Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Seventeen Year War

I was hardly surprised by Cindy Sheehan’s Memorial Day surrender to the forces of neo-fascism that Bush’s regime represents. Essentially, the country gave up that ghost when the left, such as it was, agreed to ending the draft. I knew we’d lost then. The dirty little wars in Grenada, El Salvador, Panama, &c. came as no surprise to me. Nor did the complete ineffectualness of Congress’ half-hearted attempts at ending them. Nor the public’s nearly complete indifference to those conflicts.

Most of us live in a kind of perpetual fog of assumption of American might and righteousness.

Sheehan’s capitulation was just another of many milestones we’ve passed in yet another never-ending American war. About the only thing that really surprises me is that people of moderate intelligence can still dare to feign surprise that we find ourselves in another quagmire.

Earlier this year there was a tiny bit of ballyhoo to mark the fact that we were about to be engaged in the current conflict in Iraq longer than we were officially at war during World War II. It was patent nonsense. For all intended purposes, the United States has been at war with Iraq since we first moved troops into Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield on August 7, 1990—in preparation for Desert Storm. The U.S. would certainly consider such a move to be justification for war. And rightly so. (As did bin Laden.)

During Desert Storm we destroyed much of Iraq’s infrastructure: bridges, electrical grid, water and sewage treatment facilities. We then tried to incite the population to rise against Saddam—and then failed to support those foolish enough to do so. We then established crushing economic sanctions against Iraq which precluded the rebuilding of any meaningful part of its infrastructure and which starved thousands of Iraqi children. We established no fly zones over considerable parts of the country, and we continued to bomb it at will from 1991 until the second invasion in 2003—and ever after. All acts of war.

How then have we not been at war continually with Iraq for what will shortly be seventeen years? What am I missing?

(Oh! And that’s not even to mention that little period there when Saddam was our buddy, ol’ pal (like Noriega), and he very conveniently started a little war against our enemy Iran. Only cost, what, a million, million and a half dead or so (a mere 375,000 Iraqi casualties). And besides; we gave him chemical and biological weapons. That’s how we know he had WMD, remember? We kept the receipts.)

How is it that we can claim to have been so terrified of this broken, bleeding country—the size of California, with a population of some 27 million, larger by a few million than Texas, less than a tenth of our total population—as to justify our re-invasion of it in 2003? This is the nation of which we allowed ourselves (including our Senators and Representatives who have access to best information) to become so terrified as to justify a preemptive war? No. I don’t believe that. I simply don’t believe it. There was no excuse for having been that afraid of Iraq. After beating the hell out of them for thirteen years?

How did this war happen then? Are we that scared of our own shadows? Was it moral cowardice? Moral blindness? Are we just too fat, dumb and happy? Too chauvinistic, jingoistic? Have we become that religiously bigoted? That racist? Do we just not give a damn?

When we were beating the drums of war before Desert Storm, we made all kinds of noises about the lessons we’d learned in Vietnam. Our leaders assured us we were not going to engage in “nation-building.” We were not going to commit ourselves to war unless America’s vital interests were threatened. We would commit to war only if we had more than adequate forces to accomplish the mission. And we would especially make sure that the mission was adequately defined and of limited, achievable scope and duration.

Is there a single aspect of this war, especially as related to those bloated, hypocritical assurances, in which our leaders—Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, our military, intelligence and diplomatic services—have not failed us? Miserably. Horribly. Completely.

Most definitively not! We have been at war now with a country a tenth our size for seventeen years! Since long before September 11th. And we’re talking now about remaining there as long as we’ve been in Korea.

Alas, Mrs. Sheehan, I lived through those agonizing years of interminable war, of horrendous social upheaval in the 60s and 70s. E-mails and letters to congressmen, polite demonstrations are not about to dissuade America’s leaders from a dedication to and worship of violence that has only grown in appetite, scope and intensity since World War II. Iraq, for all its horrors, is only a symptom.

We’ll soon mark another phony milestone. 4,000 dead American troops. I think we’re well past that already if we’d include our dead mercenaries among the toll. But I’m tired of talking about dead and wounded Americans. Our leaders care about our casualties only insofar as they serve to blackmail us emotionally. I don’t want to hear about American interests. We’ve been extremely careful not to count Iraqi dead, maimed, military, militia. Civilians. Our costs are nothing to the costs we’ve imposed on them.

We’ll continue to sacrifice our own children thoughtlessly, recklessly, until we learn to calculate the costs of this war in terms of its effects on Iraq’s children. The realization that slapped Mrs. Sheehan in the face is that we simply don’t care—and that even if we did, even if we pulled the country down around our leaders’ ears, they wouldn’t change course.

And for what? Paranoia? Pride? Petroleum?

by Louis Patrick


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