Would You Buy a Used War From This Man?
by Michael I. Niman
It’s a tough sell, to say the least. But with the war against Iraq now entering its fifth year, with it having lasted longer than US involvement in the Second World War, and with no objectives met save for executing Saddam Hussein—who incidentally would have been the most useful witness in any prosecution of the Bush Sr. and Reagan administrations for complicity with Saddam in crimes against humanity in the 1980s—the Bush administration is still asking us to feed trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives into the black hole of an endless war that he created. What gall.
To say that this war accomplished nothing is an understatement. In Iraq, the US began on the starting line, jammed itself into reverse and gunned the engine until the damned Hummer ran out of gas. And that’s where we are today, while the rest of the world moves forward with their agendas.
Iran, a medieval backwater regularly churning out stories of human rights abuses, now wields an otherwise unfathomable influence over its former enemy—formerly secular Iraq. Nominally communist China is now emerging as the world’s most important economic power, producing most consumer goods Americans buy in exchange for owning an ever growing piece of the US economy. Say hello to your new landlord. And with our tax money paying for this endless war, we’ve learned to say goodbye to social spending such as money for education and health care, not to mention the socialism of infrastructure maintenance. So in this formerly proud and prosperous nation, we’re watching our roads, bridges and water systems crumble apart. And we’re seeing communities destroyed by disasters left to rot. How’s that for homeland security?
We’re also seeing the undoing of our national reputation. People around the world used to like and respect us. Global polls now put us somewhere in the vicinity of North Korea when it comes to popularity and trust. Most important for our economy has been the destruction of “Brand USA”—the cultural phenomenon by which people around the world wanted to be dumb fucks like us. It doesn’t sound like much, but it drives the sales of American brands like Nike, McDonalds and Coke, where people create their own products, sell them to themselves and send the profits back to US corporations. With George W. Bush as our mascot, suddenly it’s not cool to like America.
The hard sell
But the war’s got to keep going. It’s a hard sell, however. Take the new main reason for us being in Iraq—to fight al Qaeda. Let’s forget for the moment that al Qaeda never was in Iraq until we removed that country’s government, replaced it with nothing of any substance and opened the door for anyone to walk into Iraq and begin blowing shit up. And let’s also ignore arguments that al Qaeda may not actually be in Iraq—and without the Bush administration’s nurturing of their image, they would not even exist as a major political force at all.
Al Qaeda also would not exist in Iraq without the US presence. The secular Sunnis that formerly ran Iraq have traditionally been enemies of the fundamentalist Wahhabis that dominate al Qaeda. And of course the Shiites and Kurds in Iraq, having been targeted by al Qaeda for their religious views, are certainly no friends to the Wahhabist movement. The problem is that the two biggest groups, Shiites and Sunnis, are too busy fighting against the larger foreign occupation force, the US, to target effectively the smaller and more elusive force, al Qaeda. And for the Iraqis not targeted by al Qaeda, the jihadists are proving to be allies in the fight against the Americans, so for the time being they’re tolerated. With the US out of the picture, al Qaeda couldn’t last a month in Iraq. And the fact that they are the sworn enemies of the neighboring governments in Iran, Syria and Turkey won’t help them in their quest for survival.
The other argument the Bush administration is putting forward in support of endless war is that the region—which has survived almost 60 years of warfare in Palestine, a decade and a half of sectarian civil war in Lebanon and 10 years of Sunni-Shiite warfare between Iran and Iraq—will be sucked into the Iraqi civil war. This is the same paternalistic argument colonizers have always used in the Middle East: Without European guidance these brutal people will annihilate themselves. Let’s give that racist diatribe up once and for all. We’re talking about the cradle of civilization, where various sects of Jews, Christians and Muslims have lived together for over a thousand years—that is, until European colonization efforts effectively divided and conquered these groups. There are still 25,000 Jews, for example, living in Iran, with their leaders pledging loyalty to that nation’s government. There’s no historical reason to believe that this conflict will destroy the region, unless we stay and prolong it forever.
Then there’s the argument that we must stay in Iraq to prevent ethnic cleansing. The sad reality is that most of the ethnic cleansing has already taken place—under our watch. Baghdad, a formerly multicultural city, is now divided into ethnic ghettos, with the US military actually building the walls that separate them. This is why ethnic violence is allegedly down—because the damage is mostly done. This is not to say that the ethnic fighting is over. It’s still continuing and, as I’ve reported earlier, the US is currently arming both opposing Sunni and Shiite factions in this fighting. The US is the force that created the conditions under which this civil war started, we’ve proven powerless to stop ethnic cleansing, and it turns out we’ve been complicit in prolonging ethnic fighting and institutionalizing ethnic divisions (as we did in the former Yugoslavia). The fact that we started this war is not a legitimate reason for us to stay and prolong it indefinitely.
Night of the less dead
The remaining arguments for prolonging the war are built on foundations of lies, and brought to us by disgusting liars. Take General Petraeus, the wonk that testified before Congress this September 11 in support of the war and the recent troop surge. It’s no accident that Petraeus, who also serves as commander of US forces in Iraq, was never sworn in, as is often the protocol in such hearings. Petraeus reported that political violence in Iraq is down. What he didn’t say is that car bombs don’t count toward political violence stats. Neither, according to the Washington Post, do killings where the victim is shot in the back of the head. Killings only count as political if the victim is shot in the front of the head. Get it? These folks are more dead. And the others? Well, Petraeus didn’t mention that the federal Government Accountability Office reported that overall violence in Iraq is up, yet again. That would account for the less-dead-but-still-dead, shot-in-the-back-of-the-head folks.
Petraeus also failed to mention that a poll commissioned by the BBC and ABC (whose stenography of Bush administration propaganda helped lead us into this war) recently failed to find a single Baghdad resident who felt the surge made them feel safer. To the contrary, everyone polled said the surge made them feel unsafe. Everyone!
The British newspaper, The Independent, reports that contrary to what Petraeus claimed, the troop surge has worsened ethnic violence. That’s because the surge forced ethnic militias out of the Baghdad neighborhoods where they already completed their ethnic cleansing and into other areas where Sunnis and Shiites were still living together in peace. The militias continued doing what they did in Baghdad—creating ethnically pure ghettos out of what were once thriving multicultural communities.
So who is this Petraeus cat who defiled our national day of mourning? According to the Washington Post, he spent quite a bit of time this summer chatting on the phone with Ed Gillespie, the former chair of the Republican National Committee, to “map out ways of selling the surge.” This is one more example of how the military itself has fallen victim to the Bush administration. It’s been politicized. There can no longer even be an amoral assessment of strategy successes and failures. The military must soldier on no matter how doomed the policy and strategy may be. It’s no wonder we’re seeing some of the nation’s best military minds putting in for retirement. And let’s not even talk about recruiting standards—which have dropped even lower than the “morality president’s” morals.
Of course, keep this conversation in hushed tones. Remember, you’re either with the Bush administration or you’re with the terrorists. And in the case of Petraeus, if you stand with the troops dying in the streets of Baghdad and question the integrity of their leadership, watch out. The political advocacy group MoveOn.org did just that, running a full-page ad in the New York Times, asking if General Petraeus, who on the same day was misleading the US Congress on Iraq, is “General Betray Us.”
The US Senate, nominally run by a slim Democratic majority, acted quickly, not to condemn Petraeus but to condemn MoveOn.org. It’s like they have nothing else to do. The Senate’s Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell bellowed, “Who would have ever expected anybody to go after a general in the field at a time of war?” The real question is, who would have expected a general in the field, and more importantly on the public payroll, to conspire with the former chair of the Republican National Committee to mislead the nation in favor of a partisan policy? In this country, generals are supposed to be loyal first and foremost to the US Constitution, not to any political party. There should be no coup against the truth.
It gets worse. The bill passed by a 75 to 22 vote. Do the math. There are 49 Republicans in the Senate. So much for the spine of the Democratic Party. And talk about hypocrisy—the Senate passed this resolution the day after the esteemed chamber failed to pass a resolution guaranteeing military personnel time with their families equal to the duration of their rotation in a war zone before being redeployed once again to war.
The anti-MoveOn.org resolution was supposed to put a chill on freedom of speech—in particular, freedom of speech at the time when it is most critical, in time of war. This is especially important now that we have endless war. But it hasn’t hampered freedom of speech. To the contrary, it empowers it. MoveOn.org’s anti-war campaign was started by a college student in his pajamas poking at his computer. Today it commands condemnation, and in reality self-condemnation, from some of the most despicable, spineless quislinguislings in government. Words must have power.
One last question. What ever happened to Osama bin What’s-his-name? The US National Intelligence Director, the Homeland Security Chief and the head of the FBI all recently called bin Laden the most dangerous terrorist threat to the US. The White House Security Advisor, however, recently termed bin Laden as being “virtually impotent,” saying he represents no real threat other than making videotapes. This may be true. But wasn’t he bogeyman number one? Isn’t he the main terror dude? And isn’t this thing in Iraq supposed to be some sort of “war on terror,” even if it looks more like a war of terror?
This is where the Bush administration’s rhetoric comes full circle, crashing into its stalled Hummer of a foreign policy. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, world leaders were united on helping root out criminals who carried out such attacks. Now, with our shameful behavior in Iraq, much of the world just doesn’t give a shit what happens to us. Still others wish us the worst. In parts of the world, bin Laden is more popular than Nike or Pepsi. This war has got to stop right now. There are more and more arguments against this war every day. Enough is enough. It’s time for action. It’s time for “we the people” to stand up and stop this war before it damns all of us to live in the America and the world that this war is shaping.
Dr. Michael I. Niman is a professor of journalism and media studies at Buffalo State College. His Artvoice columns are available online at artvoice.com, archived at www.mediastudy.com and available globally through syndication.
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