Monday, June 23, 2014

Iraq War Redux

I stood outside the town hall in my hometown of Kennebunk on Friday holding a hastily scrawled sign that read, "DON'T ATTACK IRAQ (AGAIN)!" I stood there for about an hour.

I did this in response to President Barack Obama's announcement last week he will send some 300 "military advisers" to squelch the ever worsening violence in Iraq. This action may be followed by drone strikes.

I honestly expected more of an angry response than I received. As it is, only one person yelled at me as he drove by.

"We need to be there!" he shouted at me. There are a lot of things this country needs: Universal health care, jobs, free college education, forgiveness of student debt, a robust clean-energy program, democracy, etc. Another Middle Eastern war is not one of them.

Two passerby actually praised me. One middle-aged man assured me as he jogged by, "I'm with you in spirit!" whatever that means. I have never heard of protesting wars "in spirit" only, but, thanks... I guess.

And Kennebunk police chief, Robert MacKenzie (the town hall is across from the police station) approached me, read my sign, and walked away. Had he given me any trouble, I was fully prepared to present him with my "permit": A pocket-sized version of the U.S. Constitution.

Most people, however, simply drove by. A few, stopped at the adjacent traffic light, read my sign then quickly and uncomfortably looked away. I suppose if my sign had said something like, "Justice for Mary Tanner!" or "Death to Cancer!" I would have received more support.

War, of course, is itself a cancer upon the human race, though we tend not to think of it in such terms. It is, as George McGovern said about the Vietnam War, "[A] moral and political disaster--a terrible cancer eating away at the soul of our nation."

I am not so naive as to think my lone protest, ignored, as it mostly was in my yuppie, Bush-worshiping town, will have any discernible impact on the president's plans for resuming military conflict in Iraq--let alone halt those plans. This was merely my means of registering my dissent. I remain unwavering in my belief--contrary to the defeatist excuses of most liberals--that any form of dissent, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, matters.

"Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty," wrote Henry David Thoreau. "The obedient must be slaves."

Resuming military conflict in Iraq is a horrendous mistake. Most Americans, I believe, realize that.

It is the corporate news media--over a decade after their complicity in launching the Iraq War--that still needs convincing, however.

Indeed, in the last week the corporate networks have faithfully, and without irony or shame, trotted out the very same people--Dick Cheney, Tony Blair, Bill O' Reilly, Bill Kristol--that lied and deceived the public about "Weapons of Mass Destruction" to sell us the last Iraq debacle. One would think these people have lost any iota of credibility they may have once possessed on foreign policy matters.

As FAIR's (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) Peter Hart observes in a recent blog post, "It's obviously quite revealing that these people are invited onto television at all--further proof... that there is no accountability for being so wrong in so many important ways" ("'Drawn Back into War' in Iraq," 6/18/2014).

Have we learned nothing?

George W. Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq left well over 100,000 Iraqis killed, thousands more injured, the country destroyed, and opened massive, perhaps irreparable rifts between Iraqi factions--most notably the Sunnis and the Shiites which, contrary to popular perception, have not always been at each other's throats as they have been in recent years.

We left Iraq shattered. And now our proverbial chickens have come home to roost.

Arguments over whether Iraq would have been "better off with Saddam Hussein" in power are hypocritically hollow. Our collective historical amnesia--if not outright ignorance--makes us forget who allowed Hussein to come to power in the first place: The United States. Any WMD Hussein may have once possessed were those we sold to him during the Iraq-Iran war.

Hussein's replacement, the U.S.-installed, Nouri al-Maliki has proven just as morally degenerate. We merely replaced one dictator with another. Then we shamelessly and patronizingly chastise the citizens of Iraq for the turmoil we caused. I guess they simply did not want democracy enough, we shrug.

"They who have put out the people's eyes," John Milton famously wrote, "reproach them for their blindness."

And can we please end this pervasive myth that unmanned predator drones are somehow "safer," more "precise" killing machines?

Maine's U.S. Senator Angus King deserves a share of the blame for spreading this nonsense. Last year he told MSNBC's Joe Scarborough drones are "a lot more civilized" compared to 19th century methods of warfare. Except I can think of something even more civilized than drones: Not going to war in the first place.

"I think it's actually a more humane weapon," said King, "because it can be targeted to specific enemies and specific people."

Here is how "precise" drones are: The U.S. military counts every "military-aged male" within the vicinity of a drone strike to be an "enemy combatant," whether or not they actually are. This rationale, as revealed in a 2012 New York Times expose ("Secret 'Kill List' Proves a Test of Obama's Principles and Will," 5/29/2012), is based on the assumption that any civilian who happens to be within the general proximity of a known al-Qaeda operative is "probably up to no good."

In other words, if you are an American reporter covering the conflict in, say Syria or Pakistan, and you just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, as far as the U.S.. government is concerned, you are an "enemy combatant." That is how "accurate" drone strikes are.

We cannot squelch sectarian violence by bombing the hell out of people. Our renewed military presence in Iraq will only further inflame hostilities, anti-U.S. sentiments, and cause more innocents to die. It is the arrogance of imperialism that makes America believe it is the exalted, self-appointed policeman of the globe. Al-Qaeda was not present in Iraq until our 2003 invasion.

The Iraq War was the costliest, bloodiest, most morally reprehensible foreign policy blunder in my lifetime. I opposed it then--I oppose it now. It was a war of choice based on lies and deception. To date, none of the war's architects have faced criminal accountability for their crimes against humanity. These contemptible charlatans--most of whom have never served in combat themselves--should not be on television urging us to go to war again. They should be in prison.

I refuse to sit back and passively watch my government repeat the crimes of the recent past. I have learned and experienced too much in the last ten years to remain silent.

If that means standing alone, so be it.

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