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Waging a War that has Already been Lost

why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?

e.e. cummings

The death tolls are rising on all sides. It’s likely now that more American soldiers have died in post-victory Iraq than died during combat. The number of Iraqi civilians killed in the latest phase of what is a decades long war, according to iraqibodycount.net, is anywhere between six and eight thousand. But who’s counting anyway.

Following the events of September 11 the New York Times carried a daily tabulation of the trade center body count. It also included pictures and brief, personal bios of those who tragically lost their lives. Iraqi civilians who, we are also told have died in the name of freedom and liberty, are unlikely even to receive a proper burial. At best, if their bodies are still intact, they?ll be left to rot in the desert sun.

That the United States is responsible for orchestrating such a massacre at the same time misleading millions of global citizens into believing that such a war is justified is a crime we have not yet begun to fathom.

John McCain writes in the Sunday Washington Post that, “a forced U.S. retreat from Iraq would be the most serious American defeat since Vietnam.”

And he continues, “America’s mission in Iraq is too important to fail. Given the stakes, we cannot launch this ‘generational commitment’ to changing the Middle East on the cheap. The administration should level with the American people about the cost and commitment required to transform Iraq.”

It’s a catch-22. America’s mission in Iraq is too important to fail. It is by right (God-given) infallible. If it were to fail the fate of civilization itself would hang in the balance. Such a specter is unimaginable. So we continue to wage war, a war that has already been lost.

To retreat would be to acknowledge defeat. It would also mean recognizing the limits of unbridled military force as a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy. What good is the worlds most powerful military machine when the cause of war, the reason for risking your life, is so convoluted and unclear that it becomes harder and harder to wake up in the morning and don your fatigues?

McCain makes a number of unruly assumptions in his column. He refers to the reordering of the Middle East as a ?generational commitment.? It’s unclear which generation he’s referring to (the greatest? Definitely not gen-x, given that we?re too distracted and unaware of what’s going on to make an informed decision.) I don’t know if the next generation, that is the one after gen-x has been named, but maybe that’s the one McCain is referring to. If that’s the case they?d probably thank us not now but in the future if we admitted defeat and opted for a different kind of relationship with the rest of the world.

But we can’t have another Vietnam. So we must commit more troops, more dollars, and more resources in order to secure Iraq. We must fight harder, “we must win.” This means being frank with the American people. Telling them the truth, acknowledging that things may be a little more difficult than previously imagined.

This means telling the families of active soldiers that their sons and fathers might not return. It means telling working families, students, and the retired that they’ll have to cough up a bit more of their meager earnings in order to fund the liberation of Iraq.

It means calling up more reserves maybe even re-instituting the draft. Or as McCain puts it, “Americans must understand how important this mission is and be prepared to sacrifice to achieve it.” In order to sacrifice however, what is at stake must be understood. Are Americans willing and ready to prostrate themselves before their commander in chief in order to achieve victory in Iraq? And what would victory bring?

There are farmers in India willing to ingest pesticides and take their own lives rather than succumb to the fate of agribusiness and what it might mean for a way of life that has been carried on for years and years. In Israel there are soldiers refusing to fight in the occupied territories because they understand the Israeli occupation as bankrupt and morally unacceptable, a policy that is not only morally wrong but one that threatens the very security of the state it claims to protect. In France the heroic Bove continues to defy the seemingly insurmountable corporate stranglehold.

And here in the United States?

No one has immolated themselves in front of the capital. No one has marched to the sea.

The so-called campaign season has already begun to overshadow the realities of war. One could say the meta-war has begun. The debate now is not about the actual war the one being waged every day in Iraq but rather about the merits of a war that is already over but that unfortunately has some unpleasant side effects.

As Americans debate the finer points of the latest round of medication and consider its discomforts (diarrhea, higher taxes, gulf war syndrome, more expensive gas, bloating ect.) the Iraqi people continue to wonder what liberation means.

ADAM FEDERMAN can be reached at: adam@incamail.com

 

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Adam Federman is a contributing editor at Earth Island Journal.He is the recipient of a Polk Grant for Investigative Reporting, a Middlebury Fellowship in Environmental Journalism, and a Russia Fulbright Fellowship. You can find more of his work at adamfederman.com.

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