Sunday, March 24, 2013

Op-ed: Iraq 10 years after

Ten years ago, I was to speak at the first rally Denver following Bush’s aggression. But we were snowed in - 7 feet up where I live - and could not get out for a week. The heat of distant explosions (“Shock and Awe” and Rumsfeld would not count the Iraqi dead…), the ice of the mountains…


There had been a tremendous global movement against the War before the war.


As Richard Clarke put it, it would be as if Roosevelt had responded to Pearl Harbor by attacking Mexico…


It was a phony war, created by a government cabal for its own purposes (oil and military bases), Bush to outdo his father, Condi to rise (“little star” as her father called her), Cheney, the smart but literally crazy man, in charge of a secret apparatus inside the government, moving swiftly into the dark (“going to the dark side” as he put it after 9/11).


Paul Krugman had a good article this week on the analogous idiocies of the Iraq War and austerity, and yet as Paula Bard suggested to me, leaves out the role of Bush and Cheney – isolated against all the world – in causing this murderous, bankrupting fiasco.


The Occupation has been a fabulous – only if one is really good at believing tall tales as the talking heads were at the expense of one’s eyes -and expensive atrocity. But one must clamor for war or not get "face-time" in the corporate media.


This is a result of the trillion dollar war complex (what I call, elaborating Eisenhower and C. Wright Mills, the military-industrial-congressional-media-recipients of foreign military aid-“intelligence” complex). Today’s America is skewed toward irrational wars on nonwhite peoples.


But the war has never been popular among the American people.


The great anti-war movement from below here and elsewhere is the main fact of this era. The corporate press has persistently downplayed it. Despite demonstrations of over a million in New York, Madrid and Barcelona (February 16, 2003), many do not even know of it.


I lectured at the Ph.D. Peace Studies program in Granada the following year (the lone Ph.D. program in Spain on Peace Studies where people would be likely to know – the whole Spanish population was against the war; Aznar had to meet Bush and Blair in the Canary Islands, the silly “coalition of the willing” because anywhere in Spain, they would have been besieged by protestors). And yet the Spanish press, including El Pais, had not covered the American revolt.


Since the American Revolution, it is a lie, cultivated by elites, that ordinary people do not fight back...


In America, I have students who speak, with sadness, of the lack of movements here although this movement, the greatest anti-War movement in the history of the world before a war, almost defeated the War and meant that the Iraq aggression was "popular" only among “important people” and talking heads, silly generals now working for military contractors and the like.


Withholding knowledge is one of the central functions and often the direct purpose of the centralized commercial press. The New York Times now realizes that it made itself the tool of war. Even Dan Rather reported on Baghdad – "if the President says move here, I move here" - as a “patriotic” agent of the United States…


Being a majority of one against this aggression, in Thoreau's words, was the genuine patriotism.

The majority of people were.

Despite huge demonstrations, we were kept out of the corporate media.


The owners and often editors do not like protest. But people need, as they need air, to know of these things. This is what democracy looks like.


This is also the democracy that elected and reelected Obama (despite his limitations, some of which are underlined below).

This is an international democracy from below which can change the world.


Global Post, an American journal of international news on the web, published this op-ed yesterday.


Alan Gilbert March 23, 2013 09:06
Presidential deceptions on Iraq led US to abandon core values
Commentary: Torture and killing innocents with drones continue to haunt Americans.

For the photograph and article, see here.

United States Army soldiers salute during the playing of retreat at Camp Virginia, near Kuwait City, Kuwait, on Dec. 15, 2011. Ten years after the beginning of the Iraq War, public opinion of US involvement is still quite mixed [sic]. (Joe Raedle/AFP/Getty Images)

DENVER, Colo. — In 2002 and early 2003, the Bush administration rolled out a campaign to promote an invasion of Iraq. Condoleezza Rice’s statement, the “smoking gun might be a mushroom cloud,” created a popular sound bite for the administration’s warning that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

The New York Times and other papers echoed the president’s warning on their front pages. Deep inside the papers, a reader could occasionally find a short story quoting Hans Blix, the United Nations weapons authority, affirming that there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Part of the administration’s case was the suspicion that Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda were working together. In fact, no evidence of a connection existed, except Dick Cheney’s wishful thinking.

What President Bush succeeded in bringing to Americans was a war that killed thousands of American service men and women, disabled of tens of thousands more, and brought death, conservatively, to 100,000 Iraqis, and dislocated several million more.

One remnant of the war is ethnic cleansing in Iraq. Another is a bill of more than a trillion dollars that our government and our taxpayers will struggle to pay over the next generation. Moreover, torture — a war crime under American and international law — became one symbol of American policy. One can argue that crimes were committed at the highest levels of our government, yet no one is being formally questioned let alone held accountable.

Ten years later, we can understand the dangers of the authoritarian commander-in-chief. It was unchecked in its campaign for war by Congress, the judiciary or the media. Ignorance by the politicians and the press was a huge democratic movement against the war, quite possibly the largest such pre-war movement in history; a movement that was right on every major aspect of the coming Iraq war.

We wonder what was learned from the Iraq experience when we hear neocons like William Kristol press for aggression against Iran. These voices are often echoed by Democratic foreign policy “experts.” They have easy access to the press, which accords their opinions respect, but they were and are wrong.

President Obama has wisely chosen not to bomb Iran. He has also appointed as secretary of defense, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam veteran and a conservative, who believes in not waging crusading and losing wars in distant territories.

But Obama is still using drones to murder people in countries the United States is not at war with. This is the crime of aggression masked by secrecy. As Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) correctly asked last week, could this policy license executive killing of Americans far from the field of battle and perhaps even in our own country?

Drones fired into territories where we have no presence are often not accurate, even when the decisions to fire are based on the "best" intelligence available.

We are not officially at war with Yemen. Yet our missiles recently took out Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, an imam and father of seven who had denounced Al Qaeda. Three Al Qaeda members came to intimidate him; he brought his cousin and the chief of police for protection. American drones incinerated them all.

Will his friends and relatives now sympathize with the US?

Is striking mainly at civilians with Avatar-like weaponry from half a world away an intelligent response to Al Qaeda?

Anwar Al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son was looking for his father in Yemen. He was with Samir Amin, another American 16-year-old. They had committed no crime. They were among 12 people at a food stand in a small village that was blown away by American drones said to be seeking another target.

John Brennan calls any young man killed near a terrorist a terrorist. This is, of course, guilt by association. Are all these men “counted” as Al Qaeda by the Obama administration? It is doubtful that there is a plausible explanation for these crimes.

Attacks against non-white people bring to mind America’s legacy of killing Native Americans and slaves.

Such acts inspire hatred toward the US. Unneeded enmity is what drones breed; killing of the occasional Al Qaeda member, even where we have serious intelligence, is, in fact, “collateral damage.”

The US government cannot be allowed to murder innocents wantonly in our name. It is authoritarianism that we oppose, not the regime we are part of. The long, unnecessary war in Iraq undermined two deeply held principles of our democracy: the rule of law and conventions against torture — two qualities that distinguish us from Al Qaeda.

Alan Gilbert is John Evans Professor in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. He is the author, most recently, of "Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War of Independence."

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