If 500 years from now American soldiers are still
on patrol in Iraq, they won't be called Iraq's "liberators." After
five centuries of armed occupation, it would be hard to describe them as anything
other than an oppressive imperial force. And Iraqis who attack U.S. troops in
2507 will no longer be "terrorists" in anyone's eyes. What could one
call them but patriots, trying to rid their nation of invaders?
The question we Americans have to ask ourselves is: At what point do our soldiers
become occupiers and those fighting against them become patriots? Four years?
Twenty years? One hundred years?
Since the United States invaded Iraq – a defenseless country that never threatened
the United States – in an act of aggression, that point could arguably be the
war's inception. But during the early days of the war, polls showed that most
Iraqis were grateful the United States had deposed Saddam Hussein. Americans
had some leeway.
Most Americans think they are entitled to determine whether military resistance
to U.S. patrols in Iraq is legitimate. But the only ones who can legitimately
decide whether it is appropriate to resist foreign occupying armies are the
people of the nation being occupied – that means the people of Iraq, not the
American people (and certainly not "The
Look at the situation from the Iraqis' perspective: They did nothing to the
United States, yet the United States bombed Iraq, overturned its government,
and forced a strange new system of government upon them that is not stable and
results in the torture
of its citizens and nearly 100 deaths from violence daily. (One hundred
deaths per day is roughly the equivalent of a 9/11 attack every month – in a
country with the size and population of California.) After four years, the American
leader insists he will not name a date when his soldiers will leave, even though
an overwhelming majority in the Iraqi government the U.S. set up has called
for a U.S. pullout.
Keep in mind that since at least September of last year, a majority of the
Iraqi people wanted the United States out of Iraq immediately, according to
poll published by the Washington Post. Several weeks ago, a
majority in the Iraqi parliament (following the people rather than leading them)
signed a petition calling for a withdrawal timetable for U.S. troops.
But it doesn't matter what the Iraqis want; all that matters is what "The
Decider" thinks. In steadfastly refusing to name a pullout date, President
Bush has flatly contradicted his own claims for
nearly three years now that the Iraqi government possesses full national
sovereignty. And David M. Satterfield, senior adviser to the secretary of state
and coordinator for Iraq, wrote
in an online "Ask the White House" chat on March 22 that the administration
would leave when "the Iraqis ask us to leave."
What if some foreign country had done this to the United States? Would any
rational person brand American resistance illegitimate?
Before some reader accuses me of not "supporting the troops," keep
in mind that I never accepted the silly premise that in order to support the
troops one has to be in favor of getting them killed unnecessarily. I don't
believe that American forces are, for the most part, depraved or monstrous.
Like British soldiers in our War for Independence, U.S. forces in Iraq have
generally conducted themselves with honor, despite the fact that they are on
the wrong side of the conflict.
Christian author and scholar C.S. Lewis posited in his famous wartime radio
broadcasts – later transcribed into the book Mere Christianity – that
it is quite possible for soldiers on both sides of a conflict to be honorable.
I share this view. Lewis explained:
"I have often thought to myself how it would have been if, when I served
in the First World War, I and some young German had killed each other simultaneously
and found ourselves together a moment after death. I cannot imagine that either
of us would have felt any resentment or even any embarrassment. I think we might
have laughed over it."
For Lewis to say such a thing on a government station as British soldiers were
fighting the Nazis was remarkable. It would be unthinkable today. Neocon propagandists
dehumanize those whom our soldiers are fighting, never allowing that resistance
fighters are even human – let alone that the enemy might be going to heaven.
No distinction is made between attacks on military targets and true terrorism,
such as suicide bombings in market squares and mosques.
There are, of course, limits to Lewis' analogy. American soldiers who engage
in atrocities are
no more likely to meet up in a heavenly postwar rap session than are al-Qaeda
operatives who aim for civilians. And while it's possible for soldiers on both
sides of a conflict to act with honor and morality, no one who knowingly and
willingly fights for an unjust cause is going to have a good laugh in the afterlife.
The positive precedent set by the Nuremberg
trials was that "I was only following orders" is not a defense.
There are perhaps a few Bush-bots who believe that it doesn't matter how long
our soldiers are in a foreign country, because when a president deploys troops
abroad he is as infallible as the pope in proclaiming Catholic dogma ex cathedra.
Such a fanatical worldview suggests that you can't support the troops and oppose
the mission. But with each new day of occupation it becomes increasingly clear
that our troops are on the wrong side of this war.