Justin Raimondo: NO EXIT?
- An American soldier in Iraq asks: 'Why are we still here?'
by Justin Raimondo
Support at home for the U.S. military presence in Iraq is dropping
dramatically as our troubles mount on the battlefield. 56% of
Americans now say Iraq was "worth going to war over," while 42%
disagree a long way down from 73% to 23% in April. The reasons are
illuminating. Quizzed as to what motivated their reversal, 24% of
respondents to a Gallup poll said because it looks like the
administration lied about weapons of mass destruction. An equal
number say the invasion resolved nothing and was a "waste of human
lives." 11% volunteered the opinion that we need to stop policing the
world. Having supposedly "won" the war, Americans are finding the
fruits of "victory" no sweeter than outright defeat.
These sentiments are probably more widespread in the U.S. military
than anywhere else. You'll remember that prominent high-level
officers made no secret of their opposition in the run-up to this
war, and their hard-headed pragmatism is clearly echoed in the ranks.
Last week, the Washington Post cited the words of a sergeant in the
Fourth Infantry Division, north of Baghdad, that ought to send a
chill up the nonexistent spines of the Chickenhawk Brigade:
"What are we getting into here? The war is supposed to be over, but
every day we hear of another soldier getting killed. Is it worth it?
Saddam isn't in power anymore. The locals want us to leave. Why are
we still here?"
U.S. Viceroy Paul Bremer has this answer for them:
"We are going to fight them and impose our will on them and we will
capture or... kill them until we have imposed law and order on this
country. We dominate the scene and we will continue to impose our
will on this country."
If Bremer keeps this up, he isn't going to last much longer than his
predecessor, General Jay Garner, who was nixed almost before he even
took office. According to Gallup, of those who say it was worth it
going to war, 27% averred it was necessary to remove an evil dictator
and 18% volunteered that we needed to "free the Iraq people"
and "stop oppression." The blowhard Bremer is riding for a fall, but
the same can be said for the whole imperial project.
30% of war supporters were convinced because of the need to "protect
the nation" and "stop the threat to world peace" supposedly embodied
by Iraq. As the countdown to war proceeded, the arguments used to
justify the invasion were all of immediate import: the President and
his team pointed to an imminent military threat. Bush explicitly
conjured up a rather fanciful vision of a fleet of WMD-laden drones
capable of reaching the continental U.S. As Senator Robert Byrd
reminded us recently:
"Iraq's threatening, death-dealing fleet of unmanned drones about
which we heard so much morphed into one prototype made of plywood and
If whoever fed Bush that whopper isn't out of a job, then one has to
wonder who's at the control panel in Washington. As we approach
another presidential election year, the integrity of this
administration is at stake, and faith in the existence of Iraqi WMD
is on the wane. CNN reports:
"About 45 percent said they lacked confidence that Iraq's alleged
weapons of mass destruction would be found, up from 15 percent in
March. The poll also found little difference in the number of those
who believe the Bush administration deliberately misled the public
about Iraqi weapons 37 percent now, up from 31 percent earlier in
June. More than half said it would matter a great deal if they were
to become convinced that they were misled."
There is the potential here for a radical turnaround in public
opinion, and the War Party is running scared. They thought they would
have time to consolidate their position and even have the opportunity
to start moving in on their next target. Instead, however, they have
been thrown on the defensive, with chief warlord Donald Rumsfeld now
forced to admit not long after the presidential proclamation
of "victory" the fighting will continue "for some time." Oh, but
please don't use politically incorrect terminology to describe the
U.S. predicament: we are not to refer to the simmering conflict in
Iraq as a "guerrilla war," scolds Rummy, and "quagmire" is completely
out of the question:
"There are so many cartoons where press people are saying 'Is it
Vietnam yet?' hoping it is, and wondering if it is, and it isn't.
It's a different time, it's a different era, it's a different place."
Iraq isn't Vietnam, this much is true, which means it could just as
likely be far worse than Vietnam. When we fought the Viet Cong,
Communism was already a dying religion. But Islam is a different
matter. As for "hoping it is" another Vietnam, how typical of a
government official to blame the victims of his policies for the
"What are we getting into?"
Rumsfeld and the War Party have no answer to the sergeant's question,
not an honest one at any rate. They lied by omission to the American
people by downplaying both the human and the economic costs of our
Pyrrhic victory. America's men and women in uniform are the greatest
victims of a reckless policy. This is just the beginning, and
military families sense it. A recent headline in the Michigan Grand
Rapids Press, "Fighting in Iraq is supposed to be over, but local
moms know better," sums up their feelings. A military mom scoffs at
Bush's "Top Gun" performance aboard the Abraham Lincoln: "Mission
Accomplished" read the banner ostentatiously festooned across the
great ship, another big lie they now deny, but
"It doesn't feel that way to Sand Lake resident Karen Smith. She
hears the reports six British killed in a riot, a U.S. soldier shot
in the head at a suburban Baghdad sidewalk store, another shot in the
back on night patrol. And she wonders how much longer her son, Army
Sgt. Shane Smith, will be told to stay, says Smith, 49.
"'I think we need to leave. I think we need to do what we can and get
out of there. They are turning on us. We have got to get out of
"It's a sentiment echoed in homes of many military families across
West Michigan, as doubts creep in about a mission with no clear end
Far from ending the war, the occupation of Iraq is only the first
phase of a neoconservative Dr. Strangelove-style plan to "transform"
the Middle East. And we aren't going to have any grumbling in the
ranks not if Rep. Peter Hoekstra, a Republican representing Ms. Smith
and her family, has anything to say about it. The Grand Rapids Press
quotes Hoekstra, R-Holland, scolding the families of military
personnel who dare complain:
"Americans have gotten used to lightning-quick wars and minimal
casualties. These folks did sign up for the U.S. armed forces and one
of the real possibilities is military combat."
Yeah, so just shut up and die, buddy that's what we're telling our
soldiers. That is the message this administration having slashed
veterans' benefits and opposed giving soldiers on the front lines a
break on their college loan repayments is sending to the military
You can bet your bottom dollar they'll be trying to collect on that
college loan long after Johnny comes marching home: maybe mutilated,
or otherwise permanently traumatized. Perhaps in a body-bag.
Listen up, soldier your fate is of no importance to the
warmongering clique that never served a day in the military and yet
presumes to nurture Napoleonic ambitions. They lied about the reasons
for this war, and you are paying the full price of it. You and your
families, who live on a begrudged pittance, are but pawns on a
chessboard and just as dispensable.
In the last grand adventure run by the Best and the Brightest, the
federal government reneged on a solemn pledge to pay all medical
bills of soldiers in combat. This time around, I wonder what new
tricks they'll try. I write this on July 1, the 30th anniversary of
the end of the draft, a day on which the President surrounded himself
with soldiers who had re-enlisted in the midst of a seemingly endless
war. It was in this setting that he announced a new determination to
ignore the growing chorus of criticism and stay the course:
"They have attacked coalition forces and they're trying to intimidate
Iraqi citizens. These groups believe they have found an opportunity
to harm America, to shake our resolve in the war on terror, and to
cause us to leave Iraq before freedom is fully established. They are
wrong and they will not succeed."
They will face "ruin," he averred, just as surely as "the regime they
once served." But this attempt to characterize the organized
guerrilla activity as neo-Ba'athist "remnants" is offered without
much evidence. British casualties due to hostile fire are roughly
proportional to American losses: both are occurring at a rate nothing
short of alarming. Yet the southern part of the country, where the
Brits hold sway, was never pro-Ba'athist. The pro-Iranian Shi'a, who
constitute the majority of Muslims in Iraq, represent another kind of
threat to the occupation.
Rumsfeld is in deep denial if he refuses to acknowledge that we are
fighting what is bound to be a protracted conflict against a
heterogeneous, broad-based opposition not restricted to the Sunni
population in central Iraq. Whether we call it a war
against "guerrillas," or "terrorists," or "remnants," or whatever,
dude, it is going to take far more troops than perhaps even General
Eric Shinseki imagined. It was, you'll remember, the former Army
chief of staff who warned that several hundred thousand troops would
be needed. Rumsfeld drove him into retirement for his impertinence.
The ceremony honoring 30 re-enlisted soldiers, chosen as backdrop for
announcing that the war will be prosecuted to the end, was fraught
with ironic significance. Now that Bremer is asking for more troops
to be sent, Shinseki is vindicated but where will all these
centurions come from? It is 110 degrees in the Iraqi desert, and
volunteers for an indefinite stay are likely to be in short supply.
As public support for the non-war in Iraq dwindles, the duration of
the U.S. military mission is becoming a major political question.
Where is our exit strategy? That is the major question that needs to
be asked of every political candidate. We need to find out how many
of the Democrats are one of these "let's rebuild Iraq" types who want
to prettify an occupation as some sort of good deed, just as long as
we modestly assume the fig-leaf of the UN. Many activists are
impressed with Howard Dean's bold opposition to the war plans of this
administration, but he needs to be asked under what circumstances the
U.S. should withdraw and how soon.
The invasion of Iraq is an accomplished fact, but what is not yet
accomplished is the goal of ensconcing us there for 5 to 10 years, as
Senators Richard Lugar and Joe Biden aver. Just back from a trip to
our newest overseas possession, they looked grim as they reported
that this administration had woefully underestimated or perhaps
even deliberately downplayed the difficulties inherent in the
occupation. They sighed, wistfully, at the inevitability of it all
and effectively washed their hands of any responsibility.
But the extended stay of U.S. troops in Iraq, on the grounds that we
have some sort of responsibility to ensure "order" and "stability,"
is a recipe for disaster. Our military presence is the cause of the
chaos, not the cure: the social fabric, always delicate, has been
ripped asunder by the war, and the application of more force cannot
mend what has been broken: it can only bruise the patient further.
Conservatives have no trouble understanding this concept as it
applies to government action in the U.S., but for some reason insist
on applying a different principle to government action abroad.
We cannot export our system around the world at gunpoint. Such an
endless, thankless task would exhaust our resources, both human and
financial, beyond the bounds of reason. Worse, empire-building would
corrupt us as a people, infecting our culture and subverting our
political institutions. The semi-permanent occupation of Iraq is not
a foregone conclusion: there is yet time to turn back from this
reckless course, and do a u-turn on the road to empire.
We supposedly "liberated" the Iraqis from a regime whose legendary
evil grows with each retelling of the familiar atrocity stories. But
what about us Americans, who, like poor Sisyphus, are faced with a
task that is not only endless but also thankless? Who will "liberate"
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
Writing in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books, Clifford
Geertz trenchantly observed:
"Stephen Schwartz, who has also run into political difficulties in
the capital, and stirred thereby a teacup-storm on the right, is a
strange and outlandish figure."
As if to confirm Geertz's diagnosis, Schwartz immediately came out
with another fulminating screed, Part XVIII of his long-running
series trying to frame various individuals as a part of a Vast
Conspiracy involving terrorists and - coincidentally -- all of his
own worst enemies, chief among them being, apparently, little old me.
You'll remember that last time he constructed an elaborate fantasy in
which I was supposedly the inspiration behind an incident that,
according to him, had involved the threat of physical violence
against him by incensed Muslims. The sheer power of my words, it
seems, had the effect of inciting a crowd somewhere in Long Island to
contemplate delivering Schwartz to the same fate suffered by his
hero, Leon Trotsky. Oh yes, and I was also supposed to be intimately
involved with a terrorist group known as Jamat al-Fuqra. This time,
it's Lashkar-i-Taiba, an obscure anti-Indian group, and Ismail Royer,
an American citizen whom I have never met, and who was recently
arrested for allegedly supporting terrorist activities. Here is
Schwartrz's idea of a Raimondo-Royer-Jamat al-Fuqra connection:
"The role of Raimondo in this maneuver remains extremely interesting.
Raimondo has inexhaustibly assailed me because, like Royer, I have
taken an Islamic name, although unlike Royer, I have never used it
for deceptive purposes. Royer employed Raimondo's propaganda as a fig-
leaf to cover his own attempt at intimidation."
"Interesting" does not even begin to describe the logic that attempts
to link me to a terroristic conspiracy on the grounds that Royer had
once sent him "a defamatory quote" from a "notorious Saddamizer and
admirer of Axis seditionists," namely me. "Strange and outlandish,"
Schwartz certainly is and, in making a second career out of
smearing me, more than just a little bit sinister.
Schwartz has elevated his own crazed narcissism into a full-blown
delusional system, in which everything is a conspiracy against poor
heroic Schwartz, around whom the entire universe revolves. If you can
stand it, take a peek inside the Schwartzian mind, as he rails
against his enemies, heaps praise on himself, and reveals himself to
be a pompous, self-important fool.
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