,
military power--rather than meet the needs of regular Iraqis.
Unless we are willing to trade the lives of US troops and Iraqis for
the obsessions of empire, we must end the occupation now.
The United States can give Chalabi and his crowd the money they
to operate in the short run and similarly aid the more established
Shiite groups. It can beg the United Nations Security Council to take
over this mess, with financial support from the US, and smooth the
transfer of power enough to let the President save face by declaring
the mission a victory.
Such a wise reversal of course might even help Bush get reelected--
poll numbers on Iraq are sinking. If he can back off from the edge of
the cliff to which his hyper-aggressive foreign policy has taken us,
the public might be conned into giving him another term. Personally, I
think the President should be impeached for his lies. But more
important, he should redeem himself by coming to his senses and
the carnage and instability he has wrought in Iraq and the world.
©2003 The Nation
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