May 30, 2003

The War Party was wrong. But will they ever admit it?

It was a glorious victory, proclaimed by none other than our conquering commander-in-chief as he zoomed onto the deck of the U.S.S. Lincoln: we had "prevailed" in the war against Iraq, and the pro-war pundits, drunk with bloodlust, were delirious with joy. They had been proven right! Now, it would only be a matter of time before the grateful Iraqis, hailing their "liberation," abandoned their old-fashioned fetish for independence, and gave up Islam for Ikea. Except it didn't turn out that way, now did it….?

No, not by a long shot. The news from Iraq, if anybody is still paying attention, is that low-level attacks on U.S. forces are on the rise:

"The war was supposed to be over. But the deaths of four U.S. soldiers and the wounding of 15 others in just two days in armed attacks across Iraq raise the troubling prospect that a fresh wave of violent resistance to U.S. occupation is beginning."

A firefight in Fallouja, in which two Americans were killed and nine wounded, was explained by one resident who gave his name as Abbu Abbas:

"'They are not wanted here. No one wanted them to come here.' … Waving a piece of metal that he said was from the damaged helicopter, he said: 'This is our pride. Everybody says that the American military is invincible. This is the proof that it is not. We are shooting them with our own guns.'"

Our soldiers patrol a devastated landscape of blasted buildings and mean streets, where shots ring out day and night in a cacophony of chaos:

"'We think they're testing us,' said [Lt. Chris] Labra, whose unit took over duties from members of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division this week. 'Everyone knows we're new on the job.'"

Americans are new at this game of Empire, but they are about to be baptized in blood and fire.

As he roams the streets of Fallouja, Lt. Labra's answer to the many complaints is "Every day it'll get better." Or maybe not. As the Los Angeles Times reports:

"But back at the airstrip, he gives Capt. Aaron Francis a frank debriefing. 'People will shoot, and it's like 200 meters away,' Labra said. 'On two occasions I said, 'Who was that?' and people said, 'I will not tell you because this is my neighbor.'"

What are we doing in their neighborhood? The original rationale for war was Saddam's fabled "weapons of mass destruction." But the administration is even now rationalizing the absence of that particular rationalization, speculating that the Iraqis destroyed their WMD before the invasion. Which means that Saddam was going along with the disarmament process, but we invaded anyway….

Oh, but, never mind, because we're supposed to believe that getting rid of a tyrant like Saddam is an end in itself, and fully justifies the war. That this is said even as the U.S. postpones Iraqi self-rule indefinitely just goes to show how hubris distorts the mental processes and blinds us to intimations of disaster.

Another L.A. Times story, headlined "After the War: Riot Chases Troops Out of Iraqi Town," pretty much summarizes the problem and the implied solution. We need to get out of Iraq before we're run out.

Three days of unrest in the western Iraqi town of Hit climaxed when town residents, enraged by house-to-house searches, attacked the police headquarters, took over the streets, and effectively ended the U.S. occupation. Arriving near dawn, American troops had set up a checkpoint, and commenced searching homes in the company of local cops – the same Ba'athist thugs the Iraqis had supposedly just been "liberated" from. A peaceful protest failed to deter the Americans, and around noon, on Wednesday, a second protest quickly turned into a full-scale revolt. The Americans and their police accomplices quickly retreated.

Now that's real "liberation"!

The lightly-armed Iraqis, whose chief weapon is their righteous anger, have no chance against the Americans militarily: So why did they do it? Here's what Esmaul Tabee, a construction worker, had to say:

"'They forced women and children to leave their houses. They violated the dignity and honor of our women. We won't accept this violation. The people will do more of this if the Americans come in here again,' he added, shaking his fist as those around him shouted approval. 'They showed no respect for our way of life.'"

It's as elemental as protecting their women and their children. As simple as the concepts of dignity and honor. As central to the human persona as personal pride. No wonder the bureaucrats in the Pentagon and their neoconservative amen corner don't get it: it's too simple, too human, too beneath their notice. Yet they overlook the human factor – the stubborn bravery of simple souls like Esmaul Tabee – at their peril, for in the end it will be their undoing.

The vision of celebrating Iraqis lining the streets and cheering their American "liberators" proved to be the briefest of hallucinations, dispelled as quickly as it was conjured by our militarized media. If public opinion in Iraq has long since turned against the occupation, in this country the tide is also turning….

Los Angeles Times columnist Norah Vincent, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, is the latest war bird to change her tune. "The Iraqi people need and want our help," the poor woman's Camille Paglia wrote last November. "Can the left, in good conscience, be deaf to their cause?" Now that the people who supposedly needed our help are taking pot shots at us in occupied Iraq, perhaps Ms. Vincent wonders if she was hearing voices, because she has turned on a dime:

"We will and should say thank you a million times over to our veterans, as well as to those now serving overseas. But in light of recent disasters like the one currently devolving in Iraq – a country that, all the experts agree, is teetering on the brink either of all-out anarchy or civil war – instead of just expressing the usual perfunctory gratitude, maybe we should also be saying we're sorry. It seems the least we can do."

And it's the least her fellow neocons could do, not that any of them have the integrity or the stomach for honest self-criticism. They are far too busy pushing us into war with Iran. But a lot of honest Republicans, many of them movement conservatives, who supported the war, are beginning to ask: what have we wrought?

Donald Devine, of the American Conservative Union – who supported the Iraq war as "necessary" – not only disdains David Frum's denunciation of antiwar conservatives – in which "the only good guys remaining on the right were neo-conservatives" – but also raises the question of "global empire" as "an important issue for conservatism." Devine, a former Reagan administration official and a longtime conservative activist, gives voice to the worst fears of many on the right:

"If the U.S. government has the ability to bring peace and democracy to the world, big government can obviously also run America's economy and plan its social life – and limited government becomes irrelevant. … Government keeps growing and journalistic conservatism is silent at this growth, especially fueled by dreams of empire."

The trend continues in the field of music: Neil Young, sixties icon turned Reaganite, strikes a similar note of reconsideration, if not outright recantation. Young is the author of "Let's Roll!", the tremendously popular anthem of the post-9/11 era, that celebrated the heroism of Tod Beamer and the other passengers who fought the hijackers of United Flight 93:

"I know I said I love you/I know you know it's true/I've got to put the phone down/And do what we've got to do/One standing in the aisle way/Two more at the door/We've got to get inside there/Before they kill some more/Time is running out/Let's roll."

The War Party appropriated Young's song and "Let's Roll!" became their slogan, but now Young tells the British Guardian that "The US is like a baby with a bomb," and wonders aloud at the direction the post-9/11 world is going:

"I think the world today, at least the U.S. and to some extent Britain now, is experiencing this kind of Big Brother thing. It's not what we thought we were gonna be doing, a lot of the people's civil rights have been compromised, and we don't know what's going on. If I keep speaking my mind, will I be deported?"

Gee, it seems like only yesterday that the singer-songwriter-rock legend was telling People for the American Way, on the occasion of receiving their 2001 "Spirit of Liberty Award" at a Beverly Hills banquet, that the USA/Patriot Act was all for a good cause: "To protect our freedoms," Young said, "it seems we're going to have to relinquish some of our freedoms for a short period of time."

Having gotten his wish, Young now regrets it – without ever acknowledging either the change in his views or his own responsibility for this sad state of affairs.

Ms. Vincent also bails out of acknowledging her error. In her passionate apologia to the troops, she notes that the banner over the President's head on board that aircraft carrier "read 'Mission Accomplished,' but you knew better, didn't you? His mission was accomplished, sure. He'd had his slick victory and come out clean, even if you were left stuck in the mud – or is 'quagmire' at long last le mot juste?"

Yet the author of this piece not only fulsomely supported the Iraq war, she disdained its opponents as clueless "peaceniks," and hailed pro-war lefties such as Christopher Hitchens, Paul Berman, Andrew Sullivan (and, implicitly, herself) as "spearheading a long-awaited rebirth of the intellectual left." Back when it was fashionable to celebrate the near omnipotence of American power, she dripped disdain for the "q"-word:

"While 'quagmire'-obsessed journalists fretted about another Vietnam disaster, we dismantled the enemy in Afghanistan in no time, and with only a handful of American casualties. Though superior technology and perfected air-power strategies are undoubtedly responsible for our swift victory, we should not underestimate the power of home-front resolve."

Ms. Vincent's resolve was apparently one of the first to crumble. The chaos unleashed by our policies – and predicted by the antiwar opposition – has the more squeamish wing of the War Party squirming franticly to distance themselves from the consequences of their own misguided ideas. Now that the nay-sayers she insulted have been proved right, is it too much to expect a mea culpa or two from the likes of this Amazon and her fellow militants?

As our "victory" comes unraveled, so does the War Party. It's a bittersweet prospect – more bitter than sweet – but, in the post-9/11 world, we must take our mean little pleasures as we find them.


Yoshi Abe's by-now-famous photographs of J.C. Penney’s gross war toy, "Forward Command Post," which appeared first on, have been reprinted in Tank, the glossy British fashion/art magazine. At your local news stand. Check it out, but bring your checkbook: this magazine costs 30 bucks a hit!

– Justin Raimondo

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.

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