July 2, 2003

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 string."

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 disastrous results.

"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 there.'

"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 in sight."

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 community.

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" us?


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.

– Justin Raimondo

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. 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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