When Ronald Reagan coined the phrase “evil empire,” he was referring to the Soviet Union, and I basically agreed with him that the USSR needed to be contained and checkmated. But today it is the U.S. that is widely perceived as an evil empire and world forces are gathering to stop us. The Bush administration insists that if we leave Iraq our enemies will “win” or — even more improbably — “follow us home.” I believe that, if we leave Iraq and our other imperial enclaves, we can regain the moral high ground and disavow the need for a foreign policy based on preventive war. I also believe that unless we follow this path, we will lose our democracy and then it will not matter much what else we lose. In the immortal words of Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
It isn’t theoretical anymore. Three American soldiers are hostages today, and God help them if their captors decide to play by our rules.
Will these three soldiers be taken by their captors to another country, to some faraway facility filled with the infrastructure of applied agony? Will they be handed over to men who know precisely how to make a nerve ending shriek, who extract screams from flesh like miners of misery? There is precedent if this happens; our government has been doing it for years. Bush’s people send prisoners to far-flung nations, where they are tortured without mercy, because that theoretical debate made this an acceptable practice.
Will these three soldiers be beaten, raped, electrocuted and murdered? Will their religious faith be used as a weapon of humiliation against them? There is precedent if this happens; our government cleared a path for the atrocities of Abu Ghraib, for the murder and rape and torture and humiliation which took place there, and it was that theoretical debate which made this an acceptable practice.
Just as there is a double standard in pay, there is a double standard in the application of the law. Soldiers who commit crimes or acts of misconduct are prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. There have been some 64 courts martial on murder-related charges in Iraq alone. Compare that to the lack of prosecution of contractors. Despite the fact that tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, have streamed in and out of Iraq since March of 2003, only two private contractors have faced any criminal prosecution. Two. One was a KBR employee alleged to have stabbed a co-worker, the other pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography images on his computer at Abu Ghraib prison. In four years, there have been no prosecutions for crimes against Iraqis and not a single known prosecution of an armed contractor.
That either means we have tens of thousands of Boy Scouts working as armed contractors or something is fundamentally wrong with the system. Brig. Gen. Karl Horst of the 3rd Infantry Division became so outraged by contractor unaccountability that he began tracking contractor violence in Baghdad. In just two months he documented twelve cases of contractors shooting at civilians, resulting in six deaths and three injuries. That is just two months and one general.
They have not been prosecuted under the UCMJ, under US civilian law or under Iraqi law. US contractors in Iraq reportedly have their own motto: â€œWhat happens here today, stays here today.â€ That should be chilling to everyone who believes that warfare, above all government functions, must be subject to transparency, accountability and the rule of law.
President Bush keeps insisting that he would like to see these â€œdiplomaticâ€ endeavors â€” as he describes them â€” succeed, but he has yet to bring up a single proposal or incentive that might offer any realistic prospect of eliciting a positive Iranian response.
And so, knowing that his â€œdiplomaticâ€ efforts are almost certain to fail, Bush may simply be waiting for the day when he can announce to the American people that he has â€œtried everythingâ€; that â€œhis patience has run outâ€; and that he can â€œno longer risk the security of the American peopleâ€ by â€œindulging in further fruitless negotiations,â€ thereby allowing the Iranians â€œto proceed farther down the path of nuclear bomb-making,â€ and so has taken the perilous but necessary step of ordering American forces to conduct air and missile strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities. At that point, the 80 planes aboard the Nimitz â€” and those on the Eisenhower and the Stennis as well â€” will be on their way to targets in Iran, along with hundreds of TLAMs and a host of other weapons now being assembled in the Gulf.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, â€œA foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.â€ No matter how many times the President wishes it were so, peace in Iraq will not be found at the barrel of an American gun. No matter how hard the President hopes it will happen, sectarian violence will not be quelled with U.S. forces occupying the Iraqi nation. Cross your fingers. Pull out your lucky rabbitâ€™s foot. Even nail a horse shoe over the Oval Office door. But, hoping for luck will never change the deadly dynamic in Iraq.
Peace demands an Iraqi-led political solution to transcend the ethnic and sectarian divisions that are splitting the country apart â€” a political effort which, to date, the Iraqi government has been unable or unwilling to take on. Our legislation could have spurred that progress, but President Bush has defiantly said no. This White House clings to its â€œfoolish consistency.â€
38,813: The number of “individuals in Iraq killed, injured, or kidnapped as a result of incidents of terrorism” in 2006, according to statistics from the National Counterterrorism Center released Monday by the State Department.
20,685: The number of “individuals in Iraq killed, injured, or kidnapped as a result of incidents of terrorism” in 2005.
Add them together, and you get 59,498 dead in two years in a country with a population one-tenth that of the United States.
The challenge we face today is not how to win in Iraq; it is how to recover from a strategic mistake: invading Iraq in the first place. The war could never have served American interests.
But it has served Iranâ€™s interest by revenging Saddam Husseinâ€™s invasion of Iran in the 1980s and enhancing Iranâ€™s influence within Iraq. It has also served al Qaedaâ€™s interests, providing a much better training ground than did Afghanistan, allowing it to build its ranks far above the levels and competence that otherwise would have been possible.
We cannot â€˜winâ€™ a war that serves our enemies interests and not our own. Thus continuing to pursue the illusion of victory in Iraq makes no sense. We can now see that it never did.
On the one hand, I know that leaving the country and starting a new life somewhere else — as yet unknown — is such a huge thing that it should dwarf every trivial concern. The funny thing is that it’s the trivial that seems to occupy our lives. We discuss whether to take photo albums or leave them behind. Can I bring along a stuffed animal I’ve had since the age of four? Is there room for E.’s guitar? What clothes do we take? Summer clothes? The winter clothes too? What about my books? What about the CDs, the baby pictures?
The problem is that we don’t even know if we’ll ever see this stuff again. We don’t know if whatever we leave, including the house, will be available when and if we come back. There are moments when the injustice of having to leave your country, simply because an imbecile got it into his head to invade it, is overwhelming. It is unfair that in order to survive and live normally, we have to leave our home and what remains of family and friends … And to what?
Blame it on the military but make it look like youâ€™re supporting the troops. Thatâ€™s been the convenient gambit of failed emperors throughout history as they witnessed their empires decline. Not surprisingly then, itâ€™s become the standard rhetorical trick employed by President Bush in shirking responsibility for the Iraq debacle of his making.Ignoring the fact that we have a system of civilian control over the military, which is why he, the elected president, is designated the commander in chief, Bush hides behind the fiction that the officers in the field are calling the shots when in fact he has put them in an unwinnable situation and refuses to even consider a timetable for getting them out.
The fact is that Mr. Bushâ€™s refusal to face up to the failure of his Iraq adventure, his apparent determination to spend the rest of his term in denial, has become a clear and present danger to national security. Thanks to the demands of the Iraq war, weâ€™re already a superpower without a strategic reserve, unable to respond to crises that might erupt elsewhere in the world. And more and more military experts warn that repeated deployments in Iraq â€” now extended to 15 months â€” are breaking the back of our volunteer military.
If nothing is done to wind down this war during the 21 months â€” 21 months! â€” Mr. Bush has left, the damage may be irreparable.