IS IRAQ UNWINNABLE?
Apologists for the war in Iraq continually conflate it with the so-called War on Terrorism, and equate falling short of expectations in Iraq with failure against “Terror.” They also equate opposition to the war in Iraq with opposition to the so-called War on Terror. Let’s be clear about a few things. The so-called War on Terrorism isn’t a war, it’s a metaphor. “Terrorism” isn’t a State, it isn’t a Superstate, it isn’t an Empire, it’s militant action against civilian targets with the purpose of bringing about political change, that is, either a change in policy or a change in policymakers. So the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers were acts of terrorism. Technically the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon was only an act of terrorism because it commandeered a civilian airliner; the Pentagon itself was a military target. The allegedly planned 9/11 attack on the Capitol or the White House falls into a grey area: although in our Constitution civilian targets, they sit at the apex of the U.S. military command structure. (Let’s also be clear that seeking to understand terrorism and terrorists as far as they can be understood, is far from endorsing anything they do. I personally oppose all unauthorized violence, and much of the authorized kind too.)
Terrorists are persons, organizations, and arguably, States, that carry out, seriously plan to carry out, or assist terrorism as defined above. (An example of State terrorism is when the State of Israel carries out militant action against innocent Palestinian civilian targets with the purpose of bringing about political change among the Palestinians. But Israel is far from the first terrorist State in world history. Arguably any use of weapons of mass destruction, since by definition they can’t discriminate between military and civilian targets in the affected area, is terrorism, including the World War Two carpet-bombings of cities in Germany and Japan by the Allies, and the “nuculer” attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States. In the Western legal tradition no amount of supposed good effect can justify such evil.) The particular terrorists targeted by the so-called War on Terror are militant Islamists and their material supporters suspected in the 9/11 plots and attacks, and subsequent ones, up to the present, against “Western” (properly civilian) targets outside of Iraq, the Persian Gulf region, Israel and its (illegally-) Occupied Territories, especially a loosely-organized but well-funded international movement calling itself al-Qaeda. They are members of an alleged criminal conspiracy. It’s not proper to speak of “war” against criminal persons and organizations, only States. What you do against criminal persons and organizations is act against them in the manner of police, whether the action is done by actual police and criminal investigators, or by the armed forces, of one or more nations, preferably including Arab and Muslim nations. The only aspect of the “War on Terror” that so far has been an actual war is, of course, the international invasion of Afghanistan, the overthrow of its Taliban government, and the ongoing pursuit of alleged al-Qaeda leaders and participants in and near that country. The Taliban earned the opprobrium of the world finally for harboring and appearing to give assistance to the suspected terrorists, and not arresting them and turning them over to the United States as requested under international law as criminal suspects in the 9/11 attacks. Arguably, the war in Afghanistan is a “police action” similar in nature to the Korean War. (This, however, does not justify the rounding-up of thousands of Afghan and pro-Taliban resistance fighters there and their imprisonment in Cuba outside all legal cover and process, or their torture anywhere in the world, both in violation not only of international law but also the U.S. Constitution and law. Remember, attacks on military targets are not terrorism; they’re something else.)
Let’s be clear that almost nobody publicly opposes international police activity as such against terrorist suspects or serious conspirators, including the international presence in Afghanistan, as long as we follow our own rules and international law, and don’t degrade ourselves and the societies we purport to be defending, in so doing. Those who ask uncomfortable questions about 9/11 are asking just that: Did the U.S. and possibly other governments do their jobs, or did they do something else? And those who ask such questions aren’t disloyal, they are the best form of loyal, in that they seek to uphold what we all purport to uphold, even at times such as this when it’s not easy.
The invasion of Iraq, on the other hand, had nothing to do with 9/11, al-Qaeda, or extant Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Iraq posed no threat, imminent or otherwise, to any other country. The world was lied to, especially by the Bush and Blair regimes. The invasion of Iraq was, therefore, a war of aggression, illegal under international law, and immoral, unjust, and unjustifiable in the Western tradition. Evidence even suggests it was a Bush family vendetta against President Hussein personally – “He tried to kill my daddy!” – and that it was planned by the Bush/Cheney campaign even before they were “elected” in 2000. The ouster of President Hussein – guilty prima facie of crimes against humanity – was an illegal coup d’etat, an overthrow by foreign powers just because they didn’t like him. The invasion was also ill-advised, considering the occupation by US and UK forces with matters in Afghanistan, Iraq’s location at or near the heart of the Muslim world, and its status (before the invasion, and more so before Gulf War I) as a fairly modern State. In fact, Iraq has become a cause celebre throughout the Muslim world, a major recruiting tool for would-be terrorists internationally, and an important training ground for them, as al-Qaeda has joined the resistance to the (mainly US and UK) Occupation. The Occupation has also gotten out of control on more than one occasion, witness the torture and abuses of prisoners in Iraq, the kidnapping of resistance suspects’ wives, and the alleged massacres of innocent civilians by enraged Occupation Forces. Since “the liberation of Kuwait has begun,” hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women, and children have died from “collateral damage” (a perfectly traditional moral term describing accidental, unintended death and injury which “the Coalition” made every attempt to avoid), Coalition sloppiness and negligence, economic sanctions (imperfect though they were), torture, abuse, and alleged war crimes.
Be all of that as it may, Iraq has effectively become, as someone else has called it, Terrorist Central. (This nickname must be considered geopolitically, since technically, as we have pointed out, resistance guerilla warfare against Occupation targets does not constitute terrorism, but something else, no matter how many times the U.S. administration likes to use the word.) But the only way to put that down would be to reestablish a police state in Iraq – or transform it into America or Britain – something of which not even the Coalition has proved capable (or desirous), nevermind the new Iraqi leaders themselves. In fact, the current situation in Iraq bears all the characteristics of a (unofficial) three-way civil war among Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis. In any case, George W. Bush’s “fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here” doctrine is naïve; as if all the world’s Islamist terrorists are being drawn to Iraq – a supposition disproven in recent days in the United States and Canada both (if charges pressed by their respective governments are correct). Even if Iraq were secured, al-Qaeda would simply return to the more amorphous international existence which it possessed before it sought refuge in Afghanistan. So today’s “Terrorist Central” is at best marginal to the so-called War on Terrorism, and such considerations would be irrelevant to calculations of how much longer the Coalition – or the United States, anyway – should or can remain in Iraq.
And that’s where I’m torn. Although the invasion was illegal and immoral, we’ve created a situation in Iraq, and we have a certain moral responsibility to try to fix it, as long as the legitimized government there will have us. The question is, can we fix it? It seems when the Occupation secures one area, resistance flares up elsewhere, and when they redeploy, the secured area flares up again; it’s like the carnival game Whack-a-Mole. Iraq’s own police and military forces are only very slowly forming up, and they may in fact be corrupted by the factionalism that is descending on the country. It seems our purpose in Iraq can only be secured by a dramatic increase of our own forces there, to several times current levels. And given the exhaustion of U.S. Reserve and National Guard forces after multiple tours there, the only alternative may be reinstituting the draft. And while an actual draft may improve in some ways on the Poverty Draft we currently have going on, it seems politically infeasible. In any case, it’s unclear that a drastic increase in American forces would even be welcome by the Iraqi government.
So Bush/Cheney may have bitten off more than we can chew. Iraq may in fact be unwinnable, as Congressman Jack Murtha and other experts have said. But this should have no bearing on our continued pursuit of actual militant Islamist terrorist suspects and serious conspirators elsewhere around the world.
(I keep saying serious conspirators to distinguish them from people on phones and websites and in email who are just, as we Irish say, shooting off their mouths. To prosecute them would be the ultimate in “thought crime”-persecution ordinarily – and ironically – so repugnant to American conservatives.)
Of course, some of the people who conflate the “War on Terror” and the war in Iraq would require us to bow down to Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld etc., right or wrong. Some of those people are honestly mistaken, but some are disingenuous, whose number one purpose is that the Dictatorship stand till the end of time. And some of them seek to usher in the end of time through nuclear war, accelerated global warming, exhaustion of hydrocarbon resources, a global “Christian” Crusade against all Islam, even a pro-Israel Battle of Armageddon. But if America is truly to have any future in any recognizable form, Bush and Cheney must be simultaneously impeached, and simultaneously removed from office. The Speaker of the House of Representatives must succeed to the Presidency, and all key officials of the present illegitimate administration must be criminally charged, tried, and imprisoned for violations of domestic law, the Constitution, and international law.
Doing so won’t show weakness, but strength.