A War Washington Can’t Win


As the US closes in on the opening day of its new Congress, the possibility of voters getting a withdrawal of US forces from Iraq grows dimmer and dimmer. George Bush continues to insist that US forces will remain in country until their job is done. What that job is exactly seems to most to be a secret known only to certain members of the White House, but the key to it all is the desire for the US to reshape the world in order to , as this an excerpt from the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) statement of principles reminds us, “preserve and extend an international order friendly to US security, (and) prosperity.” Lest we forget, this is the primary force behind the policies of George Bush. Of course, when these men and women talk about security and prosperity, they aren’t necessarily thinking of yours and mine. They are, however, certainly thinking about theirs, especially when it comes to the prosperity part of the equation. One need only look at the profits certain friends of Washington’s power elites have made from the ongoing war in Iraq to get a mere hint of the prosperity these folks are talking about. (Ans that doesn’t even begin to count the billions they want to make from controlling Iraq’s oil.) Then, just to see what they have in mind for those of us that don’t matter to them, take a look at the situation of the poor in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.

In the past couple of weeks, the news has reported the deaths of several Iraqi women and children from US airborne bombs and missiles. This is no accident. As the use of US air support to support Iraqi government forces on the ground increases (and US ground forces pull back), there are bound to be more and more such casualties. Like Israel and previous Pentagon leaders, the current US command refuses to accept blame for these deaths, choosing instead to blame them on the actions of the resistance forces. Although these are usually called mistakes by the command, the harsh act is that they are not. As Howard Zinn wrote in his classic argument Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal, “since the killing of civilians is inevitable…it cannot be called an accident.” When a pilot drops his load of bombs or fires his deadly missiles on a street of houses, or when a gunner unleashes a barrage of bullets from his Vulcan Gatling gun at the rate of 6000 bullets per minute on a group of people running away from the helicopter he is in, this is not an accident. It is part of the strategy of pacification–a policy that George Orwell pointed out goes something like this:

Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification.

While the specifics of the battleground may change from Mr. Orwell’s description, the essential facts do not. In Afghanistan, US-led forces bombard villages and schools, calling the latter terrorist training grounds. In Iraq, US forces provide air support for US and Iraqi ground forces that raid villages in house-to-house searches. If the ground forces call in a strike, the pilots release their missiles, which may or may not even hit the house they are supposed to hit. As the number of these air support missions climbs, the chance of killing innocents likewise increases.

Let’s go back to the phased withdrawal (or redeployment) scenario. This scenario is based on the hope that the forces paid for by the US will be able to keep political and military power after the US military draws down its forces and pens them in the permanent bases Washington is building in Iraq. It is not, as the “Stay the Course” adherents like to charge, an excuse to lose the war. What it is is a way for the US to keep its paws deeply immersed in Iraqi politics for the long term (without US soldiers doing the dying) until Washington can have exactly who they want running the country. Of course, the way things are going, it could be a while before the CIA and Pentagon can even find such folks. As recent history has proven, even if they do find such individuals, the real struggle is convincing the Iraqis that these officials really have any power that isn’t given them by Washington. Given that the main thing the Iraqis want is the exit of all foreign militaries from their country and that this is the one thing the Green Zone Iraqis cannot provide, it is no mystery that these leaders appear impotent. If they demand that the US forces leave, Washington will disperse with them. If they “ask” for them to stay, they reinforce the view of their fellow citizens that they are US stooges. That’s why it’s nice to have US forces close by. They provide good backup. Also, if things get real hot, they can always airlift you out.

Now, I can hear people asking what’s wrong with US forces staying nearby to help put in a government friendly to Washington in Iraq and Afghanistan? After all, don’t we believe in democracy? Well, let me give you a couple reasons why this isn’t okay. For one, the majority of Iraqis don’t want us to. That in itself is more than enough reason. For another, any government that must be backed up by a foreign military force is not going to last for the simple reason that it is not a truly national government. The US tried to do exactly this in southern Vietnam and failed miserably. Sure, George Bush and others like him think the reason the US didn’t succeed in Vietnam was because the US quit. That is wrong. They didn’t quit. They lost. Their project to reshape southeast Asia was never popular with the people that lived there and it failed. Even after millions of deaths and inestimable destruction. There have already been several hundred thousand deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, with unknown numbers yet to come if US and NATO forces continue their murderous attempt to install governments subservient to Washington’s interests–which is what politicians, generals and media mouths really mean when they speak so eloquently about freedom and democracy.

Another reason–and perhaps the most important reason of all–is that these wars are wrong. Plain and simple. Wrong. The pretense of liberation is over. The pretense that US Galahads were going to come in and save Iraqi and Afghani women from the more medieval practices of certain Islamic fundamentalists is over. Now, those women and their children are being killed indiscriminately by US bombs and missiles. Some are even being raped by US soldiers. There is no moral right in arresting people without cause and then torturing them. Nor is there any moral right in denying a population electrical power and security while the occupiers live in air conditioned comfort with colonialist trappings. In short, there is nothing moral about the US wars on the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. And there never will be.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is forthcoming from Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net



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Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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