The international tragedy of not learning history’s lessons can be monumental. In the case of the Iraq war the result of not heeding the past is perhaps the worst it has been in centuries.
One wonders what led the U.S. and the world to its current situation. What caused a nation once respected as a beacon of peace and freedom (whether or not that reputation was ever deserved) to descend into the immorality of a pre-emptive strike, another overthrow of a sovereign government and finally the chaos of monitoring a bloody civil war in Iraq?
As is so often the case, the answers can be found in history, a history that is often ignored amid imperial designs masquerading as paranoid thoughts of dire threats to the American way of life.
In the June 1985 issue of ‘Monthly Review’ the following was stated: “Are we going to take the position that anti-Communism justifies anything, including colonialism, interference in the affairs of other countries, and aggression? That way, let us be perfectly clear about it, lies war and more war leading ultimately to full-scale national disaster.”
Today the communist bugaboo, so effectively used by several Cold War presidents, is passé; the former Soviet Union is struggling with severe economic issues and has long since ceased to be a world leader. So a new enemy had to be invented. With Iraq sitting on much of the world’s oil supplies, and a U.S. president who, along with much of his administration, has a long history of involvement in the oil industry, radical Islam is the new big bad wolf. The attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001 enabled this newest monster to take a very tangible form for the American public, which threw itself behind Mr. Bush as he marched soldiers off to Afghanistan to find the perpetrator of that disaster, overthrow the repressive Taliban that was said to be hiding Osama bin Laden and oh, by the way, allow Union Oil of California to build a pipeline through the country, something the Taliban had forbidden.
The association with radical Islam was easily transferable from Afghanistan to Iraq. On February 5, 2005, then Secretary of State Colin Powell solemnly told the world from the podium of the United Nations that Iraq had not accounted for its stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons. “We have evidence these weapons existed,” said he. “What we don’t have is evidence from Iraq that they have been destroyed or where they are.”
He spoke of the nerve gas VX, stating darkly that a single drop could kill a person. That U.N. inspectors were searching the country, and receiving cooperation from Saddam Hussein as they did so, was not sufficient for Mr. Powell and his boss, Mr. Bush. The inspectors were ordered out of the country by the United States, and 130,000 American soldiers invaded, unleashing unprecedented terror upon the Iraqi people.
So Mr. Bush, a complete stranger to combat and war himself, pulled the strings, forcing these dedicated Americans unnecessarily into harm’s way. Two months later he declared victory. Yet, inexplicably, the war did not end; thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died since he stood in full uniform (which he, of course, never donned in actual battle) on the deck of the aircraft carrier the Abraham Lincoln. Four years later, with ‘victory’ both undefined and certainly unachieved by whatever definition one may want to ascribe to it, he decided to escalate the war.
As he watches for the results of his ‘surge,’ the president has either forgotten, or perhaps never learned, a vital lesson, one journalist James Cameron succinctly described regarding Vietnam. “A nation of peasants and manual workers who might have felt restive or dissatisfied under the stress of totalitarian conditions had been obliged to forget all their differences in the common sense of resistance and self-defense. From the moment the United States dropped its first bomb on the North of Vietnam, she welded the nation together unshakably.”
Certainly, this is not entirely true of Iraq, but the parallel is striking. The Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds have not forgotten their centuries-old differences, but have united in one area: their hatred for and resistance to the U.S. occupation of their country. The America presence in their country only distracts them from any possible reconciliation with each other. This reconciliation will take years to achieve, but U.S. soldiers patrolling the streets and monitoring the actions of Iraqi citizens, often killing them as they do so, will only prolong the already painful process. The beginning of the end of the war will only be achieved when the last U.S. soldier leaves.
When, one wonders, will that be? The New York Times reported that the Bush Administration foresees that U.S. soldiers will remain in Iraq at least until 2009. The current plan, developed by General David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker includes the following: “The coalition, in partnership with the government of Iraq, employs integrated political, security, economic and diplomatic means, to help the people of Iraq achieve sustainable security by the summer of 2009.” The term ‘coalition,’ of course, is a euphemism for ‘American military,’ since the American military presence in Iraq has been by far the overwhelming majority. In June of 2007 the U.S. had approximately 166,000 soldiers stationed in Iraq; the next largest contingent, numbering approximately 5, 500, was from Great Britain.
So current U.S. government plans are to maintain the occupation of Iraq until at least 2009. And since the American presence in Iraq only perpetuates the violence there, one can easily predict that that date will be pushed out again and again, until such time that the American public is so fed up with the continuing waste of American lives that it finally demands an end. It took years for that to occur during the Vietnam era; one can only hope that the American public has learned the lessons the current administration has missed, and will insist on U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq sooner, rather than later.
ROBERT FANTINA is the author of Desertion and the American Soldier.