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Talking Tough on Iraq Isn’t Courageous
The election mist will soon clear and we will still see that courage in politics means admitting mistakes in public. Cowardice means uttering misleading statements like "we’re winning in Iraq" and "the war is making Americans more secure" or "even though Bush made the mess we are morally committed to clean it up." To reclaim courage, beyond seats in Congress, Democrats should pose an obvious question: Who has benefited and who has lost from continued US presence in Iraq? With courage, they would dare call "presence" by its right name: "occupation!"
The US and its Coalition partners have lost over 3,000 people, hundreds of billions of dollars, enormous prestige and the faith of the world’s majority. Iraqis have lost hundreds of thousands dead and wounded and their integrity as a nation. Over 1,000 Iraqis flee their homes each day. Revenge killings "are totally out of control," said UN Under-Secretary General Jan Egeland. (Reuters, Oct. 11)
Meanwhile, the beneficiaries of Bush’s Iraq policy, Al Qaeda leaders who use the occupation to recruit new jihadists, and Halliburton and other war contractors who enjoy immense profits, want to "stay the course," which Bush promotes as a policy that hurts Al Qaeda.
Confused? Listen to Bush’s October 19 declaration in La Plume, Pennsylvania: "We should at least be able to agree that the path to victory is not to do precisely what the terrorists want." But despite what Bush says, the terrorists want us to stay in Iraq! Indeed, as he showed before he declared war on Iraq, he would say anything to get his way. Instead of accepting responsibility for his mistakes, he shifts blame. "If we were to follow the Democrats’ prescriptions and withdraw from Iraq, we would be fulfilling Osama bin Laden’s highest aspirations."
Bush reiterated this façade of courage message at his October 25 press conference. "…If we were to withdraw before the job is done, it would embolden extremists. They would say, you know, we were right about America in the first place, that America did not have the will necessary to do the hard work. That’s precisely what Osama bin Laden has said, for example."
The Bushies also found others to repeat their line. Peter Bergen, for example, asserts that "a significant force must remain in Iraq for many years to destroy Al Qaeda in Iraq." Without US troops, Bush and Bergen argue, Al Qaeda will turn Iraq into a terrorist base much as Afghanistan did under the Taliban prior to 9/11. (NY Times, Oct. 26)
In fact, the opposite is true and intelligence briefers know that foreign terrorists want the US to stay in Iraq. A report in the October 28 Telegraph stated that "Tony Blair’s claim that there is no link between Britain’s foreign policy and terrorist attacks in this country is blown apart by a secret cabinet memo revealed today." "Britain’s military action in Iraq and Afghanistan has served as a recruiting sergeant for Islamist terrorist groups," wrote Patrick Hennessy and Sean Rayment. They cite Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett’s acknowledgement "that Britain and America had failed, before going to war, to predict that ‘there were huge pent-up hatreds and resentments in Iraq which exploded once Saddam Hussein was deposed.’"
This is consistent with the April 2006 partially declassified National Intelligence Estimate. "The Iraq conflict has become the ’cause celebre’ for Jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement." The NIE referred to the post-Saddam Hussein void filled by Al Qaeda in Iraq, noting that "Al-Qa’ida, now merged with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s network, is exploiting the situation in Iraq to attract new recruits and to maintain its leadership role."
Unlike bin Laden, Iraqi insurgents don’t want foreign jihadists in their country when the American military leaves. Al Qaeda leaders, however, fear that "foreign jihadists, who flocked to Iraq to battle the Americans, might give up the fight and go home." (Robert Parry, Consortium News, Oct. 27, 2006)
On June 7, 2006, a US military unit recovered a letter at the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Iraqi home. A leader in Al Qaeda’s high command named "Atiyah" advised the former commander of Al Qaeda in Iraq to continue "your jihad in Iraq, and that you be patient and forbearing, even in weakness, and even with fewer operations." He said that "prolonging the war is in our interest, with God’s permission." (Combating Terrorism Center, U.S. Military Academy, Sept. 25, 2006)
This content of the captured letter shows how the White House both denied facts and banished logic, traits reminiscent of the start of the Iraq war as well. Bush’s own intelligence team indicated that a US departure would deprive Al Qaeda of its raison d’etre in Iraq. Those Iraqis who oppose US occupation-an unclassified State Department poll showed the majority of Iraqi youth thinking security would improve if the U.S. left immediately — will then deal with the "foreign fighters."
Politicians and journalists, however, have not dramatized the logical and factual lapses just as they failed to decipher–at least in public — the overt pre-war messages coming from Baghdad.
On September 21, 2002, Saddam Hussein announced he would permit the return to Iraq of the UN Weapons inspection team. US intelligence should have informed the White House that this move indicated strongly that Saddam did not have the deadly weapons that Bush and Cheney had repeatedly claimed. By allowing the inspectors’ return, Saddam in effect told the world–especially his neighbors, Iran, Israel, Syria and Turkey — that he had no WMD. Indeed, the inspectors, the world’s most sophisticated forensic experts with the newest detecting technology and access to secret places and top scientists, would surely have discovered them had they existed.
Saddam was announcing his weakness to Bush, almost guaranteeing that should Bush order the invasion of Iraq, US troops would not get nuked, gassed or infected with germs. After the March 2003 US invasion, inspecting teams discovered no hidden weapons. The media and Congress said, "Gee, how about that!"
Political logic has continued to elude the media and the dominant factions of the political class; or else they would have to answer for their irresponsibility in enabling Bush to have his war.
Who besides Al Qaeda and war contractors maintain interests in keeping Iraq volatile? Iranian leaders know that the Iraq conflict could spill across the border. The rulers of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria also fear an explosive Iraq. But the massive US military presence vitiates their ability to help resolve the violence in Iraq.
Bush has used democracy, fear and guilt rhetoric to obfuscate his blatant "stay the course" (of failure) policy. "A defeat there [in Iraq] would dispirit people throughout the Middle East who wonder whether America is genuine in our commitment to moderation and democracy." (Oct. 25)
Interestingly, political leaders and media have not dramatized the contradiction between democracy and US occupation. The failure to recognize Bush’s illogical word play coincides with a more gruesome lapse: the non-recognition that institutionalized torture and democracy are incompatible. On October 17, Bush signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 into law, which permits the CIA to continue rendering terrorism suspects abroad for torture and restricts their ability to challenge their incarceration.
It therefore follows that the US-backed Iraqis would also practice such methods. In September 2006, Manfred Nowak, a UN special investigator on torture, called torture in Iraq by terrorists groups, police, the military and militias "totally out of hand."
Bush has ignored such reports and repeatedly declared that Iraqis are better off than under Saddam. Not really, says Novak. "The situation is so bad many people say it is worse than it has been in the times of Saddam Hussein." (Guardian, Sept. 21)
The UNDP’s 2004 Arab Human Development Report also concluded that the occupation of Iraq and the "dismantling of the structure of the State" are antithetical to human development and good governance. The war has "increased human suffering" and the "spread of chaos in the country [has]undermined Iraqis’ security and freedom." (pp. 33-34)
Three and a half years of occupation have meant one long blood bath. When will conscience grab legislators and journalists (even their editors) and provoke them to scream facts and logic at Bush and those Republicans–and many Democrats — who still cling to his "tough on terror" rhetoric?
No more US servicemen or women or Iraqis need to die because of the illegal invasion and unmerited occupation. Bold and logical patriots would get the US troops out of Iraq now in a safe way, and thus weaken Al Qaeda and give Iraqis a chance to reintegrate their nation. Instead, Bush repeats cowardly distortions and the Democrats have yet to unite on a position that exposes him by stating the truth. "We were complicit in getting into Iraq and now we must admit our error and get out."
Did bin Laden read Profiles in Courage and conclude that no such profiles exist among leading US politicians?
Saul Landau’s A Bush and Botox World will be published by CounterPunch Press. He is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.
Farrah Hassen is a Seymour Melman fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org