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Honesty in Iraq

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David Swanson
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By David Swanson

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune recently published an editorial that said of Bush: "His pronouncements now bear no resemblance to reality." Now? Oh, never mind.

Marc Sandalow, the Washington Bureau Chief for the San Francisco Chronicle, recently wrote: "There is mounting evidence that the world of public Bush-speak -- from his vigorous support for al-Maliki and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to his rejection of direct diplomacy with Syria and Iran -- bears little relation to what goes on behind the scenes." Mounting? Forget it.

Robert Fisk recently asked about George W. Bush: "How does he do it? How does he persuade himself - as he apparently did in Amman yesterday - that the United States will stay in Iraq 'until the job is complete'?" Persuade himself? I give up.

Frank Rich writes that Bush "is completely untethered from reality. It's not that he can't handle the truth about Iraq. He doesn't know what the truth is." He doesn't? Look at a couple of well-known Bush quotes again:

"What's the difference? The possibility that [Saddam] could acquire weapons, if he were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger." (Bush on why he lied about weapons of mass destruction.)

"I didn't want to inject a major decision about this war in the final days of a campaign. And so the only way to answer that question and to get you on to another question was to give you that answer." (Bush on why he lied about keeping Rumsfeld on.)

These are the statements of a man who knew he was lying, a man who believes nobody should care whether he lies or not, a man who doesn't much care himself, but still nonetheless a sane - albeit heartless, cruel, and stupid - human being who knew he was lying.

The media's new notion that Bush is losing his sanity reflects more the media's developing its sanity than Bush losing anything. He is intent on staying in Iraq forever and lying about anything he has to lie about to do so. This has been clear for years. That journalists are surprised by it now suggests the degree to which the American media, not Bush, is out of touch with the reality of Iraq.

How often do we hear the voices of Iraqis in American journalism? How many of us know their stories? We've killed 650,000 of them, measured as excess deaths above the level of deaths our sanctions were causing each year before the war. Since the Spring of 2004 most Iraqis have viewed America as their primary enemy. But what do we know about their lives?

The United States has for three years now been building permanent military bases all over Iraq. How present are these bases in the thinking of members of the U.S. media? How out of touch are we with that reality? Bush strikes me as completely in touch with it.

I recently read a book called "How America Lost Iraq" by Aaron Glantz. The author reported from Iraq during the first year and a half of the occupation. Glantz's book begins with an account of the difficulty he had in persuading Pacifica Radio to use his reports in the months following the invasion. Most of the Iraqis he spoke to were grateful to the United States for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Others were engaged in uncovering mass graves and exposing the crimes of Saddam Hussein. But Pacifica wanted stories that weren't being reported by the U.S. corporate media.

Later, as Iraqis turned against the United States and demanded that the occupation end, Glantz found himself still just reporting what most Iraqis told him, but having his work accepted and praised as unique. Other media outlets were not reporting it. And yet it was the story that would determine the course of the occupation, it was a story that had been completely predictable (and even predicted a decade earlier by Bush's father), and it was the result of complete disregard for the Iraqis. When Iraqis were overjoyed at the removal of Saddam Hussein, the new U.S. occupiers accepted their gratitude but showed complete disdain for their needs, their allegiance, or their potential threat, throwing them out of work, allowing them to sell weapons on the street, depriving them of electricity. Glantz wrote:

"This is the only story in which I am confident. If there is no electricity next month when the temperature goes to 130 degrees, there will be a lot of angry, sleep-deprived Iraqis. And they will all have Kalashnikovs they bought for a few dollars at the corner market."

Later, when the United States began to try to move against Muqtada al-Sadr, Glantz described it as a "huge miscalculation," since even Iraqis who didn't like al-Sadr would rally to his defense against foreign occupiers. Glantz gradually moved over time from making excuses for the occupation - based primarily on how horrific the Saddam Hussein regime had been - to recognizing that as long as the occupation continues the situation will go from bad to worse, that the occupation encourages civil war, fundamentalist leaders, terrorism training, and all of the things defenders of the occupation warn will result from ending it.

But here's a fundamental question: Is aggressively attacking another nation in an illegal war something that can be done without catastrophic results if it's done right? Let's imagine that Bush told America and the world the truth about the reasons for the war, and that the reasons were not to control the Middle East and its oil while enriching cronies and winning votes, but rather to oust a dictator we regretted having installed and supported. Let's imagine that the American people insisted this be done, that the public knew Iraq was no threat to America or even its neighbors but wanted to act out of concern for Iraqis abused by a dictator. Further, let's suppose that the U.S. occupation of Iraq announced on day 1 that it would end the occupation in 6 months, built no permanent bases, threw no one out of work, protected museums and libraries - not just oil, hired Iraqis through honest bidding to rebuild their own country, got basic services restored within weeks, randomly arrested and imprisoned and tortured no one, laid claim to no oil or resources, invested a small fraction of what the war has actually cost in real reconstruction, began peace negotiations with UN assistance, kept its promises, got out in 6 months, and announced: "Saudi Arabia, you're next!"

Even in this fantasy, the actions of the United States would have effectively eliminated international law, established the right of any nation to attack any other nation aggressively, betrayed the men and women of the U.S. military who signed up to defend their own country and not to attack someone else's, sacrificed the lives of all those killed in the war, and by no means assured Iraq of developing a government better than Saddam Hussein's.

Back in reality, we should recognize that Nuremburg's condemnation of aggressive war was not a legal theory but a description of facts. Following the Holocaust, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg called the waging of aggressive war "essentially an evil thing . . . to initiate a war of aggression . . . is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."

When you attack another nation you predictably do not just attack it. You also almost certainly engage in a number of specific war crimes: you attack civilians, target ambulances, hospitals, and journalists, use forbidden weapons, detain, torture, murder, spy, rape, steal, and destroy. You do these things because they follow from the logic of war. You avoid them not through competence or sanity but by refraining from launching aggressive wars.
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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)
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