"War in Iraq"

Neil Goodwin
Cambridge, MA
March 16, 2005

Two years ago, following American demands that arms inspectors cut short their unfinished work and withdraw from Iraq, U.S. forces spearheaded the invasion of Iraq.

It's too late to take back the invasion of Iraq. We broke it. We own it for the foreseeable future, recent elections notwithstanding, and people will continue to die in that country's violence. For what? Certainly not to keep the world's worst tyrants from getting the world's worst weapons. There was a tyrant, but no WMD, no immediate threat to U.S. security or interests, unless you count oil. Certainly it was not to avenge 9/11 or to strike a blow against Al Quaeda - Saddam wasn't involved. The war was based on false premises - all of them I believe to have been fabricated to construct a rationale to prop up an obsession: the immediate overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Since American soldiers are not dying to protect our national security, what are they dying for? "Freedom and democracy in the Middle East"? That was a footnote to the rationale for war two years ago, and now it's the centerpiece. A good thing if it happens, but I wonder if the country and the Congress (not to mention the slain American service men and women) would have signed up to go to war for that and that alone, especially if they had known how poorly Bush and his cynical advisors understood what they were getting into?

The president misrepresents the nature of terrorism with the claim that Islamic fundamentalists hate us because they "hate our freedom". It is not our freedom that they hate. It's our power and how we use it. It's what we do that they hate - the historic favoritism for Israel over Palestinians, American military bases in Saudi Arabia, now Kuwait and other Persian Gulf countries, the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and much more.

As we know all too well, the invasion and occupation of Iraq has been marked by the self-serving, selective use of intelligence, an astonishing failure of planning and a disinclination to listen to good advice.

Another invasion scenario, one that waited for inspections to play out, for more legitimate international support; an invasion that went in with greater troop strength, that did not disband the Iraqi Army, did not become disgraced by indefinite detention, prisoner abuse and the outsourcing of torture - in short, an invasion that avoided the predicted mistakes might have been much more effective, less divisive, less costly, might have given dedicated critics like me less to object to, and most important, might have avoided the bloody mess that Iraq is right now.

Neil GoodwinFor the policies implemented by this administration, the country has paid a great price. In much of the world, the United States, or at least its current administration is now viewed with loathing and fear. Our country has lost friends and gained enemies. Since Bush and his minions declared his "Global War on Terror", fundamentalist violence has grown. For the first time in years, according to the Pentagon's latest Annual Defense Review, alliances are officially peripheral to our national security.

If fundamentalist violence and terrorism is the enemy, if that is the Bush security priority, how can he expect to face it alone and prevail? Instead of striking a blow against terrorism, the invasion of Iraq has created a recruiting office and training ground for another generation of terrorists. Real international security problems, such as the control of nuclear materials in the old Soviet Union have gone unattended. With the invasion of Iraq and our militaristic nationalism such dominant expressions of our foreign policy, North Korea and Iran have reason to want nuclear weapons now more than ever.

Can this disastrous war in Iraq and the price we have paid to wage it be redeemed by the eventual arrival of self-determination in that ravaged country and in other countries of the region? Can the invasion of Iraq be said to have a positive effect on current developments in Israel/Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, or were they inevitable and coincidental, as many have suggested? Will the invasion always be tainted by its false premises, by Bush's bait and switch?

There is a bigger question though, which has to do with the way American power should be used in the post-cold war world. I believe Bush's divisive, militaristic, go-it-alone obsession with terrorism is typically shortsighted and in the end self-defeating. Terrorism is not really the problem. Bad as it is, it is the symptom of a complex mix of things: fanatic fundamentalism, the humiliation of colonialism, poverty, tyranny, disease and ignorance - far more than a stark lack of freedom. Maybe we can't reform, much less capture or kill all of today's terrorists (which will only breed more); so what can be done to take away their "oxygen" and keep them from recruiting another generation?

Neil's email address is goodwin@prfi.com.